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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Lisa Bourne

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61% of Americans don’t want Supreme Court to force gay ‘marriage’ on the states: poll

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- A vast majority of Americans want the government to stay out of their personal affairs when it comes to defining marriage and how they conduct their work lives or businesses, a new survey says. And a great majority also oppose the idea of the Supreme Court forcing the entire country to accept marriage redefinition.

Eighty-one percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Government should leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses,” according to a survey commissioned by the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).

The poll breakdown also showed that 80 percent of even those who never attend church believe the government should leave people alone in observing their faith when it comes to marriage. While the figures were very high across the board in support of allowing Americans freedom to practice their faith pertaining to marriage, it was highest among Hispanics at 89 percent.

Along with profound opposition to governmental tampering with religious freedom, more than six in 10 Americans also agreed with the statement, “States and citizens should remain free to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and the Supreme Court shouldn’t force all 50 states to redefine marriage.”

That statistic is especially significant given the Supreme Court is set to rule on the constitutionality of homosexual “marriage” this summer.

The survey was conducted by WPA Opinion Research, which polled 800 registered voters from February 2-4.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, agree that marriage should be defined only as a union between one man and one woman, the survey also found.

The results fly in the face of the presumption for Americans to concede that the whole country accepts homosexual “marriage,” undoubtedly telling a different story than what the media would have everyone believe, said FRC President Tony Perkins.

"It's clear, based on (this) polling, that Americans have not reached a broad social consensus that marriage should be redefined," Perkins told Baptist Press.

A Fox News poll also found last fall that a more Americans oppose legalization of homosexual “marriage” than support, at 47 percent and 44 percent respectively.

A recent Associated Press poll said most Americans favor not forcing the owners of wedding-related business to go against their religious convictions by compelling them to provide services for homosexual “weddings.”

Perkins also disapproved of any effort by the Supreme Court to impose marriage redefinition nationally.

The court "will be at a point of overreach if they impose a one-size-fits-all definition of marriage on the nation by redefining it," he said.

“What this survey tells us is that the American people won't accept the redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat,” he continued in a statement on the findings.

NRB Jerry President described the survey results as "incredible," and also said it is a "slam dunk" for more than 80 percent of Americans to agree that citizens should be free of governmental interference in the practice of their faith, including in their businesses.

"Government has no right establishing speech codes or business codes on marriage and 81 percent of Americans agree entirely," said Johnson.

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The Center for Arizona Policy also welcomed the survey results, further expressing importance of listening to the will of the people.

“It’s clear that marriage matters to voters,” the group’s President Cathi Herrod said in a statement. “Furthermore, the freedom of belief and the freedom to vote for a cause are of the utmost importance.”

“The Supreme Court should not silence the will of the voters,” she said. “What’s more, the government should not penalize people for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.” 

Herrod decried religious discrimination with the recent examples where Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired from his job and Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman is being sued by the state’s attorney general and the ACLU.

“What should be simple matters of disagreement has turned into government coercion,” said Herrod. “Instead of respecting differences of opinion, the government is now being used to stifle differing beliefs.”

Perkins was confident that Americans will not stand by for the redefinition of marriage to be imposed by the nation’s high court.

“If it dares to redefine an institution as old as civilization itself,” he said. “Like life, the marriage debate will only intensify as the American people realize that they'll be required to surrender their fundamental right to live and work according to their beliefs.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke was one of the principal authors and supporters of the book defending the Church's teachings on marriage that was allegedly blocked by Cardinal Baldisseri.
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Synod’s chief organizer seized books by top cardinals defending Church’s marriage teachings: report

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Allegations have surfaced this week that the lead organizer of the Vatican’s controversial Synod on the Family in October personally intervened to block the distribution of a book distributed by high-ranking cardinals, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, that defended the Church’s teachings on marriage.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary for the Synod of Bishops, who became the focus of much criticism from bishops at the Synod for allegedly “manipulating” the process, is reported to have ordered that the books be seized, despite them having been posted through the official Vatican City State postal service.

The highly respected Vaticanist Edward Pentin, writing for NewsMax on Wednesday, said “reliable and high level sources” had confirmed that the book, “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” was “intercepted” on the orders of Cardinal Baldisseri on the grounds that it would “interfere with the synod.” Baldisseri was also said to have been “furious” at the attempt to distribute them.

Cardinal Baldisseri reportedly claimed the books were confiscated because they had been distributed “improperly.” Those entrusted with ensuring the books made it into the hands of the Synod bishops, however, insisted that the books had gone through the regular Vatican postal service, and were therefore legally protected material, Pentin reports.       

The book includes a set of essays defending and explaining the Catholic teaching on the indissoluble nature of marriage and was intended by its authors as a means of clarifying the discussion.

