By Leon Suprenant | March 5, 2008
In recent years, Belmont Abbey College in the Diocese of Charlotte, North Carolina has been a notable bright spot on the Catholic higher education landscape in the United States. Much of the credit for the institution’s resurgence rightly goes to its dynamic, new president, Dr. William Thierfelder, as well as the community of Benedictine monks who have graced the school since its inception in 1876.
From its innovative programs and “Got Monks?” advertising campaign to the establishment of the Envoy Institute in partnership with top-flight Catholic apologist Pat Madrid, Belmont Abbey has unabashedly made its Catholic identity the top priority, in keeping with Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
It’s no surprise, then, that challenges would come its way.
Late last year, college officials discovered that the institution’s health insurance provider covered abortion, contraception, and voluntary sterilization. Upon such discovery, the college apologized for the oversight and took immediate steps to change the policy so that these services were no longer covered.
Dr. Thierfelder, in close consultation with Abbot Placid Solari, head of the monastic community and the school’s chancellor, explained to everyone concerned that “it is the clear, consistent, incontrovertible, public, official, and authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that abortion, contraception and voluntary sterilization are actions which are intrinsically wrong and should not be undertaken because of their very nature. As a Roman Catholic institution, Belmont Abbey College is not able to and will not offer nor subsidize medical services that contradict the clear teaching of the Catholic Church.”
While most Catholics applaud the bold, decisive action of the college officials, a small handful of professors are challenging this course of action.
One person complained to the North Carolina Department of Insurance that the college should be required by state law to provide abortion, voluntary sterilization, and contraceptive coverage. However, the Department ruled that the school qualified for the “religious employer exemption” in state insurance law that otherwise mandates coverage for contraceptive drugs (NC GS 58-3-178). The National Women’s Law Center has requested a reconsideration of this ruling.
Meanwhile. eight people have filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the change in insurance benefits discriminated against them on the basis of their religion and sex.
I’d like to offer four comments or suggestions concerning this controversy.
(1) Dr. Thierfelder, Abbot Placid, and all those in leadership at Belmont Abbey seem to be handling this matter gracefully as Catholic leaders. They deserve–even more, need–our prayers and complete support as this matter unfolds.
(2) At UCLA Law School back in the early 80s, I was privileged to take a course on employment discrimination taught by a gentleman who worked in the White House in the 1960s and who was involved in the promulgation of the Civil Rights legislation. Perhaps needless to say, the cases we studied (i.e., the cases meant to be covered by the law), dealt with cases of unequal pay, wrongful termination, and the like. Clearly in recent decades this is one of many areas of the law that has been expanded in ways that are offensive to Catholic faith and morals. We need to take this into account when we vote in the upcoming election. Appointing justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade is just the tip of the iceberg here, especially if the new president decides to become an “activist” in this area. Barack Obama, for example, has said that he would use the “bully pulpit” (i.e., governmental coercion) to get his way in the area of abortion, homosexuality, and related issues. The legal persecution presently being experienced by Belmont Abbey will be multiplied and exacerbated under a socially permissive chief executive.
(3) Thank God Belmont Abbey qualified for the “religious exemption” under North Carolina law, at least for now. Surely in California and other places such exemptions are under attack. For those legislators who may be sitting on the fence on this issue, a renewed Catholic education system that is authentically Catholic (rather than always bragging about its autonomy from the local bishop) can, at least in my opinion, make a better case that it deserves such an exemption.
(4) Many Catholics look for places and causes to send extra donations during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. I suggest that our readers consider a gift to Belmont Abbey, especially in view of the legal expenses that have been and will continue to be incurred simply because it’s Catholic. Click here to find the school’s homepage and contact information, and click here to learn how you may contribute to the fund to expand the school’s adoration chapel.