Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Conscience "Claws"

Photo: Courtesy of Ann Nicolosi-Foose
It’s official: Last Friday, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced the administration’s decision to require almost all religious institutions that provide employee health insurance to now include coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion, regardless of that institution’s objection on the basis of conscience. Coming as it does two days shy of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand, we would be forgiven if we felt a deliberate slap in the face, especially given Ms. Sebelius’s public history of contempt for Catholic and religious sensibilities on the issue.

What this means is that Catholic hospitals, universities, diocesan services, and other institutions that have not performed these procedures or paid for them to be done must now see to it that their employees—those who carry out the mission of these organizations—have access to the procedures, even though compliance to this requirement flies in the face of everything that institution stands for. This also means that anyone paying premiums to such insurers would be supporting these “services,” whether they ever use them or not.

The U.S. bishops are protesting and urging us to join them. “US bishops rally Catholics to fight Obama abortifacient birth control mandate,” an article on, reports that “the mandate’s current conscience clause, according to U.S. bishops, amounts to little more than a fig leaf: the clause would only allow an opt-out for religious employers who employ and serve solely members of their own religion.

“Health and Human Services must think Catholics and other religious groups are fools,” USCCB Communications Director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh wrote….“HHS’s reg[ulation] conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions: we help people because we are Catholic, not because our clients are.”

In a slightly different take in his latest column in The Tidings, L.A.’s Archbishop José Gómez reports “solely” as “primarily” and adds that the organization must exist to teach religious values. No doubt this will be clarified for us in the next several months, since organizations have a year to comply. Says Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and President of the USCCB, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences” (Reported in LifeSite, Friday, Jan. 20, 2012). In the video below he highlights the watershed character of this decision: “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience.”

(For this and related information, go to Web site of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

Pregnancy is not a disease. Even if it were, prevention would be optional and its cure would constitute elective surgery; coverage for any of this is not mandatory. The insured and their employers are not to be forced to choose between foregoing insurance or abandoning conscience to pay for this. As with all other social ills, it will be our nation’s 46.2 million poor who will suffer most.

Think this is a Catholic question? The article cites the National Association of Evangelicals warning against the “dangerous precedent,” set by this ruling. If upheld, it would not be surprising to see it applied to other issues: euthanasia, genetic manipulation, embryonic experimentation, redefinition of marriage, military draft for wars of aggression, and all the social evils that derive from them, including educating youth in the “party line” in our schools. Sectarian schools would not be exempt.

In his address last week to several U.S. bishops making their “ad limina” visit in Rome, Benedict XVI noted this disregard for conscience when Catholic “cooperation in intrinsically evil practices” is mandated by our government. It is symptomatic of what he described as “a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.”

Coincidentally, last night, while many Americans listened to the president’s State of the Union address, I was watching, for the umpteenth time, A Man for All Seasons. What Thomas More said about statesmen applies to us all: When citizens “forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” For this reason, Pope Benedict told the bishops that their primary task in the current climate is the preparation of “an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism” that tries to exclude Catholic participation “in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”

So what can you and I do?
1. Besides sharing this blog article, share reputable sources of information: Web sites, blogs, news channels of every medium. (See Additional Resources below.)
2. A bill to implement adequate conscience protections, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has stagnated in Congress for the past year. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, is urging passage of the bill, and the USCCB is asking Catholics to contact their representatives in Congress in support of it. Click here.
3. Pray. Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, a unique commemoration in the Church Year, an indication of its influence and impact over the ages...and of its relevance today. We can entrust the change of our culture to his powerful prayers to God.

Additional Resources
“ObamaCare and Religious Freedom,” by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan in the Wall Street Journal
“A Time for Catholic Action and Catholic Voices,” by Archbishop José Gómez, in The Tidings Online Catholics for the Common Good, a lay apostolate for the evangelization of culture
Chiaroscuro Foundation, providing alternatives to abortion and promoting religious liberty
Association of Pauline Cooperators,  witnessing to Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life, through the use of the media of social communication.


  1. The picture at the top of the blog says it all. How can one not be moved? We can hope and pray that this horrific anti-Catholic decision will somehow be reversed. The quote about "statesmen" certainly rings true. Yet why do we Catholics constantly re-elect these same "statesmen?"

    1. Great post (and a fabulous headline, my goodness!). I am reminded of something Bonhoeffer wrote in his essay on "the visible community", when his Christian community was being pressured to conform to societal norms:
      "The limits and claims of the secular calling are fixed by our membership of the visible Church of Christ, and these limits are reached when the space which the body of Christ claims and occupies in the world for its worship, its offices and the civic life of its members clashes with the world's claim for space for its own activities. We shall know when the limit has been reached, for every member of the Church will then be obliged to make a public confession of Christ, and the world will be forced to react, either by calculated restraint or open violence. Now the Christian must suffer openly. Hitherto, since the day he had died with Christ in baptism, his suffering had been in secret. Now he is openly ejected from the secular calling and enters upon a visible participation in the passion of his lord. Now he needs more than ever all the fellowship and brotherly help the Church can give. ...
      "The older the world grows, the more heated becomes a conflict between Christ and Antichrist, and the more thorough the efforts of the world to get rid of the Christians. Until now the world had always granted them a lodging-place by allowing them to work for their own food and clothing. But a world that has become 100% anti-Christian cannot allow them even this private sphere of work for their daily bread. The Christians are now forced to deny their Lord for every crumb of bread they need. Either they must flee from the world, or go to prison; there is no other alternative. When the Christian community has been deprived of its last into space on the earth, the end will be near. "

    2. Hear, hear, Romeo.

      Sr. Anne, great comment. It reminds me of what your archbishop, Cardinal George, said only a couple of years ago: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square". How do we prepare God's People for this?

    3. Ironically, when the church seems to be SOOOO polarized, this issue may be bringing people together. I've been struck by recently seeing several very very "traditional" minded Catholics citing Commonweal and Michael Sean Winters. That you don't see every day.


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