More Bishops, More Politics

As a new week dawns, I feel more comfortable standing apart from the produce-throwing crowd. At dotCommonweal, here and here, two commentators swim upstream against the HHS current.

From Eric Bugyis:

I clearly established that none of the possible objections to the HHS mandate and its definition of religious exemption have anything to do with “religion,” …

And Eduardo Peñalver:

I actually think that liberal Catholics, like many liberals more generally, tend to favor broader exemptions of deeply held conscientious objection, without so much regard for the foundations of the moral beliefs in question.  Although liberal Catholics do not agree with the Church’s position on contraception, they accept it as sincerely held and therefore, because they generally look favorably on broad conscientious exemptions, they would extend the same courtesy to their own hierarchy (and perhaps to private Catholic employers as well), even in this borderline case of a mandate to either provide indirect aid to the practice or pay a fine.

Neither of these snippets do justice to the lengthy arguments they present. But considering that first bit from Mr Bugyis, I had to go scrambling to read my own bishop’s letter. And he’s right. It’s all about politics. Nothing about religion. Just the freedom of it.

I wonder if there were any bishops that declined to write such a letter. Probably not as many as the parishes that were spared a political message at liturgy.

I don’t even know that the bishops have completely thought through this civic position. They can drop health coverage, to be sure. Pay the fine, or whatever. (But I happen to think they will risk embittered employees, a far more expensive proposition.) But they still have to pay us. And if we want health insurance, we have to buy into some plan, somewhere. And if we buy into a plan (either by choice, or by no choice) that includes these “non-religious non-negotiables,” then the bishops are, in effect, sanctioning abortion, contraception, and elective sterilization, are they not? Just in a rather concealed way.

And speaking of concealment, I wonder who was the ghostwriter behind the letters read in churches and disseminated in bulletins this past weekend. Huge chunks of Bishop DiMarzio’s letter read just like my bishop’s. Good thing these letters weren’t living, breathing human beings. Such cloning would be immoral.

And picking up on a theme in that clone letter, there’s a reference to “almost all employers” and “almost all health insurers” and “almost all individuals.” Don’t the bishops mean “many?”

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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23 Responses to More Bishops, More Politics

  1. John Drake says:

    No, Todd, the church or related employer pays you for the work you have done. If you want to go spend your earnings on cocaine, or prostitutes, or birth control, that’s YOUR problem, not the Bishops’.

  2. naturgesetz says:

    “It’s all about politics. Nothing about religion. Just the freedom of it.”

    Well, duh. The issue here isn’t a theological debate: it isn’t whether the Church’s teaching on contraception is right or wrong. It is whether the government (= political, not religion) ought to try to force a church to fund what it believes is immoral. It is not about the teaching of the Church; it is about the freedom of the Church to follow its own teachings with regard to its own institutions.

  3. Todd, I agree that the letters left a lot to be desired and they all bear similarities.

    I am actually – perhaps uncharacteristically so – upset about this. I guess for me I think. I have other issues and reasons about why I think that this is problematic. Of course I will be thought a heretic by some and a lunatic by others, but the notion of contraception without cost… I dislike it. Is there a combox in the world where I could actually explain this adequately? Probably not.

    It is all so complicated and in need of wisdom, grace, discernment and charitable discussion. All things in short supply, on the internets… *sigh*

    And in the end, to try to solve moral issues with political solutions alone, and they are political, is folly. Have we not learned that yet?

    Of course, single payer healthcare would have… Oh, I’m not going there, am I?

  4. Jimmy Mac says:

    The bishops have gotten all in a huff about having to “write checks” to pay for health services of which they don’t approve. They act as if it’s their money!

    • Catholic schools are supported by tuition, scholarships, donations and grants.
    • Catholic hospitals are supported by fund-raising activities, insurance premiums, research grants and patient co-pays.
    • Catholic Charities is supported in great part by donations, grants and funding by governmental agencies in payment for services rendered.
    • Parishes are supported by offerings, bequests and tithes of parishioners.
    • Seminaries receive a great deal of their funding from tuition paid by parents, seminarians themselves and scholarships from various agencies.
    • Convents and monasteries receive funding from their parent communities, the sale of products and services and offerings from outside sources.


    Bishops have very little financial skin in the game with it comes to income to and expenses for the various Catholic entities about which they have their knickers in such an uproar.

    • naturgesetz says:

      But they are still part of the Church, fulfilling its mission. When others give money to the various units of the Church which you mention, the money is not that of those who paid it, it is the money of that particular church agency. So when the government compels the Catholic school, hospital, or university to pay for this insurance, it is compelling the Church to pay for it.

      The argument that the bishops have no right to complain because they are not the ones who personally provided the money is absurd. It’s money for which they and the Catholic agencies they are standing up for are responsible.

      Every true American should be outraged at this trampling on the right of churches to follow their beliefs.

      • Mike says:

        No true American would be outraged at this. Gosh, that was easy.

