Statement from Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation February 6, 2012
Health Insurance Mandate: Religious Freedom and
Conscience Rights in United States
The United States, from its very beginnings, has been an example of true human freedom and religious liberty for all. During its history, in fact, our nation has sheltered countless people who came here from countries where their basic freedoms were either in danger or being denied altogether. Sadly, Americans now face a similar threat. At this moment, which is strange and new to us, our own religious freedom and rights of conscience are in jeopardy. Sharing the very serious concerns expressed by Pope Benedict XVI and by our U.S. bishops in recent weeks, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia will set aside nine days of prayer and fasting during the month of February, asking Our Lady to intercede for our country.
The Holy Father noted in a recent address to U.S. Bishops visiting Rome that Catholics in the United States face "grave threats to the Church's public witness" and "attempts to limit the most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion." He was responding to the American bishops' concerns about "concerted efforts...to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices" and the "tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship." Pope Benedict stressed that it is imperative that "the entire Catholic community in the United States" recognize and counter these threats.
While faced with multiple threats to religious liberty, the most immediate concern is a January 20, 2012 ruling by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), made in conjunction with the recently approved healthcare law. In identifying the "preventive services" that must be covered in most health insurance plans, this HHS mandate specifies "all FDA approved forms of contraception," including sterilization and some abortifacients. Although the ruling does allow an exemption for certain religious organizations, the exemption is so narrow that most religious institutions - including most Catholic schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, and charitable agencies - do not meet the criteria.
As a result of this ruling, religious employers will be required to pay for forms of health insurance coverage that violate both their religious beliefs and their rights of conscience. This would be the case with employers at both Catholic and many other religiously-affiliated institutions.
This decision was immediately denounced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as numerous individual bishops and other religious leaders, both Christian and non-Christian. According to the terms of the mandate, most new and renewed health plans will be required to include the aforementioned services beginning August 1, 2012. Nonprofit employers who, because of their religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage, may have an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law; but they must certify that they qualify for delayed implementation. In the meantime, they must provide their employees with specific information about sites where "contraceptive services" can be obtained. Thus religious employers are obliged by law to cooperate in actions which they hold in conscience to be intrinsically evil.
Cardinal-Designate Timothy M. Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has termed the HHS decision "literally unconscionable." The Washington Post, in a January 22 editorial, noted that the final HHS ruling "fails to address the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith."
Numerous bishops and other religious leaders have continued to issue public protests against the HHS decision. The bishops have vowed to continue fighting the mandate, urging their people to do the same.
The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation strongly share the concern of our bishops and other religious leaders who have expressed opposition to this decision of the HHS. We are providing in this newsletter links to statements and articles giving more complete information about the implications of this ruling, one which poses an unprecedented threat to freedom of religion and conscience in our country.
United in Prayer
We beg God for the preservation of our great and beautiful country, and of the freedom we have all enjoyed and been privileged to share with others. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia invite you to join with us in a novena of prayer and fasting, asking Mary, Patroness of the United States of America, to implore God's loving mercy on us at this critical time. The novena will begin February 11 and end February 19, 2012. The sisters will be praying the following prayer each of the nine days.
Act of Consecration of the United States to the
Immaculate Heart of Mary
Most Holy Trinity: Our Father in heaven, who chose Mary as the fairest of your daughters; Holy Spirit, who chose Mary as your spouse; God the Son, who chose Mary as your Mother; in union with Mary, we adore your majesty and acknowledge your supreme, eternal dominion and authority.
Most Holy Trinity, we put the United States of America into the hands of Mary Immaculate in order that she may present the country to you. Through her we wish to thank you for the great resources of this land and for the freedom, which has been its heritage. Through the intercession of Mary, have mercy on the Catholic Church in America. Grant us peace. Have mercy on our president and on all the officers of our government. Grant us a fruitful economy born of justice and charity. Have mercy on capital and industry and labor. Protect the family life of the nation. Guard the precious gift of many religious vocations. Through the intercession of our Mother, have mercy on the sick, the poor, the tempted, sinners - on all who are in need.
Mary, Immaculate Virgin, our Mother, Patroness of our land, we praise you and honor you and give our country and ourselves to your sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. O Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced by the sword of sorrow prophesied by Simeon, save us from degeneration, disaster and war. Protect us from all harm. O Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, you who bore the sufferings of your Son in the depths of your heart, be our advocate. Pray for us, that acting always according to your will and the will of your divine Son, we may live and die pleasing to God. Amen.
Imprimatur, Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, 1959, for public consecration of the United States to the Immaculate Heart of Mary;
renewed by U.S. Bishops, November 11, 2006