Pope Francis Meets With Little Sisters of the Poor to Protest Obama Forcing Them to Obey HHS Mandate

National   |   Sarah Zagorski   |   Sep 24, 2015   |   11:24AM   |   Washington, DC

In Washington D.C., Pope Francis decided to meet with the Little Sisters of the Poor, the religious order that sued the Obama Administration over the president’s HHS mandate. In 2012, the sisters filed a lawsuit citing religious freedom concerns since it forces them to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions, which is in direct violation of their religion.

Father Federico Lombardi said that the Pope’s visit was a surprise that “was not in the program.” He added that “this is a sign, obviously, of support for them” in their court case. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, was pleased to hear of the Pope’s visit and commented on their current lawsuit.

He said, “As you know the last thing the Little Sisters of the Poor want to do is sue somebody. They don’t want to sue in court. They simply want to serve people who are poor and elderly, and they want to do it in a way that doesn’t conflict with their beliefs.” Archbishop Kurtz added, “We need to make room within our nation for people who have deeply held religious beliefs not to be forced to do that.”

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League told LifeNews.com he applauds the visit.

“The most significant thing about the pope’s first day in the United States was his unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor. By embracing this order of nuns, Pope Francis laid down an unmistakable marker: He rejects efforts by the Obama administration to force Catholic nonprofit organizations to pay for, or even sanction, abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans,” he said.

Donohue added: “Earlier in the day, Pope Francis spoke pointedly about the need to protect religious liberty. That he did so in the company of President Obama, at the White House, was critically important. The pope’s commitment to our first freedom was then underscored with his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

As LifeNews previously reported, earlier this month the Obama Administration renewed their attempt to force the Catholic order to pay for abortion inducing drugs even though the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and another company in their bid to stop the HHS mandate. However, at the White House yesterday President Obama told the Pope that he apparently loves “religious liberty.” He said, “You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely.  Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty.”

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In response to President Obama’s comment about religious liberty, Pope Francis said, “And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, to preserve and defend [religious] freedom.” Currently, the Little Sisters of the Poor operate in 31 countries and provide care for over 13,000 elderly persons. They have thirty of their homes here in the United States and don’t want to violate their vows to respect life by providing abortion-inducing drugs.

Sister Loraine Marie, Superior for one of the three U.S. provinces in the Congregation, explained, “Like all of the Little Sisters, I have vowed to God and the Roman Catholic Church that I will treat all life as valuable, and I have dedicated my life to that work. We cannot violate our vows by participating in the government’s program to provide access to abortion inducing drugs.”

Adele Keim, Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, said the following about the lawsuit: “Religious ministries in these cases serve tens of thousands of Americans, helping the poor and homeless and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than ten thousand of the elderly poor. These charities want to continue following their faith. They want to focus on ministry—such as sharing their faith and serving the poor—without worrying about the threat of massive IRS penalties,

Lead council for the Little Sisters Mark Rienzi added, “The Sisters should obviously be exempted as ‘religious employers,’ but the government has refused to expand its definition,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Little Sisters.   “These women just want to take care of the elderly poor without being forced to violate the faith that animates their work.  The money they collect should be used to care for the poor like it always has—and not to pay the IRS.”