Speak out to Congress about HHS mandate

Archbishop Aymond    Now that you’ve returned to New Orleans from your ad limina visit in Rome, you’ve probably gotten a lot of feedback about the U.S. bishops’ response to the HHS mandate that health insurance plans for Catholic entities include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, birth control and surgical sterilization. What has the response been like?
    I’ve appreciated the very positive response I’ve gotten so far from people through emails, telephone calls or letters expressing their mutual concern –  and also that the church is speaking out in a kind but strong way. I certainly will do all that I can locally, both in terms of state and federal laws, to make sure that our religious liberty is protected and preserved. We realize that this is a big, complex issue that has to be dealt with by the conference of bishops in Washington.
    Even before the government refused to allow a religious exemption to the mandate, the U.S. bishops had voted seven months ago to create an office that would carefully examine religious freedom and make some recommendations. That office is being staffed as we speak.
    President Obama is well aware that we are concerned. He met with Cardinal Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, before the bishops’ meeting last November, and we have registered our sincere objections to the president through Cardinal Dolan. We must cooperate and collaborate wholeheartedly with whatever the bishops’ conference will ask us to do.
    What can people do right now?
    It’s very important that we write to our legislators to express our concerns. There is a new piece of legislation being considered called the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (H.R. 1179, S. 1467), which we need to unequivocally support. Individuals can send messages to Congress in support of that legislation through the USCCB website (www.usccb.org).
    There are many issues involved: abortion-inducing drugs, birth control and reproductive services. These are very, very important issues to us as Catholics. But we must realize that the overwhelming issue is religious freedom – and we are fighting the battle for religious freedom using those issues.
    If these kinds of policies continue to move forward, other dimensions of our religious freedom and liberty will be questioned. This could end up being a very socialist government. So, this is very important.
    Some bishops have suggested even civil disobedience. How would you feel about that?
    I know some bishops have talked about civil disobedience and have talked about being angry in the public arena. That’s not my belief and that’s not my style. I believe that we sit down at the table and try to hammer this out and try to act civilly toward one another.
    Believe me, I’ve also gotten some hate mail over this. People have told me, “Mind your own business. Don’t get into politics. Get out of controlling people’s sex lives.” I respectfully received those comments. But the church has to teach, and we must teach as Jesus did. We have to teach as our 2,000-year tradition has taught. We can’t sit by and watch this happen without saying something.
    The church belongs in politics. Let me say that again – the church belongs in politics. Jesus was involved in politics in his own time. He read the signs of the times. He looked at political laws and political movements, and he made comments about them. We don’t support a particular candidate for public office. But we’re not being true disciples of Jesus if things are happening in politics and in the government that are against our conscience and against the teachings of the church and we stand by and say nothing. If that were to happen, we will not have lived up to the Gospel. And, I personally cannot do that.
    I beg other Catholics to join me in not doing that. But to say that the church needs to stay out of politics, that’s just not a true statement. We have always been involved with politics. We must continue to comment on laws.
    Can you share some of the options the bishops might consider going forward?
    I really don’t know right now. I think right now it’s just maintaining the conversation. Certainly, the bishops have the option to file suit in federal court. Considering the religious liberty protections contained in the First Amendment – as well as the unanimous Supreme Court decision in a recent religious liberty case – we have an incredibly strong case.
    Was President Obama’s phone call to Cardinal Dolan before he announced the HHS mandate on Jan. 20 their last communication?
 
   As far as I know. The president met with Cardinal Dolan before the last bishops’ meeting in November and since then there was that phone call. The president knows we are bringing our people together to speak loudly about what we believe is the truth. We stand for that truth.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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