The National Catholic Review

For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in the United States. They came together to defend the church’s institutions from morally objectionable, potentially crippling burdens imposed by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act. Catholic journalists, like E. J. Dionne and Mark Shields, and politicians, like Tim Kaine and Robert P. Casey Jr., joined the U.S. bishops in demanding that the administration grant a broad exemption for religiously affiliated institutions from paying health care premiums for contraceptive services. Then, on Feb. 10, President Obama announced a compromise solution by which religious institutions would be exempt from paying the objectionable premiums but women would not be denied contraceptive coverage. A confrontation that should never have happened was over. But not for long.

After a nod to the White House’s retreat as “a first step in the right direction,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the president’s “accommodation” as insufficient. Their statement presented a bill of indictments on the fine points of public policy: It opposed any mandate for contraceptive coverage, expanded the list of claimants for exemption to include self-insured employers and for-profit business owners and contested the administration’s assertion that under the new exemption religious employers would not pay for contraception. Some of these points, particularly the needs of self-insured institutions like universities, have merit and should find some remedy. Others, with wonkish precision, seem to press the religious liberty campaign too far.

The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. They expect church leaders to appeal to Gospel values, conscience and right reason. They hope bishops will accept honorable accommodations and, even when provoked, not stir up hostility. In the continuing dialogue with government, a conciliatory style that keeps Catholics united and cools the national distemper would benefit the whole church.

The religious liberty campaign seems to have abandoned a moral distinction that undergirded the conference’s public advocacy in past decades: the contrast between authoritative teaching on matters of principle and debatable applications of principle to public policy. The natural law tradition assigned application to the prudent judgment of public officials. Writing of policy differences in 1983, the bishops wrote, “The Church expects a certain diversity of views even though all hold the same universal moral principles.” Contemporary Catholic social teaching has spoken of policy in terms of “a legitimate variety of possible options” for the faithful and the wider public; it has urged that differences over policy be tempered by charity and civility.

The campaign also risks ignoring two fundamental principles of Catholic political theology. Official Catholic rights theory proposes that people should be willing to adjust their rights claims to one another. It also assigns to government the responsibility to coordinate contending rights and interests for the sake of the common good. The campaign fails to acknowledge that in the present instance, claims of religious liberty may collide with the right to health care, or that the religious rights of other denominations are in tension with those of Catholics. But as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in “Deus Caritas Est,” the church does not seek to “impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to the faith.” Furthermore, the campaign fails to admit that the administration’s Feb. 10 solution, though it can be improved, fundamentally did what Catholic social teaching expects government to do—coordinate contending rights for the good of all.

By stretching the religious liberty strategy to cover the fine points of health care coverage, the campaign devalues the coinage of religious liberty. The fight the bishop’s conference won against the initial mandate was indeed a fight for religious liberty and for that reason won widespread support. The latest phase of the campaign, however, seems intended to bar health care funding for contraception. Catholics legitimately oppose such a policy on moral grounds. But that opposition entails a difference over policy, not an infringement of religious liberty. It does a disservice to the victims of religious persecution everywhere to inflate policy differences into a struggle over religious freedom. Such exaggerated protests likewise show disrespect for the freedom Catholics have enjoyed in the United States, which is a model for the world—and for the church.

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John Calabro | 2/29/2012 - 11:16pm
Jesus said He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He came to testify to the truth.  Satan is the father of lies.  The Holy Father is the vicar of Christ, and he, together with the Bishops, teach authentic truth.  Mr Obama has amply demonstrated that he is a liar.  Anyone who believes what he says is quite naive.  (To put it politely.)  
I would much prefer to follow the Holy Father and the Magisterium rether than to put my faith in a lying, eogtistical, rejoicing-to-be-a-celebrity politician.  You can do as you will, with your excellent theoligical expertise, boys. Good luck.  
Cliff Kirchmer | 2/29/2012 - 5:39pm
I think the core of the argument against the bishops opposition to the Obama administration's policy compromise is contained in the following sentence from the editorial: "The campaign fails to acknowledge that in the present instance, claims of religious liberty may collide with the right to health care, or that the religious rights of other denominations are in tension with those of Catholics," Nothing more need be said. 
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/29/2012 - 11:40am
"The campaign also risks ignoring two fundamental principles of Catholic political theology. Official Catholic rights theory proposes that people should be willing to adjust their rights claims to one another. It also assigns to government the responsibility to coordinate contending rights and interests for the sake of the common good."

