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Is the New HHS Compromise a Real Compromise?

Here is the HHS Compromise, be attentive because it gets complicated: “With respect to self-insured group health plans, the eligible organization would notify the third party administrator, which in turn would automatically work with a health insurance issuer to provide separate, individual health insurance policies at no cost for participants. The costs of both the health insurance issuer and third party administrator would be offset by adjustments in Federally-facilitated Exchange user fees that insurers pay.”


Since the Archdiocese is self-insured, this would in effect mean that some of our employees would have to be insured by an outside organization, either in whole or in part. Look at all the actors in this play: (1) the Church; (2) the third party administrator; (3) an outside health insurance issuer; (4) the federal government; (5) the supplier of services; and (6) the insured person. The user fees are essentially a tax to insure that contraceptives are free and to pay the third party administrator. What happens to the viability of the self-insurance program if people opt out for the third party insurer?

In any case, I still think people are going to pay more for heart and blood-pressure medicine to make up the cost for free contraceptives.  What insurance company will cover just contraception, sterilization and abortifacients without funds to shift from other medical coverage? I doubt federal fees with be sufficient. It will be exploited. Is the Church still morally culpable if we collaborate with other agents in such a scheme?  Are we culpable for money given to the government to pay the insurance companies to supply people with contraceptive services?

Given the intransigence of the administration with insisting that health care include free contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization; I cannot say that I trust the latest offer of exemption to the Church and associated religious entities. It seems to me that religious liberty is still very much threatened. Remember, this is the same administration which sought jurisdiction over ministerial assignments; no doubt supposing that if they lost one ridiculous or outrageous battle, it would make churchmen more passive about what was viewed as a lesser campaign. I think they were genuinely surprised by men like Cardinal Dolan. Suddenly Catholic bishops had teeth and could bite back.

I suspect this newest offer is to convince the bishops of a need to see the dentist. The administration still insists that the agenda of Planned Parenthood will become the official policy of government. No matter how you spin it, that means a confrontation with the Church and the Gospel of Life.

I was amazed that some critics and churchmen quickly rejoiced and sang Hallelujah when the revised policy was announced.  We must not return to a posture of passivity and ineffective opposition to Big Brother and modernity. More level-headed religious leaders argue that we need to look at this offer closely. It may be a trick. It seems to me, upon closer examination, that there is no miracle break-through or adequate accommodation. The shell-game continues.

The question proposed is this: can such a policy be mandated against Church institutions with religious and moral reservations? The response of the administration seems to be that some institutions have more of a claim upon religious liberty than others. If the previous offer only preserved such liberty within the walls of the churches, this new policy will only add the porch or parking lot. Churches, individually or corporately, are protected, as are religious orders, but the rest is still up for grabs. Again, this administration has a very narrow notion of what constitutes “church.” Ministries in the area of community service are understood entirely within the matrix of secular humanism. President Obama’s religious vision is wholly a horizontal one (earth-bound) with little or nothing of the vertical or transcendent. In other words, God made us— great; but WE make the rules.”

We still have a fight on our hands because of the indiscriminate outreach of our religious charities, hospitals and schools. This element of the policy has not really changed. Okay, even if self-insured, we would not be required to pay “directly” for the contraceptive coverage; however, we still have to find other insurers to dirty their hands for us. The cooperation with evil becomes more remote but they will still be our agents.

Throughout it has saddened me that we have stressed the religious liberty of the Church as an institution but not the same rights of individual believers and citizens. There is no exemption for them and their businesses. It is bad enough that pro-life groups, EWTN, the Knights of Columbus and others might be forced to comply; however, what about the good Catholic entrepreneur who bakes donuts or fixes cars or cuts the grass. There are no exemptions at all for them. I know, some will say that they could fight and pay out hard-earned money to litigate for themselves. But this is America, our rights are supposed to be guaranteed, not entitlements for which we have to fight and beg.

I bet if it had not been for the courts, we would not have seen even these concessions. No doubt the administration wants to promote a particular public perception: a liberal government wanting to dialogue about national healthcare and a backward-thinking Church wanting to deprive couples of pills and condoms. President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius know full well that many if not most American Catholics are out of sync with Church leadership and moral teachings. As in Maryland with the proposition for same-sex marriages, they hope to exploit this advantage and show that they are the true magisterium, not the ecclesial shepherds largely abandoned by their flocks. As much as the USCCB has sought to frame this debate under the banner of religious liberty and the First Amendment, the administration has been highly effective in convincing many people that it is about reproductive choices and health. God help us!

7 Responses

  1. Thank you Father Joe. Excellent answer and something for me to pray about.

    FATHER JOE: I very much appreciate your caring enough for the Church and the unborn to have a strong opinion. Too many in this world seem disconnected or on the wrong side about the important issues of our day. Please keep praying for priests and bishops in the days ahead. Peace.

  2. BREAKING NEWS from Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Wuerl and the USCCB: No! Nooo! Noooooo!

  3. Archbishop Charles Chaput says NO! It is just another PHONY COMPROMISE!

  4. When one is in the position of power in the Church – ie Bishop Dolan – one must be SEEN to do the right thing, not just do it. Bishop Dolan betrayed the trust that the Pope has put in him by acting like Obama’s busom buddy at that dinner. I am not clergy, but a faithful Catholic who expects the bishops and clergy of our Church to behave in a manner pleasing to Jesus. Bishop Dolan looked like a Pharisee to me, laughing uproariously with Obama. Obama needed that photo-op to con the Catholics into voting him back into office. Dolan gave it to him. Shame on him. We don’t need any more Judases in our Church today.

