Brian R Corbin's Reflections on Religion and Life

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BISHOPS PROMISE TO CONTINUE ‘VIGOROUS EFFORTS’ AGAINST HHS VIOLATIONS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN HEALTH CARE REFORM MANDATE

Declare government has no place defining religion, religious ministry
Seek protection for conscience rights of institutions, individuals
Stress action with the public, White House, Congress, courts

WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops are strongly united in their ongoing and determined efforts to protect religious freedom, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) said in a March 14 statement.
The Administrative Committee, chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, is the highest authority of the bishops’ conference outside the semi-annual sessions of the full body of bishops. The Committee’s membership consists of the elected chairmen of all the USCCB permanent committees and an elected bishop representative from each of the geographic regions of the USCCB.
The full statement can be found at www. www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Admin-Religious-Freedom.pdf
The Administrative Committee said it was “strongly unified and intensely focused in its opposition to the various threats to religious freedom in our day.” The bishops will continue their vigorous work of education on religious freedom, dialogue with the executive branch, legislative initiatives and efforts in the courts to defend religious freedom. They promised a longer statement on the principles at the heart of religious freedom, which will come later from the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.
The bishops noted that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that forces all private health plans to provide coverage of sterilization and contraceptives – including abortion-inducing drugs – called for an immediate response. Of particular concern, they said, are a religious exemption from the mandate that the bishops deem “arbitrarily narrow” and an “unspecified and dubious future ‘accommodation’’’ offered to other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.
The bishops thanked supporters from the Catholic community and beyond “who have stood firmly with us in our vigorous opposition to this unjust and illegal mandate.”
“It is your enthusiastic unity in defense of religious freedom that has made such a dramatic and positive impact in this historic public debate.”
The bishops said this dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the Church to provide them. Their concerns are not just for the Catholic Church but also for “those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block.”
“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is instead about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings,” they said.
The Church has worked for universal healthcare in the United States since 1919, they added, and said the current issue “is not a Republican or Democratic, a conservative or liberal issue; it is an American issue.”
The bishops called the HHS mandate “an unwarranted government definition of religion,” with government deciding who is a religious employer deserving exemption from the law.
“The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom,” the bishops said.
“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” they said.
“If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,” they said.
The bishops said the government’s foray into church governance “where government has no legal competence or authority” is beyond disturbing. Those deemed by HHS not to be “religious employers,” the bishops said, “will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions. This is not only an injustice in itself, but it also undermines the effective proclamation of those teachings to the faithful and to the world.”
The bishops also called the HHS mandate “a violation of personal civil rights.” The new mandate creates a class of people “with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to live in accordance with their faith and values,” the bishops said. “They too face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values – whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees, or as insurers themselves – without even the semblance of exemptions.”
The bishops called for the Catholic faithful, and all people of good will throughout the nation to join them in prayer and penance “for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom – religious liberty.”
“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” the bishops said, “for without God we can do nothing. But with God all things are possible.”

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Filed under: Church-State, healthcare, Official Statements

Catholic Institutions petition HHS on conscience clause

 

 

Please consider signing on to the Church’s petition:

 

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Department of Health and Human Services

Attention: CMS-9992-IFC2

Room 445-G, Hubert H. Humphrey Building

200 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20201

 

Re: Interim Final Rules defining Religious Employer Exception for Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, RIN 0938-AQ07

 

Dear Sir or Madam:

 

On behalf of all Catholic facilities, I am writing to urge you to broaden the proposed definition of “religious employer” to ensure conscience protections that will allow us to continue our health ministry as Catholic employers.

 

Catholic health care has long worked to ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need. For this reason, we welcome the Administration’s decision to require health plans to cover women’s preventive services, such as critical screenings that will make preventive care more widely available and affordable. However, the inclusion in that mandate of contraceptive services that the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable, including sterilization and drugs that could cause an abortion, makes it imperative that the Final Rule include broader conscience protections. While the Interim Final Rule acknowledges the need for conscience protections, we are deeply concerned that the proposed religious exception falls far short of the level of protection needed.

