Now what to do?
Well, for one, we’ll keep up advocacy and education on the issue. We continue to tap into your concern as citizens and count on your support. Regrettably, the unity of the Catholic community has been tempered a bit by those who think the President has listened to us and now we can quit worrying. You’re sure free to take their advice. But I hope you’ll listen to your pastors who are still very concerned.
Two, we’ll continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions — or at least a wider latitude to the exemptions so that churches can be free — and of the rigidly narrow definition of church, minister, and ministry that would prevent us from helping those in need, educating children, and healing the sick who are not Catholic.
The President invited us to “work out the wrinkles,” and we have been taking him seriously. Unfortunately, this seems to be going nowhere: the White House Press Secretary, for instance, informed the nation that the mandates are a fait accompli (and, embarrassingly for him, commented that we bishops have always opposed Health Care anyway, a charge that is simply scurrilous and insulting). The White House already notified Congress that the dreaded mandates are now published in the Federal Registry “without change.” The Secretary of HHS is widely quoted as saying, “Religious insurance companies don’t really design the plans they sell based on their own religious tenets,” which doesn’t bode well for a truly acceptable “accommodation.” And a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff ended with the President’s people informing us that the broader concerns of religious freedom — that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the “enlightened” voices of accommodation, such as the recent hardly-surprising but terribly unfortunate editorial in America. The White House seems to think we bishops are hopelessly out of touch with our people, and with those whom the White House now has nominated as official Catholic teachers.
So, I don’t know if we’ll get anywhere with the executive branch.
Congress offers more hope, with thoughtful elected officials proposing promising legislation to protect what should be so obvious: religious freedom. As is clear from the current debate in the senate, our opponents are marketing this as a “woman’s health issue.” Of course, it cannot be reduced to that. It’s about religious freedom. (By the way, the Church hardly needs to be lectured about health care for women. Thanks mostly to our Sisters, the Church is the largest private provider of health care for women and their babies in the country. Here in New York State, Fidelis, the Medicare/Medicaid insurance provider, owned by the Church, consistently receives top ratings for its quality of service to women and children.)
And the courts offer the most light. In the recent Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically defended the right of a Church to define its own ministry and services, a dramatic rebuff to the administration, but one apparently unheeded by the White House. Thus, our bishops’ conference and many individual religious entities are working with some top-notch law firms who have told us they feel so strongly about this that they will represent us pro-bono.
So, we have to be realistic and prepare for tough times. Some, like America magazine, want us to cave-in and stop fighting, saying this is simply a policy issue; some want us to close everything down rather than comply (In an excellent article, Cardinal Francis George wrote that the administration apparently wants us to “give up for Lent” our schools, hospitals, and charitable ministries); some want us to engage in civil disobedience and be fined; some worry that we’ll have to face a decision between two ethically repugnant choices: subsidizing immoral services or no longer offering insurance coverage, a road none of us wants to travel.Read the whole thing, it's very good. Also, at "Public Discourse," the blog of the Witherspoon Institute, there's a very solid article by Robert George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan Anderson in response to a stupidicizing editorial in America:
Well, the bishops certainly do oppose mandating this funding (and always have), for contraceptives and abortifacients are, as Cardinal Timothy Dolan and others have noted, not health care. Anovulent pills can be used for genuinely health-related purposes, which the bishops support and even cover for their own employees. But what contraception and abortion prevent or “treat”—the existence of new people—is no illness or disease. They serve, as such, no common good. And when one weighs religious liberty against what is no public good at all, it’s easy to see how the scales of justice will tip. Bishops who point this out are not flexing “political muscle” in a hyped-up “difference over policy,” as America’s editors suggest. They are drawing the plain implications of Catholic principle—to which Jesuit magazines are, we presume, editorially committed.
But suppose, for the sake of argument, that these services were forms of health care. Imagine too that the “compromise solution” were more than the election-year I.O.U. of a politician who had already revealed himself to be reckless about religious freedom (and even averse to that term). We still face the fact that the mandate would require Catholic and other religiously opposed employers to provide plans that cover services they find morally abhorrent, or else pay crippling fines. Insurance companies would be the ones to advertise (and, officially, to fund) the plans’ controversial parts, but objecting employers would in practice bear their costs. Which of these tweaks, we wonder, moved Dionne, Shields, Kaine, and Casey from indignant opposition back to gushing support? The America editorial, long on assertion and innuendo but short—very short—on argument, doesn’t say. Let’s go through the possibilities...Thirdly, Michael Uhlmann at "The Catholic Thing" offers a six-point plan which he argues the bishops should now follow in their continuing struggle against the HHS mandate, and for the larger principle of religious freedom. It's a thought-provoking little essay. I don't disagree in principle with his points, but he's leaving a lot out (especially in 4 and 5, where he seems to leave the door open to libertarian views that may or may not be "Catholic" in any relevant sense), and the path is not nearly as neat or simple as this plan would make it appear.
Update (3/2) - Bishop Lori responds smartly to the same horrible America article:
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% of healthcare 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 healthcare? But maybe it’s inappropriate for pastors of souls to ask why the entirely adequate accommodation of religious rights in healthcare 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.