The bishop of the Sioux Falls Diocese made clear to clergy Wednesday that he does not endorse remarks made by a nun who will deliver Mount Marty College’s fall Benedictine Lecture tonight (Thursday).

In a letter issued to clergy, Bishop Paul Swain took issue with statements made by S. Simone Campbell in the Press & Dakotan and elsewhere.

Dr. Joseph Benoit, who also received the letter, told the Press & Dakotan Wednesday that he was “a little disappointed” when he saw the document.

“I have signed approval by (Swain) from last spring to have Sister Campbell as a speaker at Mount Marty College,” he said.

While not discouraging anyone from attending Campbell’s lecture, Swain took efforts to explain where he thinks her beliefs differ from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Campbell is executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby that educates, lobbies and organizes in support of economic and social transformation. She has been an outspoken supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Campbell will speak on “Health Care and the Poor,” and in comments published in the Press & Dakotan Wednesday stated that she believes many Catholics have misunderstood the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate, which is scheduled to go into effect for religious nonprofits in January.

It requires most employers to cover a range of birth-control methods in their health plans without charging a co-pay or a deductible but offers exemptions for religious groups or religiously-affiliated institutions. In those cases, employees will be able to obtain the coverage, but not under the religious employer’s plan. Insurance companies will receive a rebate from the federal government to offset the cost of these accommodations.

“The Obama administration basically accepted all of the requests of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and made modifications,” Campbell told the Press & Dakotan. “And yet, the bishops persist in saying it isn’t sufficient. They keep moving the goal post. It’s a question of giving people true information and not just fear.”

Swain wrote that, although the ACA has many commendable provisions, it is deficient in that it does not protect religious liberty.

“It also includes the mandate to require religious institutions as well as faithful Christians in their personal and corporate lives to provide for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and artificial contraception along with whatever other medications or procedures that may be added to the list of government-mandated coverage in the future,” he stated. “As a result the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has consistently protested its enactment.

“I am aware that Sister Campbell supports the law in its fullness despite the critique of the Bishops,” he continued. “She has also indicated that she does not believe that there is a threat to religious liberty, contrary to the Bishops’ clear warning. In remarks published in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Sister Campbell erroneously claims that full accommodation to the HHS mandate has been made in response to objections raised by the Bishop’s Conference.”

Swain states that Campbell’s views should not be seen as equivalent to those of the bishops.

“Those who seek to know what the Church really teaches should look to the statements of the Bishops,” he wrote. “Her position is both personal and wrong.

“Neither Sister Campbell’s remarks nor the content of her message are endorsed by me or the diocese. Given the moral gravity of the concerns, care must be taken to insure the faithful are taught on this issue with clarity.”

The Press & Dakotan received the letter after the diocese offices had closed for the day, and no one could be reached for further comment on the document.

Benoit said it is important for an educational institution like Mount Marty College to look at important issues like health care.

“We have to be open and take into account that everyone is entitled to a viewpoint,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing one viewpoint (Thursday). I would welcome the bishop or anyone from his office to share another viewpoint. That’s why we exist as a college. We have opportunities for discussion and learning.”

Students at the college are frequently told they must make good choices when faced with decisions in life, according to Benoit.

“What that boils down to is, as Catholics, we are sometimes faced with decisions where there are options, but we have to make good choices for us,” he said. “These types of presentations on campus come from the standpoint of, the more you know, the more you understand. If anything, it’s going to strengthen individuals’ understanding and, in doing so, strengthen their conviction in their Catholic beliefs.”

Benoit said a large crowd is expected for Campbell, and arrangements have been made to broadcast the speech to an overflow room, if needed.

“I hope we have a good conversation,” he stated. “I hope we don’t have an emotionally-charged evening, and (that we) handle questions and discussion in a scholarly and respectful manner. That’s all I’m asking.”

Campbell will deliver her lecture at 7:30 p.m. in Marian Auditorium on the Mount Marty College campus. The event is free and open to the public.

You can follow Nathan Johnson on Twitter at twitter.com/AnInlandVoyage. Discuss this story at www.yankton.net/.

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