Chaput: HHS Mandate Requires Right Action Whatever the Cost

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is asking the faithful to pray for him and his fellow bishops as they deliberate how to respond to another ambiguous compromise from the government concerning a coercive birth control mandate that aims to force religious employers to violate their consciences.

In his weekly message published on Catholic Archbishop Chaput says the bishops will need both courage and prudence in the days ahead as they attempt to forge a response to the government’s second failed attempt to accommodate their concerns.

” . . .(T)he Catechism warns that prudence should never be used as an alibi for ‘timidity or fear, duplicity or dissimulation’,” he writes. “Real prudence has a spine called fortitude, the virtue we more commonly know as courage.”

These virtues will be vital in the weeks ahead as the Obama Administration launches a public comment period about a revised regulation concerning the HHS mandate. Some believe the new rule is a step in the right direction and others, such as the pro-abortion NARAL Prochoice America and the American Civil Liberties Union praise it as a “good compromise.” But that’s not what the scholars are saying.

The Archbishop quotes the scholar Yuval Levin who said the new HHS mandate proposal, “like the versions that have preceded it, betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience.” In reality, despite the appearance of compromise, “the government has forced a needless and completely avoidable confrontation and has knowingly put many religious believers in an impossible situation.”

Some scholars, such as Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley, believe the new rules will actually make things worse.

“Gauging the net effect of the new administration proposal [is] hazardous,” Bradley writes. “But one can say with confidence the following: (1) religious hospitals are, as before, not exempt ‘religious employers’; (2) religious charities are very likely not exempt either, unless they are run out of a church or are very tightly integrated with a church. So, a parish or even a diocese’s Saint Vincent De Paul operations would probably be an exempt ‘religious employer,’ whereas Catholic Charities would not be; (3) the new proposal may (or may not) make it more likely that parish grade schools are exempt ‘religious employers.’ But Catholic high schools are a different matter. Some might qualify as ‘religious employers.’ Most probably will not.

“It is certain that Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify as exempt ‘religious employers.’ The new proposal includes, however, a revised ‘accommodation’ for at least some of these institutions, as well as some hospitals and charities. The proposal refines the administration’s earlier efforts to somehow insulate the colleges and universities from immoral complicity in contraception, mainly by shifting — at least nominally – the cost and administration of the immoral services to either the health insurance issuer (think Blue Cross) or to the plan administrator (for self-insured entities, such as Notre Dame). This proposal adds some additional layering to the earlier attempts to insulate the schools, but nothing of decisive moral significance is included.”

Chaput goes on to lament the fact that the White House made no concessions at all to the religious conscience claims of private businesses.

He concludes: “One of the issues America’s bishops now face is how best to respond to an HHS mandate that remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed. In the weeks ahead the bishops of our country, myself included, will need both prudence and courage – the kind of courage that gives prudence spine and results in right action, whatever the cost. Please pray that God guides our discussions.”

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