Think the HHS Mandate Won’t Hurt Non-Catholics? Think Again.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, first recognized as a Pontifical Institute by Pope Pius XI on July 9, 1854, is a religious congregation dedicated to the care of the elderly poor. According to their website, this mission means that the sisters “welcome them into our homes, form one family with them, accompany them from day to day and care for them with love and respect until God calls them home.”

In the United States alone, the Little Sisters operate 33 homes where the elderly poor are cared for. They also carry out their apostolate in some additional 30 countries around the world. The Sisters are mendicant — they beg for their funding and resources — and yet despite the financial difficulties inherent in such a charism, the order continues to carry out its important work. They make no distinction among those they care for. They are of every race and creed. They also employ support staff from across the spectrum of belief.

Which means that they have no chance at an exemption from the HHS mandate. They will be forced to provide health insurance that covers contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs, or face crippling fines.  Neither option is viable for the Little Sisters, so those who will be penalized are their employees, and more importantly, the elderly so in need of their care.

This past Sunday, the Little Sisters of the Poor were invited to speak at Masses in our area. Their message? If something doesn’t change, they will be forced to leave the United States, as they have left other countries (such as China) where religious persecution has made it impossible for them to operate ethically.

When the sister speaking at the Mass I attended mentioned this, it both made me angry and broke my heart. When did we become a country mentioned in the same breath as nations known for oppression, human rights violations, and an environment hostile to freedom of conscience?We’ve all been fighting this battle against the coming darkness for quite some time, but something about this small, unassuming nun telling the parish that they would be forced to discontinue their care for the elderly poor, and even worse, to leave the country altogether, really drove it home. This is what it has come to. We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have become something else.

This is not the America I grew up in. This is not the America I want for my children. I want to recommend a course of action, some concrete thing that people can do to put a stop to this madness, but like the relentless evil of legal abortion that came before it, there’s only so much that can humanly be done. The only thing for it is to keep praying, keep fighting, and keep teaching our children what America was, and should be again.

Please remember the Little Sisters of the Poor in your intentions, as well as the elderly poor in their care who have no place else to go. If you have the means to do so, I encourage you to support their efforts financially. The work they do is not only an essential corporal work of mercy, it is a bright spot in a dark and troubled world. It is my fervent hope that they will be able to continue to provide comfort, care, and aid to the elderly poor. What a tremendous blessing it is for them to be present at the hour of death for so many who would otherwise be alone, singing the Salve Regina, praying with the dying, and giving to them, as sister called it, “a celestial sendoff when God calls them home to Himself.”


Categories:Feature Featured Health Care

  • Michael

    One question: leaving aside the concerns over “forcing” certain actions on the unwilling, isn’t the solution here to require the nuns to follow the law and increase fun-raising? Alternatively, those who oppose following the law should personally donate so the nuns can pay the fines and continue with business as usual. Problem solved right?

    • Connor McGinnis

      The nuns will not provdie contraceptive, abortifacients, or sterilizations. Period. This will induce extremely heavey fines…fines that more fundraising won’t come even close to fulfilling. It really is a violate the conscience or go out of business type of deal. These fines will not be mere inconveniences. They will be horribly crippling.

      • abadilla

        Correct, and I’m afraid the the nuns will shut their facilities because they can’t and they won’t violate their principles. It really is a sad commentary on the majority of so-called Catholics who voted for this administration in full knowledge that we would be facing the HH Mandate.

    • Aaron Lopez

      To the first solution, Catholics never compromise with evil. Non-Catholics call it foolish, but then again, non-Catholics don’t stay standing for over the 2000 years we have been around. For example, Protestants, the “compromising” Christians, can barely keep it together after 500 years. All 40,000 denominations of Protestantism. Such evidence is possibly why Our Blessed Lord told us to always remain faithful.

      Second, it would be nice if people can donate to Catholic institutions to pay fines, but just because we’re uncompromising, it doesn’t mean we’re not pragmatic. Not even a host of benefactors could keep paying the fines indefinitely for Catholic institutions. The fact of the matter is, they’re going to have to shut down, and the world is going to suffer because of it.

      To be honest though, I’m not for the emotional pandering of how sad it is for Catholic institutions to suffer the HHS mandate. It’s our own fault over many, many years that this is happening. We reap what we sow. We had sewn nothing for a very long time, and this is the result.

