LINCOLN — Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz has issued a blistering letter calling on Roman Catholics in the Lincoln Diocese to fight a federal decision requiring all employers to provide health insurance that pays for birth control, female sterilization procedures and "the morning after" pill.
U.S. bishops had asked for an exemption from the rule for employers such as Catholic hospitals and social services agencies. That request was denied this month by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic.
"The present secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, a bitter fallen-away Catholic, now requires that all insurance, even when issued privately, must carry coverage for evil and grave sin," Bruskewitz wrote in the letter, which he instructed parish priests to read aloud to their congregations at Mass this weekend.
Sebelius is among a number of Catholic politicians in the United States who have been banned from receiving Holy Communion because of their positions on abortion.
She was banned by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., because, as Kansas governor, she vetoed strict anti-abortion legislation that her advisers told her was unconstitutional.
A request for comment from Sebelius' office did not get a response before publication.
Bruskewitz is among bishops across the country who are mobilizing for a fight over the rule.
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha has written a letter to be distributed to pastors next week, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese. Priests were asked to read the letter to parishioners or include it in their church bulletins.
The letter will ask Catholics in the Omaha Archdiocese to pray about the issue and to contact their congressional representatives to pass legislation overturning the rule.
"The bishop's letter will state how this order negatively impacts the church in the U.S.,'' McNeil said. "It's a violation of religious liberty and our First Amendment rights."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is organizing a nationwide "call to action" to try to overturn the rule, McNeil said.
The insurance rule, which does not require abortion coverage, exempts churches and other institutions whose primary purpose is to foster religious belief and that mainly employ people who hold those beliefs.
U.S. bishops, however, wanted a broader exemption that includes Catholic hospitals, universities and church-affiliated social services agencies.
In his letter, Bruskewitz said he was happy to join the effort to "protest most strongly against a mandate, not even a duly passed law, issued by the Obama administration that requires all Catholics in the United States to violate their consciences and support abortion, abortion-causing drugs, contraception and sterilization."
The morning-after pill often is described as "emergency contraception" that will prevent conception after unplanned sex or birth control failures. Many opponents of abortion rights, however, view it as a form of abortion because if an egg is already fertilized, the pill would prevent it from developing in the uterus.
Although Sebelius has given religious-affiliated organizations a year to comply with the rule, Bruskewitz called that an "act of mockery" because during that year, employees must be referred "to the insurance that covers wicked deeds."
"We cannot and will not comply with this unjust decree," he said. "Like the martyrs of old, we must be prepared to accept suffering which could include heavy fines and imprisonment. Our American religious liberty is in grave jeopardy."
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