Obama to Little Sisters: It’s just a piece of paper

Administration 'blind to religious exercise issue,' say lawyers

Karna Lozoya

When the Obama administration refuted on Friday the temporary injunction granted to the Little Sisters of the Poor protecting them from the controversial Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate, the sisters couldn’t be reached for comment. They were at Mass, praying with the elderly residents of their home in Denver.

Within hours, dozens of news stories appeared online that put the sisters at the center of a contentious national debate on what constitutes strong-arming a religious congregation to provide contraceptives and other abortion-inducing drugs to its employees.

The sticking point for both sides is a waiver/authorization form that the Little Sisters must fill out to take advantage of a so-called accommodation for non-profit ministries. The form, however, has a dual purpose—it signals opposition to the mandate, but also authorizes a third-party to provide the services it finds morally objectionable.

“The Little Sisters and other applicants cannot execute the form because they cannot deputize a third party to sin on their behalf,” stated the Becket Fund, which represents the Little Sisters, in a brief responding to the Obama administration. The group added that the administration is “simply blind to the religious exercise at issue.”

The Obama administration minimalized the importance of the form, enticing the Little Sisters to “secure for themselves the relief they seek” …“with the stroke of their own pen.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nuns, said in a statement Friday that the administration was “trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs.”

If the sisters don’t sign the waiver/authorization form, or if the courts don’t uphold the injunction, they could be subject to devastating IRS penalties that could add up to millions of dollars a year.

After checking back later with the sisters, who run Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver, Mother Patricia Mary stated, “At this point we are not saying anything. We are just kind of waiting … and continuing to work with the elderly.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor have served the elderly poor in Colorado since 1917, and the congregation has been in the United States since 1868. They currently run 30 homes for the elderly across the country, and one in Canada, which are characterized by hospitality and a dependence on Divine Providence.

The mission of the Little Sisters began in 1839 when their foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan, invited a blind, paralyzed old woman into her home, and cared for her. From that day onward, the Little Sisters have offered “the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family, and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”

Following in the footsteps of Jugan, two Little Sisters go begging daily for basic necessities on behalf of the elderly. This was a practice that Jugan began in the early years of the congregation, thus saving the residents the indignity of having to beg for themselves.

In an interview last fall with Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, Sister Constance Veit, communications director for the Little Sisters of the Poor, stated quite clearly that the sisters simply want “to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates our work.”

For more than 100 years, the Little Sisters have been able to do just that here in the United States. The contraceptive mandate, however, puts the ability of the Little Sisters to continue their mission and work in jeopardy.

“All of this is sad and unnecessary,” said Rienzi. “Our federal government is massive and powerful. It can obviously find ways to distribute contraceptives and abortion pills without forcing nuns to be involved.”

Preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of the 20 similar cases in which relief had been requested.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is the justice assigned for emergency applications from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, gave the Little Sisters a temporary injunction Dec. 31, and gave the federal government until Jan. 3 to respond.

After the Obama administration’s request that the injunction be lifted, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty urged Sotomayor to keep the injunction in place as it protects “religious exercise.”

Currently, there are 91 lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate. The Becket Fund represents: Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, Guidestone, Wheaton College, East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, Colorado Christian University, the Eternal Word Television Network, Ave Maria University, and Belmont Abbey College.

COMING UP: ‘Baptize your son,’ her friend insisted. Now he’s a priest.

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Angela Brown and Maria Delfin were great friends in school and lived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. One day, they decided to make a mutual promise: “When I have my first child, you will be the godmother.”

Years went by, each took their own path and Delfin spent most of their time apart in the United States. In 1987, Brown was expect-ing her first child. Delfin found out and did not forget her promise. “When will you baptize him?” she asked. Yet, Brown hadn’t planned on baptizing her child. She had not even received the sacrament herself.

“When I thought of having Maria be my son’s godmother, I saw it more as a social commitment,” Brown told the Denver Catholic. Nonetheless, after her friend insisted, she decided to baptize her son when he was 17 days old.

After baptism, Delfin moved to the United States permanently and lost touch with Brown and Angel, her godson.

Angel grew up far from the Church, but even then, he reflected a charitable spirit: “He liked to share his toys with other kids so they could play instead of him,” his mother said.

At age 14, he attended a class with the Neocatechumenal Way and he and his mother began a journey of faith. Brown was baptized in the faith and married through the Church. Angel discovered his vocation to the priesthood years later. He studied for two years in the seminary at Santo Domingo and then was assigned to Redemptoris Mater in Denver.

Father Angel Perez-Brown (center) was reunited with his godmother Maria Delfin (right) after 31 years at his ordination May 19. His mother, Angela Brown (left) baptized Father Angel under the insistence of Delfin. (Photo by Andrew Wright )

Meanwhile, Delfin knew nothing of Angel. “I didn’t go to Santo Domingo often. I had no way of getting in touch with him,” she told the Denver Catholic.

When Angel was in the seminary, his mother decided to look for Delfin through social media. Months before Angel’s priestly ordi-nation, Brown found Delfin and told her about her son’s wish: “He wants you to be there when he receives the sacrament.” Delfin didn’t hesitate to fly to Denver.

They met the day prior to ordination, 31 years after Angel’s baptism. She recognized him amid other seminarians and said to him, “I’m your godmother,” and he hugged her.

Father Angel Miguel Perez-Brown was ordained May 19 with four other deacons. His godmother presented the gifts during offer-tory. “I don’t remember feeling as happy as I feel today,” Delfin said after Angel’s ordination.

Father Perez-Brown says her godmother “helped plant this seed,” that is why he wanted her “to witness the fruit she has bore.”

“If she had not influenced my mother, I don’t know where I would be today,” the newly-ordained priest said.

Before Delfin’s return to Orlando, Father Perez-Brown told her, “You already had 30 years of vocation as godmother. Now, please pray for me, because only with prayer will I be a faithful priest.”

Featured image by Anya Semenoff