Tag Archives: Little Sisters of the Poor

The Waiting Game

Religious nonprofits including Legatus are waiting to see what the federal government’s next step will be regarding the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ controversial mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans.

The Little Sisters of the Poor and their supporters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court

The Little Sisters of the Poor and their supporters
rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court

On July 22, the Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Labor and HHS published a five-page document in the Federal Register opening a 60-day public comment period for anyone to suggest changes in how seamless contraceptive coverage can be provided while respecting the rights of religiously affiliated organizations.

The deadline for public comment is Sept. 20.

“After that, we’ll have a better idea of the direction the federal government is going,” said Kate Oliveri, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Legatus in its lawsuit challenging the federal government’s contraceptive mandate.

Waiting period

Legatus’ lawsuit — Legatus v. Sebelius — is currently on hold in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Legatus is pretty much in the same position as dozens of other religious nonprofits that have challenged the mandate in federal courts.

Kate Oliveri

Kate Oliveri

“We’re in a waiting period,” Oliveri said.

On May 16, the U.S. Supreme Court, after hearing arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, vacated several lower court decisions and remanded 35 cases back to the federal appellate courts with instructions that the federal government and the religious nonprofits work out an arrangement to provide contraceptive coverage while preserving the plaintiffs’ religious liberty rights.

In Zubik — a consolidated case that included Thomas Aquinas College, The Catholic University of America and the Little Sisters of the Poor as plaintiffs — the high court in its unanimous 8-0 decision did not take any position on the merits on the arguments, though it noted in the supplemental briefs it had earlier requested that both the petitioners and the federal government confirmed that contraceptive coverage could be provided to employees without directly involving the religious employers.

“The court basically said, ‘We think you guys can come to some compromise so we’re not going to decide if there is a burden on religious liberty or if the regulations satisfy the test for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’” said Oliveri, who described the court’s decision not to make a final ruling as “very unusual.”

Religious liberty

Little Sisters of the Poor wave to supporters at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 16

Little Sisters of the Poor wave to supporters
at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 16

Since 2012, religious nonprofits like Legatus have been challenging the federal mandate that employers provide, without copays, all federally approved forms of birth control in their health insurance plans. Those methods include abortifacient pills, so-called emergency contraceptives and sterilization.

The Obama administration has amended the mandate several times. In July 2015, the administration finalized its so-called accommodation for religious non-profits to notify the Department of Health and Human Services in writing about their objections to contraceptive coverage. The written notification would then trigger HHS to inform the insurers and third-party administrators, with separate payments then being made to enrollees for the coverage.

The religious nonprofits objected to this “accommodation,” arguing it still makes them complicit and hijacks their health insurance plans in the scheme to provide morally objectionable contraceptive services.

Michael McLean

Michael McLean

“It’s not really an accommodation. It doesn’t protect religious liberty, and it doesn’t allow us to conduct our business affairs in full accord with the teachings of the Church,” said Michael McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

McLean, a member of Legatus’ Ventura/LA North Chapter, said the Supreme Court’s decision in Zubik v. Burwell gave TAC and other nonprofits hope that an acceptable compromise could be reached. But he said negotiations between the college’s attorneys and the federal government have not been productive.

“The government has been very slow to respond and has shown little interest in working out an agreement,” said McLean, who speculated that the government’s negotiators may be dragging their feet to buy time until the November elections with hopes that Democrat Hillary Clinton will be elected and eventually tilt the high court in a more liberal direction.

“I’ve been kind of disappointed and somewhat disillusioned, frankly,” McLean said. “I thought the parties would take the court’s encouragement very seriously and work out a compromise, and so far I don’t see any evidence of that — except on our side of course.”

John Garvey

John Garvey

John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, also said he’s surprised that more progress hasn’t been made in the negotiations.

