Religious Freedom ’12: Has It Jumped The Shark?

While there’s little doubt the president blundered on this, and the USCCB was emboldened by a flock temporarily flying in the same direction, I think the moment has likely come and gone for the HHS mandate and the protest against it.

We’ve descended into outright comedy with dotCommonweal blogger Lisa if offering a prize for the last moderate bishop in the United States. I think fellow blogger Grant Gallicho has the measure of the offended side.

If the bishops want to argue, as some critics already are, that they’re funding contraception by virtue of paying an insurance company at all, then they have committed themselves to a position at odds with their own practice. The premise of such a criticism is that money is fungible. Any dollar I give to an insurer — even for a policy that does not include contraception — could be used to offset the cost of providing such services as a separate policy. (That is the same argument the USCCB used to oppose the Affordable Care Act’s mechanism for handling abortion funding.) But of course bishops are currently doing just that — paying, say, Aetna for plans excluding contraception and abortion, while Aetna covers those services for other enrollees. Yet we have not heard a peep objecting to the arrangement.

Unless something really funny or really serious pops up in the next nine months on this issue, this is probably the last opinion you’ll read from me on it on this web site. Here’s why:

Grant is right: the insurance money all goes into the same pot. The only plan that would work morally is the one I suggested: that the Catholic Church set up a national plan that combines health care and insurance. We offer it to all our employees, even the part-timers. We offer it to parishioners. And we offer it to non-Catholics who want to jump on board with us.

The bishops do lots of business with people who support items they or we might consider immoral or anti-religious. Lawyers. Mechanics. Restaurants. Airline companies. Vintners. Tobacco companies. Bankers. And those are just the ones we know about.

If the president blundered on this at the start, his concessions–real or imagined–will probably be satisfactory to create the illusion, if not the fact, of his willingness to bargain. If the bishops continue to complain, without any plan of their own, they and their allies will be painted as politically motivated, and they’ll marginalize themselves from the next round of recruiting allies.

There are more important things to write about, pray about, and actually do.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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14 Responses to Religious Freedom ’12: Has It Jumped The Shark?

  1. Paul says:

    I think you’ve missed out quite a few of the issues that the USCCB is complaining about.

    (1) All health insurance companies will have to offer contraception/abortifacient coverage. So, it will be impossible for faithful Catholics to legally set up a health insurance company.

    (2) All self-insured companies will have to offer coverage for contraception/abortifacients. So, again, companies owned by faithful Catholics will not be able to legally offer health insurance that alternative way.

    (3) Anyone using a health insurance company will have to agree, as part of the plan, that their employees will be given coverage for contraception/abortifacients, even if the money for that comes from the health insurance company. This coverage will not be added as a rider (i.e. a totally separate agreement, only between insurance company and employee), but will be part of the employer’s plan, and thus something that they have to formally agree to (or else the employer won’t be able to get any health insurance). Having to agree to the plan presents a moral problem.

  2. Mike says:

    Simple fix: single payer. I prefer the rule of law to the rule of canon law.

  3. FrMichael says:

    Paul, your comments are spot-on: Todd’s scheme will become illegal under ObamaCare. He probably won’t respond to you substantively because he has no answer and no skin in the game, i.e. “he’s bored.” At best you might get some red herrings thrown out.

    I’m not bored. I am pondering whether I, as a pastor, have to terminate the employment of three non-Catholic teachers and expel a dozen non-Catholic students in my parochial school in order to keep it recognizably Catholic under the regulations that were published in the Federal Register last week. My diocese can’t give me direction: we all wait in anxious anticipation. I imagine Todd wouldn’t be so “bored” if the Feds decided that lay parochial staff were no longer to be considered “religious” under ACA and that parishes would lose their religious designation for employing them. A scenario of firing all lay liturgists, pastoral associates, youth ministers, and DREs due to arbitrary federal definitions of “religious” organizations contrary to Catholic doctrine is consistent with what has already happened. It didn’t happen, but by the logic of HHS’ decision I don’t see what would prevent a future HHS Secretary from making such a determination in the future. He’s just “bored” because the HHS sword of Damacles happened to fall somewhere else.

    For now.

  4. Todd says:

    Go ahead and spout off, FrMichael. I’m holding to my word on no more words on this topic, and I’m disinclined to be baited out of it, even by a person who decides to cash in on his character flaws to keep this thread running.

  5. Todd, the irony and disingenuity of your rejoinder to Fr. M, prefaced by your own conveniently ambivilent caveat, “Unless something really funny or really serious pops up in the next nine months on this issue, this is probably the last opinion you’ll read from me on it on this web site.” is only self-propelled exacerbation by your smarmy rejoinder (“sm” as is in “smug”) to him to “Go ahead and spout off.”
    Fr. M’s concerns seemed fairly serious and potentially imminent on face value to me. Your response, OTOH, seems reactive and more “ad hominem” than was required by your own terms. It is, after all, your blog, your thread.
    Just sayin’
    Of course, my brother, I allow as how there might be back-story of which “we” remain unawares.

