The National Catholic Review

I received a call recently asking me for comment on the ongoing disagreements of the Catholic Bishops with the administration over health care coverage for contraception.  My interviewer was seeking support for the government’s position and she was surprised to find that so many “progressive” (her word) Catholics were supporting the Bishops’ stand.  I said that I was among that number. While I had nothing to add on the specific contents of the dispute, I could offer a map of some of the religious and social dynamics operating in the conflict.

Yes, Catholics who do not agree with the current Church teaching on contraception and other sex and gender issues can agree with their Bishops’ stand on the larger principles of religious liberty and conscience involved.  These reform minded Catholics like myself can be ardently in favor of the peace and social justice pro life teachings on abortion, war, capital punishment, immigration, poverty, torture and rights to healthcare.  As Christians in opposition to present government policies we can clearly recognize the need for an independent Catholic institutional witness against unjust laws of the land.

Reform minded Catholics who support their Bishops on the principles of religious liberty and Church independence have a realistic awareness of past, present and potential abuses by state governments.  Ever since imperial Rome, totalitarian, dictatorial or authoritarian regimes have persecuted the Church for its intransigence on a long list of conscience issues.  If you stand up and recite the Creed in gratitude for the faith you should expect trouble.      

Thus the principle of religious liberty is worth a dust up even though the Bishops may be misguided to take their stand on such poorly defensible theological grounds.  Neither a majority of theologians or Catholic laity (as the sense of the faithful) support the present teachings on contraception.  Negotiations are definitely in order.  But  everyone can understand the importance of the principle of religious liberty and the rights of conscience.  After all, Catholic dissenters apply these principles inside the Church as well as outside.

In a future that is sure to be filled with disputes I have a dream.  An ever evolving pilgrim Church will renew its Gospel witness to Christ’s teaching of peaceful and loving nonviolence.  Then Bishops will protest and champion the cause of noncompliance with war and killing.  Upholding the principle of religious liberty and the rights of conscience can, and will bear fruit in many ways.   



Vince Killoran | 2/20/2012 - 9:03pm
I think Joe is just having a little fun with us.  He knows the HHS guidelines don't require what he insist they do; all of our arguments are ignored and he just repeats his mantra.

Time to move on to another post I guess. 
Anonymous | 2/20/2012 - 8:38pm
The moral problem with the Obama and the HHS is the issue of forcing the Church to pay for someone else's contraception.   A person is free to use birth control in the US.  The Catholic Church has not argued for laws banning birth control in the US.  Obama and the HHS are mandating that the Catholic Church provide contraception coverage.

A person can want to force the Church to provide birth control.  A person can want the Church not to be forced to provide birth control.  But a person cannot logically want to protect the church from proving birth control and still support the HHS mandate.  That would be illogical.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/20/2012 - 7:27pm
Joe Kash (#46) "the Church proposes this way of living but does not wish to impose it on others."

This is not correct. In countries like the Phillippines, in which the Church still has temporal power, She does impose it on non-Catholics.

" ... the Obama administration and you want to force the church to pay for contraception."

This is not correct either. I think the mandate is inadvisable. If it were up to me, religious organizations would be exempt. However, the amount of political capital I think the issue is worth is fairly small.

My point is that this should not be cast as a dispute between morality and immorality or between people of conscience and people of no conscience. Secular atheists also have conscience and morality. Obama and Sebelius are mistaken; but they are not ammoral.
Anonymous | 2/20/2012 - 6:42pm
I respect your opinion that the Catholic Church should be forced to buy health insurance that includes oral birth control and sterilization.  However, the Church and I disagree that this is a moral position.
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2012 - 4:59pm
As Ronald Reagan said, "There you go again": just because I take a position different from yours doesn't mean that I've been duped. Please consider giving up the personal attacks for Lent.

In any case, the insurance companies must offer contraception to all insured-but that doesn't mean all employers must all offer coverage (or pay or make referrals): that's the exception for Catholic institutions. For these matters they are removed from being the "middle men" in the insuring process. The primary relationship is between the insurance companies and the insured. 

You are attempting a categorical syllogism where it doesn't exist. The moral reasoning nuances of "remote material cooperation" are discussed in a recent article by David Gibson (
Anonymous | 2/20/2012 - 4:01pm
Insurance companies will be required to cover contraception

The Catholic Church will be required to buy insurance or pay a fine.

Thus the Catholic Church will be required to buy contraception insurance or pay a fine.

