February 18, 2013

The new proposed rules issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding insurance coverage of contraceptives show movement but fall short of addressing the U.S. bishops' concerns, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a Feb. 7 statement.

The cardinal, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the 80-page document released Feb. 1 by HHS concerning the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act indicates that the administration "seeks to offer a response to serious matters which have been raised throughout the past year."

He also noted that the bishops "look forward to engaging with the administration, and all branches and levels of government, to continue to address serious issues that remain."

The rules are expected to be finalized this summer.

Dolan said in his statement that the bishops continue to stand by the statement on the HHS mandate issued by their administrative committee last March and affirmed by the entire body of bishops last June.

In that statement, he said, the bishops expressed concern over the mandate's "exceedingly narrow" four-part definition of "religious employer," one that exempted houses of worship, but left "our great ministries of service to our neighbours, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need" subject to the mandate.

Such a distinction, they said, weakened the federal law's "healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity."