Current Comment

Government’s Task

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.

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Lisa Weber
6 years 10 months ago
In the article "Women at Work", the factors of career interruption, part-time work and clustering in low-paying jobs are rightly cited as contributing to less pay for women.  The problem of no mentoring is also relevant, but is part of a bigger problem among women, and that problem is that women are aggressive toward one another.  The difficulty that women have working together as adults in a community, rather than family, setting contributes to pay inequity.  Aggression among women is covert, but that does not make it nonexistent.  Aggression among women tends to attack relationships in the form of gossip, humiliation, ostracism and overwork.  Relational aggression simply destroys teamwork, and most people are successful as part of a team effort.  Women face multiple obstacles in attaining pay equality with men, but the biggest obstacle is one women can't talk about - aggression among women.
James Palermo
6 years 10 months ago
Health insurance is an earned benefit, part of the wage package received by employees in exchange for their labors.  Thus, it makes as much sense for the Bishops to withhold birth control coverage for employees as it would for the bishops to withhold that portion of their employees' cash-wages which might be spent on contraception.  The government is not interfering with the right of the Church to be opposed to artificial birth control, but it does have the obligation to prevent the Church from imposing its teachings on those who reject them.  In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee engaged in a "ministerial" position was barred from alleging her termination violated federal law.  Thus, it appears the Church has total discretion with regard to individuals    whose membership in the church is a requirement for employment. However, the Bishops do not have the right to impose church teachings on its non-ministerial employees. So, while the Church could refuse to hire, or terminate a "ministerial employee" for almost any reason, including failing to live up to church teachings, in most instances, the church may not refuse to hire, or to retain, non-ministerial employees based solely on the ground that they are homosexual, divorced and remarried, atheist, pregnant outside of marriage or because they practice birth control. 
Tom Maher
6 years 10 months ago
The editorial titled "Policy, Not Liberty" of a few weeks ago was a horror of misrepresentation and distortion of facts, analysis and conclusion of what and why the Bishops were objecting to the new health care regulation mandates on religious inistutions that violated Religious Liberty. 

As even the title of the editorial "Policy, Not Liberty" suggest the editorial was completely contradicting the Bishops' objections.  You would think the Bishops strong objection would give some pause to the editors who might ask if they gave the Bishops some fair credit "Why are the Bishops objecting so strongly" ? or "What is behind the Bishops' objections"?  But no,  the editorial instead misreports the Bishops objections and elaborately lectures the Bishops on abstract analysis of some unheard of Catholic theology of dubious applicability suggesting the Bishops take what you get on health care regulations. Don't make a fuss as if the Church's moral views and autonomy should be subordinate to the political needs of the government.  The regulation was good enough for the editors so it should be good enough for the Bishops. 

The editors' views overwhelmed their ability to even hear and report the complete content of the Bishops objections.  What confussion and strife this distorting editorial created..  The Bishops were  made to look like they were frivolously objecitng without basis when in fact the real factual and legal basis that was not reported. 

The HHS regulation defines and limits what a religion is and what it should do.  That is a profound viloation of the First Amendement Reliogus Liberties that is completely unaccptable and illegal.
Gerard Carvalho
6 years 9 months ago

You state in Government's Task (Current Comment, March 26) "The church cannot function peacefully in the United States under the current regulatory framework" because of rulings regarding implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Your statement is simply not true.

What is needed on the part of the bishops is a legal, logical and truthful framing of the problem created by the passage of the health care reform law in 2010. Instead of shouting foul, the bishops should be working to answer the following question: How can the Catholic Church, and all Catholic affiliated organizations, adapt to the rules of the Affordable Care Act without violating any Catholic moral values?

By framing the problem this way, the bishops would be looking internally for any administrative practices that could be changed. There is one. Instead of providing a paid health insurance plan for employees, pay directly to employees a pro rata share of the cost of the health insurance plan, (third party or self-insured) plus the overhead costs associated with selecting and administering the plan. Give employees the freedom to choose how to spend their compensation instead of deciding for them! But to make this change truly beneficial for all Americans while the Church comes into compliance with the new law, the bishops would also have to lobby for a change in tax law to insure that premiums paid for health insurance are deducted from total income in the calculation of adjusted gross income (to remove economic discrimination in tax deductions), and they would have to lobby for Affordable Insurance Exchanges of sufficiently large pools to guard against discriminatory health insurance policy pricing practices.


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