Cardinal George: Catholic Hospitals Will Be Gone in ‘Two Lents' Under Obamacare Regulation

February 28, 2012 - 8:24 PM

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Cardinal Francis George, Catholic archbishop of Chicago. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com)

– Unless the Obama administration’s mandate that all health insurers offer abortifacient drugs and sterilization is rescinded, Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in the United States will be gone in a couple years, said Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago and former head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Cardinal George made his prediction in his weekly column for Catholic New World, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir,” wrote Cardinal George. “On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.”

Under the Obamacare regulation, as finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), all health insurance companies in the United States must offer sterilization, artificial birth control, and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge to whoever may request them. The rule is set to go into effect on Aug. 1 and strictly religious institutions will have one more year to fully comply with the regulation.

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, all health insurers will have to offer these services and drugs. Individuals or businesses will not have to pay for them directly but the premiums they pay to the insurer, which keep the insurer in business, will indirectly subsidize abortifacient drugs, artificial birth control, and sterilization. These services are contrary to Catholic moral teaching (and the regulation has been denounced by leaders of several other religions and denominations).

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Plan B, emergency contraceptive drug. (AP Photo)

As a result, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told that it must give up its health care operations, according to the cardinal. “Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching,” said Cardinal George. “The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.”

He continued: “What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.”

In his column, Cardinal George also argues that the Obamacare regulation would destroy religious liberty as understood and practiced for more than two centuries in the United States by essentially segregating faith to a church building and not allowing people to practice their faith outside their house of worship.

“Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship,” says the cardinal. “Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.”

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Catholics attending Mass. (AP Photo.)

If the Obamacare rule is not rescinded, says Cardinal George, people will not be allowed to hold true to their religious beliefs in all areas of their lives because the federal government would be forcing them (or their employer) to subsidize a product that is in violation of their religious faith – or they can pay a fine.

Under Obamacare, if an employer drops its health insurance plan, it will face financial penalties. An employer with at least 50 employees, for instance, would be fined $2,000 per employee every year for the total number of employees minus 30, resulting in penalties of thousands of dollars.

The Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), for example, would face $620,000 in fines per year beginning in 2014, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The group says that Colorado Christian University, as another example, would face $500,000 in fines every year.

In conclusion to his column, Cardinal George wrote: “The observance of Lent reminds us that, in the end, we all stand before Christ and give an accounting of our lives. From that perspective, I ask lay Catholics and others of good will to step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past. The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.”

Michael W. Chapman contributed to this report.