Posts Tagged ‘conscience protection’


Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Just a few thoughts about the Supreme Court ruling a week ago today, being neither a lawyer nor  court watcher, so my thoughts tend to be those of an extremely interested observer. I was happy that the court found the concept of universal coverage for health care constitutional. 55 million uninsured and many with no access to health care was a national shame. Even with the so-called “Affordable Care Act,” there would remain about 20 million uninsured with no access to health care, many of whom would be undocumented. Our diocesan Catholic Charities knows firsthand the reality of the horror many of these people face when they desperately need medical attention and assistance but are too afraid to approach the avenues which are open to most other people. Thank God for the dedicated doctors, nurses, and volunteers who help with La Clinica Guadalupana in Clearwater and the Catholic Mobile Medical van which visits the migrant camps in eastern Hillsborough County. How the Court arrived at its decision and why is interesting, always, but the reality is that the concept itself is not so weak as to be unconstitutional.

The Administration still has not played its hand yet in how it will respond to the deep problems which all Catholics should have in the HHS regulations implementing the Affordable Care act. It is my understanding that there will be some “fix” and that it will be satisfactory. Time will tell and the sand in the hour glass is rapidly emptying. One would think that if there was the genuine good will toward “conscience protection” of which President Obama spoke two years ago at Notre Dame, it would not be taking this long, but, alas, this is an election year and one can only suppose that someone is delegated with the challenging task in the re-election committee of counting votes gained and lost depending on what they do. Sounds cynical I am sure, but I would bet it is not far from the truth if not the truth. Some said that it would need to await the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case before it, but that argument is now hocus pocus.

Finally, yesterday concluded the “Fortnight for Freedom” observance in many of the parishes and institutions of the diocese and throughout the Church in this country. I have heard of many of our parishes doing clever and appropriate things throughout the fortnight. Interestingly, St. John Vianney parish in St. Pete Beach has a bell tower but no bells so the parishioners there were encouraged to come to Church yesterday at noon with their own bells which they rang at the suggested tolling moment. There were many holy hours and prayerful observances throughout the diocese. I would go to the bank that not every parish did as much as they might and that not every pastor was himself convinced enough that this was a matter of pastoral importance. Sometimes, I am asked if that bothers me, and my answer is “yes” and “no.” “Yes” in that I have asked for very little in things like this during my time as bishop and when I do it means that I believe deeply in it. “No” in that I know that this matter like some others cuts close to the political around which there can be a divergence of opinion. All my priests know that we preach and talk ideas and issues and do not instruct how to cast votes come election day. That I would not like. Sometimes I get letters complaining about individual pastors who seem not to be cooperating. You can blame me if you wish (it happens in a lot of other things and is part of the job description of being a bishop) because my men know at the end of the day, they too were given a brain and have a pastoral sense so they are quite capable of deciding that which is appropriate or will work. I know that if this was a matter in which I would gladly die in the ditch for, they would be there for me and for the Church. My sense is that in the case of the fortnight for freedom, they used their best judgment and most did beautifully.

Finally, I shall long remember the full St. Paul (Tampa) church for our diocesan Mass of commemoration on the Solemnity of the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul. It was simple but the Church at its best at prayer. Thanks to the over 1100 who came and listened and prayed.




Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I know, I know, we have no such thing as a “king” in these United States but then Shakespeare had no such thing as a “president” when he was writing plays and sonnets either. So I have inverted titles to make this point: in his famous commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, President Obama said this: “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

We shall soon learn how committed the President is to drafting “a sensible conscience clause” as his administration ponders whether or not, I as an employer, must provide contraceptive opportunities as a part of the health care program which I (the diocese) provide to all our employees. That’s the present assertion of the draft language in a portion of the health care bill which deals with services which must be provided to all employees. The President of Notre Dame University, the same man that President Obama praised for his wisdom and leadership in the same speech quoted above, joined by twenty-eight other college and university presidents has said that to do so would violate his (their) individual as well as institutional consciences. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. bravely went on to say that unless a conscience clause exempting religious institutions from providing such services was included, then he would cease to provide Notre Dame employees health care coverage and would be forced to remunerate them so that they would have to purchase a health plan individually and on their own, resulting in a loss of services and coverage and an escalation of health care costs. I would do the same here in the diocese. What a sad day that would be.

In the closing days of September, I asked all of y0u to write to Secretary Sibelius and ask her for conscience protection for those of us who hold religious beliefs that may be at variance by the letter or intent of the health care legislation. Although I am sometimes at a loss to completely understand everything about Christian Scientists, they are a Christian Church and they deserve protection for their religious beliefs and I would fight for them as I hope they would fight for us in this regard. Final wording has not yet been forthcoming from the US Department of Health and Human Services but it can not be far away. Then and only then will we be able to capture the conscience of the President and his administration in providing for an religious conscience exemption from requirements that violate people’s moral code and system of beliefs.

Should we be worried? I believe so. I feel the same attack on religious liberty and its exercise in this nation that drove the founders to flee their native lands and establish this government, for the people, by the people and Under God, is suddenly front and center here in my country. Migration and Refugee Services, a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been denied a grant from the government because we do not provide contraceptive assistance to the newly arrived whom we have helped resettle with great distinction over decades, especially the Vietnamese following the war. Catholic Relief Services has been told “shape up or ship out” because we do not distribute or advocate condom use in the countries where we serve the poor. Now I must confess that during the administration of President George W. Bush, USAID which is a program of the State Department was at one time going to deny CRS any PEPFAR funds because we did not advocate and teach the use of condoms. Someone woke up and smelled the coffee of the potential risk of failure of the new anti-AIDS retroviral program and made CRS a lead agent in initially nine countries so the pressure is not just a reflection of one party. Catholic Charities in Illinois has been stricken from receiving any state funds for any program because of their conscience belief on gay and lesbian adoptions. What a shame! Today the question is whether those  in office now will also “smell the coffee” and allow us the conscience protection so strongly embraced by our nation’s founders. We will see, will we not and only then will be capture the conscience of the king!