A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
A Government Cannot Oblige Religions to Go Against Their Convictions

Part 1

Interview with the Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico on the HHS Mandate

By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, 30 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
Attacks against religious liberty are happening in several parts of the world. Sometimes with diatribes, other times with bloodshed, but also through laws that infringe people’s fundamental right to believe and follow a moral conviction received from their faith.

In the United States a real “battle” is being waged between the present government and religious institutions who are fighting to prevent the implementation of the Health and Human Services mandate, which would oblige establishments run by religious entities to provide medications that threaten the life of unborn children and the principles of responsible parenthood.

ZENIT interviewed Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who was clear and energetic in presenting the current situation looming in the U.S. if this law is implemented, while at the same time being taken, perhaps, as a precedent for other countries.

ZENIT: Your Excellency, why are American bishops so concerned about the Federal Government’s Health and Human Services mandate?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The Health and Human Services regulation consists in obliging employers, including religious institutions, to give medical coverage to their employees for sterilizations and contraceptives approved by the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], including abortifacient medication, as well as obliging them to give advice and education to women on sterilization and contraceptives. Hence the concern of American bishops is very genuine, timely and extremely necessary. When a government uses its faculties to oblige religious institutions and individuals as employers to act against their principles and teachings, when it obliges them to act against their conscience, it is a sign that religious liberty is being threatened and it shows that the government, far from respecting the Constitutional clause on religious liberty, is impairing it.

ZENIT: What is the current state of this law?

Archbishop Gonzalez: At present. the following two measures are being considered in the U.S. Congress: Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) and Respect for Right of Conscience. The first reaffirms the basic principle that no health structure should be obliged by the government to carry out abortions or take part in them. The other measure is geared to protecting the right of conscientious objection. These measures would protect the right of millions of Americans to access the health system without violating their most profound moral and religious convictions on respect for human life.

ZENIT: Has the Church mobilized in this regard, including with other religions and Christian denominations, because it is contrary to religious liberty?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The State’s pretension to oblige a religious institution or an individual as employer to go against his principles, convictions and beliefs, is certainly not a matter that concerns one single religious denomination. What is at stake here is religious liberty itself in the United States. The State is called to guarantee and protect the right of freedom of worship of every member of society as guaranteed by the Constitution. This legislation impairs this principle. It is extremely alarming and worrying that it is the government itself, main guarantor of the Magna Carta, which threatens religious liberty. Today the right of religious liberty is trampled upon with the HHS mandate; tomorrow other non-negotiable principles could easily be compromised.

In fact, given that it is a matter that touches the inalienable right of religious liberty, it concerns not only the Catholic Church but all believing citizens (and even non-believers), adhering to any religious denomination present in the United States, because this governmental action could make it clear that, with the pretext of the implementation of legislation of social and health interest, it can act at any moment against the religious liberty of any citizen. Moreover, this precedent in the United States, which up to now had been characterized by its supreme respect for the religious liberty of its citizens, can be used as the pretext by other countries to violate and to continue violating the religious liberty of its citizens.

ZENIT: Why is religious liberty important for a society?

Archbishop Gonzalez: I would like to answer this question with a quote from Pope Benedict XVI: "In particular, the Council Fathers approved, precisely 40 years ago, a Declaration on the question of religious liberty, that is, the right of persons and of communities to seek the truth and to profess their faith freely. The first words that give this document its title are 'dignitatis humanae': religious liberty derives from the special dignity of the human person, who is the only one of all the creatures on this earth who can establish a free and conscious relationship with his or her Creator. 'It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons, that is, beings endowed with reason and free will..., are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth'" (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2). Cf. Angelus, December 4, 2005).

The Health and Human Services mandate that, as we have seen, goes against religious liberty, makes it feasible for any government in the United States to impede, today or tomorrow — in an underhanded way for ideological or political reasons —, believing citizens and religious institutions, in a much as givers of employment, to profess and practice their faith. And as can be deduced from the Holy Father’s words, every threat against religious liberty is a threat to human dignity itself.

ZENIT: What has been the population’s reaction to the U.S. Church’s campaign of the last two weeks?

Archbishop Gonzalez: First of all, it is necessary to highlight the timely and responsible reaction of the U.S. bishops given this frontal attack of the government on religious liberty. The campaign undertaken by the bishops and by Catholics in general in the United States, already incisive on its own, cannot be measured by its short-term impact. The U.S. bishops have very wisely carried out a multi-media and multi-platform campaign. The bishops’ intervention transcends the present circumstance. Its main objective is to form the human conscience in such a way that, beyond the present contingency, people will know their duties and rights, with God, with themselves and with others, and will never be prepared to negotiate their principles with anyone, no matter how powerful he is.

