Cardinal Francis George, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, issued a letter on an archdiocesan website in which he warned that the Catholic Church is being “despoiled of her institutions” as “freedom of conscience and of religion become a memory from a happier past.” The prelate for the Midwestern metropolis wrote that he fears “the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must ‘give up’ her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations.”
“So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society,” he continues. “The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.”
Cardinal George added, "What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices:
1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the Church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the Church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life.
2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government.
4) Close down …
Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.
The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church.
“If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir,” he continued. “On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.”
See full text of letter here.