The above effort at some modern day political theology, who is the authority of this "theology",  contradicts everything that I was taught by Sisters in grade school and Jesuit priests and brothers  in high school that one's duties were to God, Family, Country in that order.

It was Marxist non-theological doctrine to eliminate God and the Family and leave only the State that one owed not only allegiance but also his/her soul.  Francis Cardinal George described it as, "Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the constitution of the former Soviet Union," Cardinal George wrote in a column in the Catholic New World. "You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society."

Obama and his anti-religious bureaucrats seek to impose Marxist theology on all religious faithful through administrative mandates, rules and regulations. It is shocking how many 'Catholics' have bought into his openly defiant effort to subvert or eliminate the First Amendment's constitutional protection of religious liberty.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 2/29/2012 - 10:57am
It saddens me to se the jesuits and outstanding teachers like Fr. Kavanagh attacked because  some posters don't agree with them.
This is part of the sad partisan divisivenes ion the Church and the country today that is leading us into more real perdition.
I think the Editors her ehave done a fine job of attempting to present balance dviews, unlike the "fair and balanced" views some puport to present.
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/29/2012 - 8:13am
The Jesuits who are in charge of a number of "Catholic" universities were a major supporter of "Liberation theology", the redistribution of wealth at gun point, and their magazine America was supporter of Obama. the following letter was posted recently posted on another America editorial.

Before the 2008 election which "Catholic" magazine provided cover for Catholic voters to support candidate Obama by ignoring his available record and statements on "culture of death matters" abortion, contraception and end of life medical treatment? Which "Catholic" magazine provided space for Obama supporting Professors Kmeic and Kavanaugh, one being awarded with the Ambasssdorship to Malta, who sought to assure readers that it was possible to negotiate with the ONE on matters considered evil by the Catholic Church. Even Jesus Christ rejected negotiating with the devil three times in the desert but the editors and opinion authors failed to follow His example, leading many Catholics astray.

Is there a pang of buyer's remorse today?
JOSEPH D'ANNA | 2/28/2012 - 2:00pm
We always get into nebulous areas when churches and religions want to extend their reach and influence. Some churches today, as in the past, provide medical care as a service, free of charge. Perhaps that can be interpreted as charity, a religious function, and a component of faith.
On the other hand, is a fee for service hospital really a religious function, or is it a secular business operated by a religious organization to extend their beliefs and values to others? Technically, I would argue that running a fee for service hospital is a business operated or managed by a church. As such, every employee’s freedom of religion and civil rights are equal in importance to that of the institution.
Your editorial makes sense. I believe the Church would lose a legal battle, were it to continue the fight.
Frank Caveney | 2/28/2012 - 1:15pm
All workers in the USA are free to seek employment with the employer of their choice. Any woman who wants her employer to provide contraception as part of its employee health insurance coverage is free to seek employment elsewhere if her employer declines to provide such coverage. For that reason, President Obama's faux concern for women's health is an assault on liberty, not merely a difference of opinion on policy. The bishops are correct to reject the President's "compromise" because it is no compromise at all, but a not-so-clever manipulation of verbage to mask the issue. Requiring insurance companies to provide free contraception in all health insurance plans will result in all purchasers of health insurance coverage to pay for contraception regardless of whether they believe contraception to be sinful. The HHS mandate and the President's lame "compromise" are, therefore, assaults on Americans' freedom to choose whether to support contraception (or any other procedure they may consider sinful, such as abortion) with their financial resources.
C Walter Mattingly | 2/28/2012 - 11:22am
As our editors clearly indicate in the first paragraph of this editorial, President Obama's initial attempt to attack the church by taking advantage of a wedge issue between existing divisions among Catholics backfired, with liberal Catholics closing ranks with the bishops and the priests and nuns and others who provide the schools, hospitals, and soup lines that many non-Catholics as well as Catholics participate in and benefit from. Regrouping from the crass overreach of this power grab, President Obama modified his proposal without substantively changing it in such a way as to give him needed cover. America's editorial suggests, overall, best leave well enough alone, and it may well be right. Yes, it probably is a constitutional violation. That can be challenged in court.
What we all should be mindful of, however, was the original intent of the Obama administration, which is consistent with its several other efforts to cordon off the contribution the Church and other religious organizations make to the life of the nation, such as denying a poor inner city child a voucher which would enable him to obtain a good rather than mediocre or worse education, reducing Church revenues by curtailing the deductibility of charitable donations, and other moves on his part, sweeping those powers and resources into the hands of the federal government and out of the hands of the individuals and religious life of the country.
We should all remember the intent of his original proposal, at least through November. 
Tom Maher | 2/28/2012 - 10:39am

Against all legal and governeing principles of the U.S. Conststution, history and legal precedents this editorial's central agrument is the government has the supreme and exclusive right and power to decide what the "common good" is and enforce it arbitary will on everyone in disregard of definite Consitutional limits on the power of governement.
Policy making is superior to the Constitution and our laws.

The editorial states: "The campaign also risks ignoring two fundamental principles of Catholic political theology. Official Catholic rights theory proposes that people should be willing to adjust their rights claims to one another. It also assigns to government the responsibility to coordinate contending rights and interests for the sake of the common good."

In other words forget the Consistution law, legal and historic precendents and the courts the all wise and  knowing governemnt knows best what the "common good" is.  The editorial states some mysterious Catholic theology tellis us the government has god like moral powers of discernment we must submit to never mind religious liberty rights they are unimportant and subordinate.  Is this the divine rights of kings theology modified for Presidents?  

In this disoute the governement is the source of the problem in exceeeding it authoirity under the Constitution. a party to this dispute of law. 

The governement is limited by and morally and legally  subordinate to the U.S. Constitution.

Colin Donovan | 2/27/2012 - 4:15pm
"It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?" (A Man for All Seasons)

Its beginning to be easier experientially to understand why the English hierarchy, except for Fischer, and most of the leading clergy, capitulated to King Henry VIII. But for affordable health care?
Chris NUNEZ | 2/27/2012 - 2:10pm
First, religious liberty belongs to the individual as much as to the religions, and that includes the liberty of our conscience;
Second, it is because of our policies that employers somehow have a right to decide for their employees what health insurance package they will be offered; this denies the employee the right to make their own choices. Can you not see how public policy driven by good intentions has rendered employees the serf subjects of their employers by exactly such well intended policies?
Enough is enough!
Charles Erlinger | 2/27/2012 - 9:34am
Overall, this issue presents a well-rounded commentary by both the editors and the guest authors on the problem presented by the controversy between the USCCB and the Administration.  This was a good editorial job.
Carlos Orozco | 2/26/2012 - 9:50pm
“For those who say to me, ‘stick to civil rights,’ I have another answer.  That is that I’ve fought too long and too hard now against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concerns.  I’m not going to do that.  Others can do what they want to do. That’s their business.  Other civil rights leaders for various reasons refuse or can’t take a stand or have to go along with the administration, that’s their business! But I must say tonight that I know that justice is indivisible; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Peter Ruggere | 2/26/2012 - 9:39pm

This editorial is clearly on point.

In an election year the bishop's avoiding an honorable compromise can be interpreted as an unwarranted intrusion into partisan politics.
Mike Van Cleve | 2/26/2012 - 12:08pm
I find this a very difficult question. I basically have a problem with any president telling a religious community what to do.What I do have a problem with though is where we are deciding to draw the line in the sand. For example like abortion we feel that torture is always immoral and nothing can justify it. Why are we not demanding Gitmo closed or a trial for those who supported it in the Bush administration? Nuclear war has been for many years condemned and a rapid destruction of nuclear bombs has been an important part of Catholic teaching why not put pressure on a quicker de commisioning of nuclear weapons? I dont see that as being mutuallu exclusive, If we are exercised by the hhs mandates should we not also be exercised by these issues as well?
Tim O'Leary | 2/25/2012 - 11:44pm

Whatever one's political stripe, surely all Christians of good will can agree on the importance of religious freedom (worship and exercise) and conscientious objection? I am just shocked that the editors of America would come down on the side of raw executive power (that's what this mandate is). There was some heartening news from the state of Washington a couple of days ago, where a judge has ruled that the state government cannot force pharmacists to dispense Plan B if they have a conscientious objection based on religious grounds. See link at .

It is sad that the editorial board of America is less protective of religious freedom than the US Courts. I hope that the judicial and legislative branches protect the nation from this raw imposition of executive power.

St. Ignatius, pray for us.

ROBERT NUNZ MR | 2/25/2012 - 3:10pm
Comments here reflect the current divide in the church and at times easy charaxterizations of the views opposed.
This gets us nowhere!
But it will go on between friends of theh ierachy and friends of the laity I fear.
Carlos Orozco | 2/25/2012 - 2:34pm
The language of the Editors can almost pass for Catholic. But with a little reading between lines, one finds political motives and a consistent opposition to the official  teachings of the Church that can be traced back to the disgraceful rejection of prophetic Humanae Vitae.

The Editors seem to be in a rush to calm the political waters so that a failed administration does not face another obstacle as a consecuence of its radical positions, in the nearing federal election. The EXTREMIST voting records of President Obama and Secretary Sebelius on life issues,  demonstrate that the Church in the United States is not dealing with an honest and balanced Executive power.

It is not serious to call a "compromise" a simple modification of strategy (actually, just of tactics) implemented by the Obama administration, followed by an immediate proclamation of final status, when no consultations where EVER made to the objecting party. Finally, why should individuals lack the legal protection of free conscience given to Catholic institutions? These issues are too important to be ignored and Catholics cannot allowed to be Stupacked again.
joyce grattan | 2/25/2012 - 11:29am
I appreciate the clarity and precision of your article, and I applaud your efforts to make your readers aware of the facts of this issue. The USCCB is politicizing rather than working to achieve a common good. I am disappointed that many posted comments are so entirely partisan and self-righteous.
Chris Boegel | 2/25/2012 - 9:27am

How ironic that a magazine entitled "America," that lays a simultaneous claim to Catholic faith, not only continues to undermine the Catholic faith, but now simultaneously attacks the 1st Right of Americans - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech...."

You'll need to change your name.
MARGARET O'NEIL | 2/25/2012 - 9:20am
Amen.....well said.  I supported the Bishops' stand initially, but now it seems they are more interested in bringing the President to his knees before them.   They too must respect the religious and secular views of others.   They seem to care more about punishing the President than any principled stand.   In so doing, the come across as an anachronistic group of old men who long for the days when they could dictate government policy   Ironically, they lack the wisdom of those who came before them.
C Walter Mattingly | 2/25/2012 - 9:15am
For another, more cogent take on this issue than this editorial, America has provided Mary Ann Glendon's article in this same issue. I would refer our readers to that source for a more catholic viewpoint. 
I appreciate our editors for presenting both essays for their readers. 
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/25/2012 - 8:33am
Thank you, America Editors. 

It's hard to know what to make of the Bishops' stance (as well as that of many of the commenters here).  You have responded with reason and compassion.

E.Patrick Mosman | 2/25/2012 - 7:51am
Unfortunately many "Catholics" use their own 'subjective conscience' to repudiate teachings and beliefs of the Church while they express belief in its being, one and  holy every time they attend Mass and recite the Creed. Further many still support Obama and Obamacare  even after finding out 'what's in it"  while more than 1,500 unions and 'friends of Obama" companies have requested and received waivers to opt out of Obamacare and more are expected to reject its rules, regulations and mandates.Obama and his administration reward political allies and reject religious organizations. It is evident that a number of  Catholics believe that their own subjective conscience gives them the moral authority to decide which actions, behaviors, are right, which are wrong,  which Church teachings can be rejected so as not to inhibit their secular life style in other words, to follow the crowd not the Church. Many believe that Vatican II provided this decision making authority but the authorities did not plaster over the wall of the Sistine Chapel on which Michelangelo's "The last Judgment" appears. If a copy of The Last Judgment were to be placed behind the altar in every Church, the Sunday Sermon be could be reduced to the priest pointing to the painting and saying "That all folks. We report, you decide."
Maureen Kavanaugh | 2/25/2012 - 1:11am
It is with great dismay and sadness that I read this editorial piece which to me epitomizes the pejorative definition of the word jesuitical - that is "practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or oversubtle reasoning, crafty, sly". I can only hope and pray that the rationale expressed by this editorial staff, in cautioning the Catholic Conference of Bishops to condone or be lured into the subterfuge presented by the so-called accomodation of the Obama Administration's most recent health mandate does not reflect the official position of the Society of Jesus.
For the Catholic Bishops of this nation are taking great risks, speaking boldly with clarity and unequivocation. Correct me please if I am mistaken but I never thought Ignatius of Loyola an apologist for Jesus Christ but rather a most devoted disciple. Nor do I believe that he would be wooed by the state into conceding the truth for the sake of what? "Civility"?