      • abadilla

        “It’s our own fault over many, many years that this is happening. We reap what we sow. We had sewn nothing for a very long time, and this is the result.” I agree with you. For years and years and years the bishops were too weak or compromised with the Democratic Party and now that they are sounding the alarm, many Catholics simply ignore them. Very sad indeed.

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  • Ben Stewart

    If the argument being advanced by this author is that religious convictions are grounds for exemption from federal law, then I suppose that we should allow fundamentalist Mormons to reinstate the practice of polygamy or tolerate the abuse of women so long as it is sanctioned by the Old Testament or the Koran. The invasion of Iraq was a violation of my religious convictions, yet I wasn’t able to earmark my federal tax dollars away from the military. What makes you think that religious beliefs should trump the authority of the government in this particular case but not as a matter of principle?

    • Mike Sheila

      A Catholic Bishop in Vietnam War times did go to jail for not paying (the amount he thought went to the military) taxes for what he considered an unjust war. Also as soon as marriage becomes a matter of civil rights and not religion both the Muslims and Mormons who are polygamists will be able to legally be married. Also, one can be a conscientious objector.

    • Mike Sheila

      A Catholic Bishop in Vietnam War times did go to jail for not paying (the amount he thought went to the military) taxes for what he considered an unjust war. Also as soon as marriage becomes a matter of civil rights and not religion both the Muslims and Mormons who are polygamists will be able to legally be married. Also, one can be a conscientious objector.

    • abadilla

      Ben, this is a very different situation. Poligamy is sinful and imagine a government demanding that people who do not believe in it somehow have to pay for it. Whose authority is greater, the government’s or God’s?

      • Ben Stewart

        The government’s. If you disagree, you belong in the Islamic Republic of Iran and not a secular democracy.

        • Aaron Lopez

          I would hope faithful Catholics do not choose to belong to an Islamic nation, or even a secular democracy for that matter: the former ideology incites bloodshed for “Allah”, while the latter ideology incites bloodshed for man. Between them, death and destruction over the centuries is unparalleled.

          Rather, all faithful Catholics should pray for the re-institution of Catholic monarchies under the guidance of the Pope, perhaps the most successful form of government the Western world has ever known. It was under this medieval government that universities, hospitals, charities, and other civil institutions truly found their origins, and one can only imagine what other civil institutions we would have if it remained that way until today.

          Alas, the disordered passions of man have prevented it from being so, but nothing is impossible for God.

          I think it’s time Catholics stop playing politics, and start praying the Rosary. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi.

        • abadilla

          In a secular democracy like ours we have freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. We have always in the Catholic Church known the principle that God is above all else, including governments. You are referring to Islamic theocracies and that’s not certainly what I am advocating here.
          As an example, a Catholic in this country knows that abortion is legal, but Who should he obey first? God, who gave us the 5th Commandment.

        • Jacob Stai

          Actually, if you disagree, you belong among the Pilgrims, who left England specifically to avoid governmental oppression over the way we pray, believe, think, act, and live; and more importantly, who left to found a land where they (and we now say all) could do exactly that in peace.

    • Sarah Foley

      This issue is far more complexed than that. A) This issue would be Federal law contradicting itself. The Constitution grants the right to religious freedom. This mandate would force religious institutions to go against what they fundamentally believe. B) The BANNING of an act and the FORCING of an act are two very different things both philosophically and legally. While I may agree with a gov’s right to ban an act ( e.g human/animal sacrifice, drug use, abuse, polygamy) I would not agree with a gov’s right to force an act. In this case, the gov would be forcing a religious institution to fund what they are fundamentally against. Likewise, it would be an issue if the gov forced a Jewish deli to sell pork, or an Indian, Hindu run restaurant to serve beef. This is not just a Catholic issue. C) With regard to your personal beliefs: I feel your pain, as I too was mostly against the Iraq war. However, and individual is not a religious institution, and is not granted the same rights under the Constitution/fed law, hence why a church/temple/etc can be tax exempt, but an individual cannot. The legal reasoning for that ranges from economic policy (how to calculate what money an individual should be allowed exemption from) to mere difficulty of monitoring/policing who really believed what they said, and who just didn’t want to pay to the very fact that a gov cannot consult every individual citizen before entering into war ( whether it be for the right or wrong reasons) and in the gov eyes this act would be beneficial ( as a matter of national defense) to all citizens. That is why this issue cannot be compared to those examples, it is in a complicated league of its own.

