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Trump to Little Sisters of the Poor: “Your Long Ordeal is Over” But is it?

It has arguably been the most high-profile Catholic news item in the United States for years. The Little Sisters of the Poor became the poster children in the fight over over religious freedom in America during the Obama administration and the roll out of the so-called Affordable Care Act. The administration’s refusal to allow conscience exemptions to the HHS mandate that the nuns provide contraceptives to their employees is a battle that has been in the public eye — and in the courts — for half a decade. In 2012, I reported:

The Little Sisters of the Poor, first recognized as a Pontifical Institute by Pope Pius XI on July 9, 1854, is a religious congregation dedicated to the care of the elderly poor. According to their website, this mission means that the sisters “welcome them into our homes, form one family with them, accompany them from day to day and care for them with love and respect until God calls them home.”

In the United States alone, the Little Sisters operate 33 homes where the elderly poor are cared for. They also carry out their apostolate in some additional 30 countries around the world. The Sisters are mendicant — they beg for their funding and resources — and yet despite the financial difficulties inherent in such a charism, the order continues to carry out its important work. They make no distinction among those they care for. They are of every race and creed. They also employ support staff from across the spectrum of belief.

Which means that they have no chance at an exemption from the HHS mandate. They will be forced to provide health insurance that covers contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs, or face crippling fines.  Neither option is viable for the Little Sisters, so those who will be penalized are their employees, and more importantly, the elderly so in need of their care.

This past Sunday, the Little Sisters of the Poor were invited to speak at Masses in our area. Their message? If something doesn’t change, they will be forced to leave the United States, as they have left other countries (such as China) where religious persecution has made it impossible for them to operate ethically.

When the sister speaking at the Mass I attended mentioned this, it both made me angry and broke my heart. When did we become a country mentioned in the same breath as nations known for oppression, human rights violations, and an environment hostile to freedom of conscience? We’ve all been fighting this battle against the coming darkness for quite some time, but something about this small, unassuming nun telling the parish that they would be forced to discontinue their care for the elderly poor, and even worse, to leave the country altogether, really drove it home. This is what it has come to. We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave. We have become something else.

This is not the America I grew up in. This is not the America I want for my children.

Today, things have finally changed. President Donald Trump signed an executive order “promoting free speech and religious liberty.” During the press conference, he singled out the Little Sisters:

The reality of the story may be somewhat more complex. In section 3 of the order, we see language that is considerably less forceful than many had hoped:

Sec. 3. Conscience Protections with Respect to PreventiveCare Mandate. The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventivecare mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13(a)(4) of title 42, United States Code. [emphasis added]

Ryan T. Anderson from the Heritage Foundation is not impressed. Anderson is a noted speaker on life, family, and religious liberty issues, and he thinks Trump doesn’t go nearly far enough:

Today’s executive order is woefully inadequate. Trump campaigned promising Americans that he would protect their religious liberty rights and correct the violations that took place during the previous administration.

Trump’s election was about correcting problems of the last administration, including religious liberty violations and the hostility to people of faith in the United States. This order does not do that. It is a mere shadow of the original draft leaked in February.

Anderson argues that religious liberty is “the birthright of all Americans”. He says that Trump can and should do more. So does John Zmirak at The Stream — but Zmirak pushes back on all these executive orders, saying these things should be accomplished through a more durable and appropriate process of legislation.

Catholics, of course, have a historically complicated relationship with the concept of religious liberty. But Anderson is right that for citizens of the United States, their right to religious liberty is enshrined in the Constitution, and that does make it a legal right, even if it’s not necessarily a God-given one. (Let’s see how many times the phrase “error has no rights” shows up in the comment box!) And while some Catholics still pine for a confessional state, in a secular, pluralistic nation like America, religious liberty is an essential measure to protect both conscience and worship.

The good news is, Trump’s appointments to Health and Human Services (HHS) — long the main villain in the battle between the Little Sisters and Washington — have been impressive. Just last week, Charmaine Yoest, former president of the pro-life organization Americans United for Life, was made the assistant secretary of public affairs for HHS. She replaces Kevin Griffis, an Obama-era appointee who was recently named Planned Parenthood’s vice president of communications. She will join HHS Secretary Rep. Tom Price, whom Claire Chretien of LifeSiteNews described after his February confirmation as “pro-life, pro-marriage, and anti-Obamacare”.

This means that kicking the responsibility for the Little Sisters and cases like theirs over to an agency like HHS to “consider issuing regulations” is probably going to turn out just fine. The question is whether it will be forceful enough to endure when the political winds shift again.

