1. Health

St. Petersburg bishop's letter against health law to be read, distributed at Masses Sunday

Bishop Robert Lynch is reiterating his opposition to a key provision of the federal health care reform law with a letter that will be read aloud or included in bulletins this Sunday at Catholic Masses throughout the Tampa Bay area.

The letter is in response to a Jan. 20 decision by federal health officials to only delay the requirement that employer-sponsored health insurance include contraceptive coverage at no additional charge. Groups such as the Roman Catholic Church that oppose contraception wanted to remove the policy, but the administration chose only to delay it until August 2013. There is an exemption for religious organizations, but the church feels it is too limited.

"A huge piece of the wall of separation between Church and State has been breached," Lynch writes in a letter dated Feb. 4 but provided to the Tampa Bay Times on Monday by the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

"If allowed to stand, one has to wonder what the government might require next," the letter continues. "Mandatory abortion coverage sometime in the future should not be discounted by anyone if we allow this regulatory implementation at this moment to go unchallenged."

Lynch spoke out on the issue during his annual Red Mass for members of the Tampa Bay legal community in November. If the mandate stands, he said, the diocese will drop health insurance for its approximately 2,300 employees and instead give them money for individual coverage.

Though churches themselves would be exempt from having to offer free birth control, Catholic officials say the exemption doesn't include church-affiliated schools, hospitals or groups such as Catholic Charities.

Lynch's letter was sent to churches late last week and was discussed in at least one church on Sunday, St. Patrick's in Largo. Parishioners there said the Rev. Paul Pecchie spoke out against the health law in his homily, but he could not be reached Monday.

Richard Martin can be reached at or (813) 226-3322.