(CNSNews.com) - Roman Catholic Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh says the Obama administration is telling American Catholics: “To Hell with you.”
“The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To Hell with you!’” the bishop said in a column posted on his diocesan website. “There is no other way to put it.”
The bishop was responding to a regulation, finalized by Health and Human Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Jan. 20, that orders all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives--including those that induce abortions--without any fees or co-pay.
The regulation includes an exemption for “religious employers.” But to qualify for this exemption, the employer must primarily serve members of its own faith, primarily employ members of its own faith, and primarily focus on inculcating the tenets of that faith—a rubric that would not apply to Catholic hospitals, universities, or charitable organizations.
There is no exemption at all for individual citizens or private businesses.
The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong and that Catholics cannot be involved in them. After the regulation was first announced in August, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic lay leaders urged the administration to rescind it while pointing out that it would require Catholics to act against their consciences and their faith and was thus a violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
Last fall, the Catholic bishops called the regulation an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty” and took the unusual step of asking local pastors to urge parishioners from the pulpit to contact HHS and ask that the regulation be rescinded. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, personally met with President Barack Obama in November to explain the Catholic Church’s objections to the regulation.
But a week ago Friday, Sebelius announced that the regulation would take effect for individuals and private businesses as of Aug. 1 of this year. She said that religiously affiliated non-profit organizations—such as Catholic hospitals, universities and charitable organizations—would be given until Aug. 1, 2013 to “adapt” to the regulation, but then they would be required to adhere to it also.
“It is really hard to believe that it happened. It comes like a slap in the face,” Bishop Zubik wrote of the administration’s decision to force Catholics to act against their faith.
“Let’s be blunt,” said Bishop Zubik. “This whole process of mandating these guidelines undermines the democratic process itself. In this instance, the mandate declares pregnancy a disease, forces a culture of contraception and abortion on society, all while completely bypassing the legislative process.
“This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone--not only Catholics; not only people of all religion,” said the bishop. “At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom not only with regard to religion, but even across-the-board with all citizens.”
“Last September I asked you to protest those guidelines to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services, and contact your political leadership in the federal government,” said Bishop Zubik. “I asked that you request that this flawed mandate be withdrawn because of its unprecedented interference in the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of the Catholic community, and our basic democratic process.
“You did,” said the bishop. “And you were joined by Catholics throughout the country (and many others as well) who raised their voices against the mandate, raised their voices against a meaningless religious exemption.
“On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration answered you and me,” said Bishop Zubik. “The response was very simple: ‘To Hell with You.’”
“Kathleen Sebelius and through her, the Obama administration,” the bishop wrote, “have said ‘To Hell with You’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States, to Hell with your religious beliefs, to Hell with your religious liberty, to Hell with your freedom of conscience.”
Bishop Zubik said the Catholic Church cannot submit to this regulation and urged Catholics to again tell President Obama, HHS Secretary Sebelius and members of Congress to rescind it.
“They have given us a year to adapt to this rule,” he said. “We can’t! We simply cannot! Write to the president. Write to Secretary Sebelius. Write to our Senators. Write to those in Congress.”
Bishop Zubik was far from alone in condemning the regulation and calling on Catholics to demand its reversal. Across the country over the past week, many Catholic bishops wrote similar articles and statements.
“The bell is tolling for religious liberty in America. All of us should listen well,” said Bishop James D. Conley, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.
Bishop Conley called on Catholics to fight the administration’s health-care plan.
“If plans go unchanged, the Catholic Church, acting through our Catholic institutions, will no longer have legal protection for the free exercise of religion,” he said in a column posted on the diocesan website. “Secretary Sebelius is wrong; this is not a year to ‘adapt.’ The Catholic Church will not adapt by violating fundamental elements of our faith. Instead of adapting, this is a year to unify, and to fight injustice and flagrant disregard for the institutional protection of our religious practice.
“The recent decision by HHS should make clear for all Catholics that under the proposed health care plan, the freedom to practice our religious faith is in jeopardy,” said Bishop Conley.
In a column for his diocesan newspaper, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said the administration is trying to seize a power the U.S. government has never had.
“The Health Department justifies denying exemptions to Catholic charities, hospitals and colleges because it says they are not really ‘religious’ institutions. This may be the most troubling part of this new mandate,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Because in effect, the government is presuming it has the competence and authority to define what religious faith is and how believers should express their faith commitments and relationship to God in society. These are powers our government has never before assumed itself to have.”
“But the issues here go far beyond contraception and far beyond the liberties of the Catholic Church,” said Archbishop Gomez. “They go to the heart of our national identity and our historic understanding of our democratic form of government.”
Archbishop Gomez also called on Catholics to defend their faith and their religious freedom.
“But this is clear: Now is a time for Catholic action and for Catholic voices,” said Archbishop Gomez. “We need lay leaders to step up to their responsibilities for the Church’s mission. Not only to defend our faith and our rights as Catholics, but to be leaders for moral and civic renewal, leaders in helping to shape the values and moral foundations of America’s future.”