Sobering, to say the least:
Over the last six months or so, the Catholic Church in the United States has found itself in some tension with the executive branch of the federal government over a very grave issue: religious freedom. Can a government bureau, in this case the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), define for us or any faith community what is ministry and how it can be exercised? Can government also coerce the church to violate its conscience?
I wanted to let you, the great people of the archdiocese, know how we’re doing in this fight. Thank you for your extraordinary unity, support, and encouragement. Throughout all the archdiocese, our people – both as patriotic citizens and committed Catholics — have been very effective in letting government know that we are not at peace at all with this attempt to curtail the freedom of religion and sanctity of conviction we cherish as both Catholics and Americans.
This has not been a fight of our choosing. We’d rather not be in it. We’d prefer to concentrate on the noble tasks of healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor, all now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church. And we were doing all of those noble works rather well, I dare say, without these radical new mandates from the government. The Catholic Church in America has a long tradition of partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad. We’d sure rather be partnering than punching.
Nor is this a “Catholic” fight alone. As a nurse from Harrison emailed me, “Cardinal, I’m not so much mad about all this as a Catholic, but as an American.” It was a Baptist minister, Governor Mike Huckabee, who observed, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”
And it is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception. Pure and simple, it’s about religious freedom, the sacred right, protected by our constitution, of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.
When the President announced on January 20th that the choking mandates from HHS would remain — a shock to me, since he had personally assured me that he would do nothing to impede the good work of the Church in health care, education, and charity, and that he considered the protection of conscience a sacred duty — not only you, but men and women of every faith, or none at all, rallied in protest. The worry that we bishops had expressed — that such government control was contrary to our deepest political values — was eloquently articulated by constitutional scholars and leaders of every creed. Even newspaper editorials supported us!
On February 10th, the President announced that the insurance providers would have to pay the bill, not the Church’s schools, hospitals, clinics, or vast network of charitable outreach. He considered this “concession” adequate.
Did this help? We bishops wondered if it would, and announced at first that, while withholding final judgment, we would certainly give it close scrutiny.