The book was organized and authored by a group of the Church’s highest-ranking prelates – including Cardinal Raymond Burke, then-head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – who were gravely alarmed not only at the “proposal” by Cardinal Walter Kasper but at its positive reception among bishops and Catholic laity.

Cardinal Kasper had shocked the Catholic world at last year’s consistory of cardinals by his “suggestion” that the Church change its practice of withholding Communion from people in “irregular unions,” and by his claim that the pope had approved the proposal. The so-called “Kasper proposal” has since become the focal point of a nearly open civil war in the Church in which decades-long divisions between the “liberal/progressives” and orthodox prelates has been revealed by the world’s press.

At the Rome launch on October 6 of a different book opposing Kasper’s proposal, Cardinal George Pell, a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Nine, said that changing the practice or teaching of the Church would be “disastrous.”

Pentin writes, “Those responsible for mailing the books meticulously tried to avoid interception, ensuring the copies were sent through the proper channels within the Italian and Vatican postal systems.” Pentin added that his sources had “strongly” refuted the claim by the Synod’s secretariat that the books had been distributed “irregularly,” saying they had used the normal postal service that is governed according to Vatican state and international law and is known in Rome for its superior service to the Italian postal system.

Throughout the Synod, rumors circulated broadly among the assembled corps of journalists that the highly anticipated books had failed to reach the bishops and had in fact been confiscated on the orders of the Synod’s leadership. At the time, although this strange story had spread widely, none of the principal parties involved in the book’s publication or distribution were willing to come forward.

That rule of silence appears to still be in place; today none of the book’s authors or editors were willing to speak with LifeSiteNews “on the record” to confirm what had happened, and attempts to reach the Synod office went unanswered. It is public knowledge, however, that only a handful of bishops had been able to obtain a copy during the Synod itself.

Edward Pentin reported yesterday that the story has not stopped circulating in Rome since the Synod, despite having been dismissed at a December press conference by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi. “Since then the allegations have become more widely known and have been corroborated at the highest levels of the church,” Pentin writes, saying that his sources believe the seized books were likely destroyed.

It is notable that the accusation could have a potential of a criminal liability for unlawful seizure of posted materials. The Vatican City State postal service is a member of the Universal Postal Union, a body under the auspices of the UN, which regulates the postal service practice of 192 member states. One Vatican source told LifeSiteNews today that a first attempt had been made to stop the books being sent by the Vatican Post Office, but that the postal workers had refused to cooperate, saying that it would be “unethical” to tamper with the mail.

Baldisseri, appointed as a permanent Secretary of the Synod of Bishops by Pope Francis, has become a public spokesman for the Kasper Proposal and he was heavily criticized during the Synod by many of the bishops themselves, who complained that the process was being strictly controlled to produce a particular outcome.

At a conference in Rome last month, Baldisseri told delegates that “dogma can evolve” and that the purpose of the Synod was not merely to restate Catholic teaching. He also confirmed that the documents of the Synod, including the highly contested “mid-term Relatio” that had called for the Church to “accept and value” the “homosexual orientation” had been read and approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

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Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

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Chen Guangcheng contradicts Hillary’s version: Obama admin abandoned him, caved to ‘hooligans’

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who exposed the brutality of China's one-child policy, is again questioning the official party line – the Obama administration's account. This time he is contradicting Hillary Clinton's story of his escape from home captivity in a new memoir.

Hillary, who was Secretary of State at the time Chen fled his captors and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy, has steadfastly denied she lobbied Chen to leave the premises, despite tense negotiations with the Chinese. But Chen writes that he felt so pressured and abandoned by U.S. officials, he was “overcome by sadness and wept.”

Chen so angered Chinese officials by uncovering the corruption and coercion of the nation's forced abortion regime that he was imprisoned for years. After his release, he and his family were held under house arrest inside a garrisoned village.

But on April 22, 2012, Chen scaled the wall and ran, on a broken foot, for miles. After going through a series of safe houses, a car took him to Beijing, where he sought sanctuary in the U.S. Embassy.

Hillary and Chen agree on that much – but the rest of their tales diverge.

Hillary spent chapter five of her memoir, "Hard Choices"  “Beijing: The Dissident” – discussing Chen's plight. The light-selling autobiography claims that Hillary got a call on the yellow phone on April 25, telling her about Chen's plea. “I said, 'Go get him,'” she wrote, adding that it “wasn't a close call.” She later told the Council on Foreign Relations that she authorized some “James Bond-ish kind of activity” for his rescue.

But Chen's escape came just days before Clinton was to arrive in China for a diplomatic visit. Chen and those close to him have always maintained that Chen faced coercion to leave the U.S. Embassy – and that U.S. officials broke their word after he complied.

