Pope Francis made an unscheduled stop to visit the Little Sisters of the Poor during his visit to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration to fight its mandate that employers provide coverage for birth control and abortifacient drugs in their health insurance plans. Catholic Church teaching forbids the use of these drugs and the nuns have argued that being forced to pay for them would violate their conscience.
In a press conference after the visit, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See Press Office, told reporters that Francis’ visit was “a sign, obviously, of support for them” in their legal battle, according to Catholic News Agency.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether or not to hear their case later this fall, according to The Washington Post.
Roger Severino, the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, said, “In yesterday’s speech at the White House, Pope Francis joined America’s Catholic bishops in calling for a vigilant defense of religious freedom against ‘everything that would threaten or compromise it.’ Pope Francis followed his statement with action by making an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor.”
“His show of support for the Little Sisters is notable because the Obama administration has fought them all the way to the steps of the Supreme Court over the nuns’ refusal to violate their conscience and cooperate in providing coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception in their employee health plan. If they don’t comply with the coercive mandate, the group that serves thousands of elderly poor could face devastating fines of up to $100 per employee per day.”
“The Little Sisters, along with a number of other religious groups, are asking the Supreme Court for protection from this coercive rule and for the Court to push back, again, on the Obama administration’s offensively narrow view of religious freedom.”
A spokeswoman for the Little Sisters of the Poor said the nuns were “moved” by Francis’ visit.
“The Holy Father spoke to each of us individually, from the youngest postulant to our centenarian, and then he spoke to all [of] us about the importance of our ministry to the elderly. We were deeply moved by his encouraging words,” Sister Constance Veit, the communications director for the Little Sisters, said in a statement.