Update: Little Sisters wait and pray

Attorneys decide next steps after circuit court tells nuns to violate their conscience or pay fines

The Little Sisters of the Poor are waiting, and praying.

“I’m not sure what we’re going to do next,” said Mother Patricia Mary Metzgar, L.S.P., who oversees the Little Sisters’ Mullen Home for the Aged in Denver.

In a decision July 14, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the sisters’ claim that complying with the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate would be a violation of their conscience. The court said it “ultimately rejects the merits of this claim” because the court believes the exemption “relieves [the Little Sisters] from complicity.”

The sisters face the decision of either violating their religious beliefs or paying steep IRS penalties estimated around $6,700 a day or $2.5 million a year.

After the news of the ruling, the Little Sisters were disappointed, Mother Metzgar said.

“We have been praying, and we’re going to continue to pray,” she said. “We’re disappointed, but we’re praying.”

The future seems uncertain for the order of sisters that has cared for the elderly poor across the world for more than 175 years. Denver is home to one of the order’s 28 nursing homes in the United States. Mother Metzgar said she and nine sisters work with a large staff to care for more than 60 elderly at their Denver home.

The sisters argued the government is forcing them to act against their religious beliefs because of its requirement to provide free contraceptives including sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs and devices. Churches are exempt from the mandate, but charitable organizations like the Little Sisters are not.

Attorneys from the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom presented the sisters’ case in a lawsuit challenging the HHS mandate, a part of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.

Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Little Sisters, reacted to the July 14 ruling.

“After losing repeatedly at the Supreme Court, the government continues its unrelenting pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor,” he said in a statement. “It is a national embarrassment that the world’s most powerful government insists that, instead of providing contraceptives through its own existing exchanges and programs, it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith and force them to participate. Untold millions of people have managed to get contraceptives without involving nuns, and there is no reason the government cannot run its programs without hijacking the Little Sisters and their health plan.”

The Becket Fund said the ruling is a departure from the U.S. Supreme Court’s temporary protection of the Little Sisters in December 2013 when they were granted an injunction to shield them from hefty fines.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, talks to media after the nuns’ attorneys presented oral arguments in a case seeking exemption from a mandate to provide contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations to employees.

Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, talks to media after the nuns’ attorneys presented oral arguments in a case seeking exemption from a mandate to provide contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilizations to employees. Image provided by Peter Zelasko/CNA

The federal court heard the nun’s oral arguments in December 2014, when Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor, stated, “As Little Sisters of the Poor, we simply cannot choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith. And we should not have to make that choice, because it violates our nation’s commitment to ensuring that people from diverse faiths can freely follow God’s calling in their lives.”

At issue is a waiver form the sisters could sign to receive an exemption from the mandate, but the appeal states that it “would make them morally complicit in sin, would contradict their public witness to the value of life, and would immorally run the risk of misleading others.” The form in fact would authorize a third-party to provide the services they find morally objectionable.

The Little Sisters and their attorneys are reviewing the court’s decision and will decide whether to bring their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Becket Fund.

“We will keep on fighting for the Little Sisters, even if that means having to go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Daniel Blomberg, attorney at the Becket Fund, said in a statement.

The court’s order also impacts the Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust, the Catholic ministries through which the Little Sisters obtain their health coverage.

“All we ask is to be able to continue our religious vocation free from government intrusion,” Sister Maguire said.



For more information about the Becket Fund and the Little Sisters case, visit www.becketfund.org/hhsinformationcentral.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.

Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.