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U.S. Catholic bishops not satisfied with contraception mandate revision.

Given the initial response of critics of the Obama administration's contraception-coverage mandate (except for one lone welcoming voice), it's not terribly surprising that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, has announced his displeasure with last Friday's proposed revision. Here's his statement in full. Analysis later.

For almost a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have worked hard to support the right of every person to affordable, accessible, comprehensive, life-affirming healthcare.As we continue to do so, our changeless values remain the same.We promote the protection of the dignity of all human life and the innate rights that flow from it, including the right to life from conception to natural death; care for the poorest among us and the undocumented; the right of the Church to define itself, its ministries, and its ministers; and freedom of conscience.Last Friday, the Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the HHS mandate that requires coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortions.The Administration indicates that it has heard some previously expressed concerns and that it is open to dialogue.With release of the NPRM, the Administration seeks to offer a response to serious matters which have been raised throughout the past year.We look forward to engaging with the Administration, and all branches and levels of government, to continue to address serious issues that remain. Our efforts will require additional, careful study.Only in this way can we best assure that healthcare for every woman, man and child is achieved without harm to our first, most cherished freedom.

In evaluating Friday's action regarding the HHS mandate, our reference remains the statement of our Administrative Committee made last March, United for Religious Freedom, and affirmed by the entire body of bishops in June 2012.In that statement, we first expressed concern over the mandate's "exceedingly narrow" four-part definition of "religious employer," one that exempted our houses of worship, but left "our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need" subject to the mandate.This created "a 'second class' of citizenship within our religious community," "weakening [federal law's] healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity."And the exemption effectuated this distinction by requiring "among other things, [that employers] must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith."On Friday, the Administration proposed to drop the first three parts of the four-part test.This might address the last of the concerns above, but it seems not to address the rest.The Administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries. It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an "accommodation," rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. And finally, it seems to take away something that we had previouslythe ability of an exempt employer (such as a diocese) to extend its coverage to the employees of a ministry outside the exemption.Second, United for Religious Freedom explained that the religious ministries not deemed "religious employers" would suffer the severe consequence of "be[ing] forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions."After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our "accommodated" ministries to have the illicit coveragethey may not opt out, nor even opt out for their childrenunder a separate policy.In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities. Here, too, we will continue to analyze the proposal and to advocate for changes to the final rule that reflect these concerns.Third, the bishops explained that the "HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values."This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it.Friday's action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this "third class."In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath.We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few.Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage.We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutionswe will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.

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Why do politicians pay so much attention to Dolan et al? Don't these folks realize that most Catholics don't give a stinkin' hoot for the pontificating by the hierarchs (or, God forbid, am I wrong on this point)?As for Dolan's "third class", I have to wonder why employers opposed to war, nonetheless, still "pony up" taxes in full to Uncle Sam ("I want you").Go, Sebelius!!!Go, Obama!!!

Are they moving the goal-posts (again)? I don't remember them demanding an opt-out before for employees. Referring to the coverage as "illicit" is certainly odd. I don't think I've ever seen the claim that the mere existence of the coverage violates the conscience of the insured individual.

It was a USCCB staffer who initially spoke about a hypothetical Catholic Taco Bell owner. And you're right, Eduardo. Catholic teaching doesn't hold that things are evil in themselves. It's what we do with them that confers the moral aspect. More soon.

"...our changeless values remain the same."Well, yes, that's the way with changeless things, isn't it?

Three things leap out for me (only a quick read, so correct me if I misunderstand.) One:

After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our "accommodated" ministries to have the illicit coveragethey may not opt out, nor even opt out for their childrenunder a separate policy.

It sounds like Dolan believes that the gov't plans to put every man, woman and child in the US on prescription contraception, which is clearly not the case. Isn't there a meaningful difference between what is covered by insurance and what one opts to receive? There is a requirement for informed consent to medical care: anyone who believes that contraception (or anything else covered to which one has moral objections,) is wrong need not use it. Simple as that. As far as I know, there is NO AUTHORITATIVE MAGISTERIAL TEACHING saying that insurance coverage for contraception is morally wrong. And why would it be? Policy questions should be based on questions of the common good. Overwhelming medical/public health evidence demonstrates that it does contribute to the common good. Including reducing abortions, too.Two:

In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.

