A Government Cannot Oblige Religions To Go Against Their Convictions (Part 2)

Interview with the Archbishop of San Juan, Puerto Rico on the HHS Mandate

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, JULY 30, 2012 (Zenit.org).- We offer our readers the final part of the interview with Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, OFM, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is very clear on the position of the Church and the role that all Catholics must play in the measure that the current U.S. administration is committed to having the HHS mandate observed.

ZENIT: If the result is the opposite of what is expected, is it possible that the Church’s health centers will be against distributing contraceptive methods, calling for civil disobedience? What would be the implications?

Archbishop Gonzalez. I would like to begin my answer with the quotation from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: “”We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church points out, in regard to the right of conscientious objection, that: “The citizen is not bound in conscience to follow the prescriptions of the civil authorities if the latter are contrary to the exigencies of the moral order, to people’s fundamental rights or to the teachings of the Gospel. Unjust laws place the morally upright person before dramatic problems of conscience: when they are called to collaborate in morally illicit actions; they have the obligation to refuse.” (n. 399). As can be deduced, it is not optional to disobey an unjust law, it is a moral imperative. That is, it is immoral to obey it.

The Church cannot collaborate with such practices which, although they are permitted by positive law, are contrary to divine law. The Church cannot preach one thing and do another. She cannot say that the use of contraceptives is contrary to the moral law and then back medical plans that include coverage for contraceptives and sterilization services. To disobey a law, although it is unjust, can expose us to sanctions. Hopefully not, but if there is no other remedy, they are welcome. It will be an historic opportunity to give witness of our faith. Perhaps human courts will again become modern “Roman Circuses,” to which Christians will be taken to shed their blood and mix it with Our Lord’s. As in olden times, this would become the illustrious sign of credibility of the sons and daughters of the Church.

ZENIT: Do we know if the government is able to reconsider the HHS mandate?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The Obama Administration is firm in its position that private health plans must include in their coverage the sterilization of women, contraceptive pills approved by the FDA, including abortifacient pills, and that advice and education must be given to promote these badly called rights of women and adolescents.

ZENIT: What actions will the Church in the U.S. now take in this regard?

Archbishop Gonzalez: The Permanent Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States is pronouncing itself on the matter as the moment calls for it. By way of example, recently Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the Pro-Life Activities Commission of the Conference of Bishops, sent a letter to the House of Representatives supporting the two measures mentioned earlier, Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) and Respect for Right of Conscience, for the consideration of the House in relation to this matter.

ZENIT: What must be reinforced in the new generation of family education in the United States?

Archbishop Gonzalez: I think the situation of the family in the United States is akin to that of many societies around the world where the institution of the family is suffering a great identity crisis  and a crisis of values as a consequence of many social, cultural, economic, and technological factors, among others. We must reinforce all that which we see has been weakened. By way of example, the practice of the faith and the importance of family life have been weakened. The family is the privileged place to live, celebrate, learn and transmit faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ. The family is born, is constituted and is sustained by faith. Without faith, the family is reduced to its minimal expression and exposed to cultural blows and the personal problems of its members. Faith reinforces the family and immunizes it against the attacks of relativism and individualism, and discovers for it the original design of the Creator. Verified in it are all the aspects and dimensions of human love elevated by God: nuptial, filial, fraternal love, friendship, and all this within and outside itself.

That is why the vocation of the family is essential for the true and full realization of the human race. The family cannot be regarded as a corporation where the only end is the profit of its members and the acquisition of material goods that increase its patrimony. The only thing that matters with this theory is the material, even to sacrificing the transcendental. The family is above all the place of love, of communion, of solidarity; it is experience of life, it is a school of faith. Perhaps the most important and urgent challenge for the Catholic Church, in the perspective of the New Evangelization, is how to maintain a living, ardent and transforming faith in Christ in the present and future generations.

ZENIT: What is your message to the American readers of ZENIT at this critical moment?

Archbishop Gonzalez: Catholics in the United States must support continuously and actively the initiatives of their bishops who, faithful to the truth and in communion with the Pope, promote the Catholic faith received from the Apostles. The bishops are defending religious liberty in the United States. In carrying out this defense, they take recourse to prayer, to education and to peaceful public actions, especially a respectful dialogue with the executive and legislative branches of the government. Religious liberty is among the few liberties protected constitutionally. In fact, religious liberty is a right recognized universally. The HHS ruling is one more step to bring down the wall that not only separates the Church from the State but that protects her from it.

The HHS regulation is an evil presage for the Catholic Church in the United States. Not only is this mandate a coercion to the liberty of conscience, but it is an undue interference of the State in the affairs of the Church, to the point that it attempts to redefine what religious institutions are and which of its employees occupy religious posts. It does so in such a way, that the universities, schools, hospitals  and charity centers are obliged to comply with this mandate. It pretends to have the Church act in two different ways: according to her morality with her religious employees and in an immoral way with her employees in non-religious posts, according to how this mandate redefines them. This is dangerous for the faith, for human dignity, for religious liberty and, above all, for democracy.