By Benjamin Mann
The Obama administration is effectively telling Catholics to abandon their work in the public square, according to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis E. George.
“This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must ‘give up’ her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice,” warned the cardinal and former president of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference.
In his Feb. 26 Catholic New World column, the cardinal said these public ministries may come to an end because of the “much-discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.”
The rules in question, formulated as part of federal health care reform, force many religious institutions to provide employees with contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs, without a co-pay through their health care plans.
Unless the rule is halted, Cardinal George said, institutions may be forced to choose between dropping their religious identity or abandoning their work.
He offered a striking picture of “what will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded.”
“A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices,” he explained.
The first would be to “secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop.”
The second choice would involve paying “exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable.”
A ministry’s only other choices would involve transferring ownership to a non-Catholic group or the government – or shutting down altogether.
In his column, Cardinal George also argued against tactics he said were being used to marginalize the Church in its opposition to the contraception mandate.
One such argument claims that “the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception,” and Church institutions should therefore be forced to provide it to employees.
But this argument assumes that the moral law should conform to human behavior, rather than the other way around.
“Behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.”
Advocates of the contraception mandate also call attention to some Catholics’ disagreement with Church teaching.
Cardinal George noted that there have “always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the Church.” But this does not change the fact that bishops “are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles.”
The bishops, he said, speak “for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.”
The cardinal invited the Catholic laity, and other concerned citizens, to “step back and understand what is happening to our country as the church is despoiled of her institutions and as freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past.”
“The suffering being imposed on the church and on society now is not a voluntary penance. We should both work and pray to be delivered from it.”