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Following Rule, Boston Archdiocese Warns It May Drop Employee Health Coverage

In a sharply worded letter sent to parishioners on Sunday, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said forcing Catholic churches to cover the cost of birth control for employees is violation of Catholic consciences. (AP)

In a sharply worded letter sent to parishioners on Sunday, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley said forcing Catholic churches to cover the cost of birth control for employees is violation of Catholic consciences. (AP)

BOSTON — Catholic bishops across the country say they may be compelled to stop offering health insurance. This threat is the latest volley in a battle between church leaders and the Obama administration over whether the government will force Catholic institutions to pay for insurance that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion medications.

In Massachusetts, parishioners got the latest news on the church’s fight with President Obama in a letter distributed after Mass Sunday and posted on Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s blog. It includes:

Unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled and must be prepared either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties of doing so).

To clarify, the Obama ruling would exempt churches, but Catholic schools, hospitals and organizations, such as Catholic Charities, would, after one year, have to cover many types of birth control, tubal ligations and medications that end pregnancies.

Father Bryan Hehir, the secretary for Health Care and Social Services at the Archdiocese of Boston, says contraception has been a controversial topic within the church for decades. But in this case, the government is forcing the church to pay for services that violate Catholic teachings.

“You’re asking an institution of the church to provide resources for a practice that it has disagreement with,” Hehir says. “That’s the point. The institutional issue is what raises the religious freedom issue.”

“We’re absolutely headed for a showdown,” says Philip Lawler, who edits the conservative Catholic World News. Lawler says Catholic leaders feel backed against a wall after years of concessions on birth control. He predicts, “there’ll be some Catholic institutions that drop health insurance, they’ll be civil disobedience, they’ll be court fights. I have never in my lifetime seen such a concerted effort on the part of the hierarchy to rally the troops and I can’t imagine that this will end without either the administration climbing down or some fairly significant conflicts.”

A few Catholic institutions say they are ready to follow through on the threat to stop providing health insurance for their employees rather than pay for contraception.

Charlie McKinney is vice president at Thomas Moore, a Catholic college in Merrimack, N.H., with less than 100 students. McKinney says Catholics are focused now on reversing the ruling. But if the ruling stands, the college will consider dropping health insurance.

“We view it as forcing us to act against our principles, against the principles of the church in order to be consistent with this mandate,” he says. “That is almost a situation where there’s not a solution.”

In addition to finding insurance on their own, possibly new doctors, and losing the pre-tax income benefit, employees might have to pay a penalty if they don’t buy an individual health plan right away. Churches, schools, health care agencies and Catholic charities would face a fine for failure to provide insurance.

Judy Waxman, vice president for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says it’s hard to believe that the church would create so much disruption and risk losing employees over this issue.

“Because there would be contraception — which, by the way, 98 percent of all American women, including Catholic women, use at some time — that therefore the institution should provide no coverage whatsoever, that’s outlandish,” Waxman says.

But church leaders say this fight is about more than birth control. Father Hehir worries this ruling would become a precedent for forcing hospitals, schools or Catholic charities to comply with additional policies that violate church teachings.

“If this stands in this way, what else will follow behind it?” he asks. “So that’s why it’s seen as both important in itself and in its consequences.”

The requirement that Catholic institutions must pay for insurance that includes birth control is not scheduled to take effect for a year. There’s widespread expectation that Catholic organizations will sue to prevent the order from going into effect.

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  • kelty

    So  the Catholic Church has no qualms about being behind initiatives that would force private insurance companies to drop contraception or abortion coverage for all of their insured, but would cancel insurance for all their employees if they were forced to cover it themselves? Pathetic. Maybe they should just stay out of the Health Care fields if they cannot treat all patients for all the health care needs.   

  • Anonymous

    I suggest that the Archbishop go ahead and do that. Then watch as all the employees leave. Why is the Catholic Church running anything these days? Seems to me they have a lot of other things to worry about these days rather than getting involved in these discussions and threatening their employees. Hypocrites. If they do this, then they should be fined according to MA law and taxed. That will teach them to hold their tongues.

  • EJ

    I thought we were a multi-cultural society that “celebrated” our rich diversity and embraced our differences.  We all work hard to accommodate our cultural differences.  

