Just over a week ago, in an effort to show that not all Catholic institutions oppose the President’s alleged accommodation of religious groups and beliefs, the White House posted approving statements from two large Catholic groups: the Catholic Health Association (CHA), which represents over 1200 health care sponsors, and Catholic Charities USA, which serves over ten million people of all faiths each year.
The White House’s strategy was clear: create an impression of some firm Catholic support, while at the same time highlight a divide between these groups and the Catholic bishops, who Secretary Sebelius never contacted for input on the mandate.
No matter what CHA and Catholic Charities said then, it’s now clear that they’ve walked back from any endorsement of the HHS mandate and the President’s shell game.
Posted on page one of the Catholic Charities USA website is the following statement:
In response to a great number of mischaracterizations in the media, Catholic Charities USA wants to make two things very clear:
1. We have not endorsed the accommodation to the HHS mandate that was announced by the Administration last Friday [February 10].
2. We unequivocally share the goal of the US Catholic bishops to uphold religious liberty and will continue to work with the [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] towards that goal.
Any representation to the contrary is false.
Sister Carol Keehan, president of CHA, who some claim was instrumental in securing passage of the Affordable Care Act, had this to say in a statement posted on February 15:
CHA and its members were profoundly disappointed to learn that the definition of a religious employer was not going to be broadened in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ rules for preventive services for women. . . .
CHA has expressed concern and disappointment about this on behalf of the ministry. We have said the problem is not resolved, and we must have a national conversation on this. CHA is working closely with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and others to look at options to resolve this.
Bottom line: the president’s attempt to divide and conquer the Catholic opposition appears to be failing. To date, every Catholic bishop in this country, 181 to be exact, has now come out in public opposition to the HHS mandate.
And Catholics are not the only ones coming together to fight the administration’s intrusion into church autonomy and religious affairs.
Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” Among those providing testimony were William Lori, Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport; Matthew C. Harrison, President of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church; C. Ben Mitchell of Union University; Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University; and Craig Mitchell of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Each of these individuals denounced the HHS mandate, in no uncertain terms, as an infringement of religious civil liberties.
For obvious reasons, the Administration is anxiously hoping that this issue will either go away or that another pressing matter will emerge to divert attention away from this one. Indeed, as noted last week, the polling isn’t exactly moving in the President’s favor on this contentious issue.
In the meantime, religions and denominations within religions are coming together to stand as one against government encroachment on their institutions and charities, not to mention their constitutionally protected freedoms.
As was observed over the weekend by a newspaper thousands of miles away from the fray, the Manila Times:
President Barack Obama has done something that no one has done before in the United States: he has united mainstream religious leaders to act as a force together in opposing his government’s Health and Human Services department’s mandate that infringes on religious freedom and the individual consciences of Americans who are against contraceptives and sterilization.
President Obama has repeatedly asked for citizens to come together on common causes. In this case, we seem to be doing just that.