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    Simple solution. Drop all health plans. Increase salaries and wages accordingly. Employees can buy their own plans. That way, rather than “bishops’ money” paying for insurance that provides contraceptives et al, the salaries and wages will pay for contraceptives et al.

    Problem solved.

  7. Junebug says:

    Todd, do a little research and a lot more thinking. You can’t set up one national Catholic health insurance plan. Like all health insurance carriers, you will have to set up in each of the 50 states to comply with different insurance regulations in place in each of the 50 states.

    This would require a massive outlay of initial capital not only to pay for the establishment of separate corporations in every state, but the hiring of highly skilled professionals to manage the funds. In addition, you would need another huge outlay of capital for reserves to pay claims until premium dollars roll in and the investment thereof begins to pay dividends which are also used to pay claims and hold down premium costs.

    And Lord help your insurance plan if your actuaries are off just one or two percent in their forecast of catastrophic claims in those first few years.

    Todd, sometimes you think you are more clever than you actually are. Or as Alexander Pope put it, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Or as Mark Twain put it even better, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you do know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    Or as another great philosopher might have put it: “Render unto Blue Cross/Blue Shield the things that are Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

    I would much prefer our church stay in the God business than the insurance business.

  8. Junebug says:

    Here’s the irony of the whole thing.

    Under the intial rules proposed by the HHS, a parish could claim religious exemption for all its employees, including its school teachers, and the female employees of child-bearing years would be forced to pay for birth control out of their own (often meager) salaries.

    Under the new “accommodation,” those very same parish employees will now be able to receive free contraceptive coverage, and contraception at absolutely no cost, including no co-pays.

    In other words, check and mate.

  9. Todd says:

    Nothing like a solid helping of no-can-do to give a bracing start to the day.

    Oh, I have no illusions that Catholics have the energy to start a whole health care system. For something like this to work, as I’ve said before, we’d have to have a whole system of hospitals, PCP’s, specialists and other caregivers on board. It’s more than about insurance, people. It’s a whole way of taking care of people.

    FrMichael only points out what I’ve already deduced: not only are we at the mercy of our corporate masters, but also our bishops and pastors. Checking off the talking points, there’s no way to start a business to do it the way we Catholics know it should be done. Plus, we have mini-dictators in parishes like FrMichael (if indeed he is a priest and pastor and not at all “bogus”–no way to tell that from an anonymous commenter) deciding who stays and who goes based on his own personal sense of conscience. And clearly, he doesn’t care about his former employees having to buy into plans to violate our consciences. The narcissism of anonymity, if not the clergy.

  10. FrMichael says:


    I’m not going to decide based on my personal nacissism or “personal sense of conscience,” I’m going to decide based on the legal opinion provided by my diocese and the direction it gives to its schools. I HATE being in this position. One of the potential teachers to be laid off has been teaching decades in the Catholic schools. The others are very good at what they do and support the Catholic mission of the school, even if they don’t share all the particulars of the Catholic faith. I’m at a loss to figure out your incomprehension of the moral seriousness the HHS mandate poses to the Church.

    I actually think, barring ObamaCare, we could pull off a CatholicCare. At least, in highly-populated states like California there are enough Catholic hospitals, physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel, along with the experienced medical administrators to make it work. But as always, too little, too late. It would all become illegal under ACA anyways.

    Jimmy Mac:

    The solution might might come down to that. The problem is that, as I understand the ACA, employers will be required to provide health insurance with the troublesome policies or pay fines. Dropping health coverage and increasing cash salary to compensate will not be a legal alternative. I’m willing to pay fines, but if they turn out to be ruinously expensive as to risk the school, then lay offfs there will be.

    • Todd says:

      Thanks for the clarification, then. Your other comment came off as being a little too cavalier for my taste in employers, not to mention a fellow Catholic. As long as the primary agent in a final decision is morality, and not legality, then I’d say you might end up on firm ground.

  11. Jimmy Mac says:

    See how much better things would have been if Single Payer had been adopted?

  12. FrMichael says:

    Todd, glad to see the misconception cleared up.

    • Todd says:

      Well, it’s just that you’re a pretty tough talker when it comes to gays. And people who enable child abuse. In comparison, it seems somewhat out of character for you to be rolling over in obedience when it comes to sacrificing your own employees and students to the Evil Empire.

      A lot of our bishops are tough talkers too when it comes to going to jail for principles. You seem more willing to cut loose the sheep than make sacrifices yourself. Or do I have the measure of your Oprahesque victimhood all wrong?

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