In our March 5 editorial “Policy, Not Liberty,” we commented on the objections of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to President Obama’s accommodation on the health insurance mandate. We identified, by way of example, “the needs of self-insured institutions” as an obvious problem needing correction. In the weeks since that editorial appeared, the bishops have raised anew serious issues that need attention. A key issue, which we regret we failed to identify in that editorial, is the narrowness of the underlying Department of Health and Human Services regulation maintaining a limited definition of religious institutions, a formula to which the bishops, as well as America in an earlier editorial (“Taking Liberties,” 2/13), objected.
This is not an issue for the United States alone. Archbishop Silvio Tomasi, representing the Holy See, observed when speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 1 on the issue of religious liberty worldwide: “The task of government is not to define religion...but to confer upon faith communities a juridical personality so they can function peacefully within a legal framework.” The church cannot function peacefully in the United States under the current regulatory framework. The existing regulation demands reworking.
There are conflicting reports about how seriously the two sides are engaged with one another at this time. We hope that in the weeks ahead, as the bishops and the administration attempt to resolve their differences over the H.H.S. mandate, the legal definition of religious institutions will take a top priority. We trust that, with good faith efforts, this potentially explosive issue will be defused, and we support the bishops in that effort. — March 12, 2012
Women at Work
It is particularly worth noting now, during Women’s History Month, that the sluggish U.S. economy has led many young women to pursue higher education. In fact, in 2010 and 2011 the number of women between the ages of 18 and 24 in college or university rose by 130,000, compared with just 53,000 for men that age. Will a record number of college-educated women finally close the male-female pay gap?
Wage parity has proved an elusive goal, even though the education gap between men and women has shrunk markedly since President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. That year women earned 59 cents for every dollar men earned. Pay gaps by gender still characterize all occupations; female plumbers (nurses, executives…) earn less than male plumbers (nurses, executives…). The dollar difference often stings. A comparison of the 2010 median earnings of workers in full-time management, professional and related occupations shows that the men received $1,256 a week, the women $923. Over a year, the women got $17,316 less. Women, it is often explained, (1) experience more career “interruptions” than men do—time off for pregnancies and child/elder care, (2) work part time more often, (3) cluster in low-paying jobs and (4) have fewer mentors. Prejudice is seldom noted as an obstacle in the hiring, pay and promotion of women.
Wage parity requires changed attitudes and policies. Women ought not be penalized for giving birth or providing care. Uniform family care policies could equalize the load for men and women. And mentoring both male and female workers would help. Justice is always the best way to achieve equal opportunity.
For thoughtful conversation about religion, television is often the last place to look. Discussions about religious topics often devolve into debates between two extremes or, worse, into shouting matches. But once in a while television reveals its potential as an important tool for the New Evangelization.
Two recent appearances made Catholics watch, and watch carefully. M. Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Notre Dame, appeared on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” to explicate issues surrounding the bishops’ opposition to insurance companies covering contraception in employee health plans. Professor Kaveny patiently and clearly explained the role of the bishops as teachers, pointed out the wide scope of the church’s social teaching and even touched upon some of the more subtle topics in moral theology, like “cooperation with evil.” At the close of the interview, she summed up why she stays in the church: “Because every human being matters.”
A few days later, Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, was interviewed on “60 Minutes” about sexual abuse in Ireland, which the archbishop has worked tirelessly to combat. Toward the end of the segment, the archbishop told of hearing of the rape (the right word) of an 8-year-old boy by a priest. To get a sense of the age of the child, he visited a nearby Catholic school and asked to see the 8-year-old students. As Archbishop Martin recalled seeing their youthful innocence, he wept. It was an open, honest and welcome picture of a compassionate man trying to address sin. Both Professor Kaveny and Archbishop Martin brought the Gospel into people’s living rooms by saying yes when the television producer called.