Obama might fool you Vince but he does not fool me.
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2012 - 3:02pm
Thanks for letting me know that I'm "absolutely wrong or dishonest." Typical Joe Kash.

"All insurance"?  That's not Catholic institutions-that's the insurance companies.  Catholic institutions  don't have to cover contraception, pay for it, or make referrals. Are the USCCB suggesting that the Church take over insurance companies?  That could be very interesing.

As it stands the USCCB is trying to leverage their role as employers into denying ALL Americans the full range of health insurance coverage. They will fail. 
Anonymous | 2/20/2012 - 1:44pm
Even if contraception is a God-given natural right, it does not follow that one should be forced to pay for someone else's contraception.  And you are absolutely wrong or dishonest to say that the Church is not being forced to pay for it.  If the Government forces all insurance to cover birth control then premiums pay for that coverage.
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2012 - 12:57pm
Contraception and most abortions are a legal right for all Americans.  

Don't like that?  Make an agrument for why they shouldn't be and then explain how you would recriminalize them. Don't try to legislate through manipulating health insurance plans.
Marie Rehbein | 2/20/2012 - 11:15am
Hi, David.  I don't think it's the government teaching that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are right.  The government represents the citizens in this democracy, and there are many citizens of various religious affiliations who are taught and believe that contraception and sterilization are morally neutral.  Furthermore, many others view legal abortion as preferable to illegal abortion, despite believing that it is an immoral choice in most cases.

The simple fact of life is that at times contraception is necessary and at times sterilization is necessary, and even at times, helping a miscarriage along is necessary.  The point is that when these are necessary, they are medical expenses, and medical expenses should be covered, particularly considering the cost of insurance to the employee.

The institutions that carry the Catholic brand name, but which engage in the same activities as non-Catholic and secular institutions, even for-profit institutions, need to be governed by the same labor laws and other regulations.  An exception will now be made so that the Catholic brand institutions will be distanced from the fact that their employees have insurance that pays for all their medical expenses even the ones that are taught to be immoral by the Catholic Church, and this despite the fact that they are paid with taxpayer funds for many of the services they provide to the general population. 

I don't think the Catholic Church can ask for more and remain credible in their teaching - it would appear that they were trying to exploit their moral stance, which isn't even supported by a large majority of it's members, in order to gain dominance over their competitors, thus providing them greater opportunity to influence their clients to Catholic religious beliefs, which in turn violates the establishment clause.
Vince Killoran | 2/20/2012 - 9:30am
Joe et al.: The federal government is NOT requiring Catholic institutions to cover contraception. Their plans don't have to cover it, pay for it, or offer referrals for it.
Anonymous | 2/20/2012 - 9:25am

I think the debate about the Catholic Church's teaching concerning contraception is a good one.  You do understand that the Church proposes this way of living but does not wish to impose it on others.

The current debate is about the HHS mandate has to do with whether to impose a requirement on the Catholic Church (and anyone elso who accepts the church teaching) to pay for other people's contraception.  It is not logical to make the argument that the insurance company is paying for the contraception and the Church is paying for the insurance but the Church is not paying for contraception.  The church does not want to force people to not have contraception but the Obama administration and you want to force the church to pay for contraception.  This is not just.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/20/2012 - 9:18am
Joseph Quigley says (#43) "The bishops ... seem reluctant to concede that there may be circumstances in which a person may decide to practise contraception for a greater good. Their contraceptive lives are allegedly directed towards a greater good than having children."

ISTM this is why this question generates so much heat: the bishops and the Church in general do not, in fact, concede that artificial contraception is ever really the right thing to do, because when procreation is undesirable, abstaining from the marital act is always the virtuous thing to do. FWIW, I agree with this.

A false, irresponsible and uncharitable characterization of the Catholic doctrine holds that the Church wants people to increase and multiply without limit and is indifferent to the adverse consequences to the children so produced, their parents or the wider society.

A false, irresponsible and uncharitable characterization of the secular position holds that secularists believe sex is always good and they approve of contraception because it makes sex consequence-free. The true secular position is that sex is good and moral in some circumstances (between married couples or sometimes between other committed, mutually loving couples) in which procreation is wrong and immoral.

It is essentially impossible to convince religious authorities to disregard doctrine. And it is extroardinarily difficult to convince secularists that abstaining from the marital act is inherently better than using contraception. It is much easier to make a caricature of one's adversary and denounce the caricature. But it's not conducive to good policy.
Caroll Stone | 2/20/2012 - 2:20am
Democratic issues are always complecated and difficult to understand the actual reason. But the proper decision must be taken.

