MARQUETTE - Amidst the furor and debate over the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that would require Catholic institutions to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health insurance plans, President Barack Obama offered what he considered an "accommodation" that he hoped would settle the matter. An actual meaningful accommodation it was not.
The so-called accommodation would still require Catholic institutions to provide health insurance that would cover these morally-objectionable services and procedures, even if the financial burden for this coverage seemed to shift to the insurance companies. This is absolutely no solution to the problem and amounts to little more than an accounting gimmick designed to obscure the matter. How is this so?
Catholic institutions would still be required to provide and pay for insurance that includes these services, since the costs for them would surely not simply be "absorbed" by the insurance companies. Rather, they would be passed on to consumers and Catholic employers through increased premiums and co-pays. To think otherwise would seem nave. But there is another issue involved here that directly affects the Church here in Michigan.
Bishop Alexander K. Sample
Through the Michigan Catholic Conference, the Church throughout the state operates a "self-insured" health care plan for its employees. This means that the Church is both the employer and the health insurance provider. We are the insurance "company." So this feeble attempt at an accommodation by the administration is absolutely meaningless for the Church here in Michigan. Such self-insured plans are also common throughout the Catholic Church in the United States.
The only way to fix this problem and reverse this assault on religious freedom is to completely rescind this unjust and dangerous mandate of HHS. It seems so simple, yet there are forces at play here that seem bound and determined that the rule will remain in place. For the sake of clarity, let's look at the real heart of the problem here.
This is not an issue about contraception and women's rights, as many in the media are trying to make it out to be. Historically, no one has been more on the front lines in providing genuine health care for women than the Church. Consider the many Catholic hospitals and other health care institutions run by consecrated women religious throughout the history of the Catholic presence in this country down to our day, many of which have ministered especially to the poor.
The statistical fact that many Catholic women and men do not live according to the Church's teaching regarding contraception and sterilization is just a "red herring" thrown into the public discussion of this issue. That is another serious issue to be addressed in a different forum. That is not the real issue at stake here.
It is about the right of the Catholic Church, or any religious body in this country, to live by the very moral and religious values that are an essential part of its creed. Never before has the government in this country so overreached and infringed upon the religious rights of its citizens. We are not seeking to impose our religious beliefs on others. We are simply asking that the government not impose its values and policies on us, in direct violation of our religious beliefs.
And so, we will continue to fight against this injustice. I ask the faithful to stand firm and strong, united with the bishops in this critical struggle in defense of our rights. It is us today. What and who will it be tomorrow?
The heart of the issue remains religious freedom, guaranteed to us under the constitution and one of the most treasured freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this great land. Many have shed their blood to secure and defend this freedom, which comes ultimately from God. Look around the world and see where people are denied this basic freedom. Do we want to end up in that place? If this HHS mandate stands, we are on the slippery slope to just that place.
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Bishop Alexander K. Sample of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette