Last month, President Obama's administration announced that religious institutions in the United States would have one year to comply with a rule from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that requires religiously-affiliated institutions to provide, among other things, abortifacient drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives.
The rule came despite a request by numerous religious organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, informing the President and members of his administration that the rule would force many, including Catholics, to directly violate the moral teaching of their faith.
For Catholics, it is gravely sinful to utilize or cooperate with the provision of abortifacient drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. As Pope Paul VI put it:
[T]he direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation -- whether as an end or as a means (Humanae Vitae, nn. 14-15, 25 July 1968).
Put more succinctly, the Code of Canon Law states: "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae
excommunication" (Canon 1398).
By way of analogy, the President's mandate would be similar to his having the U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaim an edict that all restaurants must sell and propogate pork, and that Jews would have a year to comply. The President's policy forces persons with good-faith conscientious objections to violate their consciences.
As one might imagine, this has led to fierce condemnations by the American bishops of the Catholic Church. Almost all of them have issued pastoral letters to the faithful of their dioceses, and now, His Excellency, the Most Rev. David R. Choby, Eleventh Bishop of Nashville, has published his directives
to the Catholic Christians of Middle Tennessee:
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My Dear People of God,
On one occasion in Jesus’ life he was challenged by some who sought to trap him in a controversy over whether or not it was lawful for a Jewish person to pay a tax to the Roman Empire. He responded by saying, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.”
No one can accuse us as Catholics of failing in our civic duties. Following the urging of St. Paul, we regularly pray for our civil officials; asking that through them and their decisions the common good be promoted. We pay our taxes when in some cases (education) we derive no benefit from what we contribute. Catholic men and women have sacrificed their lives both totally in death, and perpetually through injuries of war.
Now, however, it seems that which we offer by way of our affection and commitment to our country has received an indifferent response from those who currently govern us.
We were assured on at least two occasions that we as Catholics would not be put in a position to disregard or violate our consciences in the area of certain medical procedures. This assurance was delivered by no one less than the president himself, first to Congressman Bart Stupak then to Cardinal–designate Timothy Dolan of New York.
Now we face a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that requires us as the Church to provide insurance to cover procedures and practices that directly violate Catholic moral principles.
If we are forced to provide for tubal ligations and abortifacient drugs, what is to keep the government from demanding that Catholic hospitals provide abortions? We are in the business to make people whole and well. Ours is not the business of attacking life. But to receive it and nurture it as a gift from God.
The bishops of the United States are unified in our opposition to this measure. However, our views will not receive a great deal of consideration in the public square. They will be dismissed as being “out of touch.”
I want to encourage your involvement in this issue. First, continue to pray for those elected to lead us. Second, study and read about the Church’s efforts to defend and promote the sanctity of life; and finally, take your rightful place in the political process by communicating to those at the national level your opposition to this particular consequence of the new health care initiative.
The soul of the nation is influenced in the values we embrace. As a Church we do great things to respond to the dignity of persons at all stages of life. We should not be required to do those things which violate the principles which inspire and guide our efforts to heal and make whole.
Assuring you of my support, I am,
Sincerely in Christ,
The Most Rev. David R. Choby,
Bishop of Nashville
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The Bishop's action-items are spot-on: (1) pray; (2) know the issue; and (3) contact public officials, particularly in the executive branch, and get them to change the policy.
Let us also pray for Bishop Choby, and all the American bishops, as the fight for religious freedom heats up. May God grant him and them strength, courage, and faith.