“It didn’t seem to be a very complicated thing. The proposal we made in our supplemental brief laid out a course that seemed to us to be squarely in line with what the court was asking from us,” said Garvey, who explained that an acceptable proposal would be for the health insurer to set up a contraception-only policy, which employees could enroll in without the participation of the employer.

Garvey, a founding member of Legatus’ Washington D.C. Chapter, said he is keeping his fingers crossed that a compromise can be reached. He said the Supreme Court’s decision was probably the best outcome the religious nonprofits could have hoped for.

“I wouldn’t call it validation, but at least it doesn’t validate the contrary position,” Garvey said. “For now at least, we’re back to where we started.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus staff writer.

Liberty … hanging by a thread

The Little Sisters of the Poor are happiest when they do what they love most: caring for the elderly in the 27 nursing homes they operate across the United States.


Pope Francis meets with the Little Sisters of the Poor during his visit to the United States on Sept. 23

But that happiness has been strained by their legal battle against the Obama Administration, which began in 2013. Their lawsuit – Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell – stems from the order’s opposition to the Administration’s Health and Human Services contraception mandate.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 23. The nuns’ attorneys argued that they must not be forced to pay for contraception, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs for their employees – things the HHS mandate would force them to do.

“This is the first time we have ever done anything like this, going to the Supreme Court,” said Sr. Constance Viet, Communications Director for the Little Sisters of the Poor. “It’s definitely outside of our comfort zones as nuns. So we are praying very much. We even held a live-streamed holy hour on March 10.”

 A fake accommodation

Sean Fieler

Sean Fieler

“America has made a unique contribution in the world for modeling religious liberty — in particular accommodating people of different faiths,” said Sean Fieler, a member of Legatus’ New York City Chapter and a board member of the Becket Fund, the firm defending the Little Sisters. “But what we have seen in the last 50 years is a stepping back. What’s happening now is not religious liberty as understood by the Constitution. Forcing the Little Sisters to provide contraception is very upsetting.”

The Little Sisters employ about 3,000 people across the country. If they lose this case — which will likely be decided in late June — they must pay fines of $70 million per year, which is 40% of their operating budget. The nuns would have to close their nursing homes, throwing hundreds of poor elderly men and women into the streets — all because of the government’s contraceptive rule, which none of their employees ever requested.

In order to pacify religious non-profits like the Little Sisters, the federal government came up with an “accommodation” last year whereby employers could tell the government that they morally object to the mandate. The government would then tell the health plan issuer to provide the contraceptive coverage, basically inserting itself into the employer’s health plan.

“We get asked, ‘Why don’t you just sign the paper?’ But this is basically a permission slip that allows our health plan to provide these services,” Sr. Constance explained. “It’s cooperation with something which is morally objectionable.”

littlesisters-1Since there are health exchanges available, employees who really want contraception coverage could simply opt out of the Little Sisters’ health plan and get contraceptive coverage from an exchange.

“There are many cases in a diverse country like the U.S. where there can be conflicts because of religious beliefs,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund. “But in this case, it’s obvious that the government can do this another way.”

Grassroots opposition

In fact, the HHS mandate doesn’t even cover one-third of Americans. Companies like Exxon, Visa and Pepsi are exempt because their health insurance plans were “grandfathered.” They already existed before the mandate.

The U.S. military, which is the single largest employer in the world, is exempt from the mandate. Several large cities — including New York — are also exempt. None of these groups has a moral issue with contraception. But since the Little Sisters of the Poor do, they and many Catholic analysts struggle to understand the Obama administration’s logic for picking on a group of nuns.

Helen Alvaré

Helen Alvaré

“With just his signature, Obama can undo this,” said Helen Alvaré, founder of Women Speak For Themselves (WSFT), a grassroots organization fighting the contraception mandate. “When I think of what the U.S. government has spent on litigation to defend the mandate against over 300 plaintiffs — why didn’t they spend it all on free contraception if it was that important to them?”

The Obama administration issued the HHS mandate in 2011 after recommendations they received from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). It was later revealed that nearly every member of the IOM had ties to abortion advocacy groups. None of them was pro-life.

