Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., tells Newsmax the Obama administration’s attempt to force religious-linked organizations to pay for employees’ birth control is an unprecedented “invasion” of government into religion.
The mandate for coverage, he says, is an attack on religious liberty and a violation of the First Amendment, and requires religious people to speak up in opposition.
Wuerl has been Archbishop of Washington since 2006 and was created a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. His new book is “Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Our Faith.”
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In an exclusive interview with Newsmax.TV, Cardinal Wuerl was asked for his reaction to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate calling for religious-affiliated institutions to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptives for employees.
“This is the invasion of our religious freedom by a government mandate,” he declares.
“This has never happened before. We’ve always been free to exercise our religious freedom. Now we’re being told we must do something that we aren’t able to do.
“I think the reason why this is resonating among so many people is that people recognize this is the first time we’ve faced that type of intrusion.
“What do people do? I think they speak up. In our democratic republic the first response is always to speak up and let your mind be heard. Let what you think be heard by those who make these mandates.”
The Obama administration has backed away from the original mandate. Under the new proposed rules, employers must provide female contraception as part of healthcare plans, with the cost incurred by the insurer if a given employer — such as a Catholic-affiliated charity, hospital, or school — objects on religious grounds. But the employee of a religious-affiliated institution will still receive the insurance coverage.
“I’m not sure what it is we’re talking about when we’re told there’s some middle ground,” Cardinal Wuerl commented. “All the things that are important are off the table.
“This is the first time in my reading of American history that any religious community has been told this is what you will now do.
“There are a lot of things that we do in this country that as a person who believes in God, who is part of a religious community, I would wish we didn’t do. Abortion is one of them. But it’s there. Contraceptives are there. Sterilization is there. Abortification drugs are there. People accept them, have them. What we object to is for the first time we’re told you will either provide them or pay for them.
“We’re saying, that’s not right. We’ve never done that. That’s why we have a First Amendment to protect us against the government saying let us tell you now how you’ll carry out your religious life.
“Many of our people recognize the difference between sterilization and contraceptives and an attack on our religious liberty. Even someone who is using contraceptives I think is persuaded that you don’t want to start having government tell people here’s what your religious faith is all about. Here’s how you can practice it.
“I think that’s where the resonance comes with our people. It’s the same resonance we feel when someone attacks freedom of speech. If the whole media world were told on certain days you will present stories because the government has determined the people need to know them, you would say that’s not right — you tell the story if you want to tell it, but don’t tell us what we can present. That’s exactly what is happening here and I think many people see that.”
Pope Benedict last month warned U.S. bishops about the threat of radical secularism in America.
Cardinal Wuerl tells Newsmax: “The difference between this radical secularism and what we have in the past is this is saying there’s no place for you. I think we had a very healthy country when there was room for all of us. The radical secularism is saying there’s no room for you.
“Is it impacting on our whole culture? I think there are some who buy into this. There are some who see this as the future. On the other hand I’m seeing lots and lots of people, young people and not so young but particularly young adults today, who are saying, I think I want a richer life. I want a life in which recognition of God is part of it.”
In his book Cardinal Wuerl calls on Catholics to seize daily opportunities to make a difference, writing that this is the time to speak up and have their voices heard.
And one way they can be heard is simply “to speak,” he said. “My first encouragement to Catholics, to everyone, if there is an issue, some profound spiritual value like recognition of the freedom of worship, like the need to care for the needy, provide for those that are sick, speak up for those values. That can go on in all kinds of ways.”
The Pope has called for a “new evangelization” and asked Cardinal Wuerl to head a synod of bishops on the subject. Asked what does new evangelization mean, he responds: “The background of the new evangelization is to recognize that many people have drifted away from the faith. We live in a secular context. The new evangelization calls on us to re-propose to all people to reexamine what they think they know and come to a real deep appreciation for what their faith is all about.
“I think it is already bearing fruit. We’re seeing so many young adults coming forward. This is all a result of them reexamining their lives and saying there has to be more.”
Asked for his Easter message for Catholics, the Cardinal says: “My Easter message and my best Easter wish for everyone is that they would experience the faith and joy of knowing we’re not alone, Christ has risen.”
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