Really?! Civility? For the sake of what - one's universities, one's hopsitals, one's investments, one's material goods, one's place among the intellectual power brokers? For what's really at stake here beyond all of these is your immortal souls.

What I wonder are you not willing to concede for universal health care? And how much trust are you willing to invest in a state that considers human life disposable?

I have steadfastly prayed over many decades that the Society of Jesus would flourish because of its many good and courageous works. But I begin to fear that at some levels this noble community has been infected with a moral relativism that is the antithesis of what is holy and what is true to Jesus Christ. If this is the case and this is what your institutions of learning are espousing, then I must pray with all my heart that you fail.
Tim O'Leary | 2/25/2012 - 1:06am

It is very sad to see a once great Jesuit magazine weigh so lightly the right to religious freedom. This mandate is a very new thing in American life, for it sets a precedent whereby the power of the government can be used (and surely will be used again if this stands), at the sole discretion of the executive branch, to force individuals and institutions to cooperate with what is evil in their sight.

The Obama administration chose this fight (not the Bishops), introducing this mandate without any conscience clause, selecting an unpopular teaching (contraception, the earliest chemical abortions, sterilization), to seduce its more docile supporters to adopt a principle that used to be anathema to their sensibilities. After a minor objection and a feint at compromise, those who hold their political persuasions higher than their religious beliefs, are now rallying to his defense.

Note that despite the President's "accommodation" speech, the law as written did not change one iota when it was published later that day - so we just have the President's word (recall promises re closing Guantanamo, not taking super PAC money, using military tribunals & ending renditions).

If this stands, we are at the mercy of this or a future President to add to the mandate all types of abortions, surgical (all the way down to partial-birth abortion) and eugenic (abortions for babies with birth defects like Down’s, sex selection, etc.), or maybe later euthanasia for the unfit or unwanted.

Please wake up and see what you are relinquishing. Let's unite with the Bishops to get this fixed in the legislature, for the sake of all faiths and human rights.

Ronald Ruais | 2/24/2012 - 6:11pm

Most Catholic laity find the entire health care bill offensive. Popes have spoken out against statist rule and this bill passes the test for being statist. Furthermore are you familiar with the bill's provision for health care decisions based on "quality adjusted life years"? What do you suppose a statist government secular progressive liberal health care decision maker will do with that as criteria for providing health care?

It’s nice to make yourself feel good by supporting health care for all but this bill is over the top. Sometime it appears that having achieved a level of faith approaching mysticism your sentimentality is fogging your reason. You have the luxury of the vow of poverty and no tax bill. You have the luxury of the vow of chastity and no children or grandchildren to worry about. The deficit is 15 trillion this bill is scored by the CBO to increase the deficit.

We are all in favor of “care for the poor.” But let’s get some honesty in the “how to” debate. Let’s look at the facts and not just what would make us feel good. And by the way, who is currently not receiving medical attention in this country. Don’t we have a ‘Good Samaritan’ law?

BRENDAN TEEHAN | 2/24/2012 - 6:04pm
This is an excellent and timely editorial.  I can only hope that the bishops read it in the pastoral  sense that it is written.
PATRICIA KROMMER C.S.J. | 2/24/2012 - 5:01pm
The editors communicate sweet reason and good theology in this statement.  Thank you so very much.  We live in a pluralistic society and your editorial recognizes that fact.  It clarified the issues beautifully.  
LaRue Withers | 2/24/2012 - 4:39pm

P.S. I believe it was Jesus Christ who said, "Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's and render unto God that which is God's." HE has the last word. Jesus never got involved with the politics of the state, only the politics of the synagogue. I suspect the poor Sister got quite a tongue-lashing from the Bishops. Shame on them! No one is forcing contraceptives on anyone and Jesus Christ is the final Word after all.

The attitude that "they should have thought of that when they took a job with the church's institution" (hospital, university, whatever!) is an invitation to a loss of good staff. You're right, they don't have to work there and perhaps it would benefit them to leave and go elsewhere. Whether or not the churches could fill the vacancies would be their problem n'cest pas?
LaRue Withers | 2/24/2012 - 4:30pm
Julett Broadnax | 2/24/2012 - 4:07pm
I think there was too much generalization in saying Catholics were united with the Bishops initially.  I have never been united on their position - for they were espousing freedom of their conscience, but not my conscience or that of any employee of church run organizations.  Bishops are to teach - but not try to impose control on how Catholics practice their faith.  That would be like a parent locking a child in a room so they would not overdrink, or smoke or do anything they considered morally objectionable.  Free will - a gift from God - should never be infringed upon by any clerical person, priest on up the ladder of power which so many are impressed by.  If the government mandates insurance coverage, it is up to the individual whether to use contraceptives, sterilization or the pill to prevent implantation in the womb of a zygote.  This should never be left up to the Bishops to influence legislation.  Too much rhetoric, not enough common sense in some of the posts.  
Julett Broadnax | 2/24/2012 - 4:07pm
I think there was too much generalization in saying Catholics were united with the Bishops initially.  I have never been united on their position - for they were espousing freedom of their conscience, but not my conscience or that of any employee of church run organizations.  Bishops are to teach - but not try to impose control on how Catholics practice their faith.  That would be like a parent locking a child in a room so they would not overdrink, or smoke or do anything they considered morally objectionable.  Free will - a gift from God - should never be infringed upon by any clerical person, priest on up the ladder of power which so many are impressed by.  If the government mandates insurance coverage, it is up to the individual whether to use contraceptives, sterilization or the pill to prevent implantation in the womb of a zygote.  This should never be left up to the Bishops to influence legislation.  Too much rhetoric, not enough common sense in some of the posts.  
Virginia Edman | 2/24/2012 - 3:44pm
I have reread your article in light of all the comments.  I would commend you on many of the points you make.  The differences over policy should indeed be tempered by charity and civility.  That charity and civility is rapidly losing ground in the world.  I find a remarkable amount of rancor in the religious magazines and in politics.  I am not refering to America, which is a pleasure to read, but to some in Toronto and in Canada which are aligned with the extreme right wing conservatism.  It is amusing to read about "religions employers" who have the right to design your health care package.  That is the interference of the Church into the privacy of the individual.  I would prefer to deal with my doctor about my health than my pastor.  This is where I think you have made a good point, that it is not liberty but policy.
David Pasinski | 2/24/2012 - 3:11pm
Thank you for sucha sensible reflection. The phrase, "cpoinge of religious liberty," is nboth poetic and apt. I appreciate the perspective that brings.
Michael Kelly | 2/24/2012 - 2:41pm

            This editorial was posted over a week ago in blog “All Things”.  That blog post has long since been superseded by other posts, but since the editorial has continued to be highlighted on America’s website and generate comments I am simply re-posting here my earlier comment addressed to the editors.

             (More importantly, below my comment is an excerpt from, and a link to, a highly relevant recent article by James V. Schall, S.J. ) 

             Your editorial is stunning in its confusion, self-contradiction, and myopia in regard to issue of the impact of the HHS contraception mandate on the constitutional right to freedom of religion.  On one hand, you correctly note the obvious - that there is a difference between “authoritative teaching on matters of principle and debatable applications to public policy”.   Yet, having noted the distinction, you then proceed to ignore it in this instance by the subterfuge of ascribing to the HHS mandate - and implicitly the ACA which gives rise to it - the status of an authoritative, not-to-be-challenged implementation of the “right to health care”, as opposed to what it is – a mere public policy of debatable (and in reality, dubious) legitimacy and benefit.

             By your reasoning, the indisputable infringement resulting from the HHS mandate upon the constitutional right to religious freedom is of relatively minimal importance compared with a tendentiously defined “right to health care” – that is, a “right” not defined as merely the right of citizens under our laws to obtain products and services they deem necessary to their health care including abortifacients and sterilization, but as a service that some citizens have the “right” to demand be provided to them by other citizens, however objectionable on moral grounds the “health care” service in question is to those others.    

             Therefore, even though you purport to acknowledge the distinction between the authoritative principles and debatable applications of principles to public policy, the “right to health care” - including the forced provision of contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations in all health insurance plans except those for narrowly defined religious organizations - is, in your view the legitimate authoritative principle that must be adhered to.  And the true authoritative principle – the necessity of respect for the right to religious freedom traditionally understood (and not as a mere “right to worship”) - simply becomes in your view a debatable public policy issue of far lesser importance. 

