Nation’s bishops gather to preserve religious liberty as decision on health care law looms

June 15, 2012

By Lauren Green,

No housekeeping as usual. No perfunctory dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. American bishops gathering in Atlanta for their biannual meeting have a sense of urgency as the deadline to comply with the controversial Health Care mandate is just weeks away.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, says, realistically, doomsday could come when none of the bishop’s advocacy, dialogues or appeals to the courts work.

Dolan says, “If doomsday comes, what are we going to do? Are we going to disobey the government? Are we going to pay the fine? Are we going to go out of business?… I hope we don’t come to that, but we have to be realistic in anticipating it.”

Adding to the unknowns is the fact that Dolan and President Barack Obama have not spoken since February 10. There have been lower level talks between the administration and the USCCB, but the two have not been in dialogue for several months. Dolan believes it’s because the president is not ready to make a deal.

Dolan says, “It’s not good to talk just to be talking. He knows where we stand, and we make it pretty clearly, we’ve made it pretty cogently I trust, and I think he knows, ‘well I owe it to them if we had something substantive to offer.’”

In the last few months, more than 40 Catholic Institutions and dioceses have filed a federal lawsuit against Health and Human Services and its health care mandate, which requires that all employers offer contraceptives and other benefits that bishops say violate church teaching. The Obama administration offered an accommodation that would make contraceptives free to the employee. The insurer would then pick up the tab. But many Catholic institutions are self-insured, so the accommodation still put them back in the same situation. The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio dropped its health insurance coverage for students this fall, rather than comply with the federal mandate to provide free birth control.

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