Kathleen Gilbert

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Catholic Health Ass’n, Notre Dame pushing dangerous compromise on birth control mandate: watchdog

Kathleen Gilbert
Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A proposal made by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association (CHA) to dodge the Obama administration’s birth control insurance mandate could undermine the religious liberty of many Catholic colleges and universities, says one watchdog of Catholic higher education.

Under the new law, as announced by the Obama administration this summer, virtually all private employers will be required to cover sterilization and all contraception, including abortifacient drugs. The religious exemption currently applies only to organizations that mainly hire and cater to individuals within their own sects, which would exclude most religious colleges, schools, hospitals, charities and other organizations.

In public letters to the Obama Administration, both the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and Fr. John Jenkins of the University of Notre Dame have pointed to Section 414(e) of the IRS Code, which exempts church-related pension plans from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  They recommend the language in 414(e) as an improvement over the strict and narrow religious exemption published by HHS.

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But in a letter to federal health officials Dec 20, the Cardinal Newman Society said the proposed revision would still leave many faith-based colleges out in the cold, “just like the flawed religious exemption it is intended to replace.”

Under Section 414(e), notes CNS, exemption from federal law is available only to an organization that is “controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches,” meaning that the organization must at least share “common religious bonds and convictions with [its] church or convention or association of churches.” 

However, under federal court precedent “common religious bonds” has been interpreted to rely on three factors: that the church play an official role in the governance of the organization, that the organization receive assistance from the church, and whether a denominational requirement exists for any of the organization’s employees or customers.

This litmus test, CNS notes, is not one that most Catholic colleges and universities are likely to meet.  Some of the most orthodox Catholic colleges are entirely controlled by the laity, they point out, and few impose religious tests when hiring employees or accepting students.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops already argued against the 414(e) option in its September 17th comment to federal health officials, calling it “inadequate.”

Other Christian organizations also face problems with the 414(e) language, because it exempts only religious organizations with denominational affiliations. 

“While some of our institutions are affiliated with larger church organizational or denominational structures, many are independent religious organizations,” Dr. Paul Corts, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, told CNS. “They are religious not because they are associated with a church or denomination but rather because of their legitimate religious beliefs and practices that are openly held out to the public as such—the critical legal characteristics of a religious entity—and yet, would not be recognized as such under [414(e) language].”

The Society’s concerns were repeated in letters to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop William Lori, chairman of the USCCB committee on religious liberty.

In an op-ed Wednesday in The Washington Times, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly writes that the practical effect of the Notre Dame and CHA proposal “would be to slam the door on most religious organizations while providing political cover to the Obama Administration.”  But he also recalls that neither the University of Notre Dame nor CHA “is a stranger to controversy when it comes to President Barack Obama and his support for abortion rights.”

Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins honored Obama with an honorary law degree at the school’s commencement ceremony in 2009, drawing condemnations from 80 active U.S. bishops and over 300,000 petitioning U.S. Catholics.

Months later, CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan emerged as a key supporter of Obama’s health care overhaul, earning accolades from the administration for flouting the USCCB’s direct opposition to the abortion-expanding law.


The full Cardinal Newman Society letter to Secretary Sebelius is below.

 


December 20, 2011

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Health and Human Services
United States Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 120F
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

We are writing with concern about the dangerous implications of a proposal that has been presented to you by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association, which could violate the religious liberty of the faithful Catholic colleges and universities that The Cardinal Newman Society promotes to Catholic families.

As you know, many religious organizations have sought the repeal of the Interim Final Rule on Preventive Services published in the Federal Register on August 3, 2011 (76 Fed. Reg. 46621), which mandates health insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including some that cause abortions.  At the least, religious organizations and individuals seek conscience protection to be exempted from this mandate.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which works to help renew and strengthen the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges and universities, is especially concerned about the impact of this mandate on Catholic higher education.  As we noted in our September 29th comment to your department, joined by 18 Catholic colleges and universities and the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee on Catholic education: “No federal rule has defined being “religious” as narrowly and discriminatorily as the Mandate appears to do, and no regulation has ever so directly proposed to violate plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms.”  Of great concern is the impact on Catholic college health plans for students, which are not currently exempt from the regulation.

The religious exemption in the regulations is inadequate, but so is the replacement proposed by the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic Health Association in their own comments to your department.  They propose language similar to Internal Revenue Service Code Section 414(e), which describes organizations exempt from provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  Embracing 414(e)-like language would mean leaving many Catholic colleges unprotected, just like the flawed religious exemption it is intended to replace.

