Several Catholic dioceses urged Catholics this past weekend to take political action against the Barack Obama administration for mandating that faith-based schools, hospitals and charities provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
In an unprecedented move, dioceses in Maine, Arizona and New Orleans issued statements to their churches criticizing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and urging Catholics to write their congressional representatives about it, according to USA Today. These statements were then read to congregants during the weekend masses.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond issued a statement to its 108 parishes, saying that the contraceptive mandate, which was reaffirmed earlier this month by Health and Human Services Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "is an example of government violating our rights."
The Phoenix, Ariz., diocese informed its 92 parishes that it will not comply with the mandate. Bishop Richard Malow of Maine said his diocese would also protest the rule and advised parishioners during Saturday and Sunday masses to take action, according to USA Today.
Faith-based institutions have been given a year to comply with the Obamacare mandate, but U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan said faith-based agencies would not "suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now."
He denounced the mandate as violation of religious freedom in a Jan. 25 Wall Street Journal op-ed, and said Catholics would not quietly accept it.
"Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience," he asserted.
Catholics are an important constituency for Barack Obama. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 – 53 percent according to Gallup polls. Forty-seven percent voted for Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The contraception mandate alienates Catholic voters just as the president is seeking re-election. The mandate is also causing them to align with the Republican Party as bishops and parish priests are urging one-third of the 50 million U.S. Catholics who attend mass weekly to become politically involved.
The administration did include a religious exception for certain nonprofit religious employers that offer insurance to their employees.
However, Dolan noted, "This was so narrow that it would apply only to religious organizations engaged primarily in serving people of the same religion. As Catholic Charities USA's president, the Rev. Larry Snyder, notes, even Jesus and His disciples would not qualify for the exemption in that case, because they were committed to serve those of other faiths."