Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
During the past several days, I have been strongly encouraged by the outpouring of support as we have worked together to protect our first freedom – the freedom of religion and the right to practice our faith according to our moral conscience. As we listen to the debate over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate it is apparent that many people are not aware of our strong conviction and united effort to serve not only Catholic people but all people, regardless of their faith, in our Catholic hospitals, in our universities and colleges, in our schools, in our Catholic Charities organization and other outreach programs.
The exercise of charity is one of the Church’s essential activities, along with the administration of the sacraments and preaching the Word. Our schools exist because of our desire to teach as Jesus did. Our hospitals exist to continue the healing ministry of Jesus. Our charities and social service agencies exist to reach out and serve those in need as Jesus did. Through all of these ministries we serve the people of our Church and the wider community.
The recent attempt by the President to accommodate our objection to the mandate of The Department of Health and Human Services leaves many unresolved situations and unanswered questions.
• The decision to retain the Department of Health and Human Services mandate of insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception including some abortifacients is a grave moral concern, unsupported in law.
• This directive mandates that all insurance carriers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all policies they write. At this point, it seems religious insurance carriers will have no choice. They, too, will have to include coverage for objectionable services.
• At this time, there is a lack of clear protection for key stakeholders, for self-insured religious employers, like the Diocese of Syracuse, and religious insurance companies.
There are three principles guiding us as we move forward:
• Respect for religious liberty. No government has the right to intrude into the affairs of the Church, much less coerce faithful individuals to engage in or cooperate in any way with immoral practices.
• It is the place of the Church, not of government to define its religious identity and ministry.
• We will continue to oppose the underlying policy of a government mandate for purchase or promotion of contraception, sterilization or abortion inducing drugs.
As you continue to keep informed on this topic, you will be confronted with a variety of statistics which claim the majority of Americans and Catholic women practice birth control using contraceptives and therefore they support the requirement that contraceptives should be available to them through their insurance. Statements such as this are misleading and detract us from the issue at hand. If a survey found that 98% of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?
Although the Church has a moral position with regard to artificial means of birth control, the issue at hand is not how many people, even Catholics, use these means. The issue is the intrusion of government into the area of religious freedom, i.e., an assault on the right of the Church to live according to its religious and ethical norms. Over the past week, I have been encouraged by letters and verbal words of support from various faith leaders throughout Central New York who recognize the importance of this issue to all people. This mandate is an insult not only to those of our faith but also to Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith and conscience.
Our work is not over. We must continue with no less vigor and no less a sense of urgency to advance our principled goals. I hope you will join me in this cause. Religious freedom in our society must be protected. We need to continue our efforts in accomplishing this sacred task.
Once more, be assured of my prayerful gratitude for all that you have done and will continue to do in this important challenge.