      • Ben Stewart

        “The Constitution grants the right to religious freedom. This mandate would force religious institutions to go against what they fundamentally believe”

        The Constitution has never been interpreted as a carte blanche guarantee of “religious freedom,” if your creed is in fundamental contradiction with the law of the republic or if your beliefs violate the freedoms of others. If you want to play armchair constitutional scholar, feel free to file suit in a federal court and try your chances.

        • Michael

          Further, the courts have ruled that the right to privacy (implied by the guarantees of liberty) provides for freedom over decisions like contraception. At best here you have tension between two rights and the Court favored one over the other. This is not uncommon as Free Exercise and the Establishment Clause are in constant tension.

        • Jacob Stai

          This is addressed as much to Michael as to Ben. What I don’t understand with your collective argument is why you consider a person’s right to receive *From a specific vendor* to be more important than the right of churches and temples to act on their beliefs.

          I understand fully that scholars of the Constitution often draw a line when rights are in tension; but the choice to draw the line here seems absolutely absurd. It’s akin to forcing religious schools not to pray; i.e., an inconsistent application of the separation between church and state. I can’t think of a situation when religious organizations are held to the same standard as other institutions in oversight and control over services rendered.

          If this issue were about a rabid Republican state trying to force its businesses to furnish their employees with guns (mirroring a politically-jokingly proposed individual gun mandate from South Dakota), we would be up in arms (purely figuratively) about how that state has “No Right to Force” businesses to give dangerous weapons out to people. Try to touch contraceptives, and now suddenly, the state has not just a right, but a “Responsibility to Force” businesses to dole out potentially-hazardous chemicals to people who might put them in easy reach of small children.

          No, I’m not actually worried about child contraceptive overdose.

          Yes, I’m worried about the precedent of *forcing,* well, anyone, but particularly religious organizations, to violate their own religious beliefs. If your creed is in fundamental contradiction with the law of the land, then typically speaking, the law of the land makes an exception for you, with the caveat being that there’s no exception if you’re endangering others or violating their Constitutional rights. That’s what we did with the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who wouldn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance in our schools. That’s what we did with the Peace Churches who opposed anything to do with draft and conscription. That’s the very reason why we allow religious schools NOT to teach their children about evolution; not because it’s somehow good for the state to have less people understand decent biology, but because it’s good for the state to allow the religious freedom to be ill-informed about scientific principles. And again, not that the misinformation is good, but that the freedom is in fact a good, acceptable, and morally justifiable thing, worth more than the improvement of the science curriculum in a few of our schools.

          I want to return to the adjective I used above to describe rights; they should be Constitutional. There’s actually no right to healthcare in the Constitution; and while I think healthcare certainly is a right, I don’t think the way we do it can violate what is also most certainly not just a right, but a Constitutional one. That right is in fact called freedom of religion; and while that’s certainly not a cure-all or do-anything card, it most certainly does entail a certain governmental responsibility to respect non-mainstream non-secularized belief

          I see no reason to think that his law sets anything other than legal precedent for forcing certain Christian religious schools to violate their own moralistic principle of not teaching evolution, or more importantly for the dissolution of any number of religion- and philosophy-based exemptions; and I’ve always felt that the freedom to deviate from mainstream, most especially in belief and thought, has always been one of our greatest cultural strengths.

          While I understand and agree that it is good to expand contraceptive access; I do not understand the idea that this particular method is as good as others, let alone better. We needed a simple exception that allowed a religious exemption from select services by religious organizations, and then enabled access for those workers to a separate plan paid by taxes and limited to only those services to which their organization is conscientiously objecting. Such a clause wouldn’t have made the bill significantly longer, and we would’ve then avoided this very political battle; and even if you *are* for some reason incontrovertibly set against support for the religious freedom of even the majority religion, I hope you can at least admit that avoiding this battle would’ve significantly improved the politics of the rest of this contentious bill.

