Cardinal Wuerl: Mother Teresa Wouldn't Qualify as 'Religious' Under Obamacare Rule

Terence P. Jeffrey | May 21, 2012 | 2:20pm EDT
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Mother Teresa and a baby girl. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)

( - Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., said in an open letter on Monday and in a videotaped message that the Obama administration would not have considered the work of Mother Teresa as "religious" and thus would not have exempted her charitable organizations from a new federal regulation, issued under Obamacare, that will force Catholics to act against their faith.

"Under the mandate, even the work of Mother Teresa wouldn't be qualified as religious," said Cardinal Wuerl in the video.

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"Contrary to America's great tradition of religious freedom, embodied in the First Amendment, Catholic institutions will now be forced to act against their conscience and provide coverage for drugs and procedures they believe are morally wrong, simply because they serve people of all faiths or no faith equally," said Cardinal Wuerl.

Mother Teresa founded a hospice in Washington, D.C., where members of her order, the Missionaries of Charity, care for people with advanced AIDS.

The administration’s new regulation includes a “religious” exemption, but that exemption is narrowly drawn and does not extend to Catholic lay persons or to Catholic hospitals, schools or charities.

In his open letter, Cardinal Wuerl said that this narrow exemption would not only exclude Mother Teresa's work from what the federal government defined as "religious" but would also say that Catholic schools were not "religious."

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom, however, was not meant to protect merely the right to worship, but also the right to contribute the fruits of our faith to the common good,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “And until now, our government had chosen to honor that guarantee. Never before has the government contested that institutions like Archbishop Carroll High School or Catholic University are religious. Who would? But HHS’s conception of what constitutes the practice of religion is so narrow that even Mother Teresa would not have qualified.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius first announced the new health-care regulation—part of the implementation of Obamacare—last August. She finalized the regulation in January.

The regulation exempts “religious” organizations only if they meet four criteria:  1) their primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values, 2) they primarily employ people who share their religious tenets, 3) they primarily serve people who share their religious tenets, and 4) it they are organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code used by churches per se.

On Monday, Cardinal Wuerl announced that the Archdiocese of Washington--along with 42 other Catholic dioceses and organizations (including the Archdiocese of New York and the University of Notre Dame)--is suing the administration in federal court arguing that the HHS regulation is a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. Twelve different suits are being filed around the country with different combinations of plaintiffs.

The Archdiocese of Washington is joined in its particular suit by Archbishop Carroll High School, Catholic Univesity of America, Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., and a consortium that includes four local parochial schools.

In November 1986, Mother Teresa opened a hospice for AIDS victims in Northeast Washington. "Let us thank God for giving us this beautiful gift, this home," the Associated Press reported her as saying at the Mass celebrating the opening of the hospice.

Archbishop James A. Hickey, who then led the Archdiocese of Washington, said that the hospice would be "a loving home for out brothers and sisters who face this dreaded disease alone."

"The Missionaries of Charity will offer love and peace to those who have been forgotten as they face death," said Archbishop Hickey. "Here they will find peace."

Mother Teresa said at the time: “The greatest disease today is being unwanted, unloved.”

The Missionaries of Charity's Washington, D.C. hospice serves people regardless of their faith. As The Washington Post reported two months after it opened: "Not all residents, whom the nuns call 'guests,' are Catholic."

Cardinal Wuerl said that the administration's defintion of what is and is not "religious" runs contary to 2,000 years of Catholic practice.

“Thus, for two millennia, Roman Catholic entities have been engaged in charitable works--serving not just Catholics, but non-Catholics as well, with the understanding that these works are an essential part of Christian love and the practice of the Christian faith,” Cardinal Wuerl said in his letter today.

“As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has recently put it, ‘love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential to [the Catholic Church] as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word,” said Cardinal Wuerl.

“Considering the dedicated efforts put into these good works, it is understandable to feel somewhat disheartened to see our government attempt to force the Church out of the public square,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “To be clear, that is the message that the HHS mandate conveys: our beliefs are not welcome. Those who have the temerity to hold onto their convictions will be fined.”

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