Program #0238 for Thursday, February 16, 2012: The Obama administration’s contraception mandate

February 16, 2012

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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry and Susan Abbott

Today’s guest(s): Fr. Roger Landry, executive editor of The Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese; and Gregory Tracy, managing editor of The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston archdiocese

Links from today’s show:

  • The Anchor
  • The Pilot
  • Some of the stories discussed on this show will be available on The Pilot’s and The Anchor’s websites on Friday morning. Please check those sites for the latest links.

Today’s topics: The Obama administration’s contraception mandate, plus local stories

Summary of today’s show: The biggest news of the week concerns the Obama administration’s so-called compromise for religious groups on the mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception for employees. Scot Landry, Susan Abbott, Fr. Roger Landry, and Greg Tracy review and comment on editorials in the Pilot and the Anchor as well as reaction from bishops and opinion columnists to the rule and the general attitude toward religious liberty found in this administration. Also, other local stories, including an obituary for Fr. Robert McAuliffe, grants to local parishes from the national St. Vincent de Paul society, iPads for a Catholic high school, and Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism airing on TV locally.

1st segment: Scot and Susan caught up on their day. Susan was at a meeting in the southern end of the archdiocese in Halifax. Her big news is that she just flew in from Los Angeles where her newest grandson was baptized last Sunday.

2nd segment: Scot said both the Pilot and the Anchor have editorials on the mandate from the Dept. of Health and Human Services requiring contraception coverage in health insurance plans. Fr. Roger’s editorial covers President Obama’s “unaccommodating accommodation”. Fr. Roger said Obama said religious organizations won’t have to pay premiums for contraception, but the insurers will provide it for free, but this is just an accommodating trick. The reality is that these costs will be covered by higher premiums. The US bishops’ main concerns were all neglected in this so-called compromise: respect for religious liberty and consultation with religious groups . The Obama administration did not consult with the affected religious institutions at all.

The bishops aren’t just trying to get an exemption for the institution, but that Catholic business owners shouldn’t be forced to violate their own consciences either.Scot said Catholic businessmen have told him that they hoped the bishops would defend all Catholics, not just dioceses and parishes and explicitly Catholic organizations. The bishops are asking Catholics to call the White House (202-456-1111), representatives and Senators. They should ask Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179, S 1467).

Susan said we have discussed before that there is a difference between the freedom to worship and freedom of religion and our country is built on the wider principle of freedom of religion. Also, the Church serves more than just Catholics. We don’t ask people whether they’re Catholic and hungry; we just ask if they’re hungry. Scot noted how Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas has been criticizing the mandate and standing up for the rights of all religious people.

Greg talked about his editorial in the Pilot this week, which says that many Church health insurance plans are self-insurance plans. The editorial notes there is much confusion about the policies and statements being thrown about by partisans on this issue. We use the term “health insurance” very loosely; even the President did in his remarks last week. But we don’t all have the same kind of insurance plans. Scot clarified that consumer-marketed insurance plans are regulated by states, that is the individual consumer buys the plan. But most large employers choose to self-fund or self-insurance their healthcare benefits. In this case the the employer decides it’s cheaper to pay the bills as they come in as opposed to keeping a pile of cash set aside. These companies contract third-party insurance companies to process claims from doctors and patients and then bill the Archdiocese. In the Archdiocese of Boston, the archdiocese self-insurers, but employees have Tufts Health Plan cards. When the companies self-insure, they don’t have insurance plans that are covered by state regulations. The Archdiocese does not buy insurance from Tufts or Blue Cross/Blue Shield or another company. Thus these self-funded plans are only subject to federal law.

Scot said Catholic organizations have also chosen to self-fund to avoid onerous state mandates. This is why the HHS mandate is so important:

Here then is the rub: the new HHS mandate is a federal law and therefore it applies to all plans whether self-funded or insured. For the first time, self-funded health benefit plans find themselves being required to offer specific benefits. In creating a federal contraception requirement, the Obama Administration has not only shut the exit door for health plans, but locked it.

The new federal healthcare law is the first time the federal regulations require insurers to cover specific procedures. The editorial will be available through a link in the Weekly Email from Cardinal Sean and the Pilot. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

Fr. Roger said last August, the US bishops formed a committee on religious freedom because they saw that this HHS mandate is not a unique incursion on religious freedom, but is part of a general pattern. The Obama administration has tried in other ways to curtail religious freedom to a very, very narrow idea. They have excluded Church groups from giving aid to victims of human trafficking. They’ve threatened to end government contracts with Catholic Relief Services because they won’t offer abortions.

3rd segment: Scot said Archbishop Chaput has blasted this “compromise” as “insulting”.