Water Exercises For Parkinson's
Joseph Quigley | 2/20/2012 - 2:04am
Issues are very rarely black and white in democratic politics. And despite all its faults democratic debate in the American political system exhibits many of the colours of the spectrum (which contains neither black or white). The same can be said for the commentary in the magazine America.
But reading this article by Sidney Callahan and the 42 comments on it from faraway Australia I am at a loss to discern what is the core question that lies at the heart of the plethoric multiplicity of inter-acting variables that has been raised by American catholic bishops against health care coverage for contraception.
Are the bishops concerned that catholics will practise contraception because it is covered by health care?
Are they looking for an issue to prevent some catholics voting Democrat at the next Presidential election? Or to persuade other catholics to vote Republican?
Are they trying to impose an Augustinian doctrine on conscience? On politics? On ecclesiology?
Everyone seems to write about conscience as if it were a separate faculty of the mind/intellect. It is not. Conscience is a human intellectual process by which a man/woman/child makes a judgment about whether or not a certain action is good or bad. On the basis that good is to be done and evil avoided they can make a decision to act. However decision making doesn't stop there. Sometimes a person may reason that he is entitled to do a bad thing,eg kill another man, if that man ineluctably threatens his child's life.
The bishops it seems to me harp on about contraception being a bad thing - their whole vocation is contraceptive - but seem reluctant to concede that there may be circumstances in which a person may decide to practise contraception for a greater good. Their contraceptive lives are allegedly directed towards a greater good than having children.
Juan Lino | 2/19/2012 - 11:30pm
Amy - I’ve been reading a whole spectrum of opinions about this issue. (I even went to the Onion website to see if they had anything about it!)

Does that mean I agree with all of them - no - does it mean that I agree with some - yes, but I haven’t disclosed that list to anyone here although I will declare that I agree with this statement (
It seems to me that Albert Duggan, O.P, in his article “Our Consciences, Our Selves” raises some important points related to this issue and so does Robert K. Visher in his book “Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space between Person and State” .  
For example, Duggan writes: 
[the opposing argument to the assertion that conscience must be treated as inviolable] “goes something like this: “The law says I have a right to do such-and-such.  You don’t approve of my doing this, so you’re appealing to your conscience to tell me what I can’t and can’t do.”  But this is a mistaken description of what conscience does.  One person’s conscience cannot impose itself directly on the will of another.  Its proper role is to evaluate one’s own actions.  
In the case where a health-care worker refuses to provide a controversial service (e.g., sterilization), his or her conscience is making a judgment about their own participation in the action... [so they are] in essence saying that their own action would be immoral, because it would contribute to something he or she knows to be wrong.”
Even if someone else would be ultimately responsible for the action, they themselves cannot cooperate with it, because it would imply approval of (or at least indifference toward) something that they consider to be seriously wrong.”   
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/19/2012 - 5:55pm
Hi Juan Lino and David,

I must admit my admiration for Mr. Jeffrey's article knows bounds. But it's not entirely to the point, is it? He is primarily concerned with delegitimizing the entire ACA, particularly the individual mandate and the employer mandate. The constitutionality of the ACA is a question for the Supreme Court to decide. It (the constitutionality of the ACA) is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the constitutionality of the contraception mandate.

Jeffrey says the contraception mandate "reveal[s] a president full of zeal in trampling God-given rights." Come on, you guys, can you take really take a guy like that seriously? Doesn't it make him sound just a bit like (a) an unhinged weirdo or (b) a political demagogue? Is that really the kind of rhetoric you want to see the Catholic Church making common cause with? How can anybody be so outraged by Obama's "insulting" mandate-fix and not be insulted by Jeffrey's thinking you can be persuaded by lazy, crude, inane ranting like that? 

FWIW, I didn't vote for Obama last election and almost certainly won't this time. But some of his adversaries are just about pulling off the miracle of making him look good by contrast.

As to "Can the government force you to buy broccoli?" I think the answer is yes, the government subsidizes (buys) agricultural products with taxpayer money all the time. The government is forcing you to buy (subsidize) ethanol, low-impact pesticides, antibodies for farm animals and inedible, low-calorie mush for school lunches; why not broccoli?
Marie Rehbein | 2/19/2012 - 3:59pm
Regarding the First Amendment, I believe it is entirely possible to argue that it has been violated when an institution with the word Catholic in the name is receiving taxpayer dollars in order to carry out what it believes to be its charitable mission.  While most people overlook this and pay their taxes, if the Catholic Church wants to exempt all organizations with the word Catholic in the name, or all organizations that orginated as charitable works of the Church, from government regulation that applies to other organizations engaged in the same activities, I believe it will find public opinion turning against this arrangement of tax dollars going to these organizations.
Vince Killoran | 2/19/2012 - 2:15pm
Talk about "insulting" and "nonesense."  Please don't press the First Amendment & Orwell into serving your scorced earth culture war.
Juan Lino | 2/19/2012 - 2:15pm
Oops - didn't proof before hitting send

Hi David - Yes, George Orwell would definitely find this all too familiar!  That's actually not where I saw the article and that's the first time I've been to that site, I'll bookmark it and drop by once in a while.  I either saw it at the Crisis Magazine site or the Mirror of Justice site - I honestly can't recall since I've been visiting so many websites on either end of the spectrum and of different faiths.

Good point of the tendency these days...
Juan Lino | 2/19/2012 - 2:13pm
Hi David - Yes, George Orwell would definitely find this all to familiar!  That's actually not where I saw the article and that's the first time I've been to that site, I'll bookmark it and drop by once in a while.  I either saw it at the Crisis Magazine site or the Mirror of Justice site - I honestly can't recall since I've been visiting so many websites on either end of the spectrum and of different faiths.

Good pint of the tendency these days... 
Juan Lino | 2/19/2012 - 9:44am
Amy (#27) - thanks for your reply.  A part of me agrees with what you wrote in your response to my assertion about the government, but another part of me hears alarm bells going off and I am not quite sure why, so I have to think about it for a bit.  For example, if I change a few words in your first sentence so that it now reads “The Church ought to decide who is and is not a faithful Catholic...” it sheds a new light on the principle I am grappling with.
Regarding your response to my second assertion, in some ways, I find your response to be demagogic ; )
As of now, IMHO, the main objection to the mandate still stands regardless of the sophistic attempt to sweet-talk something bad into something good.  And of course, there’s the problem of the “Constitution.”   
There's much to mull over and with that in mind, I’ve been trying to read a variety of opinions about this issue at various sites.  For example, this morning I read an interesting article titled Can Obama Order Grocers to Give Away Bread? - perhaps you’d like to take a look at it.

John Hayes | 2/18/2012 - 7:23pm
Sorry, the formatting is bd. the source is:
John Hayes | 2/18/2012 - 7:18pm
DaveP, smoking cessation is included in the preventative services To be provided without cost to the employee. Contraception comes under the last bullet point below. 

    Evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of A or B in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force). While these guidelines will change over time, for the purposes of this impact analysis, the Departments utilized currently available guidelines, which include blood pressure and cholesterol screening, diabetes screening for hypertensive patients, various cancer and sexually transmitted infection screenings, and counseling related to aspirin use, tobacco cessation, obesity, and other topics.
    Immunizations for routine use in children, adolescents, and adults that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Advisory Committee) with respect to the individual involved.
    With respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

    With respect to women, evidence-informed preventive care and screening provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by HRSA (not otherwise addressed by the recommendations of the Task Force). The Department of HHS is developing these guidelines and expects to issue them no later than August 1, 2011.
Jim McCrea | 2/18/2012 - 6:27pm
Governments force people to do things that violate their consciences all the time.
Absolutely true -
Believers in polygamy cannot practice it legally.
Parents who are strict disciplinarians are not allowed to do things that the law views as child abuse.
Husbands who believe that they are THE head of the household are not allowed to physically abuse their spouses to enforce their ideas.
People who are conscientious objectors and without the support of a religious denomination that preaches CO are rarely if ever allowed to claim CO status.
People who believe in the Old Testament teachings on the right to keep and own slaves are not allowed to do so.
People who are anti-war are still required to pay taxes, a portion of which will be spent on military budgets and, as many feel, US military aggression.
Christian Scientists are not allowed to withhold medical attention from and for their minor children.
People who are atheists or secular humanists are still required to pay taxes to make up for the shortfall caused by tax-exempt contributions to religious organization.
People who are renters are still required to pay taxes to make up for the shortfall caused by tax-exempt mortgage interest payments for property owners.
David Pasinski | 2/18/2012 - 9:02am
I particularly appreciate marie's and Amy's remarks toJoe.
Joe, I understand and truly respect your convictions, but we all know that we are sometimes either weak or hypocritical or at least inconsistent with our public stands or resolvfes.  To include birth control, etc. in a policy is,in some ways, no different than covering smoking cessation. I am not equating the two morally, simly the fact that to say "I don't smoke (now) and therefore don't need a policy to cover smoking cessation or the effects of smoking"  would ot be wise public health policy or forone's own own personal health.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/18/2012 - 7:21am
Joe K says (#26): "Someday someone will come knocking at your door, wanting to force you to do something that violates your conscience."

Governments force people to do things that violate their consciences all the time.

My brother is a (medical) doctor and a secular atheist. He believes children who are born anencephalic should be euthanized, in order to save resources for viable children. It is a matter of conscience for him. But the government requires him to put anencephalic infants in incubators and wait for them to die. This means the hospital has to refuse other Medicaid patients with disabled infants. Refusing patients is a violation of his oath, but the law is the law.

Secular humanists are forced to violate their consciences to appease religious principles all the time. This is not a one-way street by any means. Secular humanists have decided the public-health benefits of including contraception in health insurance are compelling and self-evident. It is possible that religious people will have to violate their consciences to appease secular humanism. It would not be the end of the world.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/18/2012 - 7:00am
Juan Lino says (#15) "... two problems ... first, the government is saying that THEY decide what is or is not a religious institution/organization."

The government ought to decide what is and is not a religious institution. If the government does not make some judicious decision about this, the White Aryan Nation can call itself a religious institution. So could any cult, organized crime syndicates, tax shelter, political party or sports team; a lot of unscrupulous people would be happy to claim they are religions. (For example, to get out of paying taxes.)

The only question is what criteria should be applied to decide. Scientology is a disputed case; in some countries it's a religion and in others it's not. Rastafari - yes. The Flying Spaghetti Monster - no. A mega-hospital with a statue of the BVM on the front lawn? We would say yes. Greenpeace? No.

"[second] those institutions/organizations who do not dance to the government’s tune will have to pay the piper because they will be penalized with a fine"

The word "fine" is misleading. If they do not pay for their employees' health insurance, they will have to make a payment which will help offset the cost to the government of providing the health insurance. It is demagogic to call this a fine, because the employer will come out ahead: the payment he makes will be less than the expense he avoids by making the payment.
Anonymous | 2/18/2012 - 12:59am
Someday someone will come knocking at your door, wanting to force you to do something that violates your conscience.  I will be there to defend you.
Anonymous | 2/17/2012 - 6:03pm
"Just as taking the pill can increase breast cancer or stroke risk in some women (with specific risk profiles"


Just tell that to the otherwise healthy 25 year old woman in the hospital today with a near-fatal massive pulmonary embolism.  She did not have any of the specific risk (healthy, non-smoker, young, exercises regularly) factors.
Anne Chapman | 2/17/2012 - 3:36pm
Joe, (#17). If you are truly concerned about women's health, you should support making access to the pill and other forms of modern, reliable contraception (sterilization, the barrier methods) easy and affordable.  For the record, taking the pill poses a lower mortality risk than does pregnancy and childbirth in healthy women younger than 40.

The risk of breast cancer is higher among women who have never had children than among women who have been pregnant - one reason that religious sisters - who have never taken the pill- have a higher rate of breast cancer than the average woman. Perhaps religious women should be encouraged to get pregnant? 

The breast cancer risk and the cardiovascular risk from hormones prescribed to post-menopausal women is higher than that of the pill. Yet the bishops aren't refusing to pay for hormone therapy for this age group. Their objections are not based on health risks, or they would work to make sure that women had access to the pill - which reduces overall mortality rates relative to pregnancy and childbirth. The pill poses a very slight increased risk for breast cancer in a small percentage of women, who will generally be advised by their doctors of these risks, but it also reduces the risks for uterine and ovarian cancer when taken for at least four years. Breast cancer is generally caught in early stages these days and 95% of women survive it and are cancer-free five years after treatment. This is not true of ovarian cancer, which is seldom caught in its earlier stages and which is far more often fatal. Taking the pill for several years reduces the risk of this cancer which has a much higher mortality rate than does breast cancer.

Just as taking the pill can increase breast cancer or stroke risk in some women (with specific risk profiles), so can Viagra increase several risks among some men - yet, Joe, you probably don't have any guilt feelings about helping to pay for Viagra, which is not "natural".

