Catholic leaders are outraged over a recent decision by the Obama administration that would require Catholic-affiliated institutions to cover contraceptives and sterilization in their employee health care plans -- a rule they say would violate one of their core beliefs.
The government's move will affect thousands of people who work for 210 Catholic-related institutions in metro Detroit such as social service centers, schools and hospitals.
The institutions currently don't pay for contraceptives or sterilization.
In pulpits, church bulletins and Congress, concerned Catholics are voicing their disapproval, saying it undermines their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
This week, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron is expected to send a letter expressing his concerns to all 270 parishes in the archdiocese, which oversees 1.3 million Catholics.
Vigneron has criticized the Jan. 20 decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying the government's move amounts to "discrimination against Americans exercising their right of conscience."
White House press secretary Jay Carney, however, said the rule strikes "an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and access to preventive services for women."
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To the Catholic church, people who use contraception are violating the divine plan of God.
"Each act of intercourse must be open to procreation," U.S. Catholic bishops say in their 59-page official statement on marriage.
And so a Jan. 20 decision by the U.S. government to require most employers to have health care plans that cover contraception and sterilization has concerned Catholics across the country. They say their faith is under assault.
"It's dangerous and threatening," said Msgr. Robert McClory, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Detroit, which encompasses six counties in southeastern Michigan. "We're being told to violate our conscience or be in violation of the law."
At Catholic-affiliated institutions in metro Detroit such as St. John Providence Health System, which includes six hospitals, health care plans for its 12,000 employees don't include coverage for contraceptives if they're used for birth control.
But St. John and more than 200 other Catholic organizations in metro Detroit could be forced to do so under the rule, say Catholic officials.
Catholic officials have launched a campaign to get the rule changed. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan, called it "an attack ... on religious freedom."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced legislation to get the contraception mandate changed. Others are weighing legal challenges.
In Michigan, several bishops have strongly attacked the decision. And the Michigan Catholic Conference, a lobbying group based in Lansing, is urging Catholics to contact their legislators to get the rule overturned.
In some Detroit parishes, priests started speaking out against the directive during Sunday services. This week, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron is to send a letter to all priests urging prayer and action to get the mandate changed.
For American Catholic leaders, the issue is of particular concern because in recent years, they have increasingly preached the value of natural family planning, which avoids the use of artificial birth control.
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