Peter J. Smith

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Obama White House rolls back Bush-era conscience laws for health providers

Peter J. Smith
Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The Obama Administration has rescinded a federal regulation from 2008 that protected the conscience rights of health care providers opposed to providing abortifacient contraception, such as the Plan-B “morning-after” pill.

The Health and Human Services Department under Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, issued the new “final rule,” which leaves health-care workers of federally funded entities a narrower conscience exemption that only protects them from having to participate in abortions or sterilizations.

The new regulation replaces the earlier one enacted in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, which broadened the interpretation of existing federal conscience statutes related to abortion to include health professionals opposed to emergency contraception, such as Ella or Plan-B, drugs which pro-life advocates say also act as abortifacients.

Sebelius alleged in the promulgation of the new final rule that the Bush-era conscience regulations “instead led to greater confusion”, citing comments received by HHS. She said her department was changing the rule because it was “unclear and potentially over-broad in scope.”

The HHS Secretary said in her statement that her department did share the concern of those in favor of rescinding the rule that it had the “potential to negatively impact patient access to contraception and certain other medical services” esp. for certain sub-populations, such as “low income patients, minorities, the uninsured, patients in rural areas, Medicaid beneficiaries, or other medically under-served populations.”

The ruling is a victory for Planned Parenthood and other “family planning” groups that have insisted that drugs like Plan-B (taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse) and Ella (taken within five-days of intercourse) should be defined as “contraception.” Pro-life groups countered that pro-life health providers should be protected from discrimination under federal statutes, because these drugs could prevent a conceived human embryo from implanting in the mother’s womb, thereby aborting it.

HHS will keep the enforcement mechanisms for conscience violations that were stipulated in the Final Rule 2008, such as complaints being handled through the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

However, it rescinds the requirement that recipients of certain HHS funds provide certification of their compliance with laws protecting provider conscience rights. Instead, the HHS will just amend the grant writing process, so health care organizations can stipulate that they understand and will comply with federally-mandated conscience protections.

The statement by Sebelius did point out that the certification requirement until this point had not been finalized anyway, and therefore not enforced. She did provide a link to where health providers facing discrimination could learn how to file with the OCR.

She also noted that the vast majority of 300,000 comments received by HHS since they announced their proposal to rescind the 2008 Final Rule were overwhelmingly against rescinding: 187,000 comments.

Changes in the rule were criticized by pro-life groups who said the new HHS Final Rule promoted by Sebelius would end up hurting doctors and other health professionals who would choose to leave their fields rather than betray their moral or religious convictions.

“Today’s erosion of conscience protections for medical professionals is a blow both to medicine and the right to practice one’s deeply-held convictions,” said Dr. J. Scott Ries, on behalf of the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association (CMA).

Ries said the new HHS final rule disregarded the findings of the previous HHS 2008 final rule which stated that allowing health professionals to practice according to their convictions would negatively impact patient services or create “new barriers.”

“Losing conscientious healthcare professionals and faith-based institutions to discrimination and job loss especially imperils the poor and patients in medically underserved areas,” said Ries. “We are already facing critical shortages of primary care physicians, and the Obama administration’s decision now threatens to make the situation far worse for patients across the country who depend on faith-based health care.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins opined that while pro-life advocates support allowing the OCR to investigate claims of discrimination, he said it alone was “insufficient to ensure such discrimination does not take place” because the new regulations “severely limit the enforcement provision in the previous conscience regulations.”

He said the new HHS rule increases the urgency to expand pro-life conscience protections through the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 361), submitted by US Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Dan Lipinski’s (D-Ill.) “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (H.R. 3), and Rep. Joe Pitt’s (R-PN) “Protect Life Act” (H.R. 358).

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Lisa Bourne

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Cardinal Dolan: Debate on denying Communion to pro-abortion pols ‘in the past’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

As America heads into its 2014 midterm elections, a leading U.S. prelate says the nation’s bishops believe debate over whether to deny Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians is “in the past.”

The Church’s Code of Canon Law states in Canon 915 that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Leading Vatican officials, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have said this canon ought to be applied in the case of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. However, prelates in the West have widely ignored it, and some have openly disagreed.

John Allen, Jr. of the new website Crux, launched as a Catholic initiative under the auspices of the Boston Globe, asked New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan about the issue earlier this month.

“In a way, I like to think it’s an issue that served us well in forcing us to do a serious examination of conscience about how we can best teach our people about their political responsibilities,” the cardinal responded, “but by now that inflammatory issue is in the past.”

“I don’t hear too many bishops saying it’s something that we need to debate nationally, or that we have to decide collegially,” he continued. “I think most bishops have said, ‘We trust individual bishops in individual cases.’ Most don’t think it’s something for which we have to go to the mat.”

Cardinal Dolan expressed personal disinterest in upholding Canon 915 publicly in 2010 when he told an Albany TV station he was not in favor of denying Communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said at the time that he preferred “to follow the lead of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who said it was better to try to persuade them than to impose sanctions.”

However, in 2004 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI the following year, wrote the U.S. Bishops a letter stating that a Catholic politician who would vote for "permissive abortion and euthanasia laws" after being duly instructed and warned, "must" be denied Communion. 

Cardinal Ratzinger sent the document to the U.S. Bishops in 2004 to help inform their debate on the issue. However, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, then-chair of the USCCB Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, who received the letter, withheld the full text from the bishops, and used it instead to suggest ambiguity on the issue from the Vatican.

A couple of weeks after Cardinal McCarrick’s June 2004 address to the USCCB, the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger was leaked to well-known Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, who published the full document. Cardinal Ratzinger’s office later confirmed the leaked document as authentic.

Since the debate in 2004, numerous U.S. prelates have openly opposed denying Communion to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

In 2008, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley suggested the Church had yet to formally pronounce on the issue, and that until it does, “I don’t think we’re going to be denying Communion to the people.”