All medications carry some risk - every single one of them, including OTC drugs. People make risk/reward decisions all the time. When looking only at health issues, the risks of pregnancy and childbirth are higher than the risks from the pill, so taking the pill when a pregnancy is not desired is a highly rational choice because of its high effective usage rate. The method called "NFP" is medically safe except that it there is a higher failure rate than the pill, thus a higher risk of pregnancy with its medical risks (NFP usage effectiveness as opposed to theoretical effectiveness), and, since the conceptions that may occur using NFP might take place at a time when the egg is beginning to disintegrate (the timing is off a day or so), there is a higher risk of fetal mortality and a higher risk of birth defects.
Anonymous | 2/18/2012 - 12:59am
Someday someone will come knocking at your door, wanting to force you to do something that violates your conscience.  I will be there to defend you.
Anonymous | 2/17/2012 - 4:51pm
Beth and Jeanne,

There are many ways to avoid pregnancy.  I am not advocating to make any of these ways manditory.  I would never mandate that a person has to pay for any means of birth control  As to Beth's idea that I form my own insurance group. I believe that the HSS mandate would require use to offer each other birth control that none of us will use.

I am the medical director of a crisis pregnancy center.  We are committed to remaining true to the Catholic Faith.  Now we will have to offer insurance coverage that includes birth control to our employees who specifically are hired to teach and encourange abstinance and NFP.  Kind of like an Obama slap in the face if you ask me.  Oh and we are not a ''religious'' organization so our conscience matters not a hoot.

Concerning the increased risk of breast cancer in nuns?  Well the story is more complex.  It turns out that the real effect is seen in woman who have multiple pregnancies prior to age 25 as is seen in third world countries.  These woman have a markedly decreased risk of breast cancer.  Woman in developed countries who have 1, 2 or 3 children have a risk of breast cancer that is not very different than a religious sister.  I don't think that this issue has anything to do with the OCP issue and the right of conscience and the role of health care other than that I would not want the government to mandate that woman have to have multiple children to reduce their risk of breast cancer nor that they should abstain so that we have a small carbon footprint.
Anonymous | 2/17/2012 - 2:33pm

You might be right that there is a God-given right to increase your risk of breast cancer and pulmonary embolism so that you can have sex and reduce your risk of pregnancy.  But do I have a God-given right to not be forced to pay for your right?  Or do you believe that God mandates that I pay for your increased risk of breast cancer and pulmonary embolism so that you can decrease your risk of pregnancy?
David Pasinski | 2/17/2012 - 2:31pm
What is a "religious institution" must be more than self-defined as the tax code demonstrates. The bishops don't get to call something a "religious insitution" on their own and neither do other faith expressions- of which there are are 1500 distinct ones in this country according to one count I saw- not sure if separately incorporated or all looked that way in any tax code.

I am on the Board of two insitutions that had roots in and a very close affiliation and origin in the church and do what easily could be called apostolic work and nearly all of us and the workers therein are Catrholic and motivted by Gospel mandates, but we do not seek to be called or identified as "religious institutions." 

Once institutions those many years ago decided to accept federal monies and regulations - as indeed they had to to survive, I suppose - some power was changed and although elements of the structure remain in Catholic leadership, etc., to have the bishops think that they should be "protected"as ae parishes and parish school makes no ssense to me...
Juan Lino | 2/17/2012 - 2:13pm
I am fascinated by the way that some "progressive Catholics" fail to apply "the knee-jerk skepticism they apply to anything the Church says" to the way media is framing this issue.  (Of course I realize that the “true” progressive Catholics –those who witness to the fact that when the Magisterium speaks it is Christ who is speaking - can do the same thing.)
Returning to the issue at hand, as I understand it, there are two problems: First, the government is saying that THEY decide what is or is not a religious institution/organization; and second, those institutions/organizations who do not dance to the government’s tune will have to pay the piper because they will be penalized with a fine - i.e., they will be forced to pay for the right to remain true to their principles!
If that’s correct, then why would anyone agree to give the government the right to do that?  I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “A Man for all Seasons”, the scene where Roper says that he would gladly topple all the laws in England to get the Devil and St. Thomas More responds that “for HIS sake” he would not do that – so, for MY sake, I support the Bishops in this fight.
Anonymous | 2/17/2012 - 12:20pm

The mandate includes oral contraceptive pill (OCP) not condoms.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/17/2012 - 10:57am
Joe (#9) - I assume that OCP's are condoms??

We take a lot of risks, every day, with the food that we eat, the bottles that we drink from - why the singling out of condoms??!!  The world is full of cancer causing agents, everywhere.  We use sunscreen, judging that the chemicals in the lotion will be less harmful to our bodies than the rays from the sun - even though the sunscreen, itself, contains potentially harmful ingredients.

You know, I can understand why there might be a moral (and mystical) imperative against using birth control.

If we ponder the miracle and mystery of human life, it is somehow "wrong" to put up "barriers" to new life. This creation of new life is indeed sacred - an intimate liaison between Creator and Creation that is worthy of our ultimate respect.

But the Creator gives us dominion over Creation - and the decision and power to control our reproduction is a God-given right. (God takes that risk with us - we have the right to choose.)

There are heart wrenching situations that happen in this less than perfect world and the mother - not the Bishop - gets to make the call. Thank you God for this responsibility and privilege, may we use it well.
William Wilson | 2/17/2012 - 9:19am
I hate to disagree with you Sidney, as you have been in the trenches on most issues for a long time. But the Bishops dust-up with Obama has been couched in an egregious example of Orwellian newspeak that would make the most callous PR spin doctor blush. The bishops (not the church, not the laity) would have the most rigid right-wing Catholic moral theology imposed on all Americans, at the cost of those Americans having their civil rights violated.
Patriotism may not be the last refuge of a scoundrel. It may very will be religion as defined by the ecclesiastical troglodytes who would drag the People of God back to a medeval, pelvic concept of sexuality and human love.
This is additional corroboration, if such were needed, that an old, male, celibate caste remains clueless where questions of sexuality, women's rights, gender and the supremacy of conscience are concerned.
Marie Rehbein | 2/16/2012 - 6:55pm
The whole way the bishops approached this was wrong.  It was not necessary to mobilize the laity to oppose President Obama and claim that he was intent on destroying religious liberty.  As it turned out, the directive exempted religiously affiliated institutions for a year for the explicit purpose of providing time to iron out difficulties pertaining to how the Catholic Church feels about contraception. 

Clearly the leader of the bishops had the President's ear and attention, even though the President was not at his beck and call.  He does have a few other obligations.  So the question I have is slightly different from the one posed by the interviewer.  It is: why did people who do not share the bishops' perspective on contraception and who more than likely had voted for President Obama fall so completely for the bishops' alarmist representation of the situation and not give the benefit of some doubt to the Obama administration?

The next time the bishops pull something like this, will people fall for it again?  Why do they continue to claim that the administration is out to destroy religious liberty?
David Pasinski | 2/16/2012 - 5:37pm
I have appreciated always Sidney (and Daniel) Callahan's thought and am willing to listen again, but for the many reasons posted in thes blogs in these weeks, do not see this as an attack upon religious liberty.  Of course, the argument is what is "religious" and what is "liberty" in this republic.  Ay, there's the rub!

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to see signsof  of life in a moribund body. Wish they'd had this chutzpah- like the German bishops apparently did - to oppose something a little more in their competencies - the new missal. 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/19/2012 - 6:15pm
Oops, addendum: I just noticed Jeffrey's current question is "Can the government order groceries to give away bread?" (He wrote "Can the government force you to buy broccoli a couple of years.)

Juan Lino, as a Catholic, aren't you kind of embarrassed by these guys' shoddy, mangled analogies? First a "kosher deli" that is forced to serve ham sandwiches and now the government forcing the grocer to give away bread? Analogical thinking is supposed to be something Catholics are good at.

Catholic hospitals are not being required to provide contraception or perform sterilizations. They are simply not being permitted to make insurance companies exclude these from the insurance policies they offer employees.

Not being able to exclude benefits is not the same thing as being required to provide them. Being required to provide insurance that provides them to employees is not the same thing as being required to provide them to customers. Isn't deductive logic supposed to be something Catholics are supposed to be good at?
Anonymous | 2/18/2012 - 9:50am
DaveP (is that your first name or last name?),
We can argue whether the state should requier all insurance policies should cover smoking cessation.  I personally think that people should be free to buy policies with or without smoking cessation.  I also think insurance companies should be free to either have policies with or without smoking cessation.  We can also have a discussion concerning whether addiction to smoking is a disease.  All of this has little to do with the state requiring all insurance policies to cover oral contraceptive pill and surgical sterilization.

Nobody on this blog was arguing that one should defend a persons conscience to violate universally accepted inalienable rights such as the right of life and the obligation for parents to protect their children.  I am really sorry about your brother.
Marie Rehbein | 2/17/2012 - 10:51pm

The government mandate takes you off the hook so far as appearing hypocritical goes.  The government says you have to offer it.  Then you offer it, but no one needs to take advantage of it.  There could come a day when someone on your staff decides to have her tubes ties to prevent an accidental pregnancy late in life or one that might endanger her life, and this will be covered.  It might not be something you ever know about, and that is how it should be.
And, for some people the effects of pregnancy might be worse than the risks of the pill.  Again, this is something that these people need to address with their doctors and not have predetermined by religious hierarchs. 