“The HHS mandate has distilled the message that sexual expression without children is more important than religious freedom,” Alvaré explained. “But this ethic is really harmful to women, and women strongly support religious freedom, so the government has it upside down.

“Religious freedom — which involves searching for God and living in accordance with God’s will — is central to human happiness and freedom. But to take something which immiserates women — a sexual life which is not tied to marriage or children — and say that it is the essence of happiness is a level of lying I just can’t tolerate.”

From this frustration, WSFT was born. The group currently has over 41,000 supporters nationwide. The group asked supporters to send good wishes to the Little Sisters on Valentines Day. The nuns received over 800 messages saying, “I stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

Freedom at stake

Hundreds of religious and lay people rally in front of the U.S. Supreme in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious freedom on March 23 (Becket Fund photo)

Hundreds of religious and lay people rally in front of the U.S. Supreme in support of the Little Sisters of the Poor and religious freedom on March 23 (Becket Fund photo)

With the Becket Fund, WSFT organized a March 23 rally at the U.S. Supreme Court. Over 160 women religious from different communities showed their support. That same day, there were peaceful rallies in front of Little Sisters’ facilities in 15 states.

“I can tell you that amid the anxiety and concern of our case, it has been a very beautiful experience realizing how many people across the country are supporting us,” said Sr. Constance.

The Supreme Court has received 43 amicus or “friend of the court” briefs on behalf of the Little Sisters.

When Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly on Feb. 13, those involved with the case mourned the loss of someone they were confident would support the Little Sisters in their case.

“It was certainly very sad when I heard of his passing,” said Sr. Constance, “but I choose to believe that we have an extra intercessor in heaven. We have a long history of depending on God’s providence for our survival. But He sometimes waits until the last minutes to push us beyond our comfort zone. We have to renew our confidence in God.

“I look back on our history as a source of courage,” she continued. “This kind of struggle for religious freedom is written into our DNA. Our founder St. Jeanne Jugan founded our order in the aftermath of the French Revolution when religious rights were trampled on. Our sisters have never given up.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: becketfund.org/little-sisters-poor-v-burwell littlesistersofthepoor.org

ObamaCare vs. Little Sisters of the Poor

by John Garvey

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, a landmark case challenging the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

In addition to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns whose mission is to “offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ,” the objecting parties include the university I head, the Catholic University of America, the Archdiocese of Washington, and a host of other religious institutions.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, President Obama vowed that he wouldn’t let it be used for federal funding of abortions. That promise was necessary to get the law passed. Bart Stupak, a congressman at the time, and a small group of pro-life Democrats provided the necessary votes. In regulations implementing the act, HHS has chosen a different, and more offensive, way to fund abortions: It makes Catholic and other religious employers pay for them.

It is common knowledge that the Catholic Church has taught the immorality of abortion and contraceptive use for millennia. Yet the regulations in question force our institutions to pay for insurance that covers abortifacients like Ella and Plan B, plus prescription contraceptives and surgical sterilizations.

Some people defend these regulations by pointing out that they don’t make anyone get an abortion or use contraceptives. The regulations only require employers to provide insurance, leaving decisions about reproductive health up to individual employees. But we believe it is wrong to cooperate with evil acts, even if we are not the primary actor.

The government has offered to solve the problem for scrupulous employers by moving them one step further away from the wrongful act. Many employers, like Catholic University, hire an insurance company to handle their employees’ health claims. In return, we pay our insurer an annual premium, set to cover our usual claims experience. HHS proposes that instead of paying for abortions (and other objectionable services) ourselves, we can opt out, and the government will direct our insurance company to pay. The regulations add that the payments can’t come out of our premiums.

So where does the money come from? HHS suggests that insurers should front the money themselves, and it says that they will actually save money by offering free abortions and “preventive services.” According to the regulations, because the mandated services reduce childbirths, insurers can recoup their costs “from reduced pregnancy-related expenses and other health care costs.”