    Oh, unless we are talking about Catholics.  Then to hell with them!!!  The comments below remind me of the types of attacks the Jewish community endured during the early 30s in Munich and Berlin.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QUAYWERJ5BUI4QFICNDDVVZWD4 DefendOurConstitution

       EJ, you have that back-asswards.  It’s the Catholic Church that freely attacks people of other religious views, defends child molesters (how is that for Nazi-like?), tries to tell others how to live their lives, and then screams when they have to conform to the Society they live in.  Make no mistake, the Catholic Church is not a victim, but they have victimized plenty of people.  I am so glad to have left the CC and now I am a very happily practicing my religious values (i.e. the teachings of Christ!) at a Unitarian Universalist Church.  The doors are opened to all, come check it out!

  • Raferjohson

    These freaks molest young boys for decades, move priests around to hide, deny it when accused, pay billions in damages, but paying for health insurance that covers contraception, that really violates their morals.

    • Just Pointing This Out

      Uh, not just boys, you know. The people I know who were molested by priests are female.

  • http://twitter.com/Sharoney Sharoney

    As the old Italian lady once said, “They no play-a the game, they no make-a the rules.”

  • Charlene Carrier25

    Simple solution..If the  archdiocese  drops health care coverage for their employees…..2 solutions/1- change  jobs    2- archdiocese puts the difference in the paycheck..Charlene

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QUAYWERJ5BUI4QFICNDDVVZWD4 DefendOurConstitution

    What moral authority does O’Malley’s mafia to protect and hide child molesters
    have on anything? Especially to come and tell me that they are the
    final word on family planning and birth control.

    As a recovering Catholic I feel I can tell Cardinal O’Malley and the U.S. Conference of Catholic
    Bishops to shut their mouth and start worrying about all of them that
    were part (or complicit) in the child abuse scandal.

    Make no mistake, the priests that molested children were, for the most
    part, sick people that need help, but the Cardinals, Bishops and others
    in the leadership that hid the issue, lied about it and kept moving the
    perpetrators around (so that they could do it again elsewhere) are
    criminals that have no excuse whatsoever.

    When are you going to come clean Cardinal O’Malley?

    • Armyman6904

      hey truely not every priest is a child molester just like not every recovering catholic is pushing blame in the manner that you are. Yes I agree that it is wrong how the catholic church attempted to cover there tracks. how ever you need to get educated a little bit before speaking the members of the church who took apart in the actions above have been removed from service, second the ones here in michigan got jail time, third who are you to judge , god can do far more to an individual than you can. to generalize every priest as a child molester is uneducated and wrong. there are tons of priest I trust that are good people remember Judge not least ye be Judged

  • doesntmakesense

    So tell me, how does denying your employees life-saving treatments such as chemotherapy embrace that whole “we value life” statement?

    • Armyman6904

      hey now I am a nursing student who is catholic and the argument on birth control is confusing for two matters one if a women was an irregular period issue birth control can help her get regular if she stops at the six month mark which in turn helps her conceive. How ever more increasingly we are seeing parents with a need for birth control for there daughters. so I think that its safe to say that society has strayed away from traditional marriage and sexual education and its more noticed that abortion is a get out of jail free card for teen girls now adays it  makes me sick, the morning after pill is another one that pushes my buttons we as a society need to educate are children better

      • doestmakesense

        Sorry…there is a fault in your argument. The number one group of women receiving abortions in Massachusetts is MARRIED CATHOLIC women in their late 30s.

  • http://twitter.com/skrinyaz Robert Skrinyaz

    This is a nonissue. As Catholics, they are free not to use the access to contraception if their consciences forbid it. As Americans, they have every right to that access. 

  • Wondering

    I keep wondering about all the women who use “contraceptive” pills for many medical reasons. Is that medical usage for their employees (and for hospital patients) to be dismissed in all this?

  • dennis byron

    There’s many crosscurrents in this situation: the lack of moral authority of the hierarchy, the decades of support for the Democratic party by the hierarchy, the fact that there is NO homogenous Catholic community, the choice of the Obama administration to pick this fight NOW, the First Amendment issue, and more.

    The only way to approach the situation is to forget all of the above and reduce the choices to the core. “Render to Caesar…” Catholic institutions can
    – provide the offending insurance OR
    – pay the penalty OR
    – downsize employment at each insitution below the level where they would have to pay the penalty OR
    – stop providing various non-religious social and educational services (I am assuming this rule would not apply to diocesan and parish employees that teach CCD or visit the sick or the imprisoned, etc.)

    We’ve already seen the latter in Massachusetts relative to hospitals and education. The world hasn’t ended because St. E’s and BC are no longer Catholic.

