This letter appears on America magazines in response to their own previous article defending the attack on religious freedom by the Obama administration and will appear later in the print edition.
The March 5th America editorial takes the United States Bishops to task for entering too deeply into the finer points of health care policy as they ponder what the slightly revised Obama Administration mandate might mean for the Catholic Church in the United States. These details, we are told, do not impinge on religious liberty. We are also told that our recent forthright language borders on incivility.
What details are we talking about? For one thing, a government mandate to insure, one way or another, for an abortifacient drug called Ella. Here the “details” would seem to be fertilized ova, small defenseless human beings, who will likely suffer abortion within the purview of a church-run health insurance program.
What other details are at issue? Some may think that the government’s forcing the Church to provide insurance coverage for direct surgical sterilizations such as tubal ligations is a matter of policy. Such force, though, feels an awful lot like an infringement on religious liberty.
Still another detail is ordinary contraception. Never mind that the dire societal ills which Pope Paul predicted would ensue with the widespread practice of artificial contraception have more than come true. The government makes the rules and the rules are the rules. So, the bishops should regard providing (and paying for) contraception as, well, a policy detail. After all, it’s not like the federal government is asking bishops to deny the divinity of Christ. It’s just a detail in a moral theology—life and love, or something such as that. And why worry about other ways the government may soon require the Church to violate its teachings as a matter of policy?
More details come to mind. Many if not most church entities are self-insured. Thus, Catholic social service agencies, schools, and hospitals could end up paying for abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraception. If the editorial is to be believed, bishops should regard it not as a matter of religious liberty but merely policy that, as providers they teach one thing but as employers they are made to teach something else. In other words, we are forced to be a countersign to Church teaching and to give people plenty of reason not to follow it. The detail in question here is called “scandal”.
Then there is the detail of religious insurers and companies that are not owned by the Church but which exist solely to serve the Church’s mission. The new “accommodation” leaves them out in the cold. And if I really wanted to get into the weeds I’d mention the conscience rights of individual employers.
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.
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Bishop of Bridgeport
Chairman, Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty