Thursday, February 28, 2013

At Least Three Catholic Officials See Latest HHS Compromise as a Step Forward

My posting on February 6th wondered if the Obama Administration's latest olive branch on contraception coverage would prove to be a win for Catholic progressives.

Well, as The National Catholic Reporter notes, several of the most conservative bishops continued to dig in their heels on the need for a "conscience exception" for any employer -- religious or not -- who wants to veto employees' rights to contraception coverage.

Their predictable response not withstanding, it is encouraging that at least three U.S. church officials have called the most recent administration position a positive step in the right direction.

Moreover, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current president of the U.S. bishops conference, felt the need to nuance his somewhat negative February 7th statement on behalf of the conference with a February 8th statement on his archdiocesan blog that the bishops had not rejected the new proposal and that they would "take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments."  So at least officially, the bishops and the Administration are still talking.

Two of the church officials who spoke positively about the new accommodation for non-profits were bishops.

One was Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL.  His remarks are especially significant because he's also a member of the board of the Catholic Health Association, which represents the Catholic-affiliated hospitals in the United States.  NCR reports that, writing on February 9th, Lynch said:

"Clearly, the Administration has been desirous of listening to and accommodating the concerns of Catholics and other people and institutions of conscience, like myself.  One would be hard put to find any other segment of the American public whose concerns about the Affordable Health Care Act have attempted to be dealt with than those of the Catholic bishops."

Lynch added that the bishops should "consider ourselves lucky" that the Administration is "still talking to us."

Also weighing in with positive remarks was Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, WA.  In a letter to his diocese on February 11th, Cupich said, "This latest response of the government appears to provide some new openings, which we need to explore and for which we should express appreciation."  He added that he was "confident that we can find a way forward."

The third church official to value the Administration's olive branch was the president of the Catholic Health Association, Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan.  She differed with the bishops by supporting the Affordable Care Act, but also lead in trying to get the contraception policy modified in a way that would better allow Catholic institutions not to actively countermand the bishops' official position on contraception.

Keehan said in a statement February 13th that while her organization was still evaluating the HHS proposal, some of the latest provisions were "a great relief our members and many others.  CHA looks forward to working with our members, the leadership of the Bishops' Conference and the Administration to complete this process."

Keehan certainly qualifies as a Catholic progressive.  Hopefully other Catholic progressives will follow her in valuing the latest policy proposal as one which protects the bishops' legitimate concerns without allowing them to trample on the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of the employees of church-related institutions.

Catholic progressives could also make a contribution by insisting, again, that a "conscience exception" for any other employer is neither morally justified nor Constitutional.

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