CATHOLIC CONFERENCE REAFFIRMS POSITION
ON EXEMPTION FROM CONTRACEPTIVE MANDATE
SPRINGFIELD (June 2, 2004) The Catholic Conference of Illinois today restated its request for legislative action after the Illinois State Senate refused to discuss Senate Bill 827, a bill passed by the Illinois House that would provide a specific, limited exemption for religious organizations from a mandate passed last year requiring coverage of contraceptives in health care plans.
The legislation is needed to allow religious institutions and organizations to continue contracting with a health maintenance organization without violating Church teaching. Similar language already exists in an Illinois law that allows religious entities an exemption from a mandate to cover infertility treatments.
The request was made by Robert Gilligan, Executive Director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the legislative arm of the Catholic Bishops of Illinois. Gilligan believes alternative language offered by Illinois State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) in the last few days undermines the intent of SB 827 by denying Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals the ability to opt out of the contraceptive mandate.
"The new language proposed by Sen. Martinez enables the legislature to determine what "Catholic" organization or institution qualifies for the exemption," explains Gilligan. "This would indicate that the state has a right to tell the Catholic Church what is "Catholic" and that would infringe on the free practice of religion as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."
Archdiocese of Chicago Chancellor Jimmy Lago stated that Catholic Charities of Chicago is integrally related to the social ministry of the Catholic Church of Chicago, and any attempt to deny Catholic Charities an exemption from the mandate demonstrates a total lack of understanding about the nature of the ministries of the Catholic Church.
"Catholic Charities of Chicago is under the direction of the Catholic Bishop of Chicago," Lago emphasized. "To say that Catholic Charities of Chicago is not part of the Archdiocese or that employees of Catholic Charities of Chicago are not employees of the Archdiocese is just plain wrong."
Both Gilligan and Lago stated that Catholic employers should not be penalized for hiring individuals of different denominations and for serving people of all religious backgrounds. Both also agree that common sense should prevail when one is seeking employment from any religious institution.
"Why would anyone seeking employment from Catholic institutions and organizations expect a Catholic employer to subsidize an employee benefit that would encourage the employee to act contrary to religious teaching?" Gilligan said. "The Church's teachings are clear."
Lago strongly urged legislators considering support for Sen. Martinez' limited exemption to understand the financial implications of her proposal. He noted that to avoid such coverage, any Catholic employer would find it difficult and expensive to offer adequate health care coverage at a reasonable cost.
"Even if such legislative language is signed into law, Archdiocesan employees will not be offered direct coverage for contraceptives," insisted Lago. "They will have either significantly less coverage--if the Archdiocese must offer a reduced version of a preferred provider plan in order afford such coverage, or significantly increased costs--if the Archdiocese continues to offer the current preferred provider plan and passes the increased costs to the employees."