A new year has begun, and yet the struggle of American nuns to serve the poor without government harassment persists.
This time, the harassment comes at the state level thanks to a recent lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is trying to force the U.S. government to fine the Little Sisters of the Poor. To make matters worse, he argued that the Little Sisters shouldn’t even be allowed to defend their rights in court. Their fellow sisters statewide are paying close attention. Our fate is wrapped up in theirs.
This fall, an order from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services memorialized the notion that the government cannot use health care as a guise to violate the religious beliefs of employers.
That same day, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an entirely new lawsuit, which was little more than a cheap imitation of the regulation that the federal government had just admitted was unconstitutional. In short, it is another attempt to get nuns to pay for and provide their employees with things like birth control.
All of this begs the question: Why nuns? From the beginning, the government exempted from the mandate major corporations like Exxon and Visa for entirely secular reasons.
Why didn’t the state of California sue then? Why do religious women continue to be the target of these lawsuits?
As the state’s own brief makes plain, the government does not actually need nuns to distribute morning-after pills. But if the growing numbers of women in orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor (or my own Carmelite order, which shares the Little Sisters charism for accompanying the elderly poor on their sacred journey home to God) are any indication, society does need the charitable services of the Catholic Church.
The church is the largest nongovernmental provider of services to those in need. As income inequality continues to grow and access to good and affordable healthcare remains a challenge, our work helping those living and dying in poverty is more pressing than ever. We ask for nothing in return for what we do, simply the freedom guaranteed to us by the Constitution to do our work in peace and without harassment from powerful men like Xavier Becerra.
My order and the Little Sisters of the Poor were both founded by strong women of vision. Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, the foundress of my order, and St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters, did not shrink from the challenges inherent in forging something new.
Our communities are built up of women with a shared vision and passion for our work, and that is not something any powerful man can take from us. As such, I am proud to stand with the Little Sisters of the Poor yet one day more. And I am confident that the women can weather yet another trial, one they never chose.
Our only hope as a new year begins is that we may all once and for all return to the work that we did choose, the work of serving God by serving others. We pray the courts will once again protect our God-given right to do so in peace and freedom.
Gorman, a nun for more than 40 years, is the vicar general of the Carmelite Sisters. Website: carmelitesisters.com. Gorman lives in a convent in California.
Full opinion piece at The San Diego Union-Tribune.