I presided at a Holy Hour and Benediction at a facility run by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Queens last night, and one of the sisters mentioned something about this to me. “The Holy Father is visiting us in Washington,” she said discreetly, “but no one is supposed to know.” I didn’t think much of it at the time—but then I saw this piece in Aleteia:
A Vatican spokesman revealed late Wednesday evening that Pope Francis earlier met privately with members of the Little Sisters of the Poor, the group of religious sisters at the center of a high-profile legal battle over the Obamacare birth control mandate which is expected to reach the Supreme Court.
Fr. Frederico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press conference that Francis met with the nuns as “a sign of his support” for them in their lawsuit against the Obama administration. The sisters are seeking exemption from Obamacare’s birth control mandate, which requires employers to facilitate the provision of full, copay-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and the so-called “morning-after pill” for their female employees – all of which the Catholic Church considers immoral.
The meeting, which was not on the pope’s publicly-released schedule of events, was held just hours after the pontiff met with President Obama at the White House. Father Lombardi did not say where, but he noted that the Little Sisters have a convent near the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where Pope Francis celebrated a late afternoon Mass. It is likely that he visited the order just after celebrating the liturgy.
The Washington Post adds:
The Little Sisters of the Poor, which operates homes for the elderly in cities across the country, has been in a battle with the Obama administration over the law’s requirement that they allow their insurers to offer free contraception coverage to employees. The Becket Fund senior counsel Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Little Sisters, who spoke with one of the nuns after the meeting, said the pope was at their home for about 15 minutes and shook hands and spoke with each one of them in their chapel.
The pope visited the White House on Wednesday morning calling for strong protections for religious liberty. During his meeting with the sisters, Francis told them how important their ministry is and how ministry to the elderly is often overlooked, Rienzi said. The nun he spoke with said she did not hear the pope bring up the lawsuit during his brief visit.