by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
St. Augustine wrote: “The fifty days of Easter excludes fasts, since it is in anticipation of the banquet that awaits us on high.”
I took these words of St. Augustine to heart and suspended my fast from desserts, cookies and candy that I began in early December as part of my prayerful intercession for relief from the Health and Human Services mandates, which are part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The HHS mandates force Catholic institutions and private Catholic employers to provide abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations under the guise of “preventive health care.”
Unfortunately, the Easter season is over, but the HHS mandates remain. I have taken up again my fast — praying that the administration will rescind the mandates or that the courts will provide relief. With the distinct possibility that neither of these two avenues will spare us from this encroachment upon our religious liberty and conscience rights, I am also praying for courage and prudence for myself, my brother bishops, and the entire American Catholic community in discerning how best to respond to this assault by our own government upon our freedom to live in a manner consistent with Catholic moral teaching.
Once again this year, the bishops of the United States are asking American Catholics and other people of good will to observe a Fortnight for Freedom — two weeks of intense prayer, education and awareness-raising about this very real threat to religious freedom and conscience rights. You may recall that last year, as part of our local observance, we joined with the three other Catholic dioceses in Kansas to hold a statewide rally in Topeka on the steps of the Capitol. In sweltering 105- plus degree heat, more than 4,000 people attended. Our rally for freedom was telecast by EWTN and gained national attention. This year, the bishops of Kansas decided to observe the Fortnight for Freedom locally, rather than trying to gather as a statewide Catholic community.
Recently, I received a note from a medical doctor who has a significant minority ownership in a specialized medical service company. The majority owners had already complied with the HHS mandates. This doctor wanted to know if he was morally required to divest himself of ownership in the company. This is just one of many inquiries that I have received from private employers who are struggling with what to do in the face of the implementation of the HHS mandates, which, for them, began taking effect beginning last August.
Several private employers, Catholic and non-Catholic, have gained from the courts injunctions granting them temporary relief from the mandates until the matter can be fully litigated. These injunctions mean that the courts have found enough merit to the arguments of these private employers to delay enforcement of the mandates. However, this is no guarantee of a positive, final outcome in the courts.
Regarding the requirement of some ministries of the church to comply with the HHS mandates, these are not scheduled to begin to take effect until this August. The courts have been reluctant to rule on the merits of the church’s challenges to the HHS mandates, because they have not yet taken effect and they wanted to see if the administration would make good on its promise
to provide an acceptable accommodation.
Finally, the administra- tion has offered its so-called accommodation for religious ministries, claiming that it sheltered the church from paying for objectionable “services.” However, this proposed solution really solved nothing.
The administration’s central claim is that contraceptive services are “free” because they save money on childbirths that enrollees in the plan would otherwise have. However, that just means premiums paid by a religious organization for live births will pay for contraception, abortifacients and sterilization instead. The proposed “accommodation” for religious organizations covered by the mandate, while not in final form, offers to have insurers or other third parties impose the objectionable coverage — but this only deprives the employer of the ability to provide coverage to its employees that is consistent with its values. It disregards the conscience rights of
both insurers and employees. However the funding is worked out, the simple offer of health coverage by a religious employer will become a trigger for ensuring that all its employees receive morally objectionable “services” — abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilization.
Part of the real tragedy with the HHS mandates is that they are totally irrelevant to authentic health care reform. The Catholic Church has been and continues to be one of the strongest advocates for increased access to good quality health care for vulnerable populations, e.g. those with pre-existing conditions, the poor, etc. The mandates are not about basic health care, but about life-style choices. Fertility and pregnancy are not diseases, but healthy conditions.
Unfortunately, by attempting to jam down the church’s throat the provision of abortifacients and contraception, the Obama administration has illustrated why many Americans are concerned about turning over to the federal government something as important and sensitive as health care. By entrusting so much authority over such an important dimension of our lives with its many related ethical and moral issues, it empowers the government to coerce institutions and individuals to violate their deeply held convictions.
It is ironic that the same groups who promoted legalized abortion to the American public as a right to choose, now want to force church ministries and private employers to provide abortifacients and contraceptives. So much for choice!
Concerns about the protection of religious liberty and conscience rights are not limited to the HHS mandates. In Boston, San Francisco, the state of Illinois and the District of Columbia, Catholic Charities is no longer able to provide adoption and foster care services, because of its refusal to place children into the custody of same-sex couples. States have passed laws that threaten to prosecute churches for providing charity and pastoral care to undocumented immigrants. Catholic agencies are no longer able to receive federal grants to provide care for victims of human trafficking, because of their refusal to provide or refer for contraception or abortion.
The Fortnight for Freedom begins on June 21 and concludes on July 4. I urge all of you to take advantage of this opportunity to educate yourself about the threats to conscience rights and religious liberty in our own nation. I also ask that you pray daily for our country that we will renew our historic commitment as a nation to protect religious freedom and conscience rights.
I invite you to join me for a eucharistic Holy Hour at Holy Spirit Parish in Over- land Park on Thurs., June 27, at 7 p.m., or St. Matthew Parish in Topeka on Mon., July 1, at 7 p.m., or St. Francis Xavier Parish in Burlington on Tues., July 2, at 7 p.m.
Finally, we will conclude our archdiocesan observance of the fortnight with a 9 a.m. Mass on Thurs., July 4 at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood. For more information, please visit our archdi- ocesan website at: archkck. org.
Pray for our nation and pray that we, as American Catholics, will be courageous and faithful in living our Catholic faith in an increasingly challenging environment!