 Also see "Under the control of the State" by James V. Schall, S.J., (Catholic World Report, February 17, 2012).

Virginia Edman | 2/24/2012 - 2:17pm
In Canada we don't have this problem because we have universal health care, and it was put into place when abortion was illegal.  Contraceptives are not always covered unless the patient is financially unable to pay.  Abortions are now legal, but it is not the issue that it is in the U.S.A.  I cannot believe that you don't want health care for the many uninsured people in the country.
Elizabeth Groven | 2/24/2012 - 2:02pm
Bravo.  And ditto on Rick Santorum. 
MICHAEL GRIFFIN | 2/24/2012 - 1:38pm
Great article!!!!
Francis JOSEPH | 2/24/2012 - 12:57pm

Diaspponted that you missed ket points of the DECLARATION ON RELIGIOUS LIBERTY from  Vatican 11 whose main drafter was a USA Jesuit! The First Amendment has two parts - to protect the individual's and by extension the faith-group's conscience rights to believe or not believe; AND  to keep the Goverment's Camel's backside from butting into the tent  of the believer. You have been corrected above about the most dangerous intrusion, forcing abortifacients and sterilisations. Adding conscientious objectors to this mandate was a defence of the first part of the amendment- individual employers' consciences.  You seemed to have not read the actual wording, listened to your archbishop who heads the US bishops' conference. He bluntly said that  the POTUS broke a promise to him when he invited him to the W-H when he went to NY- and Cdl Dolan reminded him of that on 21 January. Sneaky, announcing the decision on a weekend when the media are not as  present. The Sleeping Giant is awake and lots of evangelicals and Jewish leaders and some Islamic Imams also. One can wonder if the US bishops who violated the rights of hundreds of clergy in civil and canon law realise the hypocrisy of that action  vrersus this outcry.

John McLean | 2/24/2012 - 12:51pm

Even this traditional Catholic is perplexed by the bishops’ indignation to Obama’s final birth control solution.  It certainly allows Catholic agencies to live according to the dictates of their corporate conscience and negotiate employee health care packages without birth control, i.e., insurance packages that assume a 100% risk of pregnancy.  Obviously, the insurance company will expect a much higher premium to insure a pool in which every woman represents an additional $13,000 (assuming no complications) payout risk for the year, as well as subsequent child healthcare.  Nevertheless, the Catholic agency “walks the walk.”

In turn, the solution allows each woman to decide for herself the highly personal moral and medical choices she confronts.  If, on contact from her carrier, she elects to add free birth control protection, the agency is not party to the transaction.  It pays only for what it has already agreed to pay for; namely, a pregnancy-presumed risk pool.  The carrier is all too happy to provide the additional coverage at no charge to either the woman or the agency.  For less than $1300/yr. it eliminates a $13,000 risk. This explains why insurers have not felt put upon for this “freebie.”

The editorial notes that our Holy Father has written that the church does not seek to “impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to the faith.”  Unless the bishops do feel the need to control how their employees make their most personal family decisions, their episcopal indignation is misplaced.  The agency is affected by the solution only if it chooses to negotiate discounts because the risk pool is not really as risky as it first appears.  That, however, would not be walking the walk. 

Camille Devaney | 2/24/2012 - 12:43pm
Makes sense to me.
Karen Jones | 2/24/2012 - 12:39pm
"The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy."  

It's a stretch to believe that the American public is uncomfortable with this "overt exercise of political muscle."  This whole issue asks us to examine what and why we believe what we do.  Then it asks us to consider how our beliefs should apply to others and the greater good.  To do so honestly means to objectively seek out the details of medicine, the Constitution, the specific policy, our Catholic teachings, politics, history of insurance, our Bishop's actions, and much more.  It also requires more than a single day soundbite to keep up with the developing story.  I would be happy if Americans were made uncomfortable to the point that they put down the cell phones, remote controls, etc. and think beyond their own existence. I am so worried there are not enough Americans who care this deeply about our nation or their faith.  Christ's life made the public "uncomfortable" to the point of his crucifixion.  For me, seeking to keep the American public "comfortable" is not helpful to solving most of the pressing issues of our day.   
Alfred Chavez | 2/24/2012 - 12:16pm
Good points all.

