This is highly unusual. I’m not aware of any other bishops who have openly encouraged people to do this—let alone, issued a letter like this one.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
My greetings to you in this season of Lent. lt is my hope and prayer that you are able to grow in your faith and draw nearer to our Lord in these 40 days through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
The purpose of this letter is to provide some clarification and some direction regarding the new federal healthcare law. As you may know, the Affordable Healthcare Act requires that all legal residents of the country carry health insurance by April 1. Failure to comply with this law will result in fines that increase progressively each year.
lt is understandable that many may have questions and fears about how to comply with this law. This is reflected in the reports of low health insurance enrollment among members of our Hispanic communities. However, to ignore this law or put it off will result in negative financial consequences for you and your family.
While the insurance requirement does not apply to those who have undocumented status, it does apply to their children if those children have legal residency in the United States. Please be aware of this and your responsibility to sign your child up for health insurance immediately.
lt is true that our Church has raised objection to elements of the law that relate to contraception and abortion services that might be provided through it. We continue to address these issues with lawmakers and through the courts, which l fully support.
However, these factors do not mean that we, as Catholics, should disobey the new health care law. If we happen to have an insurance plan that includes services that are objectionable to our faith, which most plans in California do, our response is to not utilize these services. We do this through an informed conscience and reflection on the teachings of our Church about the value and dignity of every human life and God’s plan for creation.
The Affordable Care Act is now part of civil law and as faithful citizens we are obligated to follow it. Furthermore, it offers an opportunity for many individuals and families who have never had health insurance to obtain it. This will affirm the dignity of many people and improve their quality of life, a chief reason why the Bishops of the United States have been advocating for health care reform for decades.
ln conclusion, l would urge those who have not yet signed up for health insurance to do so before the end of this month. This can be done through the Medi-Cal program or through a private health insurance exchange called Covered California, depending on your income…
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Increasingly, we face the challenge of reconciling our faith with matters of public policy. Let us continue to pray and reﬂect in these moments so that we might be faithful citizens and witnesses to the life-giving power of the Gospel.
May God bless you in your Lenten journey.
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
Bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino