The U.S. bishops continue to study the legal and moral implications of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and to “develop avenues of response that would both preserve our strong unity and protect our consciences,” Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said in a September 17 letter to bishops.

His letter followed the September 10-11 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Administrative Committee, the top ranking USCCB body outside a plenary session.

The HHS mandate requires employers to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their insurance plans.

The bishops’ “efforts are proceeding apace, and, as you know, include a careful legal and moral analysis of the final rule,” Cardinal Dolan said. Further discussion will take place at the bishops’ fall plenary, Nov. 11-14 in Baltimore.

“We are united in our resolve to continue to defend our right to live by our faith, and our duty to serve the poor, heal the sick, keep our apostolates strong and faithful, and insure our people,” he said.

The HHS mandate requires virtually all employers to facilitate access to sterilization and contraception, as well as drugs and devices that may cause abortion, even if doing so violates deeply-held religious beliefs.

Despite serious religious liberty concerns expressed by believers of many faiths, the Obama Administration finalized its mandate with only minor changes. The final rule, Cardinal Dolan said, “still suffers from the same three basic problems”:

“Its narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ reduces religious freedom to the freedom of worship by dividing our community between houses of worship and ministries of service,”

“Its second-class treatment of those great ministries – the so-called ‘accommodation’ – leaves them without adequate relief,” and

“Its failure to offer any relief to for-profit businesses run by so many of our faithful in the pews.”

Cardinal Dolan stressed the bishops’ longstanding advocacy of policies that advance the goal of affordable health care.

“Now we are being burdened because of the same Catholic values that compel us into these ministries,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan emphasized that the members of the Administrative Committee “were unanimous in their resolve to continue our struggle against the HHS Mandate.” He likewise voiced concern regarding the Catholic Health Association’s “hurried acceptance of the accommodation” which he called “untimely and unhelpful.”

“We highly value CHA’s great expertise in their ministry of healing,” Cardinal Dolan said, “but as they have been the first to say, they do not represent the Magisterium of the Church.”

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