“The HHS mandate, including its latest variant, are belligerent, unnecessary and deeply offensive to the content of Catholic belief,” he wrote in a Feb. 12 Philadelphia Inquirer column.

“Any such mandate would make it morally compromising for us to provide health care benefits to the staffing of our public service ministries.”

“We cannot afford to be fooled – yet again – by evasive and misleading allusions to the administration’s alleged ‘flexibility’ on such issues. The HHS mandate needs to be rescinded.”

Scot and Fr. Roger discussed the difference between rescinding and revising the mandate. Rescinding the provisions means no one would be required to finance this immoral practice.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan also commented.

We bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians, and you can’t compromise on principle,” said Cardinal-designate Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And the goal posts haven’t moved and I don’t think there’s a 50-yard line compromise here,” he added.

“We’re in the business of reconciliation, so it’s not that we hold fast, that we’re stubborn ideologues, no. But we don’t see much sign of any compromise,” he said.

“What (Obama) offered was next to nothing. There’s no change, for instance, in these terribly restrictive mandates and this grossly restrictive definition of what constitutes a religious entity,” he said. “The principle wasn’t touched at all.”

… “My brother-in-law, who’s a committed Catholic, runs a butcher shop. Is he going to have to pay for services that he as a convinced Catholic considers to be morally objectionable?” he asked.

Susan said the article also speaks enthusiastically of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced by Rep. Jeffrey Fortenberry, R-Nebraska.

They then turned to discussion of a column by Michael Pakaluk, in which he says that government is enshrining the idea that sex and procreation are intrinsically separated. Scot noted that the claim that 98% of Catholics use contraception is bogus, even on the face of it. Greg said Pakaluk points out that before 1930, every Christian denomination held that contraception was immoral and in 1931 the Anglican Church opened the door to a very small possibility of the permissibility of contraception and that created a slippery slope.

Scot said George Weigel’s column in the Anchor discusses the soft totalitarianism of the mandate.

As the administration has demonstrated in its international human rights policy, it regards religious freedom as a kind of privacy right: the right to freedom of worship, which the administration seems to regard as analogous to any other optional, recreational activity. No serious student of religious freedom, however, takes the redefinition of religious freedom as freedom-to-worship seriously. For if that redefinition were true, there would be “religious freedom” in Saudi Arabia, so long as the “worship” in question were conducted behind closed doors. And that is manifestly absurd.

… It is no exaggeration to describe that cast of mind as “soft totalitarianism”: an effort to eliminate the vital role in health care, education, and social service played by the institutions of civil society, unless those institutions become extensions of the state.

So the state isn’t actually taking over everything, but the government is engaging in aggressive coercion. Fr. Roger said totalitarianism is where the state takes away all rights and its powers are unlimited. The HHS mandate says if you’re going to have health insurance, you have to violate your conscience or shut down or pay a fine of $2,000 per year for each employee. Fr. Roger said this is how the most repressive governments in history started their totalitarianism. Pope Benedict said in his White House visit that freedom must be won anew and defended by every generation.

Scot notes the Pilot column by Jaymie Stuart Wolfe in which she says that opponents of religious institutions don’t aim to undermine faith, but to exercise power over life from conception to natural death. She said the Catholic Church is the prime opponent of the mindset that sees the human being as a tool to be used or a burden to be discarded. Susan said when you start saying every person is worthy of respect and made in the image and likeness of God, think of all the things that flow from that, what rights those persons have from conception to natural death.

Scot then read from Kevin and Marilyn Ryan’s column in the Pilot titled “Why do they hate us so?” They describe many examples of anti-Catholicism in politics and media and says it’s hard to figure out why we provoke such hostility. The good news is that we are standing up for the right things, but unlike early Christians, we modern Catholic are falling down in our witness. We aren’t practicing our faith enough to be inspiring witnesses to our fellow citizens.

Greg said this is part of the New Evangelization. The Church needs to figure out how to be a witness to the modern world.

Scot noted other stories in the Pilot and the Anchor, including an obituary for Fr. Robert McAuliffe and the National St. Vincent de Paul Society providing grants to several parishes to help the poor. On the grants they went to the parishes to ask how even small grants will go a long way to helping those in need. Another article was about how Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton is moving to teaching using iPads for every student. Also the Catholicism series by Fr. Robert Barron is airing on CatholicTV. Fr. Roger encouraged listeners to watch this series, either on DVDs, perhaps in their parish faith formation groups, or on TV. Fr. Barron not only does a great job explaining the faith, but also shows us by taking us to the great shrines and places of Catholicism throughout the world. Susan noted that parishes can also get study guides and other supplemental materials.

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