Tuesday, February 28, 2012

President Obama: Render Unto God the Things that Are God’s

Jesus is often quoted for his saying to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The rest of the quote could be a message to the Obama Administration: “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”

The current tensions over religious freedom come down to a simple fact: the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of religion. That includes the right of Catholic and other religious institutions to define and carry out their ministry.

An Obama regulation that compels virtually all employers to provide sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, to employees without co-pay, has a religious exemption. But the exemption is so narrow that Jesus himself wouldn’t qualify. Religious ministries qualify for the exemption only if the people providing the service are Catholic, the ones being served are Catholic, and the service itself comes packaged with religious instruction.

So much for hospital ministry. Will “Where does it hurt?” have to be replaced with “Where were you baptized?” At the soup kitchen will “Are you hungry?” be replaced with “Are you Catholic?” Will we have to teach the hungry the Apostle’s Creed before we feed them?

It is the church, not Caesar, that defines ministry. We Catholics are called to serve others because we’re Catholic, not because they are. We help others because of their need, not their creed. For the government to hold fast to its new definition of ministry, one crafted by the American Civil Liberties Union, reflects deafness to the Constitution that is unbecoming to the man sworn to defend it.

There has been some talk of accommodation, whereby (it is claimed) some Catholic institutions would not have to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs. Apparently, their insurance companies would pay for the services instead. One doesn’t have to be a cynic to question where the money to pay for those services will come from, as the only pool of available funds seems to be the premiums subsidized by the objecting religious institutions. And the government’s problematic definition of religious ministry still remains. There also is the question of what self-insured Catholic organizations are supposed to do. What good does it do to say the dirty work will be done by the insurer rather than the employer, if they are one and the same?

The Administration’s intrusive decision about what does and does not constitute religious ministry should make every American pause. What falls after freedom of religion? Freedom of the press? Will Caesar tell you what you have to print or air?

Days before President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the miserly religious exemption in his Administration’s regulation; the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision pertinent to religious freedom. In the Hosanna-Tabor case, the Court upheld 9-0 the right of a Lutheran Church to decide who its ministers are. The Obama Administration had taken the opposite, and losing, side, arguing that the church had no more right of religious liberty than a secular organization. One would have expected the Court’s resounding rejection of that argument to bring the Administration’s eyes into focus on the religious liberty question. Clearly it did not.

The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution makes freedom of religion the “First Freedom.” The Founding Fathers stressed that this freedom was sacred. George Washington in 1789 wrote to an annual meeting of Quakers that “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extremely accommodated to them.”

Certainly our government, wise as it is, can’t be expected (and shouldn’t purport) to know everything. It might well ease its burdens by leaving some things to the Almighty and rendering unto God the things that are God’s.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Journey to the Foot of the Cross: Bishop Ricken Offers 10 Things to Remember For Lent

Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offers “10 Things to Remember for Lent” as the Church prepares to begin the season with Ash Wednesday on February 22:

1. Remember the formula. The Church does a good job capturing certain truths with easy-to-remember lists and formulas: 10 Commandments, 7 sacraments, 3 persons in the Trinity. For Lent, the Church gives us almost a slogan—Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving—as the three things we need to work on during the season.

2. It’s a time of prayer. Lent is essentially an act of prayer spread out over 40 days. As we pray, we go on a journey, one that hopefully brings us closer to Christ and leaves us changed by the encounter with him.

3. It’s a time to fast. With the fasts of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, meatless Fridays, and our personal disciplines interspersed, Lent is the only time many Catholics these days actually fast. And maybe that’s why it gets all the attention. “What are you giving up for Lent? Hotdogs? Beer? Jelly beans?” It’s almost a game for some of us, but fasting is actually a form of penance, which helps us turn away from sin and toward Christ.

4. It’s a time to work on discipline. The 40 days of Lent are also a good, set time to work on personal discipline in general. Instead of giving something up, it can be doing something positive. “I’m going to exercise more. I’m going to pray more. I’m going to be nicer to my family, friends and coworkers.

5. It’s about dying to yourself. The more serious side of Lenten discipline is that it’s about more than self-control – it’s about finding aspects of yourself that are less than Christ-like and letting them die. The suffering and death of Christ are foremost on our minds during Lent, and we join in these mysteries by suffering, dying with Christ and being resurrected in a purified form.

6. Don’t do too much. It’s tempting to make Lent some ambitious period of personal reinvention, but it’s best to keep it simple and focused. There’s a reason the Church works on these mysteries year after year. We spend our entire lives growing closer to God. Don’t try to cram it all in one Lent. That’s a recipe for failure.

7. Lent reminds us of our weakness. Of course, even when we set simple goals for ourselves during Lent, we still have trouble keeping them. When we fast, we realize we’re all just one meal away from hunger. In both cases, Lent shows us our weakness. This can be painful, but recognizing how helpless we are makes us seek God’s help with renewed urgency and sincerity.

8. Be patient with yourself. When we’re confronted with our own weakness during Lent, the temptation is to get angry and frustrated. “What a bad person I am!” But that’s the wrong lesson. God is calling us to be patient and to see ourselves as he does, with unconditional love.

9. Reach out in charity. As we experience weakness and suffering during Lent, we should be renewed in our compassion for those who are hungry, suffering or otherwise in need. The third part of the Lenten formula is almsgiving. It’s about more than throwing a few extra dollars in the collection plate; it’s about reaching out to others and helping them without question as a way of sharing the experience of God’s unconditional love.

10. Learn to love like Christ. Giving of ourselves in the midst of our suffering and self-denial brings us closer to loving like Christ, who suffered and poured himself out unconditionally on cross for all of us. Lent is a journey through the desert to the foot of the cross on Good Friday, as we seek him out, ask his help, join in his suffering, and learn to love like him.

For more resources for Lent from USCCB, visit: www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Seis cosas más que todos debemos saber sobre el mandato del departamento de salud y servicios humanos (HHS)

1. La disposición que ha creado tanto alboroto no ha cambiado para nada las cosas, sino que todo ha terminado como estaba. En la noche del viernes, después de todo un día anunciando cambios significativos a este mandato, el departamento de HHS emitió una regulación “sin cambios”, terminando así los trámites de esta disposición emitida originalmente en agosto del 2011. De esta forma, los empleadores religiosos dedicados a servir a fieles de otras denominaciones, todavía no están exentos como “empleadores religiosos.” De hecho, la disposición los describe como empleadores “no exentos”.

2. La disposición deja abierta la posibilidad de que hasta los “empleadores religiosos” exentos están obligados a cubrir la esterilización. En sus comentarios de agosto del 2011, la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos advirtió que la limitada disposición de exención a “empleadores religiosos” no parecía proveer ningún alivio al mandato de esterilización—solo a la disposición de la anticoncepción—y la Conferencia específicamente pidió una clarificación. (También señalamos que el mandato cobertura obligatoria de la esterilización existe solamente en un estado: Vermont). Pero HHS no ofreció una clarificación, así que el riesgo continúa bajo la disposición final ya que ésta no ha sido cambiada.

3. La nueva “concesión” no es una regulación, sino una promesa que queda pendiente para más adelante, pasado el tiempo de pedir responsabilidades públicamente ante los electores. El viernes en la noche HHS también emitió regulaciones en las que describía su intención a desarrollar más regulaciones que pudieran aplicar la misma disposición pero de forma diferente y dirigidas a “las organizaciones religiosas no exentas y sin fines de lucro” —como son las agencias de caridad, escuelas y hospitales que aún permanecen fuera de la definición de “empleador religioso” y por tanto no están exentas. Estas disposiciones serán ejecutadas un año más tarde de que entren en vigor, por lo que si las disposiciones no dan buenos resultados, su impacto no se sentirá hasta agosto del 2013, mucho después de las elecciones presidenciales.

4. Aun cuando todas las promesas de un “arreglo” se realicen en su totalidad, los grupos religiosos de caridades, escuelas y hospitales estarán forzados a violar sus creencias. Si un empleado de estas instituciones religiosas “de segunda clase” desea cobertura de anticonceptivos o esterilización, el empleador que está opuesto a esto estará obligado a pagarlo como parte del plan de seguros del empleador. No se le podrá cargar un costo adicional a ese empleado, y esa cobertura no podrá estar comprendida en una póliza aparte. Por lo tanto, en un proceso de eliminación, los fondos de donde se pagará esta cobertura todavía deberán venir de las primas que paguen el empleador y sus empleados, aún de los que en conciencia se opongan a ello.

