Dear Members of the Abbey Family,
I write to ask your prayers, your reflection, and as appropriate your action, over the coming months, with regard to the defense of the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience in our country.
You will know of the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services requiring that virtually all employers provide in the health care plans they offer coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients; the mandate has only a very tight and very inadequate religious exemption clause. This mandate is a grave violation of the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience. In addition, it is an instance of a pattern over recent years of growing governmental pressure on religious entities, which includes attacks on the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers and individuals, and on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious institutions.
The mandate directly affects Saint Louis Abbey and its works. The pastoral works of the Abbey, inasmuch as they are entities canonically established as units of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, will follow the policies and directives of the Archdiocese with regard to this matter. Saint Louis Abbey is directly responsible for its own employees and those of Saint Louis Priory School. The Abbey has declared itself to be in the “safe harbor” period with respect to the date on which the mandate comes into force for the Abbey; as a result, the Abbey will have to have determined its response to the mandate by March 2014. We are currently investigating whether the Abbey and School qualify for the exemption presently offered by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the moral questions which arise with regard to applying for this exemption.
Last spring U.S. Catholic Bishops and other plaintiffs introduced litigation in the federal courts challenging the HHS mandate, and subsequently many other entities have joined the suits. As this litigation proceeds through the courts in the coming months I ask your prayers, your study of the issues, your action as appropriate to your circumstances, and your sacrifices in support of the defense of the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience in our country. If the trends I have noted continue, there will be serious consequences for all of us, including those of us who constitute the Abbey Family.
I encourage you to read two documents, one a short article by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of the Harvard Law School on the specific question of the HHS mandate, the other a talk by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia on the cultural trends in our country of which the mandate is an expression and which require our dedicated and vigorous response. Please take a few minutes to read these documents.
Please be assured of the ongoing prayers of myself and the monks for you and your families, and please remember us in your prayers.
Yours in the Lord,