There isn’t much empirical evidence for this, but let us suppose it is true. In that case, the premiums that Catholic University pays once again cover the costs of abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilizations. Our insurance company simply moves the change around in its pockets so the objectionable services don’t get posted to our account. But we pay the insurer enough to cover the bills.

What the insurance company should do in future years, if HHS’s hypothesis is true, is lower our premiums to take account of the “reduced pregnancy-related expenses and other health care costs.” But in that case we have another moral dilemma. Then we are sharing in the financial rewards produced by giving our employees free early-term abortions and other “preventive services.”

Consider this analogy. I give my builder $100,000 to build a home. He finishes the job $10,000 below budget by employing underage workers and using black-market materials. It would be wrong for me to share in the savings from those immoral activities, even if I didn’t make the arrangements.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers like Catholic University to carry health insurance. The problem we are trying to solve arises because HHS has imposed a further obligation to cover “preventive services,” and insisted that either we or our agent (the insurance company) pay for them. A more tolerant solution would be for the federal government to fund “preventive services.” But President Obama had to promise not to do that to get the law passed. A still more tolerant solution would be to exempt religious organizations like ours from a duty to pay for services that go against the fundamental tenets of our faith.

The United States was founded on the concept of religious freedom. The First Amendment says clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Little Sisters of the Poor, the university I represent, and countless other religious institutions across the country ask that the Supreme Court recognize our religious beliefs and strike down those regulations that would force us to violate them.

JOHN GARVEY is president of the Catholic University of America and a member of Legatus’ Washington, DC, Chapter. This article originally appeared in the WSJ on 03/20/16.

Omaha’s Miracle Man

How Legate Dr. Edward Gatz’ extraordinary healing led to a new Catholic saint . . .

cover-april14Nothing strikes the core of our being more powerfully than coming face-to-face with our own mortality. So when Dr. Edward Gatz — a member of Legatus’ Omaha Chapter — learned that he had six months to live, it sent his mind reeling.

The great irony is that Gatz was given six months to live more than 25 years ago.

His friend and anesthesiology partner, Dr. Donald Kerr, broke the news to him on Jan. 10, 1989. Gatz was 51 years old, working 80 to 100 hours a week as an anesthesiologist at Omaha’s then-Bergan Mercy Hospital.

But at the time, no one could foresee how the tragic news would one day turn into tremendous joy for thousands.

Deadly cancer

A few weeks earlier, Gatz had noticed thousands of bumps on his hands. Preliminary tests were inconclusive. Then his doctor had him undergo an endoscopy which revealed a fist-sized cancerous tumor which spread through his esophagus, around the vagus nerve and into the stomach.“We went home after the terrible news,” recalled Jeanne Gatz, his wife. “Ed was stunned and depressed. I asked him what the next step would be, and he said, ‘Nothing.’” Gatz believed that this type of cancer — adenocarcinoma of the esophagus — wouldn’t respond to radiation or chemotherapy.

Ed and Jeanne Gatz

Ed and Jeanne Gatz

“I came home and called Fr. Richard McGloin immediately, a Jesuit friend and former teacher at Creighton University. He was a walking saint,” said Jeanne. “I told him we needed his prayers.”After Jeanne explained that her husband did not want to do anything, Fr. McGloin said something which stunned her: “The doctors have never heard of Jeanne Jugan, the founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor. You and I will say a novena to her every day without fail for Ed’s cure.”Neither Jeanne nor Ed knew the Little Sisters of the Poor, but Fr. McGloin had been a chaplain at one of their centers in Milwaukee during the 1950s. During that time, he developed a profound devotion to the order’s French foundress.

Jugan had been beatified in 1982. The Little Sisters of the Poor — founded in 1839 and dedicated to helping the elderly poor — had been praying for years for another miracle that would bring Jugan to canonization.