No funding is required. Has no one informed Cdl. Dolan of this? My understanding is that if you have coverage from an employer who does not wish to have his hands sullied with this, the insurance company is required to contact the covered person directly. The insured have access to this coverage because they are employed Americans. The employer has no responsibility except insofar as he employs people in a nation that makes health policy decisions based on medical, not religious, criteria. Three:

the "HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it.

Here's that moral imagination thing again: the powerful (employers, insurers,) are worthy of conscience protection, not employees. And the "beneficiaries" again misstates what has been made clear. It does not cost extra. Honestly! If this is all about conscience, why not draft laws for insurance coverage as widely as possible and throw all one's moral muscle into conscience formation?

Yes, it may be "illicit" to have to provide coverage for these services, but it isn't illicit to have that coverage. At least it never was up to this point.

I wonder if these guys realize the extent to which this latest in an ever-increasing line of nonsense diminishes (even more) the value of their leadership to their "flocks" and, equally importantly, how they are viewed in the eyes of the rest of the country?Do they really think that the Obama administration will give them any more than lip-service after this latest goal-post switching? How can you negotiate with someone who keeps changing her/his mind? Obama learned his lesson in THAT respect during his last 4 years of trying to deal with Teapublican politicians. He now knows quite will how to deal with Teapublican bishops.If this is an example of what George Weigel is referring to as Evangelical Catholicsim on the offense (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/evangelical-cathol...), God save us all from an obviously offensive Evangelical Catholicism.

As I understand the state of play with Obamacare, if the mandate is out, so are the insurance companies, and it's back to the drawing board. And now Cardinal Dolan has offered up a demand for a user-option mandate. Which is a contradiction in terms. As any insurance company can see.So, after "almost a century," the bishops got what they wanted. And they don't want it.

My summary of Cardinal Dolan's statement is, "We're going to study these proposals; this isn't everything we wanted; we'd like to work with the administration to get more of what we wanted." Perhaps that's a glass-half-empty way of looking at it (although I don't think there is anything in the tone of the statement that is particularly war-like), but the glass is only half full - or less than half full.

Overwhelming medical/public health evidence demonstrates that it does contribute to the common good. Including reducing abortions, too.Lisa,I think your 'overwhelming' is wishful thinking. "Finally, a several-decades-long experiment with the relationship between widely available contraception and rates of unintended pregnancy shows the following results, which directly contradict the IOMs claims: It is the women who have been receiving free birth control for decades, who are the most likely today to experience unintended pregnancies, non-marital pregnancies, and abortions. Even among American women generally, rates of unintended pregnancy, non-marital pregnancies, and abortions have risen, not fallen, alongside the vastly expanded availability of both contraception and abortion. There is simply no evidence that making contraception free among employed women and their daughters will lower the national rate of unintended pregnancy, or abortions."

Is there anyone who is surprised by Cdl Dolan's response? Is there anyone commenting whose reaction to Cdl Dolan's response could not have been expected? On the HHS mandate, this is the pattern.Obama speaks.Chaput barks.Dolan complains.JJ and Jim McCrea post a shrill criticism of Dolan.Eduardo, Mollie and Tom, a less shrill but no less expected criticism of the same.Lisa backs it up by methodically exposing flaws in Dolan's response.Jim Pauwels defends Dolan by putting on his incurable optimist's glasses to look at the response.We are in a rut.