        Now, what would you say if this were about Muslims and Sharia? If you wouldn’t hold the exact same position, you’re a bigot. If you would, you’re consistently wrong.

      • naturgesetz says:

        “Now, what would you say if this were about Muslims and Sharia?”

        What do you mean, Mike?

        There is no “Muslim Church” so I’m not sure what you would consider analogous.

        Give me an example or two of how Islamic institutions are functioning in the U.S., potential dictates from the federal government, and applicable the rules of Islam.

      • Jimmy Mac says:

        Sorry, but being a “pass-through” agency isn’t exactly the essence of being church.

      • naturgesetz says:

        The church is not a pass-through agency in this matter. It would only be pass-through if the premium were collected or withheld from the employees. And if part of the premium were collected/withheld, it would only be pass-through for that part of the premium.

        And what is of the essence of being a Christian Church is the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

  5. crystal says:

    I am upset about this too, but not upset at the Obama administration. The bishops are, I think, in the wrong. There never has been n unlimited right to religious liberty here – there’s always been a balancing of rights, church and state – and the churches haven’t always had their way … think of the Mormons and polygamy. I believe the bishops are using this issue to try to doom Obama in the coming election and that it’s not their consciences that are at stake but their will to power.

    • naturgesetz says:

      I fear that you have committed a rash judgment and a calumny, since you have adduced no evidence beyond your personal speculation for your belief about the bishops, and your personal speculation is insufficient grounds for forming such a judgment. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church for an explanation of the sins of rash judgment and calumny.)

      • crystal says:

        I actually have made a deduction about the bishops based on sources other than my own personal speculation, sources like this article by a Catholic theologian …. Bishops don’t speak for most Catholics on contraception … and this article in Forbes – The Truth About Contraception, Obamacare And The Church.

      • naturgesetz says:

        Crystal —

        The article by Keith Soko says nothing about the bishops having a political motive, so it lends no support for your imputing motives to them.

        BTW, the issue he raises about whether women should be allowed to make their own decisions about contraception is totally beside the point. Nothing about what the bishops are asking would forbid any woman to contracept; it is only a question of whether the government is going to compel Church institutions to pay for it. And whether he likes it or not, the bishops are the ones who speak for the Church since they have the office of teaching, governing, and sanctifying.

        As for Rick Ungar’s article in Forbes: again there is no shred of a suggestion that the bishops wanted to get rid of Obama and are using this to do it.

        As with Soko, the items he mentions are all beside the point of whether the government should force institutions which are part of the Church to pay for contraception. His attempted distinction between churches and entities owned and operated by a church is contrary to our self-understanding as a church: that education and care of the poor and the sick are part of our mandate from God. This false understanding of the nature of the Church is what lies behind the HHS’s dictate in violation of the freedom of the Church.

        Anyway, neither of these articles suggest that the bishops are doing this just because they want to get rid of Obama, so it still seems to me that you made this up. And remember that just last fall, Cardinal-designate Dolan came away from a meeting with Obama gushing about how receptive to Catholic concerns he found the President. He didn’t want to get rid of Obama: he thought that Obama was willing to accommodate the Church’s conscientious concerns and that there would be some flexibility on Obama’s part. That is why the final decision, basically equivalent to the most extreme policies of any of the states, amounts to a stab in the back by Obama.

  6. Liam says:

    My sense from the past couple of weekends in true blue Boston is that there is a snowball happening, and it’s not trending HHS’s way. Rather, I am finding that progressive Catholics who have long championed the right to conscience for that very reason find it deeply objectionable to have the sincere conscience rights of religious institutions overridden in this way. It is a striking development, and very pronounced.

    The HHS decision is an iceberg, and the Administration is taking on water over this. Catholic institutions will stop offering health insurance to employees over this, and the goals of them who advocated for this HHS decision will not only not be achieved, but be set back further. The Administration needs to walk this mistake back, and soon.

  7. crystal says:

    Yes, my belief that the bishops are using this issue to promote a republican candidate iis just a belief, which I came to because, as the Forbes article mentions, other states have had similar rules for some time but the bishops have never until now spoken of their consciences being tied on the issue, and because the bishops seem to be trying to influence voters through their command that the anti-Obama administration letter be read to everyone on Sunday. It doesn’t help that the former Vatican ambassadors have endorsed Romney.

    I don’t feel that Obama has any particular antipathy toward Catholics, and I don’t see the “Catholic left” rising up against him (just the Catholic right and the centrists). This post at dotCommonweal addresses some to the misinformation that’s being published on this issue ….

    • Liam says:

      I most definitely see local Catholic left here rising up; my email inbox today is another indication. YMMV.

    • naturgesetz says:

      From what I’ve read, a crucial difference between this and the states is that there are ways of evading the state mandates which won’t be available here.