    • Kitteechan

       I disagree. There is a singular issue here. Freedom. This decision could have huge negative implications for many women, and ONCE AGAIN put them at the mercy of old, white, men who, I should mention, have never given birth. With over HALF the people in poverty being children this group should be ASHAMED to have even considered FORCING their views down their employee’s throats. Some of whom are not even Catholic. This is crazy!

      I swear the only way the Catholic Church is going to wake up is be being diversified. To be blunt, let women be ordained into the priesthood.

  • Lcf02139

    I am a left wing democrat and Obama supporter, BUT when the BIG old government forces us to do anything, I think it over steps it’s boundries and is an abuse of power. 

    As Ron Paul would say: Get government out of my bedroom, out of my health care and stop forcing people, organizations to comply with their moral issues. 

  • Guest

    It seems to me that if employees can’t get ins. from the RCAB they’ll have to buy their own, as it is illegal to go without health insurance in Massachusetts. If I have this right, then, this will mean employees will be getting insurance that covers contraceptives. So, The Cardinal will  basically be forcing them to get insurance that covers what the Church is against- in fact, parish employees are exempt from the new law, as I understand it- but if they are forced to find their own insurance, Cardinal Sean will basically be forcing them to find insurance that does cover it. The Cardinal’s threat makes no real sense. 

    • Onetwothree

      Yes, but the cardinal won’t be paying for it…  appearently that is all he really cares about. 

  • MaryMagdalenesSarcasticCousin

    How come it doesn’t violate their conscience to drop faithful employees from vital, life-giving and life-extending health insurance coverage? Employees–and their family members who depend on them–will have to go without doctor visits, prescription heart medication, chemotherapy and whatever else health insurance covers that extends and helps life. Dropping health insurance for fear it might cover birth control pills makes complete and total sense, if you’re a deranged tunnel-visioned organization who likes to shuffle around pedophiles and discriminate against women at every possible level of your twisted corrupt misogynistic hierarchy while completely abandoning the hopeful and faithful message of love from which you originated. Excellent work, Catholic Church. It is exactly what Jesus would do. No doubt about it.

    • AgnesDay

      Gosh MaryMSC–what sect of Christianity do you belong to?  Send me a tract, eh?

      • MaryMagdalenesSarcasticCousin

        The Recovering Catholic Sect

    • Lawrence

      True. I think the Catholic church should just dissolve for many of the reasons you cite.

      But the government, forcing we the people and our businesses, and organizations to follow their rule of law can be abusive.

      I have a neighbor who had to fight Mass. city hall to keep her child. They were threatening to take the kids away due to “medical neglect”. She simply did not want to drug her child with the ADD drugs the school nurse insisted were necessary.

      Even now, government has the right to abuse their power and tell me who to marry? who I can’t? What insurance should cover? etc… where will it end?

      So, I say keep government from intruding into our lives. and mind it’s own business and get us out of the debt it racked up.

    • Anonymous

      Because under the new government health care plan those people will be covered anyway (and they’ll get the contraceptive plan!). The only difference is, the Church avoids being forced against their conscience and they will have to pay fines. In essence, the government is imposing a religious freedom tax. Not a good idea and this is why many people are outraged, even those who don’t particularly agree with this particular church teaching.

      • Sandra Fackler

        Outraged, or just enjoying commenting on a hot button issue, probably while at work, on your employer’s dime.  Nope, I’m retired and tired of all the posturing.

  • Dick McKnight

    I read somewhere today that the Catholic Church would take to the streets  rather than pay for birth control.  I’d like to see a bunch of gray haired bishops do something   more  than have a fit  in the pulpit.  The vast  majority of Catholics (I know, I know, everybody  has a different idea about how often you have to go to church to be one) could care less if the church has to pay for birth control.  This is strictly a hierarchical battle, bishops v bureaucrats.  If  the  bishops want some respect from  the government they ought to bring their organization into the modern world. As   long as only men run the church, these issues will never be resolved. 

    • Anonymous

      Your assessment of the situation is misguided:
      1) Personally following the Church’s teaching and supporting the government mandate that violate’s religious conscience are two separate things. The majority of Catholics and even many non-Catholics are outraged at this mandate, not just the hierarchy. This will translate to votes.
      2) Contraception and abortion will never be accepted by the Church. There is not even the slightest possibility of complying with “the modern world.” Changing its stance on these issues would be similar to changing your stance on murder. 
      3) There is nothing in the constitution that says a religion has to comply with cultural norms or a governmental administration’s beliefs in order to receive protection under the first amendment.
      4) Old men are not the only ones that weigh in the Church’s decisions, believe it or not. For instance, Humanae Vitae, the Church’s official stance on contraceptives was determined through a council that included medical experts, scientists, married couples, etc. 
      5) Roughly 50% of American women are pro-life.

      • Sandra Fackler

        According to the Constitution this country adheres to the Rule of Law.  So if you want the protections of the Constitution you must follow the law.  the law says Executive Orders are legal and binding.  The End.

  • bean cube

    I don’t see dropping church staff health coverages benefit churches. Church staffs will rise up against those who impose such political languages mingled policy against their own benefits. People will group together to demand cash in pay to buy coverage themselves.

  • dougindeap

    The bishop’s “warning” they may drop health plans ironically demonstrates that notwithstanding wild-eyed cries to the contrary, THE HEALTH CARE LAW DOES NOT FORCE EMPLOYERS TO ACT CONTRARY TO THEIR BELIEFS–unless one supposes the employers’ religion forbids even the payment of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion).

    Questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith are entirely real, but not new.  The courts have occasionally confronted such issues and have generally ruled that the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, fraud, negligence, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. Were it otherwise and people could opt out of this or that law with the excuse that their religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate. When moral binds for individuals can be anticipated, provisions may be added to laws affording some relief to conscientious objectors. 

    Here, there is no need for such an exemption, since no employer is being “forced,” as some commentators rage, to act contrary to his or her belief.  In keeping with the law, those with conscientious objections to providing their employees with qualifying health plans may decline to provide their employees with any health plans and pay an assessment instead or, alternatively, provide their employees with health plans that do not qualify (e.g., ones without provisions they deem objectionable) and pay lower assessments.

    The employers may not like paying the assessments or what the government will do with the money it receives.  But that is not a moral dilemma of the sort supposed by many commentators, but rather a garden-variety gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action of the government.  That is hardly call for a special “exemption” from the law.  Should each of us feel free to deduct from our taxes the portion that we figure would be spent on those actions (e.g., wars, health care, whatever) each of us opposes?

  • Anonymous

    The Bishops are more upset by this than they were by the child rapists they covered up for decades.  I’m glad they have their priorities in order.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/2E4QD3NQLKIZLM64EQ3WDGZDOA d.and.l

      Please take your bigotry elsewhere.

      • MaryMagdalenesSarcasticCousin

        It’s not bigotry to highlight an enormous scandal. It might be make you uncomfortable, trying to reconcile what you believe it means to be a good person with what the church did to innocent children, either by abuse or neglect of reporting that abuse and acting on reports of the abuse. But it’s not bigotry to mention it.

      • scott

        How is pointing out a fact bigotry? 

  • Aknowalk

    I want to state that the anyone who calls themselves a Catholic who does not believe in the creed is not a Catholic. There should be no such thing as kind of Catholic or even very Catholic. The truth is if you believe the creed you believe in the bishops and the tradition of the Church which will not and should not change to violate moral code that has its roots in reason and logic.

    Also I beg the question, what is the purpose of this mandate? Is it to stop unplanned pregnancies? If that is truely the reason which is not really a national health issue (since we have a very low population growth rate), the best way to do that is to teach abstinance or NFP as both of these actually strengthen a relationshiop and teach habits that value sex not devalue it.

    • Liberaltalker

      And as soon as you worship men, who created a religion, and wrote the rules, YOU have broken the first commandment. God created one nation. Man created religion. If you worship what that religion teaches, you are no longer a man of God.

      God teaches charity, he teaches us to heal people, he teaches us to love the outcasts and prostitutes. He does not teach us that poor people are evil, that we should worship millionaires and false Gods, he condemned praying in public. And he gave us great big brains to create better lives. So that we could bring souls into our life when we could give them a better life. And you are wasting those gifts.

      98% of catholic women use birth control. Did you think women for the past 50 years have been abstinent? How did we go from 15 children to 2 children?

      How does that abstinance work with those False gods that you worship, who can’t stop molesting our little boys?

  • David

    They probably want to keep a fresh supply of altar boys coming up in the future.

  • Scott

    I guess raping children is not a 
    conscience issue. @Aknowwalk:disqus , not everyone who works at a catholic institution is a catholic.

  • scott

    It shouldn’t matter what is in the insurance policy if Catholics are not going to use birth control. I thought it was the job of the Priests to absolve the flock from sin if they did something outside of the church’s teaching. You know, confess their sin.

  • Aknowalk

    First everyone who has the indecency to somehow relate this to the Catholic Church sex scandals is merely attacking the Church and not addressing this issue. The Catholic Church like any other organization is made up of many individuals and individual examples of misconduct does not reflect the mission or the purpose of the Church and in the sex scandal cases it is quite the contrary. 

    Scott, in response to the fact that not everyone that works at a Catholic institution is Catholic, I agree. I am not sure what you are implying by that statement but I assume you mean to say that the Catholic Church should not impose its beliefs on non believers. 

    First, no one is forcing non Catholics to work for a Catholic organization and even if they do work for one there is nothing that says they cannot get additional healthcare above and beyond what their employer pays for. The issue here is the fact that the government is forcing Catholic organizations to pay for something that violates their moral code. Paying for contraception on behalf of a Catholic employee is the same evil as paying for a non Catholic.

    Second, your claim that priests should be able to guide all people to using abstinence and NFP instead of contraception is once again averting the actual issue. Even if everyone who worked at every Catholic institution agreed they would not use contraception, the mere principle that a Catholic institution would have to pay for something that is 100% contrary to their moral code is a breach of religious freedom. 

    I once again would like to reiterate my question, “what is the purpose of this mandate? Is it to stop unplanned pregnancies? If that is truely the reason which is not really a national health issue (since we have a very low population growth rate), the best way to do that is to teach abstinance or NFP as both of these actually strengthen a relationshiop and teach habits that value sex not devalue it.”

  • Liberaltalker

    That’s right. Catholics have never and will never be people of God. If you belong to any religion, you are breaking the first commandment of

    “no otheg gods before me”. All religion puts the law of man above the law of God. And the law of God is the bible and the only part of the bible that we know is God’s law are the words from Jesus. What we know about Jesus, as it relates to this, was that he healed the sick. He roamed the countryside with outcasts and prostitutes. Jesus said we have all his gifts and more. We were given huge brains and it is not God’s intent for you to keep using less of it. It is not his intent for you to un-evolve. He intended for us to grow and evolve. To become smarter. And when woman could no longer be forced to be barefoot and pregnant, he gave us the brains, compassion, and freedom to choose when a soul would enter our womb and when it would not. 

    If you think, you, nothing but man, is smarter than God, you are more akin to devil, than aren’t you.And shame on you women who let your bodies and souls be controlled by men who do NOT have your best interest, who do NOT have the interest of your daughters, and who have obvious FAILED TO EVOLVE, and do not Know more than GOD and what Jesus taught us about humanity and social justice.

  • Anonymous

    May drop health care huh. Live and let live not.

  • Fldeb564

    Another example of Catholics judging others.

  • Sandra Fackler

    Or… you could just decide that you are not in charge of your adult employees health care decisions, you are just required to follow federal law and understand that people who do not belong to your church do not need to follow your rules.  Now if you are their spiritual authority then you can apply Catholic church law.  But remember that health information is protected by federal law, so don’t share your employees’ info with church leaders.

    View this the same as paying taxes on a company the church owns, when you are an employer you are a company, not a church.  It’s obviously time to learn how to separate church and business ownership.

    • C Bekalc

      Nobody is forced to work for the Catholic Church.  It is a religious organization with certain stands.  If you want your employer to provide you with birth control, or coverage for abortion: than go elsewhere.  

  • Sarahinez

    Faith costs the believer.  Following one’s conscience costs. Some people call this “walking the walk” not just “talking the talk.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and Seventh Day Adventists who do not work on Saturday and the few Christians, such as Chick Fil A’s Truett Cathey, who don’t work on Saturday pay the cost.

    The Baptist who takes days off without pay to share the Gospel in Peru; the Methodist who takes his annual leave to chaperone a youth trip; the Episcopalian who leaves her real estate office to run itself while she builds with Habitat for a week; the plumber who spends two hours fixing (for free) the toilet of an older couple from his church–these folks pay the cost of their beliefs.

  • antichurch

    If these hospitals are being run as a religious institution rather than a business serving the public then I urge my health plan to drop it from it’s network.  Let it fail and the church will no longer be running a business and spending money from Medicare, Medicaid and health insurance.  
    Of course, the church spends actual church funds without worrying if the suppliers use the money to provide birth control coverage.  
    I understand some women could die if the get pregnant, not a concern of some old men.  
    There was a time when people went to jail for advocating birth control.  Things change slowly.  I wish the church would mind it’s own business instead of mine.  

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