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“The Pharisees”: Bishops Go Off The Deep End

Just as I was publishing my post about Catholic tribalism on Friday, predicting that the brilliant White House “accommodation” on contraception wouldn’t mollify the U.S. Conference of Bishops, the bishops released a statement that made them seem, well, mollified, at least a little. The new Health and Human Services regulations were “a step in the right direction,” their statement read, and so I softened an assertion that the bishops would continue to wage war against the compromise.

I needn’t have soft-pedaled. Only a few hours later the bishops came out, guns blazing, insisting the only solution they would accept would be for “HHS to rescind the mandate for those objectionable services.” By any employer, for any employee in the entire country — a country where the vast majority of voters, and of Catholics, support Obama’s stand. And at Sunday Mass, bishops and parish priests throughout the nation read aloud the stunningly political letters about the controversy they already had planned. Now, with the bishops’ blessing, Republican are hard at work on legislation that would force HHS to strip the contraceptive coverage requirement for all employers, not just religious employers. Sen. Roy Blunt would allow employers to decline to cover any service they deem objectionable; Sen. Marco Rubio would restrict the legislation to contraception coverage.

I have a couple of reactions to the bishops’ extremism. First of all, as someone raised Catholic, I wonder why they’ve never read letters about any of their social justice priorities: universal healthcare, increased protection for the poor, labor rights, or action to curb climate change? Why does this topic  – not even the morally challenging issue of abortion, but the universally accepted practice of birth control – merit such a thundering reaction from the pulpit?

Second, as an American, I also wonder: How do they continue to demand tax-exempt status when they’re railing in their churches about blatantly political – and divisively partisan – public concerns? As the first writer on my remarkably sane Catholic tribalism letters thread remarked, their public support for the extremist GOP position makes me think they should register as a Republican political action committee rather than remain a tax-exempt religious institution outside the bounds of politics.

Even as the bishops became more shrill and extreme, the debate over contraception coverage became smarter and calmer last week. Major Catholic organizations supported Obama’s Friday move, including the Catholic Health Association, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and Catholic Charities USA. Before the president’s announcement, famed attorney David Boies did the most to usher in the new tone by framing the HHS rules as a matter of labor law. Boies doesn’t believe, by the way, that HHS is in any way required to provide the exemption for churches it wrote into its regulations even before the compromise. If the church is employing people, whether co-religionists or not, it has a responsibility to comply with employment law. He proved that even the administration’s initial regulations, exempting churches, was a strong attempt at accommodating anti-contraceptive religious groups.

But maybe the best argument on behalf of the Obama administration’s position comes from a very unlikely source, as Jay Bookman points out: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In two different decisions, the conservative Catholic Scalia has sided with the court majority in finding that religious teachings can’t justify religious employers – or employees — failing to comply with labor law. In the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith decision, regarding an employer’s ability to fire a Native American employee who used peyote, despite the employee’s claim that using the drug was a religious rite, Scalia wrote:

“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.” In an even more directly relevant 1982 decision holding that Amish employers must comply with Social Security and withholding taxes, though their faith bars participation in government support programs, Scalia wrote:

Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now.

I’ve written repeatedly that my inability to quit the Catholic Church entirely comes from the fact that its social teachings formed my social conscience, and to this day some of the people doing the most good for the poor and the excluded are devout Catholics. But the bishops are impossible to defend. Today, they are working on behalf of the Republican Party. “They have become the Pharisees,” says Andrew Sullivan, a conservative practicing Catholic. “And we need Jesus.”

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 13, 2012

February 15, 2012 Posted by | Bishops, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Many Catholic Universities, Hospitals Already Cover Contraception In Health Insurance Plans

Catholic leaders and the GOP presidential candidates have intentionally distorted the Obama administration’s new rule requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health benefits at no additional cost sharing. Conservatives are seeking a way to politically unite Republican voters around a social issue and portray the regulation as a big government intrusion into religious liberties. In reality, the mandate is modeled on existing rules in six states, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of faith, and offers employers a transitional period of one year to determine how best to comply with the rule.

It’s also nothing new. Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”

Similarly, an informal survey conducted by Our Sunday Visitor found that many Catholic colleges have purchased  insurance plans that provide contraception benefits:

University of Scranton, for example, appears to specifically cover contraception. The University of San Francisco offers employees two health plans, both of which cover abortion, contraception and sterilization…Also problematic is the Jesuit University of Scranton. One of its health insurance plans, the First Priority HMO, lists a benefit of “contraceptives when used for the purpose of birth control.”

DePaul University in Chicago covers birth control in both its fully insured HMO plan and its self-insured PPO plan and excludes “elective abortion,” said spokesman John Holden, adding that the 1,800 employee-university responded to a complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission several years ago and added artificial contraception as a benefit to its Blue Cross PPO.

Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., offers employee health insurance via the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, a consortium of Christian Bible and other private college and universities. Its plan excludes abortion, but probably covers artificial contraception as a prescription drug, said C. Gregg Conroy, the executive director of the TICUA Benefit Consortium.

Boston College, the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts, and other Catholic organizations that are located in one of the 28 states that already require employers to provide contraception benefits could have self-insured or stopped offering prescription drug coverage to avoid the mandate — but didn’t do so. Instead, they — like many Catholic hospitals and health care insurers around the country — chose to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Catholic women and offer these much needed services.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 7, 2012

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Bishops, Catholic Church, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Priest’s And Abuse: What Happened to ‘Zero Tolerance’?

A meeting of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops is scheduled for June. It needs to repair the gaping holes uncovered in their “zero tolerance” mandate for priests suspected of sexually abusing children.

A grand jury report in February found that the Philadelphia archdiocese, for all its announced safeguards, allowed 37 suspect priests to remain in parish work. The indictment of a layman and four church figures — including a monsignor accused of covering up abuse — is proof that the bishops’ system of local and national review boards isn’t strong enough.

Board appointees are supposedly equipped to scrutinize each diocese’s adherence to zero tolerance. But the grand jury in Philadelphia found that the hierarchy there continued to protect accused priests despite repeated scandals and vows for reform.

The leader of the Philadelphia review board pointed to one major weakness: currently, any allegations about rogue priests are first vetted by chancery officials working for the archdiocese. They rightly should go directly to the review boards. This should be a universal no-brainer, along with stronger outside auditing of safeguard programs. Both were initially required, but the bishops subsequently eased that to a policy of “self-reporting” with audits every three years.

The haunting question is how many other Philadelphias may be out there.

A church review panel of laypeople formed in 2002 looked beyond zero tolerance for priests and warned that “there must be consequences” for bishops who engineered cover-ups. More than 700 priests had to be dismissed in a three-year period. But there has been nothing close to an accounting of bishops’ culpability in protecting predatory priests and paying hush money to contain complaints. This is a fact for the bishops to ponder at their June meeting alongside the shocking grand jury report.

By: Editorial, The New York Times, April 1, 2011

April 2, 2011 Posted by | Bishops, Catholic Church, Priest's, Religion, Sex Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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