The office of the Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army forbade Catholic chaplains from reading, in Sunday masses, a letter about a controversial Obamacare mandate from the Catholic Church’s military archbishop. The move, which amounts to the head of Roman Catholic military chaplains calling the Obama administration un-American, will set the stage for a philosophical conflict between Catholic soldiers and their commander-in-chief.
In the forbidden letter, Archbishop Timothy Broglio encouraged Catholics in military congregations to disobey a federal government mandate — part of President Obama’s health care overhaul — requiring Catholic employers to provide health coverage that includes “sterilization , abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception.”
“[T]he administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States,” Archbishop Broglio had written, “denying Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.”
“And, as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to choose between violating our consciences or dropping health care coverage for our employees (and suffering the penalties for doing so),” he added.
“We cannot—and will not—comply with this unjust law.”
Roman Catholic teaching prohibits abortion, contraception, and both vasectomies and tubal ligations. In a Jan. 20 statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Obama administration’s policy “literally unconscionable.”
Noting the White House’s sole concession to religious groups – a phase-in period of 12 months – New York City Archbishop and Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, who leads the conference, said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
In the most emotional and charged line of his Jan. 26 letter, Broglio asserted that the Obama administration’s command that Catholics disregard their faith’s policies against contraception and abortion was “a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle.”
A press release from the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services warned that the “newly affirmed administration policy will compel Catholics to choose between violating their conscience or dropping employee health coverage.”
The Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains saw the letter as an incendiary enough topic to warrant ordering senior chaplains in the Army not to read it from the pulpit.
In a statement first circulated by National Review on Friday, Broglio’s office said he Army office had “sent an email to senior chaplains advising them that the Archbishop’s letter was not coordinated with that office and asked that it not be read from the pulpit. The Chief’s office directed that the letter was to be mentioned in the Mass announcements and distributed in printed form in the back of the chapel.”
The statement added that “[f]ollowing a discussion between Archbishop Broglio and the Secretary of the Army, The Honorable John McHugh, it was agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the Archbishop’s letter.”
Ultimately, the statement said, Broglio agreed — at Secretary McHugh’s “suggestion” during a Jan. 28 phone call — to remove the line “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law” from his letter “over the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience.”
McHugh, a former nine-term Republican congressman from New York, is an Obama appointee.
On Sunday many Catholic priests in U.S. congregations read from the pulpit assorted variations of the same letter Broglio personalized.
Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunninghan told the Syracuse Post-Standard that the Obama administration’s policy “goes against our conscience.”
“It’s wrong,” he said. “Obviously we believe these services which are offered could all be something that is not in accordance with the teaching of the church. So we don’t wish to cooperate with that.”
New York Republican Rep Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle has expressed interest in sponsoring a House bill to repeal the portions of the Obamacare mandate that she said violate Americans’ constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religious expression.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has already introduced a bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012. It has 22 Senate co-sponsors.
“This issue is not just a Catholic Church issue,” Rep. Beurkle told the Post-Standard. “This is really a war on all religions. If they can make this rule with the Catholic Church, all religions should be very concerned about this.”
“This is the government saying, ‘Set your beliefs aside, and we know what is best for you,’” she added. “It has a chilling effect on all religions. It’s an overreach of the federal government. And it’s a dangerous precedent.”