The State Department passed along threats that, if Chen did not leave the Embassy for a Chinese communist-controlled hospital, his family would face repercussions from government officials. Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, while denying any wrongdoing, admitted that “U.S. interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification.”

But in "Hard Choices", Hillary says U.S. officials were so considerate of Chen that the then-ambassador to China, Gary Locke, and State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh “spent hours sitting with Chen, holding his hand, soothing his fears, and talking about his hopes for the future.”

Hillary maintained, “we had done what Chen said he wanted every step of the way.”

Chen tells a much different tale in his newly published memoir, "The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man's Fight for Justice and Freedom in China", portions of which were published by Canada's National Post.

Chen said he was “pressured to leave” after the State Department accepted an “absurdly inadequate deal” with Chinese officials, essentially trusting them not to harm Guangcheng and his family on their honor.

“I hadn’t expected so many people on both sides would be working so hard to get me to leave, without guaranteeing my rights or my family’s safety,” Chen wrote. “No one seemed to be putting pressure on the Chinese Communist Party; instead they were dumping shipping containers of weight onto my shoulders to get me to do their bidding.”

Ultimately, he left the Embassy, filled with “disappointment and despair.” He said he “was overcome by sadness and wept.”

“What troubled me most at the time was this: when negotiating with a government run by hooligans, the country that most consistently advocated for democracy, freedom, and universal human rights had simply given in,” he said.

Those who were involved with the events as they unfolded agree that Hillary's account is off-base.

“I completely support Chen Guangcheng's account,” Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers told LifeSiteNews. “In sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton's self-glorifying version, the actions of the U.S. government were a great disappointment to Chen and to the human rights community.”

“Why did U.S. officials pressure Chen to leave by May 2?” asked Littlejohn, who met Chen's plane when he finally landed on U.S. soil on May 19. “This was the very day that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to arrive in Beijing for trade talks. To all appearances, the State Department under Hillary Clinton was willing to sacrifice one of the great human rights activists of the world in order to conduct unimpeded trade talks.”

Littlejohn and others familiar with the events have told the same story since it occurred.

“The State Department likes to say now that they played some kind of a heroic role,” Littlejohn told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive video interview at the time. “I would dispute that characterization of their actions.”

Bob Fu, the president of China Aid and a longtime associate of Chen, said at the time that Chen Guangcheng said that “he was under enormous pressure to leave the Embassy. Some people almost made him feel he was being a huge burden to the U.S.”

After Chen left for a hospital, he said the State Department did not keep its promises to protect him.

Chen said U.S. officials were not taking his calls, nor had they accompanied him from the embassy to the hospital, as they promised. “The Embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised to have people stay with me in the hospital,” where his room was surrounded by at least 10 plainclothes guards, he said. “As soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.”

“Nobody from the (U.S.) Embassy is here. I don’t understand why. They promised to be here,” he said.

President Obama refused to comment on the matter on April 30.

Days later, Congressional Republicans called a hearing, where Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, and then-Congressman Frank Wolf pressured the Obama administration to fix the “scandal.” Chen telephoned the May 3 hearing, and Bob Fu translated as Chen spoke to him: “I want to meet with Secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her,” he said. “I really am afraid for my other family members’ lives.”

Chen specifically thanked Congressman Smith and other Congressional leaders in his book.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also criticized the Obama administration's handling of the affair.

“Eventually, as a result of efforts on many fronts, the Chinese authorities had no choice but to allow me, my wife and my children to leave for the United States,” Chen wrote last year. He arrived on U.S. soil on May 19 and is now a fellow at The Witherspoon Institute.

This is not the first time Chen has criticized Hillary's book. He disputed Clinton's assertion that Chinese Communist officials had been “scrupulous” about living up to their commitments in a June 24, 2014, op-ed for The Washington Post.

“Not only has the Chinese government relentlessly persecuted members of my family since my departure, it also never investigated its prior abuses, as it committed to do. And it imprisoned my nephew, who remains in jail today,” he wrote. “Clinton and her staff were keenly aware of the attacks on my family.”

Despite the fact that Chen's account undermines a major part of Hillary Clinton's autobiography – and calls into question her judgment and commitment to human rights – it has made few ripples in the U.S. media. The two primary stories have been in Canada's National Post and the Telegraph of London.

“I bet that most of you have never heard about any of this before,” Moe Lane wrote at RedState.com. “And it’s largely because Hillary Clinton is a Democrat, and Chris Smith is a Republican.”

The America Rising PAC, a Republican political action committee, commented, “while Clinton hides from the press potentially through the summer, no one will have a chance to ask her why Chen’s account flatly contradicts her own – a story she directly profited from by including it in her book.”

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