5. La promesa de “concesiones” ni siquiera trata de ofrecer apoyo a aquellos aseguradores que presenten una objeción de conciencia, a los empleadores religiosos con fines de lucro, a los empleadores laicos, o a personas individuales. En sus comentarios de agosto del 2011, y muchas veces después, la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos identificó a todos los que están involucrados en este proceso, cuya libertad religiosa está siendo amenazada—que son todos los empleadores, los aseguradores y las personas individuales, y no sólo los empleadores religiosos. Los sucesos del viernes enfatizan que todos los aseguradores, incluyendo los que aseguran por su cuenta, deben proveer esta cobertura a cualquier empleado que lo desee. Por otro lado, todas las personas que pagan sus primas de seguro, no tienen otra opción que la de subsidiar esa cobertura. Sólo los empleadores que son entidades religiosas y a la vez no-lucrativas, podrán calificar para este “arreglo”.

6. Cuidado con las afirmaciones, especialmente las partidistas, de que los obispos son partidistas. Los obispos y su personal leen las regulaciones antes de evaluarlas. Los obispos no buscaron esta disputa en un año de elecciones—otros lo hicieron. Los obispos forman sus posiciones basándose en principios—en este caso, la libertad religiosa para todos, la vida y la dignidad de todo ser humano—y no las urnas, las personalidades o los partidos políticos. Los obispos tienen el deber de proclamar estos principios en todo momento, esté o no de moda hacerlo.

Aquí podrá encontrar las primeras seis observaciones de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos referentes al mandato de HHS.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Six More Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate

1. The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is. Friday evening, after a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate, HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, “without change.” So religious employers dedicated to serving people of other faiths are still not exempt as “religious employers.” Indeed, the rule describes them as “non-exempt.”

2. The rule leaves open the possibility that even exempt “religious employers” will be forced to cover sterilization. In its August 2011 comments, USCCB warned that the narrow “religious employer” exemption appeared to provide no relief from the sterilization mandate—only the contraception mandate—and specifically sought clarification. (We also noted that a sterilization mandate exists in only one state, Vermont.) HHS provided no clarification, so the risk remains under the unchanged final rule.

3. The new “accommodation” is not a current rule, but a promise that comes due beyond the point of public accountability. Also on Friday evening, HHS issued regulations describing the intention to develop more regulations that would apply the same mandate differently to “non-exempt, non-profit religious organizations”—the charities, schools, and hospitals that are still left out of the “religious employer” exemption. These policies will be developed over a one-year delay in enforcement, so if they turn out badly, their impact will not be felt until August 2013, well after the election.

4. Even if the promises of “accommodation” are fulfilled entirely, religious charities, schools, and hospitals will still be forced to violate their beliefs. If an employee of these second-class-citizen religious institutions wants coverage of contraception or sterilization, the objecting employer is still forced to pay for it as a part of the employer’s insurance plan. There can be no additional cost to that employee, and the coverage is not a separate policy. By process of elimination, the funds to pay for that coverage must come from the premiums of the employer and fellow employees, even those who object in conscience.

5. The “accommodation” does not even purport to help objecting insurers, for-profit religious employers, secular employers, or individuals. In its August 2011 comments, and many times since, USCCB identified all the stakeholders in the process whose religious freedom is threatened—all employers, insurers, and individuals, not just religious employers. Friday’s actions emphasize that all insurers, including self-insurers, must provide the coverage to any employee who wants it. In turn, all individuals who pay premiums have no escape from subsidizing that coverage. And only employers that are both non-profit and religious may qualify for the “accommodation.”

6. Beware of claims, especially by partisans, that the bishops are partisan. The bishops and their staff read regulations before evaluating them. The bishops did not pick this fight in an election year—others did. Bishops form their positions based on principles—here, religious liberty for all, and the life and dignity of every human person—not polls, personalities, or political parties. Bishops are duty bound to proclaim these principles, in and out of season.

Here are USCCB's first "six things" on the HHS mandate.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Referral is Not the Answer, Rescinding the Mandate Is

By Bishop William Lori

Two short weeks ago, on January 20, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that virtually all health plans provided by virtually all employers, including those affiliated with the Catholic Church, would now be forced to cover sterilization procedures, abortion inducing drugs, and contraception. Under the Obama Administration’s unprecedented rule, the federal government would force the Church to include these illicit “services” in many of its insurance plans and help cover their cost.

