The bishops' conference issued a statement reporting the meeting at the White House in which "Cardinal [Francis] George and President Obama discussed the Catholic Church in the United States and its relation to the new administration."
It noted that at the conclusion of the conversation, "Cardinal George expressed his gratitude for the meeting and his hopes that it will foster fruitful dialogue for the sake of the common good."
The White House also issued a press release stating that the president and the cardinal "discussed a wide range of issues, including important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation's most pressing challenges."
It added, "The president thanked Cardinal George for his leadership and for the contributions of the Catholic Church in America and around the world."
Although the discussion between the prelate and the president was private, it took place the day after Cardinal George issued a public message through the Internet urging Catholics to appeal to the Obama administration to retain regulations governing conscience protection for health care workers.
A communiqué from the bishops' conference reported the release of a video on their Web site, as well as on Youtube, in which Cardinal George responds to the government's threat to revoke the regulations that keep health care workers from being forced to provide services that violate their consciences.
Cardinal George explained in his message: "On […] Feb. 27, the Obama administration placed on a federal Web site the news that it intends to remove a conscience protection rule for the Department of Health and Human Services.
"That rule is one part of the range of legal protections for health care workers -- for doctors, nurses and others -- who have objections in conscience to being involved in abortion and other killing procedures that are against how they live their faith in God."
He expressed "deep concern" that this action "on the government’s part would be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism."
He asserted that "respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression," and "no government should come between an individual person and God."
The cardinal pointed out that citizens are allowed to claim conscientious objection to war or having to administer the death penalty. Why then, he asked, "shouldn’t our government and our legal system permit conscientious objection to a morally bad action, the killing of babies in their mother’s womb?"
He added, "People understand what really happens in an abortion and in related procedures -- a living member of the human family is killed -- that’s what it’s all about -- and no one should be forced by the government to act as though he or she were blind to this reality."
Cardinal George concluded by exhorting the people to inform the government "that you want conscience protections to remain strongly in place," especially for people "who provide the health care services so necessary for a good society."
In related news:
USCCB News Release:
USCCB Calls on Administration to Retain HHS Regulation on Conscience Protection
WASHINGTON—The Obama Administration has a constitutional duty to enforce laws protecting religious freedom and the right of conscience, according to comments by Anthony Picarello and Michael Moses of the Office of General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The comments were filed with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) March 23 in response to the proposed rescinding of an HHS regulation protecting the conscience rights of health care professionals.
Picarello and Moses cited the numerous laws enacted by Congress over thirty-five years—including the Church Amendment, the Coats-Snowe Amendment and the Weldon Amendment—aimed at protecting health care providers and professionals from being coerced into participating in abortions and emphasized the constitutional duty of the executive branch to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and to avoid contradicting or undercutting those laws.
The need for enforcement of these laws is also evident in the "growing hostility on the part of some professional organizations and advocacy groups to rights of conscience in health care," Picarello and Moses noted. They listed examples of recent statements and reports by the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, and even state and local governments that were hostile toward conscience rights.
"Because the Administration holds itself out as one committed to a policy of 'choice' regarding abortion, the Administration cannot, consistent with that policy, remove the choice of nurses, doctors, clinics, or hospitals not to provide or facilitate abortions," Picarello and Moses said. They added that removing conscience protections for the purpose of increasing access to abortion would also be inconsistent with the stated policy of the Obama Administration to reduce the number of abortions.
The USCCB's comments can be found in full online at http://www.usccb.org/conscienceprotection/resources.shtml