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Back from Rome, work continues to stop HHS contraception mandate

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

VISIT TO ROME

Thank you for your prayers for me and my brother Bishops from Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska during our recent visit to the Holy Father and the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. I prayed for all of you during this very special pilgrimage to the Eternal City of Rome.

It was an honor for me to represent you, our priests, deacons, consecrated persons and laity to Pope Benedict XVI and his curial staff. We met with eleven different cardinals who head various offices in the Vatican. I was impressed with their knowledge of our local church and grateful for their assistance and advice to all of us. This “ad limina” visit has reminded me of how important it is to remember that we are one holy catholic and apostolic church. It gave me an opportunity to appreciate the great care and concern our Holy Father has for the Church that he leads as Vicar of Christ. Please continue to pray for him and ask the Lord to strengthen him with hope for all the burdens he carries.

I have returned renewed and refreshed for my continuing work as your shepherd here in our local church in the Diocese of Sioux City. Let us all continue with renewed efforts to build up the kingdom of God here in northwestern Iowa.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES MANDATE

I was encouraged by many members of the Vatican Congregations who knew about and supported our efforts as American Catholics to promote and protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as we deal with this difficult issue of the Health and Human Services Mandate. They encouraged us and promised their prayers at this important time in our history. I encourage all of us to “keep up the good fight”, first by prayer and fasting and second by education and action.

The Church remains resolute against the unjust and unconstitutional impositions of the January HHS mandate. This mandate violates our conscience by forcing religious employers either to fund gravely immoral actions (not only contraception, but also sterilization and abortion), or radically to curtail the mission and activity of the Church in public life. It also violates our natural freedom of religion, the protection of which is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution, to be prevented from acting consistently on our firm beliefs. This violation also attacks private employers, both Catholic and non-Catholic, whose conscience conforms to the mind of the Church.

Moreover, the false “accommodation” of February 10 is meaningless, both because it exists only in the form of a “promise” (we know what many politicians’ promises are worth) for the future, and because it is in any case a mere shell game to say that the insurance provider or administrator is giving for free specific parts of an insurance plan which is wholly paid for by the employer’s and employees’ premiums. Nor is this the limit of this madness; last Friday, March 16, HHS announced a further “advance notice,” which reinforces that false “accommodation” and also reveals the intention to extend the mandate’s requirements to student health insurance offered by religious colleges and universities.

Cardinal Dolan, speaking for the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently reiterated our unwillingness to comply with either horn of this dilemma. “We will continue our vigorous efforts at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty and their application in this case (and others). We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours. We will continue to pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom we have enjoyed until just recently. And we will continue to explore our options for relief from the courts, under the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws that protect religious freedom. All of these efforts will proceed concurrently, and in a manner that is mutually reinforcing. Most importantly of all, we call upon the Catholic faithful, and all people of faith, throughout our country to join us in prayer and penance for our leaders and for the complete protection of our First Freedom—religious liberty…”

SPECIAL DAY OF PRAYER AND FASTING

To that end, many have called for Friday, March 30, as a special day of fasting and penance for Religious Liberty. Archbishop Hanus of Dubuque, Bishop Amos of Davenport, Bishop Pates of Des Moines and myself are united in our support of this special day of prayer and fasting. Please consider treating this day as you would Ash Wednesday or Good Friday: as day of abstinence from meat and fasting between two lesser meals (or even all day) and for intense prayer for Conscience Rights and Religious Freedom (see the Prayer for Religious Liberty below.) I welcome and encourage such devotion among you, and not only on this one day! May all of our Lenten sacrifices strengthen our public witness to that faith, hope, and charity of Christ to which we are committed.

Our Lenten journey is really half over. I hope and pray that you have used these days well. If you have not yet received the healing and forgiving Sacrament of Penance, I urge you to do so soon. Confession of our sins is “truly good for the soul.” Let us continue to pray for each other that Easter joy and hope may soon be upon us.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

 

Prayer for Religious Liberty

O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

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