HHS

Conservative Catholics Blast Upcoming Appearance by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at Georgetown University

Official Department of Labor Photograph

Kathleen Sebelius, . RNS photo courtesy United States Department of Labor/Flickr. Official Department of Labor Photograph

Last month liberal Catholics were upset over House Republican budget chief Paul Ryan using a Georgetown University platform to defend his hard-line fiscal plan as a natural outgrowth of his Catholic faith. Dozens of Georgetown faculty and administrators wrote a letter welcoming Ryan but blasting his understanding of Catholic teaching and asking him to explain his views during his talk at the university’s Public Policy Institute.

Now it is the conservatives’ turn: The flagship Jesuit university has announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic who has angered conservatives and bishops for overseeing the Obama administration’s contraception insurance mandate and other controversial policies, will address the policy institute's graduating class at commencement on May 18.

Catholic Bishops Issue Rallying Cry for ‘Religious Freedom’

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Protestors gather to oppose requiring insurance coverage for contraception. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops are calling on the faithful to pray and mobilize in a “great national campaign” to confront what they see as a series of threats to religious freedom, and they are setting aside the two weeks before July 4 for their “Fortnight for Freedom” initiative.

The exhortation is contained in a 12-page statement released Wednesday (April 12) by the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, and its chief concern is the Obama administration’s proposal to provide contraception coverage to all employees with health insurance, including those who work for religious groups.

The statement represents the hierarchy’s latest effort to overturn that policy, and it includes an explicit threat of widespread civil disobedience by the nation’s 67 million Catholics.

Bishops Say Obama Compromise is `Unconstitutional’

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstrators protest requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for contraception.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The nation’s Catholic bishops say the Obama administration’s proposed revisions to a mandate that requires insurers to provide birth control coverage are still unacceptable and even “radically flawed" -- signaling a long drawn-out election-year fight between the White House and the Catholic hierarchy.

The bishops also say that they will continue to try to overturn the contraception regulations in Congress and the courts even as the bishops carry on negotiations with the White House.

The critical judgments on the government proposals, which were published by the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services on March 16, are contained in an internal, two-page March 29 memo from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The memo’s contents were first reported Tuesday (April 3) by Catholic News Service.

The Top 10 Stories of March 27, 2012

Quote of the day.
"We still give food to people even when they say they don't want to pray." Paul Brock, founder of the non-profit Community Provisions of Jackson County, IN, which had its emergency food assistance from the federal government suspended due to volunteers asking recipients if they would like to pray.
(USA Today)

1. Pope Benedict arrives in Cuba in footsteps of John Paul.
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Cuba on Monday in the footsteps of his more famous predecessor, gently pressing the island’s longtime communist leaders to push through “legitimate” reforms their people desire, while also criticizing the excesses of capitalism.
(AP/Chicago Sun-Times)

2. Santorum fails to capture Catholic vote.
Mr. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has trailed Mr. Romney among Catholics in 10 of the 12 states in which Edison Research conducted exit polls that asked about religion.
(New York Times)

3. Supreme Court begins review of health-care law.
The Supreme Court opened its historic review of the national health-care overhaul Monday with an indication that it will be able to decide the constitutional question of whether Congress exceeded its powers despite arguments that the challenge was brought too soon.
(Washington Post)

4. Five Supreme Court takeaways.
The first of three days of arguments dealt only with a highly technical piece of the health care law, but it provided some clues about how the rest of the week’s arguments might go. Among the Day One takeaways:
(Politico)


5. Poll finds support in U.S. for Afghan war drops sharply.
The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.
(New York Times)

6. Leaders warn over nuclear threat.
World leaders call for closer co-operation to tackle the threat of nuclear terrorism at a summit on nuclear security in Seoul.
(BBC)

7. Annan says Syria accepts peace plan, fighting enters Lebanon.
Syria has accepted a ceasefire and peace plan drawn up by U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, his spokesman said on Tuesday, even as Syrian troops thrust into Lebanon to battle rebels who had taken refuge there.
(Reuters)