I am not sure what your comment directing us to David Frum's article is meant to convey.  David Frum is very conservative, and it does not surprise me that he has taken the perspective he has.  It's another man's opinion. 
Liam Richardson | 2/17/2012 - 8:08pm
And also consider how movements don't need oppressors to undermine them when the movements do it to themselves:
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/17/2012 - 3:14pm

There are many drugs and medical procedures that are done that I, personally, feel do more damage than good.  Premarin, Viagra, Femara, Boniva, for example.  I choose not use those drugs, even when they are recommended by a doctor.  I even think that breast reconstruction (after mastectomies) using silicon implants is a very bad idea.  But because I am part of a health insurance group, I must help pay for these drugs and procedures for others who see things differently.

If you're going to take part in a health insurance plan, I'd say that you have to tolerate others choices when you do not agree with them. 

Perhaps you could form your own insurance group with others who have similar beliefs. 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/17/2012 - 11:10am
It is probably pointless to try to explain to men why a woman would be willing to accept a  miniscule increase in risk of some cancers in order to avoid all the dangers, disabilities and drudgery of bearing and raising ten children or more. (I note, however, that circumcision is known to reduce the risk of penile cancer, but not a lot of uncircumsized adult men are lining up for that.)

However, we should all be able to agree that the tiny issue of contraception and sterilization should not derail the huge issue of improved availability of health insurance. Both sides should be willing to surrender unconditionally on the contraception/sterilization question to prevent derailing implementation of the ACA. Because the ACA is the only chance millions of Americans have to get health care they need. Asthmatic Americans who can't breath, paralyzed Americans who need wheelchairs, and diabetic Americans who need dialysis should not have to wait while lawyers and theologians entertain each other with abstruse pontifications on "remote material cooperation" and "freedom of conscience."

The White House and the Bishops should agree to a two-year moratorium on the sex questions and begin cooperating on providing health care to people who need it. Anybody who is willing to use the "religious liberty" charade as an excuse not to provide health care to sick people has already forfeited the right to call himself a Christian.
David Pasinski | 2/17/2012 - 10:49am
David Smith

I sure don't think "leaving trhe bishops" is unconscionable. They have left the faithful a long time ago on this issue.

I still can't help thinking - despite whatever truth may be in their argument (which I question even more inn these recent days with the ancillary arguments in ways that have been well explored and are well elucidated in Garry Wills piece in the New York Review of Books) - that they simply have a bee in their bonnets abut everything from the repeal of DADT on that has to with administreation policy re: sexuality and the publicity about Bishop Finna dn whatever will happen in Philly. A good offense...!
Anonymous | 2/17/2012 - 10:21am
I agree with JR that this is all politics.  I am also amazed that the pro-OCP crowd consider this a ''preventative care'' issue.  At the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in 12/2012 there was a symposium concerning the environment and breast cancer.  OCP was listed as one of the known risk factors for breast cancer risk.  OCP's also increase the risk of both arterial and venous thrombosis.  We take care of a young woman every one to two months in the hospital because of a venous thrombosis.  It is curious that many who would promote OCP's are adamently against BPA in our plastic, yet there is no convincing evidence that this causes cancer.  These people want to outlaw BPA and legally promote OCP. Go figure!

OCP's prevent pregnancy.  They do not prevent disease.  In fact they increase the risk of breast cancer and thrombosis. 

This is politics pure and simple.  Woman need access to an increased risk of breast cancer and thrombosis in order to liberate themselves from their natural fertility.  That is a sad!  It is even more sad that we have a country that wants to encourage this.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/17/2012 - 9:42am
I appreciate the way that Sidney has framed this "issue" and so want to agree with her and follow her optimisim that this is a good thing that will open the Church to the ultimate of speaking truth to power: refusing to take part in the War Machine.

But, like William (#5), the more I read the more confused I get.  It looks to me like the Bishops have backed themselves into a corner and lost whatever authority and credibility they may have had.  They are on the right track, but with the wrong issue.  To regain their footing they are going to need to do some extreme backtracking, stretching and balancing, and in the long run, that will be a very good thing. (the Spirit blows in mysterious ways :-)


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