BLOOMFIELD – In an effort to explain and whip up support against what he called a "remarkably hostile" attack on religious freedom by the federal government, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell took to the airwaves for almost two hours on Feb. 8.
The archbishop and Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, were guests on a WJMJ radio show that focused on the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mandate requiring coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs by all private employer health plans.
The decision "really is a frontal attack" on religious liberty, the archbishop said.
"It’s remarkably hostile to the basic principle of religious liberty, and that’s what we found so shocking."
Father John P. Gatzak, host of the program "In the Afterglow," said the show was being devoted to the topic so that listeners "could be aware and vitally concerned" about the topic. Father Gatzak, general manager of the archdiocese's radio station, invited listeners to voice their opinions as well.
The HHS rule, announced Jan. 20, will make almost all health plans cover women’s preventive services, including FDA-approved forms of contraception, without co-pays or deductibles. Catholic hospitals and other entities had argued for a conscience exemption on the grounds of Church doctrine.
"I simply could not believe that in the year 2012, the federal government would ask employers to pay for something that violates the serious tenets of their belief," the archbishop recalled thinking when he first heard of the decision.
"Never before in the history of the United States has the federal government forced citizens to purchase directly what violates our belief," he said. "If this bedrock principle of United States history is violated, is permitted to go on, there’s no telling what can happen. Some would say that the war on religion is now formally declared," the archbishop said.
In a letter that was tucked into church bulletins on Feb. 4-5, the archbishop asked churchgoers to support reversal of the new federal health care rule, calling it a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and, therefore, unconstitutional.
Since then, he has heard that "people have been writing, contacting legislators very feverishly to object to this terrible invasion, attack on religious freedom, attack on religious conscience."
Mr. Culhane’s agency has a Web site that can count visitors who contact lawmakers electronically via the site, "and we’re into the thousands," he said.
Mr. Culhane and the archbishop also said both of the state’s two senators and five members of Congress have been invited to meet with Connecticut’s bishops to discuss the federal decision, but that none has accepted the offer as yet.
The archbishop said it is vital for people to realize how large a threat the decision is to the Church’s ability to continue rendering the services it does now.
"If this mandate were to go through, we would have no more Catholic Health Association," he said. We would have no more Catholic hospitals…. We would have no Catholic Relief Services. We would have no Catholic Charities, with 77,000 employees. We’d have no shelters. We’d have no nursing homes. We’d have no soup kitchens. This is a major attack."
He stressed that people of all faiths should be concerned and involved.
"I’m seeing tremendous implications from this legislation, or from this edict or mandate. It’s much more than a legislation. It’s an edict. It’s a mandate. It reminds me of a totalitarian state," Archbishop Mansell said.
Most of the people who called the show agreed with the archbishop, and some said they had or planned to contact lawmakers.
The archbishop recalled Connecticut lawmakers’ attempt, in 2008, to reconfigure the government of Catholic parishes.
"Well, the Catholics of the state rose up by the thousands upon thousands and defeated that, roundly," he said. "So, people, when they’re hit in the core, will react, and I think we’re seeing that reaction happening right now."
Bishops nationwide began to speak out against the HHS decision immediately after it was announced.