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: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.