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Catholic priests urge parishioners to oppose federal birth-control rule

Updated: March 1, 2012 8:41AM

NEW ORLEANS — From Maine to Phoenix to southern Louisiana, Catholic churches across the USA this weekend echoed with scorn for a new federal rule requiring faith-based employers to include birth control and other reproductive services in their health care coverage.

Dozens of priests took the rare step of reading letters from the pulpit urging parishioners to reach out to Washington and oppose the new rule, enacted earlier this month.

The rule requires nearly all employers to provide their employees access to health insurance that covers artificial contraception, sterilization services and the “morning after” birth control pill.

The mandate exempts churches but applies to Catholic universities, Catholic-based charities and Baptists, Methodists and other denominations.

Catholic leaders morally oppose those services and called the rule an infringement on their constitutional rights. “This is the government interfering in the workings of the church,” says Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholic church opposition to the federal edict includes:

† New Orleans-area churches read a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond at Saturday and Sunday masses, directing churchgoers at the diocese’s 108 parishes to denounce the rule and contact Congress to reverse the ruling. “This ruling is an example of government violating our rights,” the letter read.

† The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix issued a similar letter to its 92 parishes, saying it plans to flout the law and urging churchgoers to write Congress.

† Church leaders in Maine read a letter from Bishop Richard Malone protesting the rule he called a violation of the Church’s First Amendment right to freedom of religious practices and urging parishioners into action.

It was not known exactly how many churches addressed the issue. About one third of America’s 50 million Catholics -- more than 15 million -- attend Mass once a week, says William D’Antonio, a sociologist at the Catholic University of America. However, in recent polls, around 95(PERCENT) of Catholics have said they use contraceptives and 89(PERCENT) say the decision to use them should be theirs, not the church’s, he says.

Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center, says easier access to contraceptives could prevent unwanted pregnancies and cut down on the number of abortions. “This is such a major step forward for women in this country,” she says.

Wesley and Lesley Sterling, of McComb, Miss., heard about the rule for the first time while attending Saturday mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Both side with the church on the debate. “It’s wrong,” Wesley Sterling, 30, says of the rule. “It should not be forced upon what we believe in as Christians.”

Gannett News Service

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