(From the 2/12/12 parish bulletin of St. Peter's Church in Bellville, N.J., Fr. Ivan Sciberras, Pastor)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In last week‘s bulletin, we reproduced Archbishop Myers‘ letter to the faithful regarding the Government‘s decision about a healthcare issue that significantly affects the Catholic Church‘s ability to operate in this country. The same letter is reproduced in Spanish in this week‘s bulletin. Given the gravity of the matter, the issue was, understandably, given ample coverage especially in the secular media.
And here is the issue: the 2010 health-care law spoke in detail about ―preventive-health services‖ that employers are required to cover (when offering health-benefits to their employees) without an insurance co- payment. This included coverage for contraceptives, sterilization services and abortion-inducing pills. Leaders of the Catholic Church in the U.S. were under the impression that Catholic institutions (and others that in conscience could not agree to providing such services) were exempt from this mandate.
Just last month, the Department of Health and Human Services insisted that the exemption was limited only to Church institutions that provide services exclusively to persons of the same faith. All other Church institutions that also serve people of other faiths - such as hospitals, elementary schools and universities, and organizations like Catholic Charities – are obligated to provide such coverage. When Catholic bishops pleaded for a broader exemption, they were granted an extension of one year – to August 2013 – before being forced to comply with, or else ...
Without trying to give the impression that they are fomenting civil-disobedience, the response of the U.S. bishops has been loud and clear: ―we cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.‖
Unless the Administration relents from this unwise decision, which in the words of columnist Peggy Noonan has ―awakened a sleeping giant‖ (meaning the Catholic population), where does this leave Catholic institutions?
One possibility would be to restrict the activity of Catholic institutions merely to Catholics (e.g. a Catholic school would only be allowed to educate Catholic students and a Catholic hospital only be able to care for Catholic patients). This would be a surreal situation wherein the Church would not be able to function in a Catholic manner, namely, to be a beacon of hope at the service of all humanity.
Another option would be to keep the institutions open for all, but not provide health benefits to its employees, at the cost of a $2,000 fine per year per employee of the institution in question (Catholic Charities, for example, with its 70,000 employees, would be fined $140 million a year for not providing health benefits). That would mean millions less in aid to struggling families, refugees, the sick and the elderly.
Other Catholic institutions would have to shut down altogether. We have already witnessed to Catholic welfare agencies in Massachusetts being forced to shut down their operations only because they could not in conscience place babies with gay couples.
As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute remarks, more than half of all civic institutions in the U.S. have a religious purpose or affiliation, and an undermining of their liberty ultimately undermines the freedom of each one of us.
Many Catholics, even those who have no qualms in criticizing Church leadership, have made it clear that they do not want the government to control the Church‘s activity. While ―freedom of worship‖ has not been infringed on (at least as yet) in this country, the much broader ―freedom of religion‖ is definitely being undermined in this matter. What guarantee do we have that with ―freedom of religion‖ being compromised, there will not be a day when even the ―freedom of worship‖ – including the content of the preaching and the rites of the Church themselves – will not be jeopardized?
Yes, the sleeping giant is finally awake. There are 77.7 million Catholics in the U.S. In the 2008 election, they made up 27% of the electorate. In nine of the past ten presidential elections, the Catholic vote has gone with the candidate who ultimately won the election. There is very little to gain in attacking the freedom of the Catholic Church, and so much to lose. Let us hope that ultimately, common sense will prevail in this matter.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Ivan Sciberras