|February 21, 2012 • VOL. 50, NO. 4 • Oakland, CA|
Feb. 22: 12:10 p.m. Ash Wednesday Mass, Cathedral
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CATHEDRAL OF CHRIST THE LIGHT
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What you need to know about the HHS mandate
1. The Obama Administration via the Department of Health and Human Services mandated last fall that all health care plans offer zero co-pay coverage for contraception and sterilization, practices that violate Church beliefs. The regulation's very narrow religious exception creates a new definition of religious employer that would include Catholic charities, schools, universities and hospitals.
3. The mandate forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices as well as contraception, including drugs that can induce abortion, such as "Ella," a close cousin of the abortion pill RU-486. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Jan. 20 that religious organizations could delay until 2013 but not opt out of the requirement that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge.
4. Other religious and secular leaders and groups recognized 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 all of whom allow contraception issued statements against the HHS's decision. 5. The administration mandate fueled weeks of intense criticism. On Feb. 10, President Obama announced a revision that allows religious employers not to offer such services to their employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.
6. Obama's proposed revision of the contraceptive mandate left intact the restrictive definition of a religious entity and would shift the costs of contraceptives from the policyholders to the insurers, thus failing to ensure that Catholic individuals and institutions would not have to pay for services that they consider immoral, Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York said Feb. 13. Now questions have been raised over how that revision will pertain to self-insured parties, like many dioceses and Catholic organizations, and whether it could still force entities morally opposed to contraception to pay for such services.
7. Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski said Feb. 10 that hundreds of Catholic universities, colleges, hospitals and other entities offered comments to HHS before the mandate was announced but they "were given short shrift by the administration. The administration continues to insist that the issue is about contraception; we disagree. It is about the first freedom of our Bill of Rights: the freedom of religion and respect for the rights of conscience," he added.
8. The rule that created the uproar has not changed at all, but was finalized as is, states the USCCB. After a day of touting meaningful changes in the mandate (Feb. 10), HHS issued a regulation finalizing the rule first issued in August 2011, "without change." The rule leaves open the possibility that even exempt "religious employers" will be forced to cover sterilization.
9. The HHS mandate is almost identical to a decade-old California law the Women's Contraception Equity Act. Catholics banded together to challenge WCEA, but in 2004 the state Supreme Court in Catholic Charities of Sacramento vs. Superior Court of the State of California, ruled against the Church, saying if an employer provides prescription drugs, it must cover contraception. It has a similar narrow religious exemption, but does cover institutions like Catholic Charities, which the court said was simply a nonprofit, not a religious organization. The California case in essence says an entity cannot use the First Amendment to avoid complying with legally enacted statutes. Compiled from the California Catholic Conference and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Conscience protection must be law
WASHINGTON - Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the ongoing debate over a federal mandate requiring employers, including most religious entities, to provide no-cost contraception and sterilization coverage demonstrates the need that a religious right to conscience protection be enacted into federal law.
Abuse lawsuit withdrawn
VATICAN CITY A high-profile federal lawsuit accusing Pope Benedict XVI of covering up sexual abuse has been withdrawn. Lawyers for the plaintiff in John Doe 16 v. Holy See filed a notice of voluntary dismissal Feb. 10, bringing the case effectively to an end. The lawsuit was filed in April 2010 in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee by an unnamed Illinois man who claimed he had been molested by Father Lawrence Murphy during the latter's time on the staff of Milwaukee's St. John's School for the Deaf. The lawsuit claimed that the Vatican "has known about the widespread problem of childhood sexual abuse committed by its clergy for centuries, but has covered up that abuse and thereby perpetuated the abuse." The lawsuit also sought to prove that the Vatican is a global business empire, engaging in "commercial activity" in Wisconsin and across the United States, and holding "unqualified power" over each diocese, parish and follower. Jeffrey S. Lena, an American attorney for the Holy See, welcomed the withdrawal of "fallacious allegations of Holy See responsibility and liability for John Doe 16's abuse. A case like this one against the Holy See, which was held together by no more than a mendacious web of allegations of international conspiracy, amounted to a misuse of judicial process and a waste of judicial resources," Lena said in a statement. The plaintiff was represented by Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed thousands of abuse lawsuits against priests and representatives of the Catholic Church. Anderson is still pursuing a sex abuse lawsuit against the Holy See in Oregon. Another such case in Kentucky was withdrawn in 2010.
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