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PROVIDENCE — Noted author, theologian and widely read Catholic columnist George Weigel weighed in on the controversy over President Obama’s Health and Human Services mandate during a speaking engagement last week at a dinner meeting of the Providence chapter of the international Catholic business organization Legatus.
During a dinner at the Hope Club, Weigel expressed optimism that the courts would support the Catholic Church’s position that a religious organization must not be forced to comply with a public policy that violates its religious freedom.
The federal mandate, set to take effect in 2013, requires employers to provide and pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services as part of the medical insurance coverage it offers for employees.
The president recently revised the mandate in an effort at an “accommodation” with the Catholic Church by placing a buffer between the employer and the insurance company, which would become responsible for providing the services at no cost to the insured. But with many church organizations self-funding their health plans, a diocese such as the Diocese of Providence would still be responsible for paying for coverage that violates its core beliefs.
“This is not a question of tweaking something that’s fixable; it’s about fixing something that is very wrong,” Weigel said. “It seems like we would have a very good chance at a judicial remedy for this.”
Weigel, who serves as Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said that religious freedom is indeed being challenged in the U.S.
“The mandate is an attempt by the state and federal government to occupy space that it should not occupy,” he said.
But he feels the church’s fight to retain its religious liberties is a winnable one.
The most important task for the courts in litigating cases opposing the violation of religious liberties is to issue rulings that have no areas of ambiguity.
“[Any ruling] has to involve the full expression of religious conviction,” Weigel said.
“In winning this, we will reestablish the principle of free exercise of religion.”
The author of 19 books, Weigel also related stories of his interactions with the late Pope John Paul II, many of which form the basis of his latest work, “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” copies of which he signed following his presentation.
“It’s just a great gift for our chapter and our diocese,” said Father Marcel L. Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Narragansett, who also guided the formation of the Providence Legatus chapter five years ago and who continues to serve as the chapter’s spiritual leader.
Legatus is an organization comprised of Catholic CEOs and their spouses, with a mission to study, live and spread their faith in their business, professional and personal lives.
“It’s inspiring for all of us to listen to someone who knew Pope John Paul II so well and can translate into layman’s terms what we need to do in today’s culture to foster the culture of life,” said Joseph V. Cavanagh, president of the chapter.