PHOENIX, January 30, 2012 ( – In a letter to Catholics in his diocese this weekend, Arizona Bishop Thomas Olmsted appeared to urge the faithful to civil disobedience against an Obama administration mandate requiring Catholic employers to include coverage for contraception, including abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations.

“Unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so),” he wrote. “We cannot – we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

The letter, which was read out loud at all parishes in the diocese of Phoenix on Sunday, called on Catholics to “pray and fast” that “wisdom and justice may prevail,” and to contact their Congressional representatives to support legislation that would overturn the mandate.


“In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less,” he wrote.

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The mandate has prompted a chorus of outrage from the nation’s bishops; Olmsted is not the first to mention the possibility of openly defying the federal government.

At the annual Red Mass in Tampa in December, Bishop Robert Lynch announced: “For the first time in my adult life, I foresee the possibility of some form of civil disobedience and I am extremely uncomfortable at even the hint of such a thing.”

According to Bishop Lynch, even the diocese itself would not be covered by the religious exemption, since it is self-insured and therefore would be considered an insurance company. 

Diocesan spokesman Rob DeFrancesco told the Arizona Central, however, that Bishop Olmsted’s comments applied to Catholic organizations not affiliated with the diocese, and that the Diocese of Phoenix expected to be exempt from the mandate.

The conflicting opinions illustrate the confusion that has abounded over the mandate’s narrowly tailored religious exemption, which covers only those employers that primarily hire and serve those who share its tenets.

A letter signed by 18 Catholic colleges and universities this past September objecting to the mandate pointed out that the exemption was so narrow that “Jesus Christ himself,” would not qualify, and that “any religious entity’s hope for an exemption appears to be subject to the whim of HRSA bureaucrats.”