A religious exemption similar to 414(e) would only marginally expand the current HHS exemption and would undermine religious liberty.  Under the 414(e) rule, exemption is available only to an organization that is “controlled by or associated with a church or a convention or association of churches,” meaning that the organization must at least share “common religious bonds and convictions with [its] church or convention or association of churches.”  In 2001 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said that three factors bear primary consideration when deciding whether an organization shares “common religious bonds and convictions” with a church:

1) whether the religious institution plays any official role in the governance of the organization; 2) whether the organization receives assistance from the religious institution; and 3) whether a denominational requirement exists for any employee or patient/customer of the organization.

The Fourth Circuit set a precedent that has been followed by other federal courts, and it is not a test that most Catholic colleges and universities are likely to meet.  Many are unaffiliated with a religious order; indeed, some of the most faithfully Catholic colleges are entirely lay-controlled.  Few impose religious tests when hiring employees or accepting students.  It is even an open question as to whether Notre Dame would meet the criteria for a 414(e) exemption, which the university has never sought, according to Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued against the 414(e) option in its September 17th comment to your department: “…[S]uch an exemption would be inadequate, because it would fail to protect many stakeholders with a moral or religious objection to contraceptives or sterilization, including individuals, insurers, and even many religiously affiliated organizations.”

While our mission relates to Catholic education, we also support the concerns of religious organizations that are inter-denominational or non-denominational.  As explained by Dr. Paul Corts, President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, in a note to The Cardinal Newman Society yesterday: “While some of our institutions… are religious not because they are associated with a church or denomination but rather because of their legitimate religious beliefs and practices that are openly held out to the public as such—the critical legal characteristics of a religious entity—and yet, would not be recognized as such under an exemption requiring conformity with the requirements of IRS Code Section 414(e).”

Secretary Sebelius, the fact is that the 414(e) language would fail to protect the religious liberty of too many religious organizations that object to sterilization, contraception or abortion, including many faithful Catholic colleges and universities.  This is unacceptable.

We continue to urge you to repeal the mandate altogether, or at minimum to protect the consciences of all individuals and organizations that oppose sterilization, contraception or abortion because of their religious beliefs.

Sincerely,



Patrick J. Reilly
President

cc: Joshua DuBois, Executive Director, Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Enterprises

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

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Pope Francis eases forgiveness of abortion for Jubilee Year of Mercy

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By John-Henry Westen

ROME, September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- In an announcement today, Pope Francis said that he is enacting an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy from December 8, 2015 through November 2016. As part of the Jubilee, the pope has allowed priests to forgive the sin of abortion, which St. John Paul II taught in Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 58) is “murder.”

The statement marks the most extensive remarks on abortion that Pope Francis has made during his pontificate. Rather than downplaying the seriousness of abortion, as some media contend, in the statement the pope encourages the millions of women who have aborted their children to go to confession and seek God’s forgiveness.

In the Catechism, the Church calls abortion a “criminal” practice, and imposes the penalty of excommunication on those who do it -- essentially, removing those who commit abortions from the Church. In the past, typically re-entry into the Church for those who have separated themselves from it by excommunication can only be undertaken by a bishop. However in much of North America priests have already been given standing permission by their bishops to forgive abortion.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput explained in an email sent to LifeSiteNews today, “For many years now, parish priests have been given permission to absolve the sin of abortion here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia archbishop, who will play host to Pope Francis during the pontiff’s visit later this month added, “But the practice has not been common in various other regions of the world.”

“This action in no way diminishes the moral gravity of abortion,” concluded Chaput. “What it does do is make access to sacramental forgiveness easier for anyone who seeks it with a truly penitent heart.”

The pope declared that all priests may forgive the sin of abortion for “those who have procured it and who with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.'"

The pope says in his letter that abortion is a “tragedy” wherein “extreme harm” takes place, and calls it “profoundly unjust.”  He admits however, as does the pro-life movement, that it is an “agonizing and painful decision” and many women “believe that they have no other option.”

In order to be forgiven by God of such a serious offence, the pope says the one who has procured the abortion must be made aware of the “gravity of the sin committed” and be truly repentant. They must come, says Francis, with a “contrite heart, seek forgiveness for” the abortion and hoping for “reconciliation with the Father.”

The full statement from the Pope on the matter of abortion follows:

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured itand who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

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TLC stars Kody Brown and his four "wives"
Fr. Mark Hodges

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Surprise, surprise: New suit says gay ‘marriage’ ruling laid ground for legal polygamy

Fr. Mark Hodges
By Fr. Mark Hodges

SALT LAKE CITY, UT, September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – When "The Pill" was made available to the public in 1964, Christians warned it could lead to promiscuity and disassociation of sex with marriage and children.  They were ridiculed as religious fanatics.

When abortion was made legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy in 1973, Christians warned that it would not save women's lives, but would instead lead to devaluing all human life, especially children's lives. They were dismissed as moral-legislating hate-mongers.