        • Sarah Foley

          Ben, if you go back and re-read my comment you will see that I address this point by explaining the diff between BANNING an act and FORCING an act.

          Further, lawsuits are already underway all across the US and cert has been granted by the Supreme Court.

    • Janet

      Regarding taxes, this wouldn’t even be an issue if the government provided the objectionable items through taxes. We wouldn’t like it, but it wouldn’t infringe on religious freedom. Tax money goes a lot of places we don’t want it to go. Rather like paying your employee wages…that is a just and right thing to do, even if they then spend their money on things that we don’t agree with. The contraception issue is different because we are being forced to specifically provide what we consider an inherent evil. If it is so important to the government to provide these things, they can easily do it in a way other than through health insurance, in a way that doesn’t infringe on the religious liberties of anybody.

      The law in the United States is this: first, to be able to violate our first amendment rights, there has to be compelling interest. That is why, for example, the government can force parents to have their kids treated for serious illnesses through means other than prayer. I am guessing that also applies to polygamous marriages; at one time, at least, it was thought it was better for children to be raised by one man and one woman as parents. That, and if I understand correctly, there was a time when a lot of underage kids were being married in these polygamous marriages. It certainly applies to things like abuse. Having said all of that, to my knowledge there is no religion that says it goes against God to not be in a polygamous marriage or to not abuse people.

      Compelling interest does not apply to birth control; it is so easily accessible and reasonable enough in cost that the administration itself said that most people use it.

      If there IS compelling interest, then the law says the government must use the least restrictive means. So in this case, if they could make the argument that there is compelling interest in providing “free” contraception for everyone, there are means (as discussed above) that would not infringe on first amendment rights.

      The government knows all this, yet wants to force us to violate our beliefs anyway.

    • Jacob Stai

      Have we banned “spiritual marriages” now? Sure they don’t have the right to force us to recognize those as legal marriages; but we sure as anything don’t have the right to force them to violate their spirituality by pretending that they aren’t polygamous.

      Totally agree on the invasion of Iraq bit; unfortunately/fortunately, it’s also true that an individual’s responsibility to pay taxes is held to a different standard than either an organization’s or an individual’s right to practice their belief in other direct-action ways than tax.

  • Cara Sheridan O’Donnell

    Adjacent to the campus of the college I attended was a home administered by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Some of the younger sisters there attended classes with my roommate, whose major was laboratory technology. She befriended one of the sisters, which meant I sometimes accompanied her to the home for one reason or another. Although the facility itself (now replaced with a state-of-the art, modern, airy structure) was old, it was spotlessly clean and offered its residents a truly homelike ambiance. The sisters treated all the residents with respect and affection. Keep in mind that residents there would not have been accepted in what we know nowadays as profit-making assisted-living institutions. They were indigent, but you wouldn’t have known that when meeting and greeting them; you might have thought they were members of a privileged, pampered elite group. Why? Because that is exactly how they were treated! What a disgrace it would be if a bill that was introduced and passed so as to extend healthcare benefits to ALL forced this dedicated group of godly women to abandon their mission here in the U.S. The residents and employees of the three dozen or so houses the LSPs so lovingly established are not be the only ones who would suffer if these facilities were to close. So, too, would the families of those residents and employees…and taxpayers in general. I know first hand that each of the sisters does the work of two people…and at a salary one PART-TIME employee might expect to receive in a for-profit facility. That pittance of a salary is poured back into the “general” coffers of the home for operational expenses. Yup, the fines would cripple them financially. But it is the expectation by our government that they “should” ignore the teachings of their “boss,” who is God Himself, that really should infuriate us as American citizens, whether Catholic or not!

  • Dan Cleberg

    I’m a little confused… why would the elderly need contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs?

    • Sarah Foley

      Fair question, Dan. It is not that the elderly would need them, but that people employed by these sisters may want them. The HHS mandate would force institutions to pay for the contraceptives, abortafacients, sterilization procedures etc under their health care plans. So if they employed people ( who may not have the same moral belief but chose to work for a Catholic institution) , and those individuals want these contraceptives/procedures the sisters (or any religious insitution) will then be forced to violate their religious beliefs and cover them or pay and outrageous fine. Hope that helped

  • Michele Granath-Cloutier Burkh

    praying for this madness to end before we lose all who do God’s work in this country….



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