It’s a big day for pro-life stories in Washington, with the House voting to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal Obamacare — a bill that passed by just three votes. It now goes to the Senate, where it needs only 51 votes to pass.

Meanwhile, President Trump is preparing for his first meeting with Pope Francis. With a history of ideological conflict aired out in public by indirect means, that’ll be a meeting to watch.

Image: screengrab of today’s White House press conference

52 thoughts on “Trump to Little Sisters of the Poor: “Your Long Ordeal is Over” But is it?”

  1. It’s disappointing that the Little Sisters of the Poor agreed to appear as props in what is really a non-event. Cardinal Wuerl’s appearance and support in the background should confirm people’s suspicions about this event.

  2. I’m inclined to look on the positive side, and work towards more, including on the legislative side. This is light years ahead of where we were prior to 11am this morning, and on more than the very-important mandate. To say that the Sisters were mere “props” demeans them and their mission.

  3. We are a one party nation, The Bipartisan Ruling Class Party. Ecumania has constituted one
    movement termed “religion” which is nothing more than secualar materialism with streak of transcendental nostalgia. Philosophy is a love of rationalization. Ethics have been reduced to
    It is little wonder that the hope presented by Mr. Trump is now – 105 days in office – being
    revealed for what it is. A placebo for the gun toting/obsessive compulsive religious fanatics – which is what all the party members regard those of us with concerns the like of the Little Sisters of the Poor.
    Where is the legislation?
    As for the Johnson Admendment…do we really want our priests in the pulpit expounding their support for the Demoncrat Party platform. Let’s skip that agony.
    Trump is just throwing us a pat on the back and telling us to get lost.
    I will change my view when on see some virile action on behalf of our concerns.

  4. Two things: First, we read “Trump’s election was about correcting problems of the last administration, including religious liberty violations and the hostility to people of faith in the United States. This [executive] order does not do that. It is a mere shadow of the original draft leaked in February.” Sadly, this is a recurring theme in the Trump White House lately. My strong suspicion is that the four horsemen of the conservative apocalypse, viz. Ivanka & hubby Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and Dina Habib Powell, have something to do with watering things down, taking substance out of conservative policies proposed by Trump. They are four liberals and, through favorite daughter Ivanka, they exert a baleful influence on the president.

    Second, the bill amending (it does NOT repeal) Obamacare barely made it through the House, and Senate Republicans have already announced it arrives at their door DOA; they will enact their own bill, thank you very much. I’m not at all sure the eventual Senate bill will be something conservatives can cheer about. Especially, I’m not sure the prohibition of abortion funding will survive the likes of Susan Collins and other RINO senators.

    I strongly support Trump, but I support the full-throated Trump of the long campaign, a populist and nationalist, not the Trump who now promises to sign the Democrat-pleasing funding bill passed by the House the other day, nor the Trump who ordered missile strikes to help al-Nusra (aka al-Qaeda in Syria).

    • Despite being a true Frog and Kraut-despising Englishman (well, at least the Kraut bit is more or less true), I have veered away from earlier nationalist tendencies and try to make a very clear distinction between patriotism, a good thing, and nationalism, an evil thing. The one involves love of one’s motherland but not hatred of any other; the second can all too easily make a god of one’s motherland and leads straight to hatred of the other. History is sadly littered with examples and we still live in a world marked by its collapse into two world wars in which nationalism played a very large part.

      I too support Trump. But I think the depiction of him as a nationalist is wrong. He is, however, certainly a patriot.

      • We agree to disagree about Trump’s being a nationalist, at least in his fiery rhetoric though, lamentably, not so much in his deeds to date. If you haven’t already done so, read your fellow Englishman Roger Scruton’s book How To Be A Conservative. Its third chapter, entitled The Truth In Nationalism, puts the much-maligned term in proper perspective. Any human allegiance, even religion, can and probably will be abused by some, but that fact neither defines nor condemns said allegiance.

      • Candidate Trump a patriot? Agreed! President Trump? Definitely NOT.
        That he was allowed to assume the presidency [and should he want to continue to be President], his assignment from which he cannot deviate from can be summarized as follows:

        1) Continue to make Israel Great again and that means finish the objective of destabilizing the ME for the benefit of Israel = Wars (overt and covert) in Syria, Yemen, Iraq continue; next in line Iran.

        2) Advance the NWO by continuing to destroy America. [“Refugees” continue to come in].

        In both of these objectives the real targets are the Christians because the NWO (Kingdom of Satan) and Christianity/the Church (Kingdom of God/Heaven) cannot coexist. In their words:

        Our final aim is that of Voltaire, and that of the French Revolution – the complete annihilation of Catholicism, and ultimately of Christianity. Were Christianity to survive, even upon the ruins of Rome, it would, a little later on, revive and live. – Nubius

        They also told us about these objective in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    • The Trump you are seeing now is the real Trump. The Trump of the long campaign was a lie sold to get your vote

      • Actually, he didn’t have to try very hard to get my vote; there was never really any other choice. The lineup in the GOP primaries was depressing. Few of them could hope to win the general election, and those who could were almost as revolting as the Communist and the Crook then duking it out in the Democrat Party. Once Trump faced Clinton, no one needed to tell me she was the most corrupt person to ever seek the office; it was something I’d known for a long, long time about her.

        • Well…I personally thought Trump was the worst pick of the whole sixteen candidates. I would have voted for any of them (except maybe Kasich and Graham) over Trump

          • There we differ. I remember that the establishment’s all but crowned sovereign was Jeb Bush. In my mind, there is little to choose between the loathsomeness of the Bush family and that of the Clinton mob.

          • As he said when the primary began: NO CLINTONS. NO BUSHES. NO DYNASTIES. Jeb was pretty low on my list as well

  5. It’s God, who the Sisters have been praying to with trust for victory and He deserves any credit.

    I too feel these things are not enough, but maybe they’re done by only scratching the surface, to appease Trump voters. We’ll watch and pray. I would like to see Obama care tossed in the the rubbish heap where it came from. But national health care is a very powerful driving force to control the masses in a socialist society. Why, with all its problems and burdens on Americans, it is so well defended by the left and Dem’s is very frustratingly telling.

  6. The Pro Life section of the President’s supporters were recently complaining that nothing was happening about religious liberty, and out of the blue comes this 1/2 way deal that really doesn’t accomplish much, similar to a lot of all else that has been going on. The 1 trillion dollar spending (spree) ‘budget’ that funds Planned Parenthood and then the so-called Obama repeal (reform) bill which defunds PPH, but for only 1 year, is a mere shell game. Health insurance premiums and deductibles will not be coming down anytime soon (when and if they do it will be minimal) on plans people are forced to purchase through the government run so-called market place. As I recall the fight for repeal all these past years wasn’t just about the $$, it was also about safe-guarding our freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. (I remember, I joined about 2 million others for the 09/12 march on DC, and many other demonstrations and rallies). As for being nationalist or populist, the President really is just a moderate liberal Democrat who really doesn’t want to defund PPH (reports are that Ivanka is working on a ‘deal’ with PPH to separate their services),who wouldn’t mind single payer, who shares the belief that Conservatives are not compassionate and the 2nd amendment is about being able to go hunting, just to name a few.

  7. Some of you need to read the Art of the Deal………. do you actually think that the mess of Washington with its ingrained K Street and global payers corruption is going to be undone immediately or by taking some of these battles as all-or-nothing ? Maybe, in the movies it’s all done at once – not in the real world.

    This president is moving deftly yet subtlety and more cleverly than most of us can appreciate. I haven’t made $$$B in an industry that forces me to negotiate with unions, local petty politicians, governors, courts of jurisdiction, heads of state, foreign power brokers, etc. etc.. Try – if you can – to imagine the skill required by all of that.

    As for me, I’m gonna sit back for a long while and see what happens. The man has a big ego, doesn’t need money. Therefore, he wants to go down in history as a president who did what he said he would do….it’s in his personal interest, in his psychology..

  8. This executive order is toothless, and does virtually nothing. Without a change in the law, this order is just a transparent attempt to check off another “completed” campaign promise and to get a photo op with the nuns in order to shore up his bona fides with religious voters. Trump’s one and only concern in all circumstances is his own reputation/fame, which is why I didn’t vote for him (went independent for first time) and why I don’t believe he’ll do anything of substance on religious freedom. He will finish the four years, and then the Empire will strike back, and President Warren or whomever will sweep away all these executive orders as if they had never been.

  9. At the height of the Obama’s administration’s push to force The Little Sisters and Others to participate in the distribution of contraceptives and abortifacients, my pastor at the time reluctantly read a statement by our bishop where he the pastor apologized for having to read a letter from the bishop on the contraceptive mandate.
    No, our troubles are far from over. Far from it. 25 years I waited for a sermon on the widespread use of contraceptives and abortifacients, 25 years, and the priest “apologized”.
    Since Trump’s election there has been no more mention of contraception,and I expect there won’t be, until the trouble rears it’s ugly head again sometime soon. And that’s the real problem.

  10. “And while some Catholics still pine for a confessional state, in a secular, pluralistic nation like America, religious liberty is an essential measure to protect both conscience and worship”



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