My Brother and Sister Hibernians:
There has been some criticism leveled at the Ancient Order of Hibernians that we are not standing up for our rights with regard to the infringement of our religious liberty as Catholics with regard to the recent mandate issued. by the Department of Health and Human Services. This criticism is unwarranted and unjustified. When this mandate was issued, Len Byrne, an AOH National Director and National AOH Pro-Life Chairman contacted me, Father Thomas M. O’Donnell, as the AOH National Chaplain with regard to what action the AOH should take on the national level. At that time I advised Len that it would be wise for us to wait for a response from the United States Conference Catholic Bishops and our local Bishops in our various Dioceses.
One of the first Bishops to respond with an excellent letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Washington was Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Cardinal Wuerl’s letter is the following. (Len Byrne already sent this letter to all the State Presidents to be distributed to their jurisdictions).
January 30, 2012
|Dear Friends,On January 20, 2012, the United States Department of Health and Human Services with the approval of President Barack Obama issued a new federal mandate making coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptives obligatory for virtually all employers, including faith-based institutions.What is at the center of the concern of Catholic bishops and others about this action by the Obama administration? How can it affect the institutions of the Archdiocese of Washington?The new mandate is the first federal regulation in our nation’s history to require all faith-based institutions to pay for coverage of abortifacient drugs, sterilization and contraceptives. People were already free to use such widely available products and procedures. Up until this mandate, employers could choose whether or not to cover them and individuals could choose whether or not to seek employers that pay for them. Now nearly all those who provide insurance must include abortifacients, sterilization and contraceptives. Virtually all Catholic institutions and individuals will have to pay for that coverage. Being forced to provide these services violates both our faith conviction and our freedom.
In upholding the HHS regulation, the administration has ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and has denied Catholics the most fundamental freedom, religious liberty. Despite the Church’s appeal for a broader religious exemption, which was echoed by many other faiths, the administration refused to modify the regulation’s current exemption that is limited to religious groups that hire and serve people primarily of their own faith. Most churches and church-run institutions do not qualify for the exemption because of their very openness to serving the common good of society and all people regardless of creed.
Even those who may disagree with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life, such as the editorial boards of The Washington Post and the New York Daily News, have stated that the government has no business forcing religious institutions to sponsor and pay for procedures and drugs which violate their beliefs.
What will happen if this mandate stands? Our schools, hospitals and charitable organizations will be placed in the untenable position of choosing between violating civil law and abandoning our religious beliefs.
For example, the mandate will allow a Catholic school one of three options:
A Catholic school simply cannot effectively teach Catholic doctrine while providing insurance to its teachers – and in the case of Catholic universities, to its students as well – that violates its own beliefs. Nor should it have to deny its employees access to affordable health care, a basic human right. Nor could it afford to pay crippling fines. Nor should it be forced to close its doors to non-Catholics.
There can no longer be any doubt that religious liberty in our country is in jeopardy. Only weeks ago, the Obama administration unsuccessfully argued to the Supreme Court that the government has the right to interfere in a church’s choice of its ministers. Thankfully, the Court unanimously rejected this radical position. Undeterred, the government has advanced on another front.
Catholics across America are already fighting this mandate. Catholic journalists of all backgrounds have widely criticized the HHS rules as unjust, and leaders of major Catholic organizations — such as the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA — have also spoken out against them. In the meantime, the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty is actively exploring options for litigation and legislative proposals to remedy this injustice.
This is the time to speak up. This is the time for all our voices to be heard. Therefore, I ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we need to commit ourselves to prayer that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be preserved. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I ask you to visit www.usccb.org/conscience and www.mdcathcon.org to learn more about this assault on religious liberty and to find the resources to support legislation that would reverse the effects of the administration’s decision.
With gratitude for your collaboration in this very important matter and with every good wish, I am
Donald Cardinal Wuerl
Archbishop of Washington
One of the most strongly worded reactions to the HHS mandate came from Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik who wrote a column in the Pittsburgh Catholic entitled “To hell with you.” Bishop Zubik in his remarks said that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama administration have said: “To hell with you” to the Catholic faithful of the United States. This mandate has said “to hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying and then you will have to knuckle under.” Bishop Zubik called on all Catholics to do all that is possible to rescind this HHS mandate by writing to President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius and the members of Congress about this unprecedented interference in the right of Catholics to serve their community without violating their fundamental moral beliefs.
As members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians we can do our part to stand up for our religious freedom and beliefs by sending a letter to the President, Kathleen Sebelius and our Congressmen and Senators. A sample letter may be found here.
With every blessing and best wish – Father Tom O’Donnell, AOH National Chaplain