Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials fully support U.S. bishops' efforts to overturn the Obama administration's mandate requiring many religious organizations to provide contraception and sterilization under their employee health plans.
That's according to the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades, bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, who returned Saturday night from an official 10-day ad limina visit to Rome, where he met with the pope.
"The holy father, when it comes to these kinds of things, he'll leave to the U.S. bishops, but he's definitely with us on this issue," Rhoades said during a news conference at Fort Wayne International Airport. "There's definitely grave concern on the part of the Vatican about this issue."
Rhoades reiterated that a proposed religious exemption is too narrow and would exclude many religious hospitals, universities and other church-related agencies.
Also, he said, private employers and employees who object to the mandate should not be forced to violate their consciences.
The issue has been a hot topic since President Obama tried to get religious-affiliated employers to provide free birth control coverage to their employees. Facing intense opposition, he recently said such coverage would be provided by insurance companies instead.
The bishops are now turning to the legislative branch, Rhoades said.
He said they support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, allowing those who purchase health insurance plans to retain the right to have coverage consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.
"I think we may have to look at the judicial route as well," Rhoades said.
He urged parishioners to pray and to consider the issues when voting.
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