Friday 3 January 2014

“Obama could stop the fines. He has chosen not to do so”

Full transcript of interview with Kim Daniels, spokesperson for the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, regarding the church’s opposition to the HHS Mandate. News feature, in Portuguese, here.

Transcrição completa no inglês original da entrevista a Kim Daniels, porta-voz do presidente da Conferência Episcopal dos Estados Unidos sobre o braço-de-ferro entre Obama e Igreja Católica. Veja a notícia aqui.

What exactly does the church object to in the Affordable Care Act?
The HHS mandate requires us to facilitate insurance coverage for abortifacients, contraception, sterilization and related counselling, against our deeply held beliefs. That is the problem. It violates our beliefs, it imposes crippling fines on us if we choose not to participate in providing such insurance coverage. We are simply asking for an exemption from that.

The fines kicked in on January 1st. What could this mean for Catholic institutions?
For Catholic institutions the ability of our many social service, education and health care ministries, to live out the fullness of our faith, is now in jeopardy. January 1st marked the date that the Department of Health and Human Services has chosen to begin implementing this mandate against the ministries and it requires them to violate our deeply held beliefs or face crippling fines of 100 dollars per day, per employee, so that is about 36,500 per year, per employee. This would really harm the ability of these ministries to serve those who depend on them.

Has somebody done the math? How many people will be affected by this?
Its 100 dollars per day, per employee or affected person – employee’s spouse or dependant – so that adds up very quickly. For instance in the diocese of Pittsburgh, the court’s decision which prevents the government from enforcing this mandate, specified that Catholic Charities provides 230,000 acts of service for people in need in half of Western Pennsylvania. These are the kinds of acts of service which will be cut off if Catholic Charities has to pay these crippling fines. We don’t have a global number, but we take these fines for each social service ministry and expand it across the United States and you see how many people might be impacted.

Can you foresee a future where they have to close down?
Certainly some groups might have to close down, some will have their services impaired, and the people who depend on those services are the ones who will suffer most. If your services have to be cut because you are paying fines to the Government, then you can’t serve as many people. Though, for instance, the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order which serves the elderly poor, recently won an order from the Supreme Court preventing the Government from enforcing this mandate against them. The Supreme Court will make a further determination on that soon. Groups like them are emblematic of groups around the country which serve the poor, which will face these crippling fines and will have to determine how to react.

Some organizations have had court orders granting them exemptions for now. Could the Administration cancel the fines until the Supreme Court decides on the issue?
We’ve asked President Obama. Just this week Archbishop Kurtz, who is the president of the USCCB sent a letter to President Obama asking him to temporarily exempt religious institutions from these crippling fines which will be imposed by the mandate and he has said that he believes his policy continues to be correct. So yes, president Obama could take such an action, he has chosen not to do so, and so we still face these fines.

If the courts finally decide against the catholic institutions, will the Church give in and comply?
I think the remarkable thing we have seen among the US bishops is first that they stood together throughout this controversy as pastors charged with proclaiming a Gospel in its entirety. They have also stood united in their resolve to resist the heavy burden imposed on our ministries and to protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop is struggling to address the mandate, they are all striving to, together, develop alternative avenues of response to this difficult situation. As you know, the Affordable Care Act has lots complications to it and, like many other people, bishops and dioceses and Catholic Social Service ministries are trying to figure out how to respond.

So this is more than about contraceptives, you see it as a religious freedom issue…
Exactly. Religious liberty is a priority of the US bishops, because we see issues like this encroaching on our religious liberty and of course the United States sees itself as a beacon to the world as an example of religious liberty. When we have so many problems around the world concerning attacks on people’s religious freedom, we think that government regulations that infringe on our religious freedom here in the US stand as a witness to the fact that we consider this to be a fundamental issue.

Some people are painting this as being the Church against ObamaCare. Is the church against ObamaCare?
No. As a matter of fact the US bishops are longstanding advocates of a shared goal of accessible life affirming health care. Just this November in a special message issued unanimously they reaffirmed this commitment to accessible life affirming health care. But the HHS mandate harshly penalizes those who seek to offer life affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of our faith. We are simply asking for an exemption of this particular regulation of the Affordable Care Act.

Is the Catholic church alone on this, or has there been support from other religious organizations?
There is broad ecumenical support, not just from religious people but from people across the board who care about religious liberty. This is really part and parcel of an attack on our longstanding common sense bipartisan view of religious liberty in the United States, where people are allowed to live out their faith and witness to their faith, without having the Government place substantial burdens on it. That understanding of religious freedom has been encroached on in recent years and there has been a broad coalition of religious and non-religious groups coming together to stand for religious liberty.

When can we expect a decision from the Supreme Court?
On the Little Sisters of the Poor case, the court should rule quite soon about whether or not to lift the temporary stay that they have imposed against the Government. But there is another case in the Supreme Court that will have oral arguments in March and a decision by June as to whether the HHS mandate could be imposed against private employers as well.

We are strongly encouraged by recent legal developments, in particular by developments in the Supreme Court. We are confident that the courts will vindicate the religious liberty of our schools, hospitals and social service ministries. We continue to seek dialogue with the Obama administration and ask for relief from Congress.

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