I'm hoping though that the Catholic press will spend some time dissecting the positions Rick Santorum has been taking.  Some of the positions he's taken make this Catholic uncomfortable-and not in a good way.
E.Patrick Mosman | 2/24/2012 - 11:56am
The administration's effort, obviously bought into by the editors 100 percent, is to frame and limit the issue to healthcare, condoms, contaceptives, morning after abortion pills, when it is a Constitutional matter, the free exercise of one's religion. What could be next, a mandate that the Church must conduct gay and lesbian marriages in State's where such marriages are deemed legal or lose the legal right to perform any marriages, charge a priest or Eucharistic minister with a criminal act for providing those under 21 with an alcoholic beverage, the Blood of Christ, in Communion? One must comprehend that the Church, its teachings and beliefs are under attack by forces whose goal is to limit the Church and all religions to Sunday or Friday services and make government the sole provider of all other services.

All Catholics, in particular Catholic politicians, need to be warned by their Bishops, that calling attention to their Catholic faith and in the same breath voicing support for abortion rights, a public act of scandal, as defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 2284-6), is committed. Paragraph 2286 is directly applicable to  people in political positions. It reads: ?Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion. Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structure leading to the decline of morals....?
 Since Vatican II the liberal wing of the Catholic Church has promulgated the superiority of one's own, or the subjective conscience, and in February 1991 Cardinal Ratzinger delivered the Church's response in his presentation 'Conscience and Truth" delivered at the '10th Workshop for Bishops; in Dallas Texas. A brief summary if his conclusion is found in the following extract, "It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it. But whether the judgment of conscience is always right, indeed whether it is infallible, is another question. For if this were the case, it would mean that there is no truth - at least not in moral and religious matters, which is to say, in the areas which constitute the very pillars of our existence. For judgments of conscience can contradict each other. Thus there could be at best the subject's own truth, which would be reduced to the subject's sincerity."
Katherine Schlaerth | 2/24/2012 - 11:45am
You have got to be kidding!  But then, dear editor, I'll bet you have never had your salary reduced by 50% for defending a nurse who didnt want to participate in an abortion, nor have you been denied a position for which you were well qualified because you wouldn't perscribe abortifacients and the type of birth control wihic can cause abortions. THere is very active persecution of Catholics and others who adhere to their consciences, but undoubted ly in the rarified atmosphere of the circles you travel in, you are not aware of what is going on in medicine. I thank God the American bishops have FINALLY taken a stand to protect our consciences, not that I think most "catholics" won't cave when faced with economic challenges.
GINO | 2/24/2012 - 10:49am
What part of the first amendment don't you underestand? "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  Was it necessary for the Obama Administration to come out with a mandate or even with the so-called "accomodation" that clearly was directed to religious institutions? Sorry, the American Government is not allowed on this sacred turf.
Chris D'Costa | 2/21/2012 - 1:28am
Violete: You use disparaging adjectives rather freely. Could you please explain for us some of those terms you use, please?
1. Precisely how is this article seeking compromise in "Truth, Faith, and Morals"? 
2. If you don't believe in everything I believe in, can I call you a "cafeteria catholic" too?
3. Who wrote the "truth" that you demand 100% compliance to? Who decided it was the truth?
4. What is the "birth right" you allege we are selling? What is the porridge?
5. Do you understand those "finer points of healthcare coverage" that you've deemed critical? If so, explain why they are critical?
6. Do you have any evidence at all for this "trivialization of life" that you accusing the rest of us of being lukewarm and wishy-washy about?
Finally, if I end this article with a promise to pray for you, will all be forgiven?
Chris D'Costa | 2/20/2012 - 11:14pm
This is a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and courageous article. No doubt the partisans will be up in arms. 

It speaks for the many Catholics like myself whose consciences have felt a deep revulsion with the gratuitous political posturing of the USCCB. Christ Himself never sought legislative change, even less did he seek to do so by strong-arming the opposition in the manner that the USCCB has relentlessly pursued. Rather, He sought a change of heart - and understandably so, for the desires of the heart are free from legislative control: But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

Laws in themselves will not prevent sin. Further, Christ never won over His followers by pontificating or finger-wagging. The reason the apostles dropped whatever they were doing and followed Him was because of Who Jesus was - and they wanted that. Christ-centered leadership is set by example, not pontification. Would that the USCCB were more focused on the example they set, and the subsequent moral authority (or lack thereof) that this elicits!


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