Catholic bishop blasts new version of HHS mandate

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops responded on Friday to the new HHS contraception mandate language by pledging to review it.  One of their members has already found it unacceptable.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia writes that despite its offer of compromise, the new language actually makes the problem worse for Catholic organizations:

White House apologists and supporters have welcomed the proposal.  The New York Times called it “a good compromise.”  Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Prochoice America have praised it.  And at least one Washington Post  columnist implausibly called it a victory for America’s Catholic bishops.

The trouble is, the new rules are very complex.  And they may actually make things worse.  In the words of Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley:

“Gauging the net effect of the new administration proposal [is] hazardous.  But one can say with confidence the following: (1) religious hospitals are, as before, not exempt ‘religious employers’; (2) religious charities are very likely  not  exempt either, unless they are run out of a church  or are very tightly integrated with a church.  So, a parish or  even a diocese’s Saint Vincent De Paul operations would probably be an exempt ‘religious employer,’ whereas Catholic Charities would not be; (3) the new proposal may (or may not) make it more likely that parish grade schools are exempt ‘religious employers.’  But Catholic high schools are a different matter.  Some might qualify as ‘religious
employers.’  Most probably will not.

“It is certain that Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify as exempt ‘religious employers.’  The new proposal includes, however, a revised ‘accommodation’ for at least some of these institutions, as well as some hospitals and charities.  The proposal refines the administration’s earlier efforts to somehow insulate the colleges and universities from immoral complicity in contraception, mainly by shifting — at least nominally – the cost and administration of the immoral services to either the health insurance issuer (think Blue Cross) or to the plan administrator (for self-insured entities, such as Notre Dame).  This proposal adds some additional layering to the earlier attempts to insulate the schools, but nothing of decisive moral significance is included.”

Chaput also points out that the new language does nothing to address the protection of religious conscience for Christian business owners who want to live their faith in their work, either.  Some had suggested that the USCCB might be satisfied to gain protection for Catholic organizations, but Chaput signals that the bishops are concerned about the broader implications of religious liberty and the attempt by the Obama administration to redefine religious expression to just worship in churches, synagogues, and temples.

Chaput doesn’t speak for the USCCB as a whole, but he gives a hint as to where he sees the bishops heading with this latest “compromise”:

One of the issues America’s bishops now face is how best to respond to an HHS mandate that remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed.  In the weeks ahead the bishops of our country, myself included, will need both prudence and courage – the kind of courage that gives prudence spine and results in right action, whatever the cost.  Please pray that God guides our discussions.

It doesn’t sound as if the USCCB will be retreating on this, or agreeing that this is a compromise at all.