New HHS rules mandating contraception and sterilization insurance coverage could cause the ‘persecution’ of Catholic institutions, Auxiliary Bishop James Conley of Denver has said. However, Catholics should imitate the Christian leadership of Vietnamese Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan, who used his unjust imprisonment to witness to the Gospel.

“In opposing unjust laws, we can positively articulate the truth we have been given. In the weeks and months to come, we can witness to the Catholic belief that sexual relations are a beautiful and integral part of marriage, and that contraceptives rob them of their true and full meaning,” he said in his latest Denver Catholic Register column.

If a new federal rule goes into effect, coverage for sterilization and contraception would be mandatory for many Catholic institutions’ health-insurance plans. If implemented, the bishop said, “there could be persecution ahead for Catholic institutions.”

“If the Catholic Church is forced to comply with this rule, it will be forced to compromise the core principles of its Christian identity. This is a grave violation of religious liberty and is unacceptable.”

Bishop Conley said the rule is unjust because it treats pregnancy and fertility “as diseases instead of gifts.” He noted that mandatory contraceptive coverage includes the “morning after pill,” which can cause an early abortion by preventing the implantation of the human embryo.

The rule also requires coverage for “education and counseling” to promote these measures among women of child-bearing age.

“We can fight this injustice,” he said. He noted the Department of Health and Human Services comment period lasts until Sept. 30, and he urged Catholics to use the contact information provided at to voice their opposition.

However, it is not enough only to express opposition to laws that violate religious liberty, Bishop Conley added. Rather, Catholics should follow the example of Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan and “engage in Christian leadership in the face of injustice.”

He recounted the bishop’s imprisonment after his appointment as coadjutor bishop of Saigon. Vietnam’s communist government believed the appointment was a conspiracy between the Vatican and Western governments.

During Bishop Van Thuan’s imprisonment, he ministered to thousands of inmates. He provided pastoral care to Catholics and evangelized guards and non-Christian prisoners.

He celebrated Mass with hidden hosts and drops of wine. He heard confessions and preached.

“In the face of unjust imprisonment, Bishop Van Thuan found an opportunity to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Conley said.

Bishop Van Thuan, who later became a cardinal, said that the “greatest failure” in leadership is for the leader to be “afraid to speak and act as a leader.”

“Today, more than ever, Christianity needs leaders committed to truth in the face of injustice,” Bishop Conley said.

The bishop praised Regis University for saying it would not comply with a state law requiring contraception coverage in its student health plan. It could face a costly legal battle and significant opposition from opponents of Catholic teaching on contraception.

“Regis has seized an opportunity to lead — to express what we as Catholics believe and why,” Bishop Conley said. “This is what a Catholic institution of higher learning should do.

“Imitate the courage of Bishop Van Thuan. Commit to Christian leadership. Let’s join together in witnessing to the truth of the Gospel and the dignity of the human person.”

Sept. 27 story below:

(CNA/EWTN News)—Catholics across the U.S. are mobilizing against a proposed Health and Human Services mandate that requires health insurance to cover contraception and provides a narrow exemption for religious groups.

“Under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics,” explained Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee.

“Although this new rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social-service agencies and health-care providers,” he warned.

The HHS department announced federal rules on Aug. 1 that will require nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization.

The guidelines, which were created in response to the 2010 health-care law, require new health-insurance plans to cover what it calls “women’s preventive services.” These include breastfeeding support, domestic-violence screening and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

The proposed mandate, announced by department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, offers exemptions only if a religious employer “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

Bishops and Catholic organizations across the U.S. have reacted strongly against the proposition for weeks now, urging the faithful to oppose the measure by contacting HHS before the Sept. 30 deadline.

“The administration’s brazen attempt to attach the binding strings of its secularist agenda to something as basic as health insurance constitutes an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese said on Sept. 23. 

“Never before has the government required private health plans to include coverage for such morally objectionable procedures as contraception and sterilization,” he noted. “In a free society, women and men of faith cannot be compelled to fund medical practices that violate their religious principles.”

On Sept. 21, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn added to criticism of the mandate, saying that U.S. Catholics should send a clear message “that pregnancy is not a disease.”

“We must insist that sterilization prescriptions and contraceptives be dropped from the list of preventative services that the federal government is mandating,” he emphasized. “This is especially important to exclude any drug that may cause an early abortion,” Bishop DiMarzio said, referring to contraceptives like Ella.

In recent weeks, other American bishops have also drawn attention to the potentially negative effects that the proposal could have on Catholic institutions. 

“Unintended or not, this mandate is an attack on Catholic beliefs and on the religious liberty of Catholics to adhere to their beliefs as they serve the community in which they live,” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote in a Sept. 15 letter to Sebelius.

The bishop noted that Catholic Charities in his diocese alone has served more than 80,000 people last year “without regard to the religious belief” of those they ministered to.

But “under this mandate, Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh would either be forced to cease to exist or restrict its employees and its wide-ranging social services to practicing Catholics alone.”

In a Sept. 21 letter to HHS, the bishops of California reiterated Bishop Zubik’s concern, saying that the Catholic Church “has an unparalleled record of serving the poor and needy through its religious institutions.”

However, the mandate “disregards the firmly held belief of Catholics and ethical and religious directives by which their religious organizations abide.”

The Catholic Health Association was also critical of the exemptions, with executive director Sister Carol Keehan saying that she is “very concerned about the inadequacy of the conscience protections with respect to the coverage of contraception.”

“As it stands, the language is not broad enough to protect our Catholic health providers,” Sister Carol added.

“Catholic hospitals are a significant part of this nation’s health care, especially in the care of the most vulnerable. It is critical that we be allowed to serve our nation without compromising our conscience.”

The proposed rules are set to take effect in August 2012.