Panelists lay bare moral stakes in Obamacare

The options are grim and moral stakes are high for Catholics faced with Obamacare, according to a group of Catholic panelists.

Faith-filled consumers considering health insurance options through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, are cornered by its contraceptive mandate, forcing many to choose between their pro-life beliefs and health care coverage.

“The (Health and Human Services) mandate is forcing us to fund abortion, sterilization and contraception, which if we consent in that we become formal cooperators in an evil,” said moral theologian Michel Therrien. “We, by virtue of our faith, cannot do that.”

The Church, a longtime supporter of universal health care, opposes the federal HHS mandate that includes potential life-terminating drugs.

The Augustine Institute’s Therrien discussed the moral dilemmas with fellow panelists John Suthers, Colorado attorney general, and William Newland, president and CEO of Hercules Industries, who presented legal and business predicaments to a crowded room last week at Holy Ghost Church downtown.

The presentation, co-sponsored by the Catholic Medical Association and Holy Ghost Church Respect Life Ministry, came before the March 31 deadline for non-exempted consumers who must enroll in a compliant plan or pay a fine.

Family first
Before all other obligations, Catholics must put their family’s needs first, Therrien told the crowd. But faithful must also consider two principles of Catholic social teaching—the principle of religious liberty and subsidiarity.

Christians may tolerate ideas and positions contrary to their own in society, but this ends once they’re forced to violate their beliefs, he said.

“A civil law that commands us to violate the moral law does not have the character of law, and therefore it is not binding on our conscience,” Therrien explained. “We believe we are obligated to disobey a law that commands us to violate the moral law. That’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in right now with the HHS mandate.”

The principle of subsidiarity, as explained by Pope Pius XII, states it’s a grave evil and injustice for a higher organization to make decisions that should happen on the lowest possible level.

“I think the HHS mandate demonstrates precisely why the principle of subsidiarity is so important,” Therrien said. “This law allows the federal government to control the accessibility and distribution of all health care resources. Is it good to allow the secular government to have this much power?”

Business decisions
William Newland said his Denver-based business Hercules Industries strives to treat its 360 employees with respect and dignity, which includes offering generous health care coverage. However, they faced a dilemma when the HHS mandate forced the company to offer health coverage they found objectionable.

The company filed a lawsuit in April 2012 arguing it has the right to exercise its faith in business. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal stopped enforcement of the mandate on the company in October 2013.

“Obamacare demands that Americans choose between two poison pills—either comply and abandon your faith or resist and be heavily punished and fined,” Newland said. “But every American, including business owners, should have the right to live and do business according to their faith.”

Along with some 20 other attorneys general, John Suthers signed a brief opposing Obamacare and the HHS mandate, arguing it’s unconstitutional.

At issue is the commerce powers of Congress, he said.

“For the first time in history in the Affordable Care Act, Congress will say we have the power to force others into commerce; we have the power to force people to buy a particular product or service. This is a huge departure from what the government has historically done,” Suthers explained.

Medicaid expansion, a part of Obamacare, is also problematic, he said.

The requirement to expand the poverty level of Medicaid recipients or risk losing federal funding will amount to a $1 billion tax burden in Colorado by 2021, he said.

The issue of religious liberty and the HHS mandate will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court through two cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. The Court began to hear arguments March 25.


Analysis of Catholics’ 4 Options with Obamacare
1)     Willingly comply with the contraceptive mandate and purchase a morally-objectionable insurance plan. This constitutes formal (intentional participation with an evil act) cooperation, which is never justifiable.

2)     Do not comply at all. Fines on individuals and businesses who don’t comply make this economically improbable. This option does not cooperate with evil.

3)     Drop coverage for employees. The preferable option since it does not cooperate with evil, but employees who purchase on their own may be unaware of or unable to purchase a morally-acceptable health plan.

4)     Temporarily comply but under protest. Continue health plans for employees or purchase individually to continue coverage. This option could be material (unwilling participation in an evil act) cooperation. It could be acceptable under certain conditions.

-From the National Catholic Bioethics Center




COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.