On the other hand, the present circumstance imposes efforts of immediate impact such as alerting, denouncing and educating, making use as well of the most effective network of Catholic lay ecclesial Movements which are dedicated to the defense of life and religious liberty. I was impressed by the response of the Catholic population of the United States to the call of their bishops when convoking the 'Fortnight For Freedom'. Of all the efforts, prayers is the most indispensable. The U.S. bishops and Catholic faithful, inspired in the words of the Apostle James, who assured that 'the prayer of the just man has power”, have prayed fervently, certain that ultimately 'our help comes from the Lord'.
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Part 2

Interview with the Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico on the HHS Mandate

By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, 30 JULY 2012 (ZENIT)
We offer our readers the final part of the interview with Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, OFM, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is very clear on the position of the Church and the role that all Catholics must play in the measure that the current U.S. administration is committed to having the HHS mandate observed.

ZENIT: If the result is the opposite of what is expected, is it possible that the Church’s health centers will be against distributing contraceptive methods, calling for civil disobedience? What would be the implications?

Archbishop Gonzalez. I would like to begin my answer with the quotation from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: “”We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out, in regard to the right of conscientious objection, that: “The citizen is not bound in conscience to follow the prescriptions of the civil authorities if the latter are contrary to the exigencies of the moral order, to people’s fundamental rights or to the teachings of the Gospel. Unjust laws place the morally upright person before dramatic problems of conscience: when they are called to collaborate in morally illicit actions; they have the obligation to refuse.” (n. 399). As can be deduced, it is not optional to disobey an unjust law, it is a moral imperative. That is, it is immoral to obey it.

The Church cannot collaborate with such practices which, although they are permitted by positive law, are contrary to divine law. The Church cannot preach one thing and do another. She cannot say that the use of contraceptives is contrary to the moral law and then back medical plans that include coverage for contraceptives and sterilization services. To disobey a law, although it is unjust, can expose us to sanctions. Hopefully not, but if there is no other remedy, they are welcome. It will be an historic opportunity to give witness of our faith. Perhaps human courts will again become modern “Roman Circuses,” to which Christians will be taken to shed their blood and mix it with Our Lord’s. As in olden times, this would become the illustrious sign of credibility of the sons and daughters of the Church.

ZENIT: Do we know if the government is able to reconsider the HHS mandate?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The Obama Administration is firm in its position that private health plans must include in their coverage the sterilization of women, contraceptive pills approved by the FDA, including abortifacient pills, and that advice and education must be given to promote these badly called rights of women and adolescents.

ZENIT: What actions will the Church in the U.S. now take in this regard?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The Permanent Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States is pronouncing itself on the matter as the moment calls for it. By way of example, recently Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the Pro-Life Activities Commission of the Conference of Bishops, sent a letter to the House of Representatives supporting the two measures mentioned earlier, Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) and Respect for Right of Conscience, for the consideration of the House in relation to this matter.

ZENIT: What must be reinforced in the new generation of family education in the United States?

Archbishop Gonzalez: I think the situation of the family in the United States is akin to that of many societies around the world where the institution of the family is suffering a great identity crisis  and a crisis of values as a consequence of many social, cultural, economic, and technological factors, among others. We must reinforce all that which we see has been weakened. By way of example, the practice of the faith and the importance of family life have been weakened. The family is the privileged place to live, celebrate, learn and transmit faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. The family is born, is constituted and is sustained by faith. Without faith, the family is reduced to its minimal expression and exposed to cultural blows and the personal problems of its members. Faith reinforces the family and immunizes it against the attacks of relativism and individualism, and discovers for it the original design of the Creator. Verified in it are all the aspects and dimensions of human love elevated by God: nuptial, filial, fraternal love, friendship, and all this within and outside itself.

That is why the vocation of the family is essential for the true and full realization of the human race. The family cannot be regarded as a corporation where the only end is the profit of its members and the acquisition of material goods that increase its patrimony. The only thing that matters with this theory is the material, even to sacrificing the transcendental. The family is above all the place of love, of communion, of solidarity; it is experience of life, it is a school of faith. Perhaps the most important and urgent challenge for the Catholic Church, in the perspective of the New Evangelization, is how to maintain a living, ardent and transforming faith in Christ in the present and future generations.

ZENIT: What is your message to the American readers of ZENIT at this critical moment?

Archbishop Gonzalez: Catholics in the United States must support continuously and actively the initiatives of their bishops who, faithful to the truth and in communion with the Pope, promote the Catholic faith received from the Apostles. The bishops are defending religious liberty in the United States. In carrying out this defense, they take recourse to prayer, to education and to peaceful public actions, especially a respectful dialogue with the executive and legislative branches of the government. Religious liberty is among the few liberties protected constitutionally. In fact, religious liberty is a right recognized universally. The HHS ruling is one more step to bring down the wall that not only separates the Church from the State but that protects her from it.

The HHS regulation is an evil presage for the Catholic Church in the United States. Not only is this mandate a coercion to the liberty of conscience, but it is an undue interference of the State in the affairs of the Church, to the point that it attempts to redefine what religious institutions are and which of its employees occupy religious posts. It does so in such a way, that the universities, schools, hospitals  and charity centers are obliged to comply with this mandate. It pretends to have the Church act in two different ways: according to her morality with her religious employees and in an immoral way with her employees in non-religious posts, according to how this mandate redefines them. This is dangerous for the faith, for human dignity, for religious liberty and, above all, for democracy.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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