 

The proposed definition of “religious employer” determines whether a religious organization qualifies for conscience protections, thereby exempting it from providing coverage of contraceptive services that are against its religious teaching. The proposed definition as written is narrower than any conscience clause ever enacted in federal law. As currently written, the definition of religious employer would not consider Catholic health care institutions—including Catholic hospitals, Catholic Charities, and long-term care facilities—religious employers. This runs contrary to a 40-year history of federal conscience statutes have been in effect to protect individuals and organizations like ours from being required to participate in, pay for, or provide coverage for certain services that are contrary to our religious beliefs or moral convictions.

 

The proposed definition would require religious employers to “primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets.” For over 200 years, Catholic health care providers have served the common good of our nation and its citizens by caring for persons of all ages, races and religions, in a manner consistent with our religious and moral convictions.

 

These convictions are the source of both the work we do and the limits on what we will do. Our ethical standards in health care flow from the Catholic Church’s teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. These values form the basis for our steadfast commitment to the compelling moral implications of our ministry—from insisting on the right of all to accessible, affordable health care, to caring for persons at the end of life, to defending and preserving the conscience rights of all, including but not limited to Catholic organizations.

 

The definition that has been proposed is not drawn from current federal law and is instead lifted from the narrowest state definition of a religious employer—found only in three states in the nation. I request that the definition be rewritten using the principles behind the “church plan” exemption found in section 414(e) of the Internal Revenue Code, which was developed specifically to avoid church-state entanglements in religious governance relative to pension, health and welfare plans offered by religious entities. This is the statute that should be used as a guide for determining the definition of a religious employer. Section 414(e) of Title 26 considers whether an organization or institution “shares common religious bonds and convictions with a church” when determining if the organization qualifies as a “religious employer.” This definition more adequately defines religious employers to include all employers that work in ministries of the church.

 

Our country has acknowledged and respected the rights of conscience since its founding, and our society’s commitment to pluralism lies at the heart of our diverse and vibrant nation. I request that you broaden the definition of “religious employer” as described above and as specifically laid out in the comments of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

 

 

 

Filed under: Church-State, healthcare, Official Statements

Legislative Priorities, US Catholic Bishops 2011

Dear Member of Congress,

As a new Congress begins, I write to congratulate you and to outline principles and priorities that guide the public policy efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I assure you of our prayers and hopes that this newly elected Congress will advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially vulnerable and poor persons whose needs are critical in this time of difficult economic and policy choices. We continue to seek ways to work constructively with the Administration and the new Congress and others of good will to pursue policies which respect the dignity of all human life and bring greater justice to our nation and peace to our world.

As bishops, of course we approach public policy not as politicians but as pastors and teachers. Our moral principles have always guided our everyday experience in caring for the hungry and homeless, offering health care and housing, educating children and reaching out to those in need. We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth. From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to defend human life and dignity, promote and protect marriage and family life, lift up those who experience economic turmoil and suffering, and promote peace in a world troubled by war and violence.

Most fundamentally, we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especially unborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill. We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death. Opposed to abortion as the direct killing of innocent human life, we will encourage one and all to seek common ground, reducing the number of abortions by providing compassionate and morally sound care for pregnant women and their unborn children. We will oppose legislative and other measures to expand abortion. We will work to retain essential, widely supported policies which show respect for unborn life, protect the conscience rights of health care providers and other Americans, and prevent government funding and promotion of abortion. The Hyde amendment and other provisions which for many years have prevented federal funding of abortion have a proven record of reducing abortions, and should be codified in permanent law. Efforts to force Americans to fund abortions with their tax dollars pose a serious moral challenge, and Congress should act to ensure that health care reform does not become a vehicle for such funding.

