The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge said additional information is required from President Obama, following the President’s statement February 9, 2012, which sought to “accommodate” Catholic Church leaders and laity who have criticized his administration’s mandate issued on January 20. The directive from the Department of Health and Human Services informed an overwhelming majority of employers and insurers that they will be required to provide contraception, sterilization and FDA to their women employees.
In an effort to address the outcry from Catholic leaders and leaders of other faith groups, the President announced on February 9 that religious institutions would not be required to pay for contraception, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, but that their insurance providers would be required to reach out and offer the services to women, who are covered under the institution’s insurance program.
“The President’s statement opened the door to what we hope will be a step toward a resolution of this important issue,” Bishop Burbidge said. “But there are many questions that still are unanswered. The President did not take questions from the White House press corps,” the Bishop noted. “There may be several reasons for that decision, but there is a possibility that he and his administration did not have the answers to the questions that would be asked.”
Bishop Burbidge said while the federal government mandate challenges a major belief and teaching of the Catholic Church regarding love and life, the overriding question remains the administration’s challenge to conscience rights and our Constitutional rights to religious liberty. The Bishop pointed out that these affronts to our fundamental rights go beyond just Catholic concern. He said leaders from other major faith groups have also registered their strong objection to the HHS mandate.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement saying it views President Obama’s statement of February 10 as a new opportunity to dialog with the administration. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan called it “a first step in the right direction.”
However, serious concerns remain to be answered. The USCCB has made it clear that, under the founding documents of our country, government does NOT have the right to interfere in the practices and teaching of the Church, nor force its members to violate their beliefs or their conscience. President Obama’s February 10 statement does not appear to correct that primary concern.
The bishops have also pointed out that it is NOT the role of government to dictate how a religion or religious institution shall be defined. In its HHS directives, the Obama Administration is making the determination on its own as to which Church organization qualifies to be called religious.
The US bishops note that the administration’s directive can be overturned through legislative action. Bills are currently pending in both houses of Congress (H.R. 1179 and S. 1467). The bishops are calling on Catholics to contact their U.S. senators and member of the House of Representatives and ask them to support the proposed bill in their chamber. That can be done by contacting their Capitol Hill office through the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. They can also be contacted via email. That information is available at the CatholicVoiceNC.org website.
Bishop Burbidge addressed the issue in a series of radio and television interviews on Friday. He also addressed the President’s statement in a Diocesan video interview.
Watch Bishop Burbidge’s Diocesan interview
Read Bishop Burbidge’s letter: English (PDF) | Spanish (PDF)
The USCCB comment on the President’s February 10 statement:
New opportunity to dialogue with executive branch
Too soon to tell whether and how much improvement on core concerns
Commitment to religious liberty for all means legislation still necessary
WASHINGTON— The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB.
“The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.
“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”