The immediate, popular uproar against this unacceptable infringement by the federal government on religious liberty is absolutely appropriate. For two thousand years, the Church has consistently taught that abortion and contraception are wrongs that strike right at the dignity of the human person. This is not a matter of the mere opinion of a few bishops or theologians. Now, the federal government would force the Church to negotiate with insurance companies for this coverage, to purchase it and pay for actions it considers immoral. The question is not whether or not all Americans agree with the Church’s teaching on these matters. The real question is whether or not the Church—as well as other religious bodies—should have the freedom to proclaim her teaching and to practice it in a nation founded on the right to religious liberty.

In the few days since the release of the HHS rule, protests against the Administration’s infringement on religious liberty have united people of all faiths and people of good will across America. The impact is real. So now there are rumors of a possible “compromise.” If the name of the compromise is referral, it may run something like this: “We won’t make you include these services in your health plans, and you might not even have to pay for them. All you have to do is tell folks where they can go to get them. Just refer them to a local provider, and that should do it.”

Hawaii is used as an example.

In that state, employers are mandated to cover contraception (though not sterilization), and there is a slightly broader religious exemption, but it also imposes certain requirements on those who would claim the exemption: they must provide written notification to employees of other ways they can directly access coverage for, or obtain, such procedures “in an expeditious manner.”

If such a solution were proposed, it would not address the basic problem-- that of the law forcing religious entities into actions they consider immoral. The Church cannot, even reluctantly, provide information, make arrangements for, facilitate, counsel or instruct people on how to obtain these immoral procedures. To do so would be to participate in the violation of the moral law and thus to act against conscience.

And so religious liberty remains front and center. The Church must have the freedom to refuse to cooperate in any way in making these “services” available. It comes down to this: If we provide the means for another to act against the moral law, we ourselves become morally culpable as well. We simply cannot and will not do that. The doctor simply cannot say, “Well, I will not kill your unborn child but let me send you to Dr. Smith who will." Referral under these conditions is simply wrong.

The best solution is this: restore religious liberty by rescinding the mandate.

Bishop Lori is bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

HHS Takes a Vietnam Turn

When Walter Cronkite spoke out against the Vietnam War during a February 1968 broadcast, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly bemoaned, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

That quote came to mind during this clip from last night's Hardball with Chris Matthews, in which Matthews gives his take on the HHS rule that would force Catholic hospitals, universities and social services to pay for contraceptives and other procedures contrary to Catholic teaching in their employee health plans.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, February 6, 2012

Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate

1. The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals. These institutions are vital to the mission of the Church, but HHS does not deem them "religious employers" worthy of conscience protection, because they do not "serve primarily persons who share the[ir] religious tenets." HHS denies these organizations religious freedom precisely because their purpose is to serve the common good of society—a purpose that government should encourage, not punish.

2. The mandate forces these institutions and others, against their conscience, to pay for things they consider immoral. Under the mandate, the government forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs; forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs; and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.

3. The mandate forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices as well as contraception. Though commonly called the "contraceptive mandate," HHS's mandate also forces employers to sponsor and subsidize coverage of sterilization. And, by including all drugs approved by the FDA for use as contraceptives, the HHS mandate includes drugs that can induce abortion, such as "Ella," a close cousin of the abortion pill RU-486.

4. Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate. Catholics who have long supported this Administration and its healthcare policies have publicly criticized HHS's decision, including columnists E.J. Dionne, Mark Shields, and Michael Sean Winters; college presidents Father John Jenkins and Arturo Chavez; and Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

5. Many other religious and secular people and groups have spoken out strongly against the mandate. Many recognize this as an assault on the broader principle of religious liberty, even if they disagree with the Church on the underlying moral question. For example, Protestant Christian, Orthodox Christian, and Orthodox Jewish groups--none of which oppose contraception--have issued statements against the decision. The Washington Post, USA Today, N.Y. Daily News, Detroit News, and other secular outlets, columnists, and bloggers have editorialized against it.

6. The federal mandate is much stricter than existing state mandates. HHS chose the narrowest state-level religious exemption as the model for its own. That exemption was drafted by the ACLU and exists in only 3 states (New York, California, Oregon). Even without a religious exemption, religious employers can already avoid the contraceptive mandates in 28 states by self-insuring their prescription drug coverage, dropping that coverage altogether, or opting for regulation under a federal law (ERISA) that pre-empts state law. The HHS mandate closes off all these avenues of relief.