Archbishop welcomes change to “burdensome” HHS mandate

Little Sisters of the Poor still need “just resolution”

Karna Lozoya

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver called the new exemptions announced by the Trump administration Friday to the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate “welcome news.”

“The HHS Mandate has entangled many Catholic organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, in burdensome legal battles over the past few years,” he said. “The government should not be in the business of deciding which religious and moral beliefs companies, universities or churches can hold.

“Until today, that is exactly what the HHS Mandate did, backed with the threat of substantial fines.”

“I look forward to studying the new rule more in-depth to understand its impact on the various entities located in the Archdiocese of Denver, and I hope to see the just resolution of the court cases related to the mandate,” the archbishop added.

The HHS policy announced today adds broad religious and moral exemptions to the mandate, which originated in the Affordable Care Act.

In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that employers provide contraceptives and other abortion-inducing drugs, which the Catholic Church finds morally objectionable, to their employees.

Following the announcement, Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket and lead attorney for the Little Sisters of the Poor, stated: “HHS has issued a balanced rule that respects all sides– it keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for most employers and now provides a religious exemption.

“The Little Sisters still need to get final relief in court, which should be easy now that the government admits it broke the law.”

Full text of Archbishop’s statement:

“Today’s announcement that the Trump administration has issued a new rule that limits the Health and Human Services Contraception Mandate is welcome news.

“The HHS Mandate has entangled many Catholic organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, in burdensome legal battles over the past few years. The government should not be in the business of deciding which religious and moral beliefs companies, universities or churches can hold. Until today, that is exactly what the HHS Mandate did, backed with the threat of substantial fines.

“I look forward to studying the new rule more in-depth to understand its impact on the various entities located in the Archdiocese of Denver, and I hope to see the just resolution of the court cases related to the mandate.”

Photo: Little Sisters of the Poor enter 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for their oral arguments Dec, 8, 2014. Credit: Denver Catholic

COMING UP: Carmelite lived the cloistered life ‘to the full’

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In 1950, at the ripe age of 18, Sister Mona Claire of Our Lady entered religious life as a Carmelite of the Holy Spirit. For the next 67 years, she went on to live a cloistered life away from the world in deep prayer.

It would seem it was no coincidence, then, that she passed away on May 20 — the feast of Pentecost.

“For her to die on the feast of Pentecost — it’s our biggest solemnity next to Christmas because we’re the Carmel of the Holy Spirit,” said Mother Mary of Jesus, prioress of the discalced Carmelite nuns of Littleton. “Our blessed Lord really favored her, I think.”

Over 20 of Sister Mona’s 67 years as a Carmelite were spent as a secretary answering phone calls and responding to requests for prayers and Mass offerings. Sister Mona was also a talented seamstress and spent much of her time making clothes for the Sisters and altar linens.

Sister Mona’s most unique job was perhaps taking care of sheep, which the monastery had up until the 1980s, and her most beautiful work was likely her profound prayer life.

“She always prayed,” said Mother Mary. “Even in her last few days, if she said anything, it was a prayer.”

Mother Mary recalled that the doctor who attended to Sister Mona at the hospital after she experienced a fall shortly before she passed asked her to open her eyes, and she was unable to follow his commands.

“But I would say a prayer, and she’d finish it for me,” said Mother Mary. “I would say, ‘Praise be Jesus Christ,’ and she would say, ‘Now and forever.’ I think her last words were ‘Now and forever.’”

Mother Mary admired Sister Mona for her patience and efforts to please God, as well as her positive attitude in all circumstances.

“I noticed that even in the pain she was in when she was dying, she never moaned or anything,” said Mother Mary. “She never complained one little bit.”

Mother Mary believes it was a blessing that Sister Mona was able to remain so close to God even during her final days — a grace that likely stemmed from the consistent efforts she made to be close to him throughout her life.

“If you’re constantly corresponding with grace and praying, it’s going to come to you in those last moments,” said Mother Mary. “It will strengthen you for the journey. I think that’s what happened.”

Mother Mary witnessed graces showering down during on Sister Mona even during her funeral, particularly when Bishop Jorge Rodriguez blessed her coffin before it was lowered into the ground.

“There were turtle doves. You could hear turtle doves cooing,” not back and forth, but in unison, Mother Mary said. It reminded those in attendance of Song of Solomon 2, which mentions the voice of a turtledove in a chapter about the love of a bride groom.

The beauty of the moment didn’t go unnoticed, much like Sister Mona’s life of service.

“She was the loving and praying heart of the Church and the Carmel [community] here for almost 68 years,” said Mother Mary. “Everything she did was for souls and for our dear Lord’s greater glory and honor,” she said.

Mother Mary believes Sister Mona had a profound impact on the world, even though she had little contact with it.

“Having been in the convent as long as she was, she really impacted the diocese and the world with her ever-flowing prayers,” said Mother Mary. “It’s just the nature of cloistered life — and she lived it to the full.”