In close connection with our defense of all human life and particularly the most vulnerable among us, we stand firm in our support for marriage which is and can only be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman. There is good reason why the law has always recognized this, and why it should continue to do so. In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. Children need, deserve and yearn for a mother and a father. All human societies in every era of history, differing greatly among themselves in many other ways, have understood this simple wisdom. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent or analogous to the commitment of a husband and a wife in marriage, because no other relationship can connect children to the two people who brought them into the world. For this reason, we will continue to vigorously support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and strongly oppose legislative or executive measures that seek to redefine or erode the meaning of marriage. We suggest Congressional oversight of executive actions that have the effect of undermining DOMA, such as the expansion of spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex, and the weak defense of DOMA in court against constitutional challenge. We will seek to reflect respect for the family in every policy and program, to protect the rights of children, and to uphold the rights and responsibilities of mothers and fathers to care for their children. We will also continue to monitor legislation and federal regulations that protect our children and families from the destructive repercussions of pornography, which degrades human sexuality and marital commitment.

Our nation faces continuing economic challenges with serious human consequences and significant moral dimensions. We will work with the Administration and Congress for budget, tax and entitlement policies that reflect the moral imperative to protect poor and vulnerable people. We advocate a clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers in the development and implementation of economic recovery measures, including appropriate new investments, finding ways to offer opportunity and strengthening the national safety net. Poor families and low-income and jobless workers have been hurt most of all in the economic crisis. The difficult choices ahead on how to balance needs and resources, and how to proportionately allocate the burdens and sacrifices need to take into account the vulnerability and capacity of all, especially those most affected by poverty, joblessness and economic injustice. We urge the Administration and Congress to seek the common good of our nation and people above partisan politics and the demands of powerful or narrow interests.

With regard to the education of children, we call for a return to the equitable participation of students and teachers in private schools in programs funded through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When students in private schools are counted in order to determine the total amount of federal education funds a public school district receives, the funds generated by these students should benefit them and their teachers, not be used for programs in which only public school students and personnel can participate. We also continue to support initiatives, such as tax credits and scholarship programs, which provide resources for all parents, especially those of modest means, to choose education which best addresses the needs of their children.

We welcome continuing commitments to empower faith-based groups as effective partners in overcoming poverty and other threats to human dignity. We will continue to work with the Administration and Congress to strengthen these partnerships in ways that do not encourage government to abandon its responsibilities, and do not require religious groups to abandon their identity or mission.

As the Internet continues to grow in its influence and prominence in Americans’ lives, we support legislation and federal regulations that ensure equal access to the Internet for all, including religious and non-profit agencies, as well as those in more sparsely populated or economically distressed areas. True net neutrality is necessary for people to flourish in a democratic society.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have worked for nearly a century to assure health care for all,insisting that access to health care is a basic human right and a requirement of human dignity. Basic health care for all is a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved. We remain committed to our three moral criteria: 1) Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all; 2) Retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protect conscience rights; and 3) Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access. We will continue to devote our efforts to improving and correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health care reform can truly be universal and life-affirming.

We will work with the Administration and the new Congress to fix a broken immigration system which harms both immigrants and our entire nation. Comprehensive reform is needed to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst. We realize that reform must be based on respect for and implementation of the law and for the legitimate and timely question of national security. Equally, however, it must defend the rights and dignity of all peoples, recognizing that human dignity comes from God and does not depend on where people were born or how they came to our nation. Truly comprehensive immigration reform will include a path to earned citizenship, with attention to the fact that international trade and development policies influence economic opportunities in the countries from which immigrants come. It also must foster family reunification, the bedrock principle upon which our national immigration system has been based for decades. Immigration enforcement policies should honor basic human rights and uphold basic due process protections.

On international affairs, we will work with our leaders to seek responsible transitions to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promote religious freedom for all, acting against religious repression of our fellow Christians and others. The recent attacks against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria and the assassination of a Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy laws highlight an appalling trend of increased violence aimed at vulnerable minority communities. In all foreign policy deliberations, we urge a greater emphasis on human rights, especially religious freedom, which we view as an essential good so intricately tied to other human rights and to the promotion of peace. We especially urge continued and persistent leadership to bring a just peace to the Holy Land, to promote peaceful change in Sudan, and to rebuild Haiti. We will continue to support essential U.S. investments to overcome global poverty, hunger and disease through increased and reformed international assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases in ways that are both effective and morally appropriate have our enthusiastic backing. Recognizing the complexity of climate change, we wish to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world who will be the most adversely affected by threats to the environment.