    FATHER JOE: I share your frustration and have argued for a more confrontative approach to the scandals in the Church and the evils of our society. However, the bishops take the lead for their conciliatory approach from the Holy Father, himself. I suppose they hope that as long as the lines of communication are open that the agents of a culture of death, socialism and hedonism might somehow be converted. Certainly I would oppose giving awards and special honors to a president who would redefine the Church and strip her of vital elements of her mission. If Cardinal Dolan had said nothing about the issues that divide us then I think I would very much agree with you. But like Mother Teresa mentioning the evil of abortion in the presence of President Clinton and his wife, Cardinal Dolan was not silent on the issue of unborn human life and the rights of the Church.


    Presidents will always take advantage of pictures and put a spin on audiences from Popes or encounters with other churchmen.


    There have been times that I have been somewhat outspoken, but I have become increasingly concerned about how outright castigation of bishops might seriously strain our Catholicism, given the makeup of the Church. All of us are obliged to show them respect and, yes, even holy obedience. As a priest pledged to obedience, I am acutely aware that I am a man under authority. This is an abiding truth for clerics, as there are canon laws which would censure a priest for causing disharmony and scandal; however, while the laity are not so much under this jurisdiction, they are not wholly exempt. In other words, the laity have a certain liberty that clergy do not possess in rendering criticism of the Church but said criticism is not absolute, even on the behalf of orthodoxy.

    As always, keep the faith and continue to urge bishops and priests to be faithful in their callings and to the Gospel of Life. God bless!

  5. Father,

    I often agee with you, but I can’t agree about Cardinal Dolan and the Al Smith dinner. I think that stand illustrates the widespread reality that many, perhaps subconsciously, believe that the babies in the womb are second-class citizens, not quite equal to the rest of us particularly to princes of the Church.

    Surely, if Obama were advocating and vigorously enacting a policy to murderl Cardinals and clergy, he would not have been invited to the dinner. I think his actions were particularly egregious in view of his refusal a few years earlier in Wisconsin to attend a pro-life dinner because Judie Brown was the speaker. Apparently criticizing the failure of bishops to act like bishops is a more serious act than to champion the murder of millions of unborn babies.

    And that is NOT “bearing false witness” against Cardinal Dolan. I pray for him, but I fear he is no John Fisher when it comes to defending the faith. I pray that I am proved wrong when the persecution intensifies.

    FATHER JOE: I appreciate your opinion, and I regard it highly, but you are right, about Cardinal Dolan we will have to disagree. Cardinal Dolan has the trust of the Pope and so he has mine. He also speaks the truth, right to the President’s face. I am also a supporter of Judie Brown, and I paid a personal price some years ago for that support. Then and now, I pray that the USCCB and ALL can come to some sort of accomodation so that we might put forward a united front against the enemies of life. But, I am no bishop, just a simple parish priest who says his prayers, cares for his people and keeps his promises.

  6. When you say that Bishop Dolan of New York “has teeth and will bite back”, are you forgetting his ‘love-in’ with Obama at that inaugural dinner? Dolan looked like he was talking the talk, but he failed to walk the walk. God help America with those bishops over there.


    Romney was also at that dinner and I thought the good Cardinal exhibited both good judgment and tact. It was quite a different affair from the business at Notre Dame. Cardinal Dolan has not given an inch but he still recognizes, as we all should, that Barack Obama is President of the United States. The Al Smith Dinner recalls the first Catholic (and a Democrat) to get the nomination from a major party for the executive office. It also celebrates the fact that Catholics have rights and duties in this land of ours. No doubt Cardinal Dolan was trying to remind the president that these rights, particularly that of religious liberty, should be respected.

    Sorry, but it seems to me that you are bearing false witness against this Prince of the Church.

    Standing alongside the President, Cardinal Dolan said:

    Here we are: in an atmosphere of civility and humor, hosted by a Church which claims that “joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence;” men and women; young and old; of every ethnic and racial background; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; Catholics, Christians, Jews, Latter-Day Saints, people of no particular creed; people of wealth, yes, but some folks as well who barely get by; guests from Westchester and the Bronx; Dutchess County and Staten Island; Grateful to be people of faith and loyal Americans; Loving a country which considers religious liberty our first and most cherished freedom, convinced that faith is not just limited to an hour of Sabbath worship, but affects everything we do and dream; privileged to be in the company of two honorable men, both called to the noble vocation of public service, whose love for God and country is surpassed only by their love for their own wives and children….

    All of us reverently recalling a man of deep Catholic faith and ringing patriotism, who had a tear in his Irish eyes for what we would call, the “uns;”

    – the un-employed
    – the un-insured
    – the un-wanted
    the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb;
    – the un-documented
    – the un-housed
    – the un-healthy
    – the un-fed
    – the under-educated.

    Government, Al Smith believed, should be on the side of these “uns,” but a government partnering with family, Church, parish, neighborhood, organizations and community, never intruding or opposing, since, when all is said and done, it’s in God we trust, not, ultimately, in government or politics.

    Al Smith . . . the “happy warrior” on behalf of the “uns” who were so close to Jesus, or to the Native American Kateri Tekakwitha, and the “Angel to the Lepers of Hawaii,” Sister Mary Anne Cope, both women of New York whom this Sunday Pope Benedict will declare saints; so tenderly close to Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta who reminded us of the “five- finger gospel” — “As often as you do it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you do it for me!”

    God bless the memory of Al Smith! God Bless the “uns!” God bless the Al Smith Foundation in this Archdiocese of New York which continues his solicitude for the “uns!”

  7. I don’t even know what an HHS is; please could this site either become international or indicate to those who join that it is for Americans only?

    FATHER JOE: This is a personal blog. HHS stands for Health and Human Services. The Obama administration narrowed the exemption for religious institutions in regard to mandated free contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization. The Catholic Church refuses compliance arguing that such violates the First Amendment which guarantees Religious Liberty.

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