In the meantime, the Gatz family traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for surgery, which was purely palliative. It removed as much of the tumor as possible, including 70% of the esophagus and half of the stomach. Father McGloin sent a letter to Jeanne during her time in Minnesota with an official Jugan novena prayer card. In the letter, he wrote: “If she [Jugan] wants to become a saint, she better get busy.”

St. Jeanne Jugan

St. Jeanne Jugan

Gatz’s specific cancer type had never spared anyone in U.S. history. Yet, when Gatz had his first CAT scan three months later, no cancer could be found. Six months later, no cancer. Jeanne and Fr. McGloin continued to pray the Jugan novena every day for five years. The cancer never returned.

Prior to surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Gatz received the Anointing of the Sick three times. His depression left him as soon as he had the first anointing. With each subsequent anointing, he felt more grace and more peace. It is interesting to note that Gatz never prayed the novena to Jugan.

Verified miracle

One evening 13 years later, the Gatzes went to a dinner for their archdiocese. That evening a monsignor at their table heard of this medical miracle and suggested that it be documented.As fate would have it, the Gatz family was hosting two consecrated Legionary women at their house that weekend. One of them had just stayed at a Little Sisters of the Poor residence in Kansas City. She had a phone number and a name: Sr. Marguerite McCarthy.“This was the hand of God,” said Jeanne. “Sister Marguerite was the perfect one. I told her our story. She was convinced it was the miracle they had been praying for. She kept calling the motherhouse and pushing the process along.”

The intensive investigation took seven years — from 2002 to 2009 with several roadblocks along the way.

Dr. Gatz receives Communion from Pope Benedict XVI.

Dr. Gatz receives Communion from Pope Benedict XVI

“I had to get my medical records from Bergen Hospital,” Gatz explained. “All of the records were on old machines that wouldn’t work. I had to literally kick a machine to get it on.”

“A tribunal was set up in Omaha to determine the authenticity of this miracle,” Sr. Marguerite added. “And then it sent all their findings to Rome.”

The Gatz family was with Sr. Marguerite in San Pedro, Calif., when they got word that the miracle had been accepted and that Jugan would be canonized.

“Our reaction was just joy and gratitude,” said Sr. Marguerite. “The Little Sisters had been praying for this. We wanted her raised to sainthood.”

The Gatzes traveled to Rome for the canonization on Oct. 11, 2009, with hundreds of Little Sisters of the Poor. They stayed at the Order’s house in Rome and met Mother General Celine de la Visitation, the order’s superior.

Since then, the couple has visited many Little Sisters facilities across the country. They are welcomed as part of the family.

Edward Gatz is now 76 and healthy, and Jeanne continues to pray to St. Jeanne Jugan every day for all her intentions — confident that she has a friend in heaven.

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.


Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius

gatz-2The Little Sisters of the Poor came to America in 1868. They operate 29 U.S. homes and serve 13,433 elderly. Worldwide, they run 193 houses in 31 countries.

Despite their quiet work, the Little Sisters have launched a legal battle against the federal government’s contraceptive mandate. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm, is representing the Little Sisters in a class-action federal lawsuit which includes over 500 Catholic nonprofit organizations.

The mandate would force the nuns to go against Church teaching by forcing them provide health insurance to employees that covers abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations.

“The federal government has put the Little Sisters of the Poor to the choice of either violating their faith or paying millions of dollars in fines,” said Daniel Blomberg, a member of the Becket Fund’s legal team defending the Little Sisters. “No American should ever be placed in this situation.”

A district judge ruled against the Sisters in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 27, and four days later, an appellate judge ruled against them. However, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Sisters temporary relief from the mandate on Dec. 31, just three hours before fines against them would have begun accruing. The case has been sent back to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to be retried.

“We are praying every day to St. Jeanne Jugan about this, and we are having our residents pray,” Sr. Marguerite explained. “Why should the government have the right to do this? We want to witness to life at the beginning and the end of life.”