This outline of USCCB policies and priorities is not complete. There are many other areas of concern and advocacy for the Church and the USCCB. For a more detailed description of our concerns please see Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (USCCB 2007), pages 19-30.

Nonetheless, we offer this outline as an agenda for dialogue and action. We hope to offer a constructive and principled contribution to national discussion about the values and policies that will shape our nation’s future. We seek to work together with our nation’s leaders to advance the common good of our society, while disagreeing respectfully and civilly where necessary in order to preserve that common good. I am enclosing a brochure from our Office of Government Relations, directed by Nancy Wisdo, for your future contacts with the Conference.

In closing, I thank you for responding to the noble call of public service and I renew our expression of hope and our offer of cooperation as you begin this new period of service to our nation in these challenging times. We promise our prayers for all of you, and in a special way for your colleague Gabrielle Giffords and all those killed or injured in the horrific attack in Tucson. We hope that the days ahead will be a time of renewal and progress for our nation as we defend human life and dignity, seek greater justice for all God’s children, and bring peace to a suffering world.

With prayerful best wishes, I am

Faithfully and respectfully yours,

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, USCCB

Filed under: Church-State, Economic Policy, healthcare, Official Statements, Politics, Social Doctrine

Here are some important points to consider when reviewing the health care reform debate

During the August recess, please urge members of Congress to keep working on comprehensive health reform.  We also need to educate/form our selves and neighbors on some important aspects to this debate, informed by the Catholic moral tradition, rather than rely on blasts by various interests.

Here are some issues in health reform legislation that need to be considered:

  • Support Health Care Coverage for All :
    • Expand Medicaid to everyone under 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL);
    • Cover immigrants, both documented and undocumented;
    • Provide subsidies for low-income individuals and families up to 400% FPL;
    • Reform the health insurance market, by prohibiting preexisting condition exclusions, requiring guaranteed issue of insurance, and establishing premium rating restrictions;
    • Ensure access to preventive care and chronic care management;
    • Provide support for long-term care services by including the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act.
  • Preserve Provider Conscience Protections and Support “Abortion Neutrality” — Not an Abortion Coverage Mandate:
    • Support an “abortion neutral” approach by continuing longstanding and widely supported policies protecting provider conscience rights; prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion; and not mandating abortion as part of any benefit package
  • Support Delivery System Reforms that improve quality of care, patient outcomes, and efficiency, but do not arbitrarily reduce reimbursement rates:
    • Support a targeted Medicare hospital readmissions policy focused only on the top 8 to 10 conditions for readmission;
    • Support a Medicare Value Based Purchasing program that reimburses hospitals based on improved quality of care, implemented in a budget neutral manner;
    • Test the feasibility of bundled hospital and post acute care payments through pilot projects and a study prior to considering a bundled payment system;
    • Ensure any public plan, if included, provides adequate payment rates for providers.
  • Ensure Sufficient and Fair Financing with “shared responsibility”:
    • Protect Medicare and Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments by ensuring that any DSH payment reductions are tied to and occur after demonstrated reductions in the number of uninsured.
  • Visit the Catholic Health Association of the United States for more details.  Catholic health care is one of the largest providers of health services in the US and throughout the world.  Our moral tradition is very much connected to the practice of medicine and ethics that have been a hallmark of the Christian tradition for centuries.  Health care practice and policy have been a concern of the Catholic Church for centuries.

Filed under: Culture, Economic Policy, healthcare, Market Place, Medical Ethics, morals, Social Justice

Catholic health/Charities position on health care debate

Recently, there has been an attempt by some bloggers and others to distort the position of Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Health Association and the St. Vincent de Paul Society on their and the Church’s position on the current health care debate.

The Catholic Bishops have been calling for reform in health care since they published a Pastoral Letter on health care.

For a clarification and articulation of the Church’s position see comments by Sr. Carol, the President of Catholic Health Association of the US in a CNS article.

Filed under: Catholic Charities USA, Church-State, Economic Policy, healthcare, Medical Ethics, morals, Social Doctrine