  8. Jimmy Mac says:

    Religious Freedom, Supreme Court Wayback Edition

    By Charles P. Pierce, February 7, 2012

    Since the topic for today seems to be “religious liberty” as defined by various columnists and cable-news stars, maybe we should fire up the Wayback Machine and take a look at a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided (in the voice of arch-Papist Antonin Scalia) that the secular law need not bow to someone’s religious “conscience,” even as regards the performance of the sacred liturgy of that person’s faith.
    (Imagine, if you will, the outcry if the FDA demanded to test all the sacramental wine in all the rectories in America to make sure it hadn’t gone bad.)

    On April 17, 1990, the Supreme Court decided the case of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon vs. Smith. In that case, two men were fired from their jobs as drug-rehabilitation counselors because, as part of their worship service in the Native American Church, they regularly ingested peyote. (It should be noted here that peyote has been regarded as a sacrament in these religions since long before anyone else came up with bread and wine.) They were also denied unemployment benefits for this same reason. They managed to get a ruling from the Oregon Supreme Court reinstating their benefits, but Oregon appealed the case to Washington and, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the Oregon court’s ruling and decided against the two men.

    This was clearly a decision in which the court decided that the practice of a religious liturgy, which is certainly more dear to an informed religious conscience than is the accidental collision between the secular law and a discredited doctrine, could be circumscribed because it was contrary to the secular law. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia said:

    We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.

    And, also (quoting Justice Frankfurter):

    Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs.

    And, also, too:

    Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).”

    And, finally:

    It may fairly be said that leaving accommodation to the political process will place at a relative disadvantage those religious practices that are not widely engaged in; but that unavoidable consequence of democratic government must be preferred to a system in which each conscience is a law unto itself or in which judges weigh the social importance of all laws against the centrality of all religious beliefs.

    In other words, Native Americans should have had a better lobby.

    Read more:

    • naturgesetz says:

      I’m not sure if you’ve posted this as a “gotcha” or if you think Justice Scalia got it right. Either way, there are a couple of things to note.

      First, the case was about individuals, not a church or other institution. When it comes to churches, just last month the Court decided a case in which freedom of religion trumped a law of general application.

      Second, there is a long history also of accommodation for conscientious objectors — most well-known being that for pacifists exempted from military service, but as noted in this situation, in various state laws dealing with employee health insurance.

      So this court case says nothing about the current controversy.

      • The Church is asking selective conscience objection FOR SOLDIERS. This is what you and many others ignore. It is not just about those who object to war, but to those who object to particular wars.

        Second, what Scalia wrote actually has all kinds of applications beyond mere individuals, and it is a tradition which goes back before Scalia (ask the Mormons). It is, however true, that many people are now on the “religious liberty” kick, not because they have any care or knowledge of the issue, but because they think they can use it for political gain, nothing else. Look to how many of the same people bringing it up now have been opposed to religious liberty of others (such as Muslims, indeed, spreading all kinds of attacks on Muslims wanting to live their faith in the US with self-imposed Sharia laws). How many of the people talking now scream about how Muslims want to impose their own religious morality upon the US?

        My position is that: the Obama administration is wrong, but the people talking about this have, for the most part, no history with or understanding of religious liberty issues. They do not understand the complexity involved and want it to be a simple us/them narrative to launch a holy crusade against Obama (a war they have been trying to create).

  9. Jimmy Mac says:

    Naturgesetz said: “The church is not a pass-through agency in this matter. It would only be pass-through if the premium were collected or withheld from the employees. And if part of the premium were collected/withheld, it would only be pass-through for that part of the premium.”

    Please re-read post # 4 above. The “church” is indeed a pass-through agency for the greater majority of money that it objects to spending in this case.

    Also, “the church” is more than the bishops and clergy. They are the 1% and the rest of the People of God are the 99%. The idea that the 1% defines what “the church” will and will not do is an idea whose time is over. The clergy make, approve and enforce the rules – most of which are skewed to the advantage of the clergy: canon law; papal documents; the idea of the magisterium; etc. They are rapidly losing their claim to control; they are the ever-diminishing, ever-aging 1%.

    • naturgesetz says:

      I’ve reread the post. None of the stuff you mention makes them a pass-through agency. You are misusing the term, as I tried to explain to you. If those sorts of things made a pass-through agency, every institution or company that got money and spent it would be a pass-through agency.

      What makes a pass-through situation is when party A gives money to party B for party B to give to party C on party A’s behalf. For example, when an employee (party A) has money withheld from wages by the employer (party B) to be contributed to Social Security (party C), the employer is a pass-through agency for the social security tax. But when the employer (party B) gets money from a client, patient, student, or customer (party A) for goods or services provided and uses some of it to pay premiums to an insurance company (party C), the employer is not a pass-through agency, because the employer is not paying the premium on behalf of party A but on behalf of the insured (party D).

      As for your third paragraph, about the church — a.) moral teachings are not “rules;” and b.) I’m a Catholic, meaning I accept the teachings of the Church, so I disagree with you about the place of the hierarchy and magisterium going forward.

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