February 2, 2013 – News of the Week

There were quite a few newsworthy items making their rounds in cyberspace this past week.  We have been talking for a long time about the HHS mandate, which originally stated that employers were required to offer contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health care plans.  This of course would have required religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals, universities, etc., to violate the social teaching of the Catholic Church.  An “accommodation” was offered last year in which those organizations who were non-profit church-affiliated entities would be able to opt out of the mandate and would not have to provide contraception in their health-care plans.  However, if a woman wanted coverage they could obtain it directly from the insurance company.  The problem with this is that many Catholic organizations are self-insured, and even those who are not would eventually have to pay for this coverage via higher premiums or other means.  Thus, the Bishops of the United States rejected this accommodation as not going far enough, and still insisted on the complete removal of this mandate.

Yesterday the Obama administration offered another compromise.  I certainly am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m probably not really qualified to go too much in depth on what this new proposal really entails, but I’ll try to briefly state what the gist of it is. Under this proposal, objecting nonprofits will be allowed to offer employees a plan that does not cover contraceptives. Their health insurer will then automatically enroll employees in a separate individual policy, which only covers contraceptives, at no cost. This policy would stand apart from the employer’s larger benefit package.  The faith-based employer would not “have to contract, arrange, pay or refer for any contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.” Under the policy proposed Friday, self-insured plans opting out of contraceptive coverage would notify the company that administers their health benefits. That third-party administrator would then be responsible for arranging “separate individual health insurance policies for contraceptive coverage from an issuer providing such polices.”  Insurers who create these plans for self-insured companies will receive an offset from the federal government: Lower fees to sell plans on the new health exchanges run by the Obama administration.

Since this proposal was just announced yesterday, the U.S. Bishops have yet to issue a formal statement on whether this is acceptable or not.  Timothy Cardinal Dolan has only said to this point that “Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate. We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”  In looking at this on the surface I immediately see a couple of things.  One is that this only applies to non-profit groups.  Businesses such as Hobby Lobby who have rejected this mandate on religious and moral grounds would still be forced to include coverage for contraception in their health-care plans or face steep fines.  However, on the other end of the spectrum, this could give new life to the many lawsuits filed against the government concerning this mandate, as to this point some of these lawsuits had been rejected or put on hold waiting for a more specific proposal from the Obama administration.

My hunch is that in the end our Bishops will decide that this compromise does not go far enough, as it does not fully take the burden of providing contraception off of anyone who objects based on their religious beliefs, and that religious organizations would still be a “conduit” for helping to provide birth –control methods.  It will be interesting to see more reactions to this next week.

Another item that garnered much national attention was the upcoming public revelation of documents which show that cases of sexual abuse by clergy were concealed in order to protect abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  Though again, these cases were from decades ago, this is another black eye the church will have to deal with.  Archbishop Gomez made a bold step this week in relieving retired Cardinal Roger Mahony from performing any public duties and also allowing Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas Curry to step down from his position (Bp. Curry was a Vicar General at the time these allegations occurred).  These documents will show horrific instances of neglect, and those who were victimized deserve compensation.  However, this again shows how we have evolved in our understanding that a sexual predator cannot be cured of this mental illness.  Though what Cardinal Mahoney did was clearly wrong, it reflected the attitude and advice of doctors at the time that an abuser could receive treatment and was then fit to return to public ministry.  The Catholic Church, though it took too many years, has shown over the last decade that it is at the forefront of preventing cases such as this from happening again, and now delivers swift and decisive action.  We continue to pray for those who were victims of abuse and for the church that all of these cases come to light and that we can move forward as a safe, loving community.

This past week Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column about Catholic Schools Week.  Recently the Archdiocese of New York announced the closure of 24 schools because of declining enrollment and unstable finances.  Instead of sadness, in his column Cardinal Dolan reminded us that Jesus observed that a vine must be pruned if it is to continue to provide good fruit.  We as members of the church, myself included, have a fear of numbers.  We see the number of parishes in our Diocese starting to decline, and will likely see more in the future.  We see a declining enrollment in many of our schools.  We see a decline in the number of people in the pews at many of our Masses.  These are concerns that we need to continue to address and evangelize about.  But I see the people that are here and know that they are devout, dedicated, and special people.  And though the “pruning” process can be painful, part of our faith is believing that we will continue to yield good fruit in the years to come. 

Finally, I almost forgot to give my prediction for the Super Bowl.  This year is particularly intriguing as we have Catholic brothers coaching against each other.  I think it will be a good game, and I’ve been going back and forth on a winner.  Both teams seem to have that “karma” going for them.  However, I think the experience of the Ravens will win out in the end, and I predict a 24-21 victory for Baltimore.  As always, no wagering please.

Have a great week.  Enjoy the warmer weather.  Peace.

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