- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A group of Catholic leaders went against the church’s bishops Wednesday and called for support of President Obama’s latest contraception-insurance policy, though the call happened the same day a prominent group of Catholic priests filed a federal lawsuit against it.

Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus and professor of law at Duquesne University, said the bishops got what they wanted when Mr. Obama agreed Friday to expand the religious-conscience exemption that churches enjoy to include church-related institutions such as Catholic hospitals and schools.

“The bishops have prevailed … I think the bishops should be gracious in their victory,” said Mr. Cafardi, one of five Catholic leaders who talked with reporters Wednesday in a phone call organized by Faith in Public Life.

Stephen Schneck, director of Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, said that while a requirement that insurers pay for contraception costs might be passed on to the religious institution, this is not a new situation and the bishops have said such “remote participation” in an evil such as contraception is not immoral.

“Catholics have, since World War II, have been paying for contraception through their federal taxes … military health plans, in Medicaid, in government employee’s insurance programs and so forth,” Mr. Schneck said. “We have been told by our bishops that because of the very remoteness of our participation in those contraception offerings, we were not in any way morally compromised.”

“In my estimation,” he added, “Mr. Obama’s announcement that insurance companies will pay for contraceptive coverage in cases where religious employers object means that there’s “even greater moral distance between Catholic institutions and contraception. So I feel completely satisified with that particular mechanism.”

Today, nine religious leaders are scheduled to testify about religious liberty and conscience clauses before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

The Rev. John Garvey, president of Catholic University of America, is one of the witnesses expected to speak against the policy. Mr. Schneck said Wednesday he was not speaking on behalf of the university.

William K. Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, is also scheduled to speak at the House hearing. Belmont Abbey College, founded in 1876 by Benedictine monks in North Carolina, is the first to file a federal lawsuit against the administration’s contraceptive mandate, according to Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

In a separate lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Priests for Life said the contraceptive mandate — which includes sterilization services and products like Plan B and Ella, which pro-lifers attack as an abortifacient — is unconstitutional.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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