State bishops write letter on insurance mandate to cover contraception

By | August 25, 2009

The mandate takes effect in early 2010, or upon expiration of any existing contract or agreement. The mandate affects the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Green Bay and Madison dioceses, whose employee health insurance policies are the kind that must be altered to comply with the new law when they are renewed next year.

The mandate does not apply to the self-funded health insurance plans of the La Crosse and Superior dioceses.

According to the bishops, the mandate violates religious values as well as constitutional rights.

“The constitutional right to religious freedom embraces more than just the right to hold private beliefs and affirm personal values,” the bishops state. “Such freedom also includes the ability to bear witness to our values. … Nowhere does the Constitution say that the right of conscience is protected except in matters related to human reproduction.”

Most states that have adopted this type of mandate include an exception for religious institutions or for certain employers, according to the bishops. However, the provision in the Wisconsin state budget did not include such an exception.

In their letter, the bishops wrote they would continue to provide health insurance to employees as they consider their options for contesting the policy.

Diocesan leaders are assessing how to react to the mandate.

“We are in the process of aggressively evaluating all options that will allow us to maintain our health care coverage in a fashion that is consistent with Catholic moral teaching,” said Deacon Tim Reilly, director of administration for the Green Bay Diocese. “We may have to get creative and we may have to absorb some incremental costs, but in the end we want a solution that provides good health care coverage to our co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard without undermining our core moral beliefs.”

“Whatever course of action is decided, we will uphold Catholic teaching,” added Fr. John Doerfler, chancellor and vicar general for the diocese.

WCC executive director John Huebscher noted that dioceses in other states with similar laws have opted to self fund their health insurance plans, but he emphasized that no diocese affected by the new law has made any decisions at this time.

“There is time to review and analyze all the options carefully and the diocesan leadership is doing just that,” he said.

Dr. Helen Scieszka, director of married and family life for the Green Bay Diocese, said that while the health insurance mandate is “upsetting … I also look at this as an opportunity for us to share what our faith teaches about contraception and why.”

It is a teachable moment for the church to promote the benefits of natural family planning, which is approved by the Catholic Church for achieving or avoiding pregnancy.

“NFP is a natural method. There are no drugs, chemicals, devices, or surgeries; so, no side effects and no health risks,” she told The Compass. “It is 99 percent effective if practiced correctly because it is based on medical research. It is easy to learn and over time saves couples money.”

She added that 98 percent of all couples who practice NFP remain married.

“If everyone learned and truly understood this, there would no longer be the need for any other forms of contraception.”


Dear brothers and sisters,

We are writing to you to share our deep concern about a provision in the new state budget that requires providers of health insurance to include contraceptive services as a “mandated benefit.”

This mandate will compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral. Contraception prevents the full and reciprocal self-giving that is essential to Christian marriage and diminishes the role of God, the giver of life, within marriage.

Only dioceses or agencies that are self insured, such as La Crosse and Superior, are not covered by this mandate.

As Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights.

Other states have similar requirements to include contraceptive services as a mandated benefit. Wisconsin, however, is now one of only a few states where the mandate fails to accommodate those whose religious or moral values are compromised by it.

This mandate violates not just our religious values, but also our constitutional rights. The right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution protects the minority from the majority. That is to say, it protects all of us. For in our pluralistic society, every person, whatever his or her faith, is a member of a religious minority.

The constitutional right to religious freedom embraces more than just the right to hold private beliefs and affirm personal values. Such freedom also includes the ability to bear public witness to our values – by what we do and what we decline to do. It is such witness that changes hearts and transforms culture.

Nowhere does the Constitution say that the right of conscience is protected except in matters related to human reproduction. Nor does it limit the scope of religious freedom to tenets that conform to a party platform or to the agenda of powerful interest groups.

As citizens, we also object to the manner in which this law was adopted. Mandates of this kind deserve open debate and due deliberation. This mandate received neither. Processes consistent with open government permit competing arguments at public hearings. This process did not.

As we assess our options to contest this policy, we will continue to provide affordable access to quality health care for all who work for the Church.

Whatever course we pursue in this matter, we want all Catholics in Wisconsin to know that we will also continue to affirm and communicate the teachings of our faith. No legislation can repeal or annul our commitment to upholding the dignity of human life and the means by which each life is conceived.

We know that many of you find the teaching of our faith on contraception difficult to accept or live out in practice. As pastors and teachers, we find our conviction much reinforced because artificial contraception is not, in the first place, a “Catholic issue.” Rather, the prohibition of artificial contraception is a principle of the natural moral law, which is inscribed in the mind and heart of all human beings. The bond between husband and wife, in their inseparable love-making and life creating Vocation, is evident to human reason itself – another powerful consideration which should lead our legislators to take very seriously our conviction. Many fail to recognize the truth of our conviction, not because they are irrational, but because, in our day and age, the fashionable proposition that there is no objective truth renders human reason itself directionless.

And so, it is incumbent on us as pastors and teachers to keep engaging you in charity. We commit ourselves to continue listening to your objections and to explaining the Church’s understanding of human sexuality in such a manner that you may discover a greater understanding and appreciation of this teaching and the reasons for it.

This is no different from our ongoing efforts to help you form your consciences on opposition to the death penalty, justice for immigrants, and ethical approaches to economics.

Sometimes, the Catholic Church’s teaching can seem overly restrictive of human freedom. In reality, however, this teaching serves a greater freedom, not only for us as individuals, but also for society.

Our faith always challenges us. We are measured by how we respond to those challenges. We ask for your support and prayers as we respond to this one.

May God bless you all,

The Most Rev. David L. Ricken
Bishop of Green Bay

The Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino
Bishop of Madison

The Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki
Bishop of La Crosse

The Most Rev. Peter F. Christensen
Bishop of Superior

The Most Rev. William P. Callahan
Archdiocesan Administrator
Archdiocese of Milwaukee

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