8. U.S., Australia to broaden military ties.
The United States and Australia are planning a major expansion of military ties, including possible drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports, as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to Southeast Asia,
(Washington Post)

9. Arab spring leads to wave of Middle East state executions.
Middle Eastern countries have stepped up their use of capital punishment, executing hundreds of people as rulers across the region seek to deter the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab countries.
(Guardian)

10. Oil clashes along Sudan borders.
Clashes break out in oil-rich border areas between Sudan and South Sudan in what is described as the biggest confrontation since the South's independence last July.
(BBC)

White House Proposal Gives Religious Groups More Say in Birth Control Mandate

RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

President Barack Obama talks with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

The Obama administration is offering to expand the number of faith-based groups that can be exempt from the controversial contraception mandate, and proposing that third-party companies administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups at no cost.

At its heart, the newest offering from the White House would allow religious groups -- dioceses, denominations and others -- to decide which affiliated institutions are "religious" and therefore exempt from the new requirement that employers offer free contraception coverage as part of employee insurance plans.

The proposals are an effort by the administration to blunt criticisms of the controversial regulation, especially by the nation's Catholic bishops, who have been at loggerheads with the White House since President Obama announced the contraception mandate in January.

Contraception Debate Overlooks the Obvious

Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Since Rush Limbaugh’s tirade, calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying for free access to birth control, the actual subject of debate seems like a distant memory. What were we talking about again? Paying for sex? Wait …

As religion journalist Nicole Neroulias points out in a recent piece, “I Was a Virgin on Birth Control,” and as others have attempted to testify, doctors prescribe birth control to remedy a number of real, physical ailments. These include ovarian cysts (think kidney stone-style pain, guys), endometriosis(which can lead to infertility) and a variety of other conditions that we know all-male panels probably don’t want to hear details about.

Bishop Hopes to Restart White House Contraception Talks

RNS photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

Bishop William Lori testifies on contraception mandate. RNS photo courtesy House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The Catholic bishop leading the push against the White House's contraception mandate says the bishops hope to restart contentious talks with the Obama administration, but cautioned that church leaders "have gotten mixed signals from the administration" and the situation "is very fluid."

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who chairs the religious liberty committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Religion News Service that Catholics have to stay united if the hierarchy is to have any chance of prevailing in negotiations with the White House.

Ever since President Obama bowed to growing pressure and shifted the mandate to provide contraception mandate to insurance companies and away from religious employers, the White House has been hosting talks with various religious groups about a plan to modify the regulation.

Catholic institutions like hospitals, universities and social service agencies are most directly affected by the regulation because they are the biggest faith-based employers. They have also been much more amenable to the Obama accommodation than have the bishops.

Many bishops are upset with Catholic groups that have dealt independently with the administration, and some have also accused the administration of trying to divide the church.

White House Insists Contraception Talks are on Track

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration is rejecting charges by the nation's top Catholic bishop that talks to modify a controversial birth control mandate are "going nowhere" because of alleged White House intransigence and efforts to diminish the central role of the bishops.

"The White House has put nearly every issue requested by the bishops on the table for discussion and has sought the views of bishops on resolving difficult policy problems, only to be rebuffed," an administration official close to the negotiations said Tuesday (March 6).

The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive talks.

Contraception and Common Decency

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Rush Limbaugh at a Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers game in November. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

I was raised half-Catholic and half-Southern Baptist in Texas, so Rush Limbaugh made an auditory appearance now and again in my car growing up. One of my early memories was discovering a new term: “feminazis.”

These dangerous women were unkempt, outspoken, and downright ungodly, if you believed Limbaugh. Then I reached about age 14. I was actually going to be a woman and maaaaybe this was kind of insulting. I realized that Limbaugh was often self-admittedly absurd—a shock-jock. I stopped taking him seriously.

So when he spit out his latest attack on women and outrage followed, I wondered whether I should even be surprised. What came out of his mouth was disgusting, but this is a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of sexual harassment.

Senate Rejects Conscience Clause Change to Contraception Rule

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

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