ATLANTA (AP) — The pope’s U.S. ambassador praised American bishops Wednesday for confronting the government over religious liberty issues, including resisting the mandate from President Barack Obama’s administration that health insurance cover birth control.
Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the papal nuncio based in Washington, noted that the advocacy required a “delicate” approach in the context of a presidential election. But Vigano said the concerns were so worrisome that bishops had to act.
“It goes without saying that the Catholic Church in the United States is living in a particularly challenging period of its history,” Vigano told an Atlanta meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Of course, I am thinking of the whole question of freedom of religion and of conscience.”
The bishops plan two weeks of rallies and prayer services on religious freedom leading up to July Fourth. Vigano called the religious freedom campaign “praiseworthy,” saying, “It has my full support.”
The national gathering is the bishops’ first since dioceses filed a dozen lawsuits against an Obama administration mandate that most employers provide health insurance covering birth control. The rule generally exempts houses of worship, but faith-affiliated hospitals, charities and schools would have to comply.
The mandate is part of rules the administration has developed to implement a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) that requires non-grandfathered health insurers and health plans to provide basic health services without imposing out-of-pocket costs on the patients.
Obama has offered to soften the rule for religious employers by requiring insurance companies to cover the cost instead of religious groups. The administration has been taking public comment while working out the details, but bishops have said that the changes proposed so far haven’t gone far enough.