Bishops launch a push vs. mandates
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is joining dioceses across the United States this week in an unprecedented campaign-style drive to protest what US bishops consider to be escalating attacks by government on religious liberty.
But the hierarchy’s effort has upset left-leaning Catholic groups, which say the bishops’ concerns are overblown and that their “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign is a partisan effort meant to influence the presidential election.
The bishops’ most urgent concern is the US Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate requiring employers to offer health insurance that provides employees with access to free birth control and sterilization. The bishops say it would force Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to violate church doctrine.
But the hierarchy is also troubled by other instances in which Catholic organizations have been denied religious exemptions from laws that conflict with church teachings. For example, many Catholic agencies, including Catholic Charities in Boston, have stopped offering adoption services altogether rather than comply with state antidiscrimination laws and place children with gay couples.
And a Massachusetts federal judge recently ruled that a Catholic organization with a US contract for assisting human-trafficking victims could not bar subcontractors from providing abortion and contraception referrals.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, in an interview in Atlanta at the US bishops’ meeting this month, said he was profoundly concerned that religious freedom is being eroded and “if we don’t do something, it’s going to get worse.”
“Conscience clauses are constantly being called into question, and diminished, and seen as something that is unprofessional or antiquated,” he said.
But Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats, called Fortnight for Freedom “an imprudent and divisive action that is based on contrived, grossly overstated arguments.”
It is, he said, the latest evidence that the Catholic hierarchy has become increasingly political, and Republican, over the last generation — especially the last few election cycles.
“We have a new, conservative group of bishops that have been appointed for their religious orthodoxy going back to the start of the papacy of John Paul II, and that has coincided with this kind of asymmetrical political divide where the Republican Party has become much more ideological and much more conservative,” said Krueger.
The new insurance rule, part of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, provides an exemption for houses of worship and other religious entities whose primary purpose is the inculcation of faith, and which mostly hire and serve people of their own religion.
But it does not exempt institutions such as Catholic hospitals, universities, and social service agencies, which employ a diverse workforce and serve the broader public.
The Obama administration had originally proposed requiring all employers to cover contraception. But after Catholic bishops and others protested, the White House offered a compromise. Religiously affiliated employers that object to providing contraception coverage will not have to offer it; instead, their insurance carriers must provide free access to birth control to women directly.
The bishops, however, said this was unacceptable because Catholic institutions’ premiums would still indirectly subsidize birth control. In May, 43 dioceses and Catholic agencies and institutions filed a lawsuit challenging the requirement. [More]