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28 February 2012

FollowUp 1: Claims of Threat to Religious Liberty

This week, Chicago's Francis Cardinal George wrote a column on healthcare.  He makes some claims that are clearly erroneous.
This year, the Catholic Church in the United States is being told she must “give up” her health care institutions, her universities and many of her social service organizations. This is not a voluntary sacrifice. It is the consequence of the already much discussed Department of Health and Human Services regulations now filed and promulgated for implementation beginning Aug. 1 of this year.
Not at all true.  The compromise reached by the Obama Administration includes that health insurance cover what many of those Catholic institutions already cover.  The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is not being asked to give up any institution.
Why does a governmental administrative decision now mean the end of institutions that have been built up over several generations from small donations, often from immigrants, and through the services of religious women and men and others who wanted to be part of the church’s mission in healing and education? Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.
The premise is flawed.  There is no "end of institutions" unless the RCC makes a deliberate choice to end them.  It's touching that so much work went into creating these institutions that are not being terminated by the government.
So far in American history, our government has respected the freedom of individual conscience and of institutional integrity for all the many religious groups that shape our society. The government has not compelled them to perform or pay for what their faith tells them is immoral. That’s what we’ve meant by freedom of religion. That’s what we had believed was protected by the U.S. Constitution. Maybe we were foolish to believe so.
First, no one's "freedom of individual conscience" is under threat.  That one is given the option of using contraception does not mean that one must do so.  Individuals are free to choose.  Second, inclusion of contraception in health insurance does not threaten "institutional integrity".  The RCC can still tell its parishioners to not use contraception.  That returns us to the first point, freedom of individual conscience.

This is where it gets a little more interesting.  The Cardinal implies that their employees, including those who are not Roman Catholic, must not be given the choice of whether or not to have contraception available as part of the health insurance provided by their employer.  They want to make all health decisions for their employees, irrespective of that "freedom of individual conscience".
What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.
No.  Those are ignoring an important choice which involves no change whatsoever for many of the RCC institutions.  That is, allow contraception to be included in the health insurance and simply tell the Roman Catholic employees that you frown upon them using those as much as you frown upon them doing other things that you consider sinful.  That does not require secularization, fines, sales, or closure.

This is an artificial problem, created to stir up political controversy.  The Cardinal wants the RCC to overstep the Establishment Clause and have a greater "institutional voice in public life."
In the public discussion thus far, efforts have been made to isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful by focusing attention exclusively on “reproductive” issues. But the acrimony could as easily focus next year or the year after on assisted suicide or any other moral issue that can be used to distract attention from the attack on religious liberty. Many will recognize in these moves a tactic now familiar in our public life: those who cannot be co-opted are isolated and then destroyed. The arguments used are both practical and theoretical.
No one is trying to "isolate the bishops from the Catholic faithful".  That is absurd.  This is about public health policy, not about communications with your congregations.

Despite the efforts of the late Jack Kevorkian, assisted suicide remains illegal.  Neither should it be illegal nor should the RCC be limited from preaching against assisted suicide within their churches.  Again, the Cardinal wants the RCC to overstep the Establishment Clause and have a greater "institutional voice in public life."
Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.
Slow down.  "There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows."  I'm not sure that everyone knows that.  Some of the medical reasons are to save the life of the woman taking those medications.  This is what the RCC does not want to insure.

Preaching morality is fine.  Enforcing morality is something else entirely.  The Cardinal is calling for the latter for all of its employees, not just those who are Roman Catholic.

Skipping down several paragraphs:
The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. 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 the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.
When organized charity is mixed with denial of medical coverage where the RCC determines what may and may not be covered, then perhaps the RCC should be constrained to those activities that involve only those of their faith.  While I generally oppose restrictions on religions, those religions cannot be allowed to impose their will on those who are not of their faith.
The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.
This is a big lie.  The Cardinal needs to re-read the last sentence of Exodus 20:12.
12 Thou shalt not murder.  
     Thou shalt not commit adultery.  
     Thou shalt not steal.  
     Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
There is no attack against religion.
If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.
The only reason for those hospitals and health care institutions to not be listed is if the Cardinal decides that allowing people "freedom of individual conscience" is too dangerous to keep the hospitals and health care institutions open.  Otherwise, this is just a huge scare tactic.  Particularly ugly from one who is supposed to uphold the Ten Commandments.

Thanks to Joe My God for the heads up.

6 February 2012: Original Pedantic Political Ponderings post.

11 March 2012:  FollowUp 2.

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