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Oral arguments heard on religious exemption to mandate

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PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia heard oral arguments Dec. 14 in a suit that aims to take away the exemption granted in October to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious employers allowing them to refuse to cover contraceptives for their employees on moral grounds.

A similar hearing took place Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Oakland, California. Read more »

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In Zika outbreak, use of contraceptives may be ‘lesser evil,’ pope says

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Catholic News Service

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM MEXICO — With physicians across Central and South American urging women to postpone pregnancy because of the Zika virus that causes birth defects, Pope Francis said using contraceptives could be a “lesser evil.”

Holding a news conference Feb. 17 on his way back to Rome after a six-day visit to Cuba and Mexico, the pope was asked if the use of artificial contraceptives or abortion could be considered “a lesser evil” when the baby had a high risk of birth defects.

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Rome Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Rome Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Abortion is not a lesser evil; it’s a crime,” Pope Francis said. It is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. “It’s an absolute evil.”

“Don’t confuse avoiding pregnancy with abortion,” the pope said.

The concept of a “lesser evil” may apply to artificial birth control, however, he said, pointing to Blessed Paul VI’s consent in the early 1960s for women religious in the then-Belgian Congo to take the pill when rape was being used as a weapon of war.

Unlike abortion, he said, “avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one and such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear.”

At the same time, Pope Francis pleaded with doctors and scientists “to do their utmost to find vaccines against these mosquitoes that carry this disease.”

Health officials have urged women to postpone their pregnancies for two years, because the Zika virus can produce microcephaly, a rare neurological condition that causes smaller heads in newborns, affecting the normal development of their brain.

In general, the Catholic Church is opposed to artificial birth control, but promotes natural family planning to space births.

 

Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

 

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Viewpoint — Little Sisters of the Poor won’t be cheerleaders for the sexual revolution

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Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius – the title of the lawsuit is chilling. A self-sacrificing order of Catholic nuns is involved in a lawsuit against the nominally Catholic Secretary of Health and Human Services. A lot had to change in America to bring about such an absurd conflict.

The lawsuit, as most of us know, has to do with the insistence of the Little Sisters that they are a religious organization and therefore should be excused from the HHS regulation requiring that their health insurance plans provide coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures without copayment or deductible. This mandate is a regulation imposed by Sebelius under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It is not part of the law, as news reports sometimes indicate.  The conflict could be ended with the stroke of a pen, but in spite of the unseemly spectacle of this lawsuit and dozens like it, the administration holds firm.

There are certainly political reasons for the administration’s position, but politics is downstream from culture, as the saying goes. Political systems and the governments tend to reflect the most widely held values in the culture. And that’s why the Little Sisters of the Poor, known and loved in this diocese, are in hot water with the government. They dare to swim upstream against the culture.

For decades now the culture has embraced the sexual revolution with its conviction that no sexual activity or arrangement is ever intrinsically wrong, so long as those involved are consenting adults (or adolescents for that matter).

What Pope Benedict before his election in 2005 called the “dictatorship of relativism” is on full display here. Nothing is good or bad in itself; whatever the self really wants it is entitled to have. And the uninhibited modern self demands unlimited access to safe sex  (The idea of “safe sex” is a magnificent bit of male chauvinism, but that’s for another day.)

The sexual revolution depends on reliable contraception. Otherwise babies might interfere. The promise of reliable contraception was fundamental in creating the notion that sex, marriage and reproduction could and should be separated.  But since people and contraception tend to be unreliable, the sexual revolution also requires abortion as a back-up to escape from consequences and responsibility.

The sexual revolution has brought catastrophe in its wake. Out of wedlock births have passed the 40 percent mark in America. Fatherless children, especially boys, face a much higher risk of failure, violence and criminality, while their sisters grow up with no idea of a husband and father.

Marriage rates decline, and in spite of the number of out of wedlock births the birthrate sinks below the replacement level putting the social safety net at risk. Sexually transmitted diseases proliferate.

Marriage itself is redefined as a contract between adults who happen to be in love, and children become a mere accessory, fine but only if they are necessary for adult happiness. Men are freed from any sense of obligation to the women they have sex with, and many are thereby rendered perpetually adolescent.

And polls show female unhappiness at historically high levels. The hook–up culture is fueled by drugs and alcohol, and the news media have finally noticed that rape on campus may be as common as in the military. There is little to indicate that people who are freed from sexual restraint are in any way happier or that society is better off as a result. The sexual revolution is a false god, and all false gods are murderous.

In few areas is the Catholic Church more countercultural than in this one. The beautiful vision of marriage as permanent, exclusive, and open to new life is foreign to the mindset of the sexual revolution. Our belief that marriage is built into nature for human good looks quaint. The idea that marriage is sacramental, that it brings grace and aids us on the way to salvation, is incomprehensible.

Powerful forces find this Christian understanding of marriage and sex not just odd but intolerable. For them not even the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion may be allowed to slow down the sexual revolution.

The lack of free birth control would inhibit the imperial self’s unalienable right to sex. Therefore, the Little Sisters of the Poor must pay. Never mind that the pill is cheap. Never mind that all sorts of necessary medications are not mandated in the same way, like insulin or antibiotics.

The HHS mandate makes no sense apart from the sexual revolution. The medications involved are legal, inexpensive, widely available and often subsidized by the government. Sandra Fluke, the cover girl for the mandate, manages to pay $50,000 a year in tuition at Georgetown Law School, but her need for free contraception is so absolute that the First Amendment must yield to it.  She must get her way, for then the sexual revolution is cheered and the Little Sisters are forced to cheer along.

It’s the cheering that the opposition demands. The church has no stake in controlling private behavior. In the words of Blessed John Paul II the church never imposes but only proposes. The church has learned to live and indeed to thrive in an open, pluralistic culture. And even in the Middle Ages and early modern era when the church sometimes did impose, it was never imagined that everything immoral should be illegal. We neither impose nor propose anything of the sort today. We simply propose the beauty of marriage.

Why, then, can the sexual revolutionaries not leave us, and the Little Sisters, alone?  The answer is quite clear. They demand to be cheered and enabled because at some level they are uncertain.

The culture is desperately afraid that it might be wrong. Promiscuity may be widely celebrated and giggled about, but there is a deep insecurity abroad, for God never meant sex to be safe and it cannot be domesticated by education and technology. The audacity of those stubborn nuns challenges the status quo. And the very existence of the Catholic Church threatens the dictatorship of relativism with the possibility of truth.

But if we can be forced to cooperate, if we can be co-opted, if we can be pushed into silence, then the hazard of the truth is removed. To live and let live is not enough.  Tolerance is not enough. If that were the case, the HHS mandate would never have been considered. Approval, endorsement and cheering are required.

There is a scarcely concealed secularist totalitarianism behind all this. Our opponents do not seek liberty; they already have it. They want control. Religion, conscience, and dissent and disrupt the smooth movement away from the noble American tradition of ordered liberty toward managed libertinism.

It’s not a matter of a few dollars more going to a health insurance plan. What is at stake in the Little Sisters’ courageous stand and that of the many other plaintiffs, Catholic and Protestant, is freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of association and freedom of conscience. What is at stake is the established American commitment that some things are outside the power of the state and that it’s better for everyone that they are.

On that the church too has always insisted.  Early Christians died rather than place a pinch of incense on the altar before the icon of the emperor. The same principle is at play today. God bless the Little Sisters for their refusal to offer incense to anyone but God.  They deserve our ardent support. They deserve our prayers. And they deserve from us the energy and the courage to recognize what is at stake.

Father Klein is director of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Wilmington.

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Bishops reject Obama compromise on health insurance mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In an move that appears unlikely to end the controversy over a federal mandate that all health insurance plans include contraception and sterilization free of charge, President Barack Obama outlined a plan that would allow religious employers not to offer such services to their employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.

The president announced the policy in a brief statement Feb. 10 but took no questions.

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HHS rejects religious exemption for contraceptive coverage

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —- Although Catholic leaders vowed to fight on, the Obama administration has turned down repeated requests from Catholic bishops, hospitals, schools and charitable organizations to revise its religious exemption to the requirement that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge.

Instead, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced Jan. 20 that nonprofit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year “to adapt to this new rule.”

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