When euthanasia was legalized in Oregon and other states, Christians warned that the non-terminally ill and eventually the mentally handicapped, or simply the unwanted, would be killed in the name of mercy. They were mocked as right-wing crazies.

When sodomy laws in Texas and elsewhere were stricken from the books in 2003, Christians warned that societal approval of that harmful practice would lead to an increase in disease and further perversion. They were ignored and vilified.

When DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell) rules for the military were reversed, Christians warned that the epidemic of rapes in the armed services would increase, not decrease, and that combat readiness would continue to diminish. They were called bigots, their words "hate speech."

And so on. Recent history is rife with examples of conservatives warning against societal degradation being vilified as "slippery slope" straw man creators, who want only to legislate morality.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

That's how those who warned that the Supreme Court's same-sex "marriage" decision would lead to legalization of any and all kinds of "marriage," such as a man and several wives or vice versa.

And, as in every case cited above, what Christian conservatives warned is exactly what has now happened.

In a U.S. 10th Circuit court filing, reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives point to the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling on same-sex marriage to buttress their pro-polygamy case.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, summarized to LifeSiteNews, "The left's chaotic cultural agenda knows no boundaries. Once 'marriage' could be redefined to accommodate sexual perversion, it would be impossible to stop other perversions from being recognized." 

The American Family Association's Ed Vitagliano told LifeSiteNews, "It has been clear for decades that sexual radicals in America have been targeting the God-ordained institution of marriage for destruction. Toss in a handful of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, beginning in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas), and ending with this summer's debacle (Obergefell v. Hodges), and we are on the verge of seeing the secularists succeed." 

The AFA executive vice president concluded to LifeSiteNews, "We have no doubt that the polygamists will be next to step into the federal courts."

Indeed. Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn, have asked the court to uphold a judge's ruling striking down part of Utah's law against polygamy. To prove their case, they cite precedents involving same-sex marriage (United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges), and a case that struck down a ban on sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas).

"From the rejection of morality legislation in Lawrence, to the expansion of the protections of liberty interests in Obergefell, it is clear that states can no longer use criminal codes to ... punish those who choose to live in consensual but unpopular unions," Brown's filing states. "This case is about the criminalization of consensual relations."

LaBarbera told LifeSiteNews that the move to legalize polygamy is no surprise. "Once the argument for homosexual so-called 'marriage' became 'Love Is Love,' it was only a matter of time before multiple-partner activists would start defending the 'right' to have THEIR [perversion of] 'love' legitimized by state-recognized 'marriage.'"

The Browns, who appear on the television show "Sister Wives," sued the state of Utah over its ban on polygamy, which Brown calls "plural relationships." They argue that the law violates their right to freely practice their religion and their right to equal protection under the law.

Specifically, Brown is challenging the state's assertion that polygamy is harmful to societies that condone it.

Brown argues that the state should not have "the right to impose criminal morality codes on citizens, compelling them to live their lives in accordance with the religious or social values of the majority of citizens."

LaBarbera concluded, "Social conservatives and Christians must work to overturn Obergefell, just like homosexual activists worked to overturn the Supreme Court's Bowers v. Hardwick decision in 1986 that allowed anti-sodomy laws. Otherwise, we are guaranteed to lose more and more freedoms as 'gay' power grows, using legalized 'marriage' as leverage."

Arguments in the Brown polygamy case could take place before the 10th Circuit Court in Denver before the end of the year.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD, on March 6, 2014. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Sen. McConnell: GOP won’t push Obama on Planned Parenthood defunding

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Planned Parenthood won't lose its funding for at least 18 months, says America's top senator.

Speaking on WYMT TV, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said, "The president’s made it very clear he’s not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that’s another issue that awaits a new president, hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood."

“We just don’t have the votes to get the outcome that we’d like,” he said. “Again, the president has the pen to sign it. If he doesn’t sign it, it doesn’t happen. But, yeah, we voted on that already in the Senate, we’ll vote on it again, but I would remind all of your viewers the way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it and the president has to sign it.”

McConnell's comments came despite pressure from Senators and Representatives alike, as well as pro-life groups, who want Republicans to make defunding a priority.

"If the president of the United States and Harry Reid think it's more important that Planned Parenthood get your tax dollars than to pay our troops, then they are shutting down the government,” Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan, R-OH, told CNN last week.

Jordan and others have pushed GOP leaders to attach defunding efforts to must-pass pieces of legislation, such as a highway bill earlier this summer and the upcoming Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government running. GOP leaders have generally opposed this strategy, which has created a schism within the party.

Conversely, Democrats have been largely united. Leaders and rank-and-file members in both parties have generally supported taxpayer funding of the abortion giant, despite the possibility of illegal abortions being done to illegally harvest fetal organs and other body parts.

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