By Benjamin Mann
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to revise its contraception mandate, saying the rule remained “insulting” and “dangerous” to believers’ rights.
“The HHS mandate, including its latest variant, are belligerent, unnecessary and deeply offensive to the content of Catholic belief,” he wrote in a Feb. 12 Philadelphia Inquirer column.
“Any such mandate would make it morally compromising for us to provide health care benefits to the staffing of our public service ministries.”
“We cannot afford to be fooled – yet again – by evasive and misleading allusions to the administration’s alleged ‘flexibility’ on such issues. The HHS mandate needs to be rescinded.”
Archbishop Chaput published his thoughts following a Feb. 10 announcement by the administration regarding religious institutions and what the government calls “preventive services” – a category including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs.
A rule announced Jan. 20 required many faith-based organizations to provide insurance coverage of these drugs and devices despite their moral objections. After three weeks of protest led by the U.S. Catholic bishops, the administration announced a change to the rule on Friday.
Under the revised rule, insurance companies would be forced to offer the “preventive services,” without a co-pay, to employees of religious ministries. The administration maintained that under the new policy, “religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.”
Several critics of the move, including Princeton Professor Robert George and Catholic University of America President John Garvey, responded by pointing out that the new rule accomplishes the same goal – forcing employers to underwrite policies covering the offensive services – by a different means.
In his column, Archbishop Chaput highlighted this “withering criticism” of the new requirement, and said the “’accommodation’ offered by the White House did not solve the problem” of the original mandate.
“Quite a few Catholics supported President Obama in the last election, so the ironies here are bitter,” he noted. “Many feel betrayed. They’re baffled that the Obama administration would seek to coerce Catholic employers, private and corporate, to violate their religious convictions.”
For Philadelphia’s archbishop, however, the administration’s move comes as no surprise.
He cited its “early shift toward the anemic language of ‘freedom of worship’ instead of the more historically-grounded and robust concept of ‘freedom of religion,’” and noted its “troubling effort to regulate religious ministers, recently rejected 9-0 by the Supreme Court in the Hosanna-Tabor case.”
These steps, together with the 2011 termination of the U.S. bishops’ human trafficking grant over a refusal to make abortion referrals, have convinced Archbishop Chaput that the Obama White House “is – to put it generously – tone deaf to people of faith.”
“It’s clear that such actions are developing into a pattern,” he observed.
In this context, the archbishop indicated, Health and Human Services’ mandate did not seem like a “gaffe” or “mistake.”
“The current administration prides itself on being measured and deliberate. The current HHS mandate needs to be understood as exactly that.”
“It’s impossible to see this regulation as some happenstance policy. It has been too long in the making. Despite all of its public apprehension about ‘culture warriors’ on the political right in the past, the current administration has created an HHS mandate that is the embodiment of culture war.”
“At its heart is a seemingly deep distrust of the formative role religious faith has on personal and social conduct, and a deep distaste for religion’s moral influence on public affairs. To say that this view is contrary to the Founders’ thinking and the record of American history would be an understatement.”
“Critics may characterize my words here as partisan or political,” the archbishop acknowledged. “But it is this administration – not Catholic ministries or institutions or bishops – that chose the timing and nature of the fight.”
The burden, he said, was on the White House, which “has the power to remove the issue from public conflict.”
Catholics, meanwhile, “should not be misled into accepting feeble compromises on issues of principle.”