HHS mandate continues to provoke response

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and archbishop of New York, added their signatures to a letter protesting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations.

Under the president’s compromise, all insurance companies must provide these products and services free of charge.  Signed by over 500 religious leaders, scholars, activists, administrators, and people of various faiths, the statement condemns this change as a “cheap accounting trick” that fails to alter a “grave violation of religious freedom.”

Titled “Unacceptable,” the letter was drafted by Notre Dame Law Professor Carter Snead, Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, Princeton Professor Robert P. George, Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America.

Over 60 Notre Dame faculty and staff members have signed the “Unacceptable” statement, including two Holy Cross priests: Rev. William Dailey, visiting professor at Notre Dame Law School, and Rev. Wilson Miscamble, professor of history.

A February 29 bulletin by the Sycamore Trust, an alumni group dedicated to the preservation of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, expressed dissatisfaction with the university’s response. While applauding the signers of the document, the group noted the absence of University President Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC.

“But, still, not a single Notre Dame officer, only one dean and one department chair, and only two members of the C.S.C. [have signed the letter].  Almost all evidently are following Father Jenkins’s lead,” the Sycamore Trust bulletin stated.

When the president announced the accommodation, Fr. Jenkins applauded “the willingness of the administration to work with religious organizations to find a solution acceptable to all parties.”

“There remain a number of unclear and unresolved issues, and we look forward to joining the U.S. bishops and leaders from other religious institutions to work with the administration to resolve them,” he stated.

The accommodation has continued to provoke a number of responses from the Notre Dame community.

Notre Dame Law Professor Richard Garnett published an op-ed in USA TODAY on February 15.  He argued that the Obama administration action “is best understood as a crafty — and, it must be said, cynical — election-year political move.”

His comments were echoed in an article by his colleague, Notre Dame Law Professor Gerard Bradley, whose February 28 article on National Review Online, “The Law as Therapist,” analyzes the HHS mandate in light of recent Supreme Court rulings on religious freedom.

“The ‘compromise’ conceded nothing to religious liberty; it was not meant to,” Bradley wrote.  “It was meant to stop the political bleeding. The NEW YORK TIMES headline said that it ‘aimed to please the Catholic left.’”

Other faculty members support the HHS mandate.  In a February 19 letter to the OBSERVER, Bernard Doering, professor emeritus of Romance Literatures and Languages tied the controversy directly to the relationship between Fr. Jenkins and the Obama administration.

“A vast majority of Notre Dame faculty and staff were in admiration of Father Jenkins’ deft and sensible handling of the controversy over the invitation to President Obama to speak at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony, and they are ready to support him again in a truly religious and rational handling of this developing controversy,” he stated.

Doering argued that the Church’s teaching on contraception, outlined in HUMANAE VITAE, “can and should be revisited.”

“Many of us see in the bishops’ present position an attempt to legislate general rules of moral conduct that they cannot get their own subjects to obey,” he wrote.  “It will only increase the well-documented drift of Catholics away from the Church, especially among the younger generations.”

While strong Viewpoint letters on both sides of the issue have been exchanged in the OBSERVER, a group of primarily younger alumni have organized a letter writing campaign to Fr. Jenkins advising him to oppose the HHS mandate.  Available online at dearfrjenkins.tumblr.com, the letters encourage Fr. Jenkins to disregard public opinion and take advantage of Notre Dame’s prominence.

“You are the leader and the face of a school that is the most recognized Catholic institution in America,” wrote Jack Thorton, ’11 in a February 28 letter.  “This puts you in a position that is both enviable and unenviable. It is enviable because you have a chance to shine as a courageous advocate of freedom and faith….It is unenviable because by speaking out against the White House you will endure a great deal of criticism from those who do not understand what is at stake.”

Contact Claire at cgillen2@nd.edu.