New Lincoln bishop: Church will defy health mandate on birth control coverage - Omaha.com
Published Friday, November 9, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:06 am
New Lincoln bishop: Church will defy health mandate on birth control coverage

LINCOLN — The re-election of President Barack Obama may ignite a showdown with Catholic leaders over a federal mandate that religiously affiliated charities, universities and hospitals provide birth control coverage to their employees.

“The Catholic Church is not going to back down,” said Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley, who will start as the new bishop of the Lincoln Diocese on Nov. 20. “We are never going to compromise our principles. We will defy it and face the consequences.”

Roman Catholic officials in Omaha and Des Moines expressed similar sentiments this week over a plan by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services requiring all employers to provide their employees contraception coverage without copays.

The so-called HHS mandate for religious organizations, currently the subject of dozens of legal challenges nationally, is set to take effect next August.

Church doctrine opposes all forms of contraception, including vasectomies, tubal ligations and drugs that induce abortion. As a result, Catholic-affiliated organizations and some companies owned by Catholics and other Christians exclude such procedures or drugs from their insurance plans.

While the bishops are united in opposition to the mandate, a significant number of Catholic voters apparently cared more about other issues when they cast ballots in the presidential election.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a preliminary analysis Wednesday that said 50 percent of Catholics backed the Democratic president while 48 percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney, who pledged to repeal the mandate if elected.

Nonetheless, the church’s official position on contraception leaves little room for compromise, the bishops say.

“Litigation, legislation and worst-case scenario would be the decision whether to comply or refuse to embrace something that’s against the teaching of the church,” said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese.

Members of the Obama administration argue that they’ve offered an olive branch in response to objections.

Federal officials have said they will allow exceptions for organizations that employ and serve people of the same faith. Catholic, evangelical Christian and other faith leaders, however, say the exception wouldn’t extend to schools, universities, social service agencies and health care facilities, all of which may employ people of various faiths or even nonbelievers.

Administration officials also say religious organizations could opt out of making the coverage payments directly, passing along the expense to their insurers.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement released earlier in the year.

Opponents of the rule say the exceptions are inadequate.

“Insurance companies have said there is no free lunch, (religious groups are) going to end up paying for it, so it’s a shell game,” said Emily Hardman, communications director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington, D.C., firm that takes up legal cases for all religious faiths.

Catholic bishops regard the mandate as a violation of religious freedom, compelling them to provide services they morally oppose. The church has always seen its charitable work, hospitals and schools as part of its broader ministry, said Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines.

“It’s just as much a part of our faith as saying prayers inside of church,” he said.

Refusal to provide the coverage could prompt civil fines of up to $100 per day for each uncovered employee. While the church leaders said they hope a resolution can be reached, such fines would leave no other option but to close the affected institutions.

Forty lawsuits remain active in courts across the country, arguing that the mandate violates the First Amendment protection of religious freedom, Hardman said. A lawsuit brought by Nebraska Attorney Gen. Jon Bruning was dismissed by a federal judge in Lincoln, who essentially ruled that it was filed prematurely and without cause.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather next week in Baltimore. The HHS mandate undoubtedly will be discussed.

Contact the writer:

402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

Contact the writer: Joe Duggan

joe.duggan@owh.com    |  

Joe works in the Lincoln bureau, where he helps cover state government, the Legislature, state Supreme Court and southeast Nebraska.

Keystone XL pipeline backers blast ‘political expediency’ as foes hail ruling to delay decision
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Man, 21, shot in ankle while walking near 30th, W Streets
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs, police say
Dems criticize governor hopeful Beau McCoy's ad in which he strikes a Barack Obama doll
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »