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Town hall panel includes head of Knights of Columbus and president of Catholic University.
BY JUSTIN BELL
WATERTOWN, Mass. — The “contraception mandate” of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poses a risk to people served by Church entities.
That was the consensus of Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and lay Catholic leaders who spoke about religious-freedom issues during a nationally televised forum.
“Religious liberty is our first freedom on which all others depend; it’s not a right granted by our government — it’s a right that precedes our government. Religion is an essential aspect of the common good,” said the cardinal Monday evening.
The program, sponsored by the Catholic TV Network, was designed to coincide with the ongoing “Fortnight for Freedom,” an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It covered a range of related issues.
Joining the archbishop of Boston and the live studio audience was John Garvey, the president of The Catholic University of America; Kim Daniels, an attorney and coordinator for Catholic Voices USA; and Angela Franks, a theology director for the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization (TINE) at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston. Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, also provided statements, which were sent remotely.
Cardinal O’Malley pointed out the tie between the preservation of American religious liberty and the country’s involvement in fighting religious persecution abroad.
“The age of martyrdom has not passed, and if religious freedom is eroded here at home, American defense of religious liberty abroad is less credible,” said the cardinal.
The Church “offers our country its greatest private school system, its largest health-care system, its largest network of social services and one of the largest relief agencies,” Cardinal O’Malley said, mentioning Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which also works abroad.
He said that the entities serve all people and that some inner-city schools have a majority of students who are not Catholic.
“We’re involved in these ministries not because the people we serve are Catholic, but because we are Catholic. To act differently would violate our deepest convictions,” said the cardinal.
The HHS mandate narrows the definition of religious organizations that would be exempt from providing contraception, abortifacient drugs and sterilizations in their health-care coverage.
Daniels, who works on cases dealing with conscience protection for health-care workers, addressed the impact of the mandate on local Catholic organizations.
“It’s these groups — the neighborhood parish school, the local Catholic nursing home, the soup kitchen run by Catholic Charities — that will suffer most if the mandate and the stiff fines that it imposes remain in force,” said Daniels.
Cardinal O’Malley recalled the situation of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts being run out of providing adoption services. The archdiocese and Catholic Charities decided to stop offering adoption services altogether in 2006, when it would be required by Massachusetts state law to place children with same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.
In an interview with the Register, Cardinal O’Malley said that Catholic Charities was established in Massachusetts for the purpose of adoption and that it had been operating for over a century.
“We had such a wonderful track record. We were the largest provider of this service and did such extraordinary work — and then to have to give that up because we were being threatened that all government funding, even our licenses, would be taken away from us if we didn’t violate our own principles,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
Garvey illustrated how CUA would be affected by mandate fines for non-compliance. He said not covering contraception and the like could cost the school $2,000 per full-time employee each year, to a tune of $2.6 million annually.
CUA, the University of Notre Dame, and EWTN (the parent company of the Register) are among a host of 40-plus Catholic entities who have filed lawsuits against the HHS mandate.
Franks said that secular media have brought up myths focusing on access to contraception and that the Church wants to impose its view on others. Instead, she said, the issue is “about forcing Church organizations and every Catholic to provide contraception and abortion-causing drugs and subsidize them. “The government wants to force us to do what we know is wrong. That’s outrageous — this is America.”
Franks called the compromise in March offered by the Obama administration to those opposed to the HHS mandate an “accounting gimmick” which transfers contraception coverage to insurance companies, who would then increase premiums.
The married mother of five also refuted the “war on women” phrase, the notion that the Church is against women for opposing the mandate.
“It offends me, as a woman, that Nancy Pelosi, Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius, the president, the so-called National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood claim to speak for women and assume that we all agree to the bizarre proposition that free contraception and abortion equals women’s equality,” said Franks.
‘That’s All We’re Asking’
Panelists also addressed the idea that the Church’s opposition to the mandate because of religious freedom is a partisan stance. Daniels recalled support from President Bill Clinton and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy for religious freedom and conscience exemptions. She mentioned the diversity of the Catholic organizations in opposition to the mandate.
“Anyone who has listened to a dinner table political argument among Catholics knows that there’s no way this diverse group of litigants agrees about who they’ll vote for in November,” said Daniels.
Cardinal O’Malley also visited this theme later in the broadcast as well as the importance of religious exemptions.
“We are trying to hearken back to a period where both political parties practiced and supported these kind of exemptions. And that’s all we’re asking; we’re not telling people who to vote for or trying to favor one party over the other. We’re simply trying to defend the God-given right of our religious freedom that is also guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States,” said Cardinal O’Malley.
Garvey concluded his opening statements by saying the framers of the U.S. Constitution protected freedom of religion, as they thought it “important for human flourishing and happiness.” He said that society “won’t care about protecting religious freedom for long if it doesn’t care about God.”
“We won’t have — and we probably won’t need — religious exemptions for nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers if no one is practicing their religion,” said Garvey. “The best way to protect religious freedom might be to remind people that they should love God.”
Franks said that the mandate debate has prompted many men and women to explore the Church’s teaching on life, marriage and natural family planning, calling them “life-changing teachings.” She encouraged listeners to visit the website ForYourMarriage.org and “inform themselves and become engaged in the public square.”
Carl Anderson called the Fortnight for Freedom not a two-week celebration or a two-week challenge, but a “call to action for Catholics to move together in a unified way into the future” for the remainder of the year and decade — to “make our Church and our country a better place, a more vibrant place, a more caring place, that reaches out to our fellow brothers and sisters in need.”
Daniels also called attention to the need for action on the local parish level.
“I think this is the chance for us to redouble our efforts and to recommit ourselves to our parish schools, to our local social-services agencies — make a commitment to make those kinds of efforts right on the ground where we live,” said Daniels.
Closing the program, Cardinal O’Malley said that the poor, sick, elderly and disadvantaged “are the people who will suffer the most from this mandate.”
He called for prayer for elected officials, appointees, legislators and also for one another, that “we may have the courage and fortitude to defend our cherished freedoms.”
“Let us educate ourselves and our colleagues, families and friends about what is really being proposed by this mandate and what we can do to defend our religious freedom,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “We cannot stand silently in the face of this challenge.”
Register correspondent Justin Bell writes from Boston.