Religious Liberty Chair Responds

The March 5th America editorial (“Policy, Not Liberty”) takes the United States bishops to task for entering too deeply into the finer points of health care policy as they ponder what the slightly revised Obama administration mandate might mean for the Catholic Church in the United States. These details, we are told, do not impinge on religious liberty. We are also told that our recent forthright language borders on incivility.

What details are we talking about? For one thing, a government mandate to insure, one way or another, for an abortifacient drug called Ella. Here the “details” would seem to be fertilized ova, small defenseless human beings, who will likely suffer abortion within the purview of a church-run health insurance program.


What other details are at issue? Some may think that the government’s forcing the church to provide insurance coverage for direct surgical sterilizations such as tubal ligations is a matter of policy. Such force, though, feels an awful lot like an infringement on religious liberty.

Still another detail is ordinary contraception. Never mind that the dire societal ills which Pope Paul predicted would ensue with the widespread practice of artificial contraception have more than come true. The government makes the rules and the rules are the rules. So, the bishops should regard providing (and paying for) contraception as, well, a policy detail. After all, it’s not like the federal government is asking bishops to deny the divinity of Christ. It’s just a detail in a moral theology—life and love, or something such as that. And why worry about other ways the government may soon require the church to violate its teachings as a matter of policy?

More details come to mind. Many if not most church entities are self-insured. Thus, Catholic social service agencies, schools, and hospitals could end up paying for abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraception. If the editorial is to be believed, bishops should regard it not as a matter of religious liberty but merely policy that as providers they teach one thing but as employers they are made to teach something else. In other words, we are forced to be a countersign to church teaching and to give people plenty of reason not to follow it. The detail in question here is called “scandal.”

Then there is the detail of religious insurers and companies that are not owned by the church but which exist solely to serve the church’s mission. The new “accommodation” leaves them out in the cold. And if I really wanted to get into the weeds I’d mention the conscience rights of individual employers.

Have I forgotten any other details we bishops shouldn’t be attending to? Well, I guess we’re policy wonks for wondering if the government has a compelling interest in forcing the church to insure for proscribed services when contraception is covered in 90 percent of health care plans, is free in Title X programs, and is available from Walmart (generic) for about $10 a month. Pardon me also for wondering whether the most basic of freedoms, religious liberty, isn’t being compromised, not by a right to health care, but by a claim to “services” which regard pregnancy and fertility as diseases.

And didn’t President Obama promise adequate conscience protection in the reform of health care? But maybe it’s inappropriate for pastors of souls to ask why the entirely adequate accommodation of religious rights in health care matters that has existed in federal law since 1973 is now being changed.

Oh, and as Detective Colombo used to say: “Just one more thing.” It’s the comment in the editorial about when we bishops are at our best. Evidently, it’s when we speak generalities softly and go along to get along, even though for the first time in history the federal government is forcing church entities to provide for things that contradict church teaching. Maybe Moses wasn’t at his best when he confronted Pharaoh. Maybe the Good Shepherd was a bit off his game when he confronted the rulers of his day.

But those are just details.

Most Reverend William E. Lori

Bishop of Bridgeport

Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty

Social Democrats Unite!

Re “Doubt at Davos” (Current Comment, 2/20): Given that the effect of neoliberal economics as practiced from the Reagan-Thatcher years onward has been to exacerbate income inequality greatly in the United States (and globally, in many cases), not to mention continuing the environmentally damaging “endless growth” model, it is indeed time for a re-examination of capitalism. Perhaps, as Marx suggested, its time in history has indeed passed.

Our church study-advocacy group has become ever more shocked as we look at the net effects of a soulless, “profit as a god,” economic system now in operation here. It is time for us to redesign that system and its effects upon Congress, so that it becomes, to the degree possible, devoted to the national and global common well-being and to ecological sustainability. If capitalism cannot be turned to serve only those goals (instead of ever more wealth concentration among the relative few at the top), then it is time to upend our system and to adopt any of a variety of other “social democracy” models forwarded by a variety of very bright authors/economists. For one proven example of such a system, check out the experience to date of the giant Mondragon Cooperative in the Basque region of Spain.

Bob Riley

Albuquerque, N.M.

Drawn to Contradiction

Margaret Silf’s “Draw Near” (2/20) was such a wise reflection. We are drawn and attracted to the light, but we are also eager to draw lines and make fine, even trivial distinctions. What a perverse lot we are: drawn to light, love and peace and ready for a fight.

Winifred Holloway

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Credit Check

Thanks to Drew Christiansen, S.J., for his insightful, Roman and ecumenical reflections (“Of Many Things,” 2/20). He did justly refer to the tremendous contributions of Bishop Filipe Ximenes Belo in East Timor and of the late Angelo D’Agostino, S.J., in East Africa.

Bishop Belo is a Salesian of Don Bosco, a member of the largest male religious congregation in the Catholic Church today, with more than 3,000 schools and youth centers in 131 countries today. We Salesians are very proud of Bishop Belo, winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with José Ramos-Horta. As Father Angelo D’Agostino was justly identified by Father Christiansen as a Jesuit, I wish Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, S.D.B., had also been similarly identified as a Salesian of Don Bosco.

Larry N. Lorenzoni, S.D.B.

San Francisco, Calif.

Timely, Unfortunately

Thank you for “Athletes Dying Young” (2/20), a timely editorial. We have had two high school students paralyzed during hockey games in Minnesota this year. There does seem to be some movement here toward making the game more humane—a direct result of Jacob Jablonski being paralyzed from the neck down after being checked by two players at once.

Jeanne Doyle

St. Paul, Minn.

Social Disaster Alert

Re “Taking Liberties” (Editorial, 2/13): This discussion continues to generate more heat than light. Of course the First Amendment covers more than worship; otherwise there would not be Wisconsin v. Yoder, which was a home-schooling decision. One might also argue that the protection from court inquiry given the seal of confession is another example, unless one wanted to construe this confidentiality as essential to freedom to worship. The constitutional principles, as I understand them, are that religious practice must be constrained by a need to maintain public order and that practices essential to a religion are protected. Lay Catholic behavior notwithstanding, a church’s sexual ethics seem to be essential, and, yes, even those are not exempt from legislation (no polygamy). I do not see how the public order is threatened by the bishops’ stand; rather I perceive a clever maneuver on the part of the federal government and a social disaster in the making.

There are simply too many Catholic hospitals, social agencies and universities to dismiss the harmful effect on the country as a whole that may result from H.H.S.’s insistence on its newly made rule. In lawmaking, consequences count. The rule was made because of what H.H.S. thought the effect would be on women’s and hence public health. I am not so sure it made a good calculation.

Jerry Vigna

Cherry Hill, N.J.

Faith Travels

As a priest who has visited, studied and lived in 45 countries, I found Tim Padgett’s recent article, “The Ethical Traveler,” (1/30) right on the mark in many ways. But his comment that he leaves his religion out of the cantinas and homes he visits, as well as his trepidation over “mixing charity and evangelization,” disappointed me greatly. Talking about the faith with people around the world is the very best part of wandering about—one can plant seeds everywhere for God to reap in his own time. How can we say we really love the places and people we visit and yet remain silent about Jesus Christ?

(Rev.) Francis M. de Rosa

Colonial Beach, Va.

A Worthwhile War

I wholeheartedly endorse “A War Worth Fighting” (Editorial, 2/27). The political climate in the United States today and in recent decades, however, has militated against any strong efforts to combat poverty in America. Instead of fighting poverty more strongly, our Republican politicians have been dedicated to helping the rich get richer. And our Democratic politicians have made little headway in opposing the Republicans, their deregulation and their social Darwinism.

Thomas Farrell

Duluth, Minn.

No Fence-Sitting Allowed

I enjoyed “A War Worth Fighting” (2/27). We do our communities a disservice when we lump addiction, mental illness and all the other causes of poverty together. Our children are the innocent victims. As a society we have allowed and rewarded bad behavior, such as single parent families and all of the other hot button issues of today that encourage the destruction of the family unit. When we do not promote family values, we help create poverty.

I pray that we all look for things that cause poverty and do our best to get involved and eliminate the causes. Do not sit on the fence when society pushes something you know is destructive to the family unit in the name of political correctness. Remember the family unit is the building block of society. We can be firm in our convictions and still be compassionate and kind to others who do not share our values.

Valentine R. O’Connor

Pine Beach, N.J.

Not a One-Issue Church

I want to support Ronnie D. Rubit for his excellent article “Peer Pressure” (2/27). Catholics should not be one-issue people. I have encountered such Catholics also. I remember a very nice lady who, I am sure, was close to God but could not get beyond this one issue. She would spend long hours listening to radio talk show hosts, who would rant about right-wing causes, including abortion. The effect was conservative politics mixed with a one-issue religious matter. That is not what the Catholic Church is about.

Charles P. Leyes

San Francisco, Calif.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 4 months ago
Thank you, Bishop Lori, for your closer look at the details. Perhaps the editor has forgotten where the Devil plays.
8 years 4 months ago
Re: Religious Liberty Chair Responds. (Letters 3/19). A clever response on the part of Bishop Lori. I find it useless in the extreme for promoting any kind of understanding of the deep issues involved. The snarky tone invites adversarial snarkiness. Darkness begetting darkness. But clever, really clever. The tone of the letter better fit the sports page reporting a local boxing match. Or hockey. Or not.


The latest from america

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus told her. Yet she is not repelled by his parable. She engages it.
Terrance KleinAugust 12, 2020
Catholic composer David Haas is shown in a concert at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines, in this 2016 photo. (CNS photo/Titopao, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Mr. Haas has denied any wrongdoing, calling the accusations “false, reckless and offensive.”
During Jerusalem’s lockdown, my family saw the Holy Land—and each other—with new eyes.
Stephanie SaldañaAugust 12, 2020
In this June 27, 2019, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens to questions after the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Art in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Few, if any, vice presidential candidates have had as much exposure to the world’s religions as Kamala Harris.