August 19, 2011


Threats to religious freedom

Why do Catholic politicians so often flout the teachings of Catholicism to make it more difficult for the Church?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, signed into law a bill that permits same-sex “marriages” in that state.

Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, announced on Aug. 1 a proposal that contraceptives and sterilization will be among the mandated preventive services for women under the new health reform law.

Even in Ireland, Prime Minister Enda Kenny, a Catholic, has said that priests must report cases of child abuse they learn about in confessions.

Most Catholics know that priests must not violate the seal of confession. The Code of Canon Law states, “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason” (# 983).

We editorialized on New York’s same-sex law in our July 8 issue. This week, we want to concentrate on the HHS announcement about contraceptives and sterilization.

Under these new proposed regulations, anyone who wants to be sterilized or receive contraceptives—including chemical abortifacients—can receive them free as part of most health care plans, public or private. Furthermore, those of us who are opposed to such procedures must nevertheless pay for them.

That is bad enough. But there is more.

Supposedly, religious organizations would be exempt from including those procedures in their health care plans. However, “religious organizations” are defined so narrowly that they would exclude Catholic charitable ministries, schools and medical facilities.

The HHS proposal was subject to a 60-day comment period before it goes into effect.

As we reported in our Aug. 5 issue, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said that, under the HHS rule, “our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teachings on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics.”

We sometimes wonder if governmental officials are aware of all the things that Catholic organizations do for the general public, especially for the poor. They don’t serve only Catholics.

When Catholic Charities provides services for the needy, it doesn’t ask people if they are Catholic or not. Most of the people helped by the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Beggars for the Poor are not Catholics.

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of the U.S. bishops’ media relations office, perhaps said it best when she commented on the HHS regulation. She said that it “conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions. We help people because we are Catholics, not because our clients are.”

It is similar with the Catholic schools in poor sections of our cities. The voucher program was criticized by some people because state money was going to Catholic schools. But those schools exist to serve the children of the poorest people in the city, not for any benefit to the Catholic Church. Catholic children often are a minority of the pupils in these schools.

Unnecessary government regulations are threatening Catholics’ religious freedom. As we also reported in our Aug. 5 issue, Illinois dioceses have taken legal action to stop the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services from ending contracts with Catholic agencies because they refuse to place foster children or adopted children with same-sex couples.

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield said that the state of Illinois is violating the law by forcing agencies to act against their religious beliefs.

Earlier, Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Boston had to discontinue placing adoptions when the state tried to force it to place children with same-sex couples.

There was even a proposal in New York that same-sex weddings must be performed wherever other weddings are performed, including in Catholic churches.

Something must be done about this.

There is a bill now before Congress, the  Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, H.R. 1179, introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Dan Boren, D-Okla., that would allow health insurance plans to exclude procedures that violate the moral or religious convictions of those providing or purchasing the plan.

We need that law.

—John F. Fink

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