In 2009, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. in 2009 said that upholding of Canon 915 would turn the Eucharist into a political “weapon,” refusing to employ the law in the case of abortion supporter Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, said in a 2009 newspaper interview that pro-abortion politicians should be granted communion because Jesus Christ gave Holy Communion to Judas Iscariot.

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However, one of the Church’s leading proponents of the practice, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who is prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura, insists that denying Communion is not a punishment.

“The Church’s discipline from the time of Saint Paul has admonished those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not to present themselves for Holy Communion,” he said at LifeSiteNews’ first annual Rome Life Forum in Vatican City in early May. "The discipline is not a punishment but the recognition of the objective condition of the soul of the person involved in such sin."  

Only days earlier, Cardinal Francis Arinze, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, told LifeSiteNews that he has no patience for politicians who say that they are “personally” opposed to abortion, but are unwilling to “impose” their views on others.

On the question of Communion, he said, “Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?”

Cardinal Christian Tumi, archbishop emeritus of Douala, told LifeSiteNews around the same time that ministers of Holy Communion are “bound not to” give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion.

Pro-life organizations across the world have said they share the pastoral concern for pro-abortion politicians. Fifty-two pro-life leaders from 16 nations at the recent Rome Life Forum called on the bishops of the Catholic Church to honor Canon 915 and withhold Communion from pro-abortion politicians as an act of love and mercy.

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Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten

‘His bones are basically like paper’: Parents refuse to abort baby with rare condition

Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten
By Kirsten Anderson

At just 11 weeks old, little Layton Diven is not like other babies. Every time his parents pick him up or cuddle him, there is a chance they will break his bones. In fact, Layton has already suffered more than 20 fractures in his short life – beginning at the moment of his birth.

Layton has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a rare disease that makes his bones brittle and prone to breakage. There are several types of OI, and Layton’s type, OI Type III, is the most severe type found among infants. Most babies born with the disease, like Layton, are born with multiple fractures, especially along the rib cage. Many struggle to breathe or swallow. The incurable disease is progressive, so it will get worse as he gets older.

Layton was diagnosed with OI in the womb, but abortion wasn’t an option for his parents, Chad and Angela Diven, who considered their baby a gift from God, no matter his condition.

“We weren't going to have an abortion, so he was born with the disease,” Angela Diven told KSLA. “God chose me for him, to be his mom, so I have to take that huge responsibility and do what's best for him.”

That responsibility comes with a heavy price. Layton requires 24-hour care, but both Angela and Chad have full-time jobs. He can’t go to regular daycare, because it’s not safe for him.

“You can't just pick him up like a normal baby,” Diven said. “You can't dress him like a normal child; his bones are basically like paper. He can't go to daycare because of his condition. He's medically fragile, and a daycare can't handle him."

Childcare costs are just the beginning, though – the treatments Layton will need throughout his life are expensive and may not be covered by insurance.

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Layton is currently receiving pamidronate IV therapy, which will help to strengthen his bones. But in order to be able to stand or walk, he will need metal rods implanted in his legs – an operation that will cost the Divens $80,000. The OI specialist coordinating Layton’s care is in Omaha, Nebraska, while the Divens live in Louisiana. As he grows, Layton will also require special equipment, such as a wheelchair, along with extensive physical therapy.

Despite the hardships they knew would come, the Divens stepped out in faith to bring Layton into the world. Now, they are reaching out to the internet for help to shoulder the financial burdens that came with their baby blessing. The family has set up both a GoFundMe and a Facebook page called “Lifting Up Layton Diven,” where people can receive updates on Layton’s condition and contribute to the cost of his care.

To donate to baby Layton’s medical trust fund, click here.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

Sources confirm Cardinal Burke will be removed. But will he attend the Synod?

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

Sources in Rome have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, known as the Apostolic Signatura, is to be removed from his post as head of the Vatican dicastery and given a non-curial assignment as patron of the Order of Malta.

The timing of the move is key since Cardinal Burke is currently on the list to attend October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He is attending in his capacity as head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, so if he is removed prior to the Synod it could mean he would not be able to attend.

Burke has been one of the key defenders in the lead-up to the Synod of the Church's traditional practice of withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Most of the Catholic world first learned of the shocking development through Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, whose post ‘Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke’ went out late last night.

If Burke’s removal from the Signatura is confirmed, said Magister, the cardinal “would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of ‘cardinal patron’ of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.”

At 66, Cardinal Burke is still in his Episcopal prime.

The prominent traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli goes as far as to say, “It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”

On Tuesday, American traditionalist priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf also hinted he had heard the move was underway. “I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth for a while now,” he wrote. “The optimist in me was saying that the official announcement would not be made until after the Synod of Bishops, or at least the beginning of the Synod. Or at all.”

“It’s not good news,” he added.

Both Magister and Zuhlsdorf predicted that the controversial move would unleash a wave of simultaneous jubilation from dissident Catholics and criticism from faithful Catholics. The decision to remove Cardinal Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops last December caused a public outpouring of concern and dismay from Catholic and pro-life leaders across the globe.

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Both men speculated on the reasons for the ouster. 

Magister pointed out that Burke is the latest in a line of ‘Ratzingerian’ prelates to undergo the axe.

“In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most ‘Ratzingerian’ of the Roman curia,” said Magister.

He added: “Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf observed that Pope Francis may also be shrinking the Curial offices and thus reducing the number of Cardinals needed to fill those posts. He adds however, “It would be naïve in the extreme to think that there are lacking near Francis’s elbows those who have been sharpening their knives for Card. Burke and for anyone else associated closely with Pope Benedict.” 

“This is millennial, clerical blood sport.”

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