Is anyone really surprised that the hierarchs would again find some obscure reason to oppose women exercising their human rights over their own bodies? The hierarchs will never be satisfied until the US government agrees to enforce their anti-feminine ideology on all individuals regardless of individual conscience and belief.Of course, this kind of passive aggressive manipulation is par for course in the Catholic all-male feudal oligarchy. This is how life is lived along the banks of the Tiber.Yet another example of why the hierarchs are hopelessly alienated and ever increasingly irrelevant to the lives of Catholics. Only childless misogynists like Catholic hierarchs could elevate cognitive dissonance to the level of high art and ritual.During the last presidential campaign many of us Catholic Obama-supporters tried to warn the administration that hierarchs would continue to try to jerk the President around to demonstrate their own self-importance. The President's campaign believes that for political reasons they have to continue to dance with the devils because the of the growing importance of Catholic voters [read Latinos] to the Democratic coalition. They figure they have to keep this up for the near future until this growing Latino electoral behemoth is safely corralled for the Democrats.

It occurred to me that Dolan is displaying the same "cluelessness" and mindlessness that enabled Roger Mahony to corrupt his high office by his complicity for years in the rape and sodomy of children.I guess this could be considered the hierarchs at least being consistent.

I agree with Jim Pauweis. It's a moderate statement and looks forward to further conversation.

Jim McCrea: I clicked on the link to George Weigel's article about his vision of evangelical Catholicism. However, I did not follow something he said. So I am wondering if you or others follow his thought.I WILL TYPE THE PART OF HIS STATEMENT THAT I DON'T UNDERSTAND IN ALL CAPS.He says, "The curtain is coming down on the institutionally-focused Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation -- THE CHURCH IN WHICH EVERY CATHOLIC UNDER 50 GREW UP -- as the curtain rises on the Gospel-focused evangelical Catholicism of the third millennium."Did he mis-type "under 50" where he should have typed "over 50"?If he did not mis-type, then why did he seemingly exclude all Catholics over 50?Or is there some other meaning to this statement that I missed?(I understand that my inquiry about this quote is off the topic that Grant Gallicho introduced in this thread.)

Eduardo Pealver wrote:I commented on this in Grant's newer post "What Bishop's Want"My guess is that the issue is mostly about Catholic parents being able to prevent their children (who may be covered until they are 26 years old) from getting free contraceptives through the parent's plan. if they reject the contraception plan it cuts off their kids, too. If it had to do only with the parent, a Catholic employee could just not use contraceptives her/himself even if she/he automatically received a policy. The bishops may have a chance of getting this change. This is a new issue that they havent brought up before. It lends itself to a campaign about "would you want a young girl to be able to get free birth control without her parents' knowledge?"

Sorry, in my post just above I omitted what Eduardo had writtenEduardo Pealver wrote:"Are they moving the goal-posts (again)? I dont remember them demanding an opt-out before for employees. Referring to the coverage as illicit is certainly odd. I dont think Ive ever seen the claim that the mere existence of the coverage violates the conscience of the insured individual."I commented on this in Grants newer post What Bishops Want, etc

I can only wish that the Obama Administration would send a very NY-kind of message to Dolan: Go pound salt!If you wanted to see Catholic hierarchs get real cooperative with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration should signal its allies on the left to start filling lawsuits that would seek to strip any non-profit organization that can't comply with the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment of any and all Federal money which subsidizes their corporate operations.If this were done, the Administration could drive a wedge between Catholic universities/colleges and hospitals and Catholic hierarchs. These institutions could not survive economically without Federal money. Catholic hospitals could not survive without Medicare or Medicaid funding. ND's golden dome would have to be melted down if they had to go without access to Federal student loan support.If it weren't for the fact that politically the Democrats need the Latino community firmly in their coalition if they are to win future elections. On the bright side, if Republicans fumble the ball again on immigration and a host of other issues important to Latinos - as it seems they have a death wish to do so - then trying to make nice with Dolan and his brother hierarchs won't matter much anyway in the long run politically. This small window of political opportunity for the hierarchs is closing very fast, and not a minute too soon.

I am glad to see most commentors on this issue finally realizing that freedom of religious conscience is an individual right,not a "Corporate/Bosses" right to oppress the free rights of their underlings to decide "religious" issues themselves. Will some of these Corps help the church enforce Sunday Mass attendance?