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: The Pell case: Developments down under

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In three weeks, a panel of senior judges will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unjust verdict rendered against him at his retrial in March, when he was convicted of “historical sexual abuse.” That conviction did not come close to meeting the criterion of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is fundamental to criminal law in any rightly-ordered society. The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence sustaining the complainant’s charge. The defense demolished the prosecution’s case, as witness after witness testified that the alleged abuse simply could not have happened under the circumstances charged — in a busy cathedral after Mass, in a secured space.

Yet the jury, which may have ignored instructions from the trial judge as to how evidence should be construed, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. At the cardinal’s sentencing, the trial judge never once said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict; he did say, multiple times, that he was simply doing what the law required him to do. Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be just as devastating to the prosecution’s case as was his defense at both his first trial (which ended with a hung jury, believed to have favored acquittal) and the retrial. What friends of the cardinal, friends of Australia, and friends of justice must hope is that the appellate judges will get right what the retrial jury manifestly got wrong.

That will not be easy, for the appellate judges will have been subjected to the same public and media hysteria over Cardinal Pell that was indisputably a factor in his conviction on charges demonstrated to be, literally, incredible. Those appellate judges will also know, however, that the reputation of the Australian criminal justice system is at stake in this appeal. And it may be hoped that those judges will display the courage and grit in the face of incoming fire that the rest of the Anglosphere has associated with “Australia” since the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

In jail for two months now, the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience. The Melbourne Assessment Prison allows its distinguished prisoner few visitors, beyond his legal team; but those who have gone to the prison intending to cheer up a friend have, in correspondence with me, testified to having found themselves cheered and consoled by Cardinal Pell — a man whose spiritual life was deeply influenced by the examples of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More during Henry VIII’s persecution of the Church in 16th-century England. The impact of over a half-century of reflection on those epic figures is now being displayed to Cardinal Pell’s visitors and jailers, during what he describes as his extended “retreat.”

Around the world, and in Australia itself, calmer spirits than those baying for George Pell’s blood (and behaving precisely like the deranged French bigots who cheered when the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus was condemned to a living death on Devil’s Island) have surfaced new oddities — to put it gently — surrounding the Pell Case.

How is it, for example, that the complainant’s description of the sexual assault he alleges Cardinal Pell committed bears a striking resemblance — to put it gently, again — to an incident of clerical sexual abuse described in Rolling Stone in 2011? How is it that edited transcripts of a post-conviction phone conversation between the cardinal and his cathedral master of ceremonies (who had testified to the sheer physical impossibility of the charges against Pell being true) got into the hands (and thence into the newspaper writing) of a reporter with a history of anti-Pell bias and polemic? What is the web of relationships among the virulently anti-Pell sectors of the Australian media, the police in the state of Victoria, and senior Australian political figures with longstanding grievances against the politically incorrect George Pell? What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

And what is the state of serious investigative journalism in Australia, when these matters are only investigated by small-circulation journals and independent researchers?

An “unsafe” verdict in Australia is one a jury could not rationally have reached. Friends of truth must hope that the appellate judges, tuning out the mob, will begin to restore safety and rationality to public life Down Under in June.

Featured image by CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images