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“Peacemaking On Contraception”: An Olive Branch To The Catholic Church On Contraception Coverage

America’s Big Religious War ended on Friday. Or at least it ought to.

A little more than a year ago, the Obama administration set off a bitter and unnecessary clash with the Roman Catholic Church over rules mandating broad contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services’ announcement of new regulations is a clear statement that President Obama never wanted this fight.

The decision, the administration’s second attempt at compromise, ought to be taken by the nation’s Catholic bishops as the victory it is. Many of the country’s most prominent prelates are inclined to do just that — even if the most conservative bishops seem to want to keep the battle raging.

But more importantly, the final HHS rules are the product of a genuine and heartfelt struggle over the meaning of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. The contraception dispute was difficult because legitimate claims and interests were in conflict.

The vast majority of Americans believe that health insurance should cover contraception. At the same time, the Catholic Church has a theological objection to contraception, even if most Catholics (including regular churchgoers) disagree with its position. The church insisted that its vast array of charitable, educational and medical institutions should be exempt from the contraception requirement.

The church made a mistake in arguing its case on the grounds of “religious liberty.” By inflating their legitimate desire for accommodation into a liberty claim, the bishops implied that the freedom not to pay for birth control rose to the same level as, say, the freedom to worship or to preach the faith. This led to wild rhetorical excesses, including a comparison of Obama to Hitler and Stalin by one bishop and an analogy between the president’s approach and the Soviet constitution by another.

But the church had good reason to object to the narrowness of the original HHS definition of what constituted a religious organization entitled to exemptions from the contraception requirement. If an organization did not have “the inculcation of religious values” as its purpose and did not employ or serve primarily those who shared the faith, it got no exclusion at all.

The problem is that the vast charitable work done by religious organizations to help millions, regardless of their faith, is manifestly inspired by religion. The church could not abide the implicit reduction of its role merely to private expressions of faith. Don’t most Americans devoutly wish that religious people will be moved by their beliefs to works of charity and justice?

The HHS rules announced Friday scrapped this troubling definition in favor of long-established language in the Internal Revenue Code. In an interview, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius showed a becoming humility, and it would be nice if this rubbed off on her critics. However defensible the original rules might have been, she said, “they really caused more anxiety and conflict than was appropriate.”

“What we’ve learned,” she said, “is that there are issues to balance in this area. There were issues of religious freedom on two sides of the ledger” — the freedom of the religious institutions and the freedom of their employees who might not share their objections to contraception.

This is where the other accommodation kicked in: Many Catholic institutions self-insure. While the administration rightly wants broad contraception coverage to include hospital workers, teachers and others at religious institutions, it also seeks to keep religious organizations from having “to contract, arrange, pay or refer” for coverage “to which they object on religious grounds.”

Under the new rules, employees who want it will be able to get stand-alone coverage from a third party. Some of the costs will be covered by small offsets in the fees insurers will have to pay to participate in the new exchanges where their policies will be on sale. It’s an elegant fix.

There are two reasons for hope here, particularly for Catholic progressives. First, the administration recognized the problem it had created and resolved it. Vice President Biden played a key role here, keeping lines of communication with the church open.

Second, many bishops have come to realize that the appearance of a state of war with Obama not only troubled many of the faithful — Obama, after all, narrowly carried the Catholic vote — but also threatened to cast a church with strong commitments to immigrants, social justice and nonviolence as a partisan, even right-wing organization.

This war has been bad for everyone involved. Obama has moved to end it. Here’s a prayer that the bishops will also be instruments of peace.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 3, 2013

February 4, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Birth Control | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Intrinsic Evils And Prudential Judgments”: The Right-Wing Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide

Before there were soccer moms or NASCAR dads, there were Catholics. Once a Democratic bastion, they have been the bellwether voting bloc for the last forty years. As Ross Douthat of The New York Times notes, “Exit polling tells us that in every presidential election since 1972, the candidate who has won Catholics has won the popular vote as well.

Now the religious right is targeting Catholics with a narrow message of what Catholic teachings should mean in the political realm.

The Family Research Council, a socially conservative advocacy organization, has released a “2012 Catholic Vice-Presidential Voter Guide.” This seems especially relevant since both Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) are Catholic and were chosen partly for their putative appeal to Midwestern Catholic voters. FRC defines Catholic issues in a way that is far more congenial to Republicans.

They list nine “Intrinsic Evils,” of which eight favor the Republican position: various manifestations of opposition to abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. The one outlier is torture of foreign prisoners of war, which Vice President Biden, like the Catholic Church, opposes. (FRC could not find a position on torture taken by Ryan.)

Then there are “Prudential Judgments” on which good Catholics may disagree. These include more issues on which Catholic teaching would line up with Democratic values, such as amnesty for undocumented immigrants. Curiously, FRC offers the proportions of Biden’s and Ryan’s income that each gave to charity, but no other mention of helping the poor. It’s as if the few thousand dollars Ryan gave matters more than the trillions he would cut from social programs.

The justifications for how FRC determined what is a Catholic issue and where the candidates stand on them are provided in a “supporting document.”

Given the Catholic Church’s long commitment to aiding the needy, the absence of economic policy seems a bit odd. Ryan, after all, has been criticized by Catholic bishops because his budget would cut funding to essential anti-poverty programs such as Medicaid and food stamps to pay for tax cuts for the rich. In fact, the voter guide would give a Catholic the false impression that Ryan actually supports more aid to the poor than Biden, because he has given more to charity. (Although, as the supporting document unintentionally demonstrates, many of those charities—such as the Boy Scouts and crisis pregnancy centers—have little if anything to do with addressing poverty.)

FRC’s response would be that the Catholic Church only holds a vague notion that poverty should be ameliorated, not specific positions on how to do so. “Ryan makes the argument it’s not that you don’t help people in need rise out of poverty, it’s how you do that,” says Tom McCluskey, senior vice president of FRC Action. “It’s a political difference that has no relevance to Catholic teaching.”

I’m no expert in Catholic teaching, but I beg to differ. The church has repeatedly supported federal anti-poverty programs, such as the expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, that Biden supports and Ryan opposes. Even taking at face value Ryan’s claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy will grow the economy and thus lift more poor people into jobs, or better-paying ones, there will always be unemployed people, especially the disabled. The fact that Ryan would decimate their essential social services is fundamentally at odds with any concern for the vulnerable.

But McCluskey clearly believes in this distinction. He says:

Catholic doctrine is an official edict of the Catholic Church. On the issue of life, for example, there is only black and white, there is no gray [as is there is on economic justice]. A pro-life universal health care bill was supported by US Conference of Catholic bishops, but opposed by many individual bishops and that did not hurt their standing in the Church.

If a Catholic bishop were to take an opposing view on the life of the unborn, that would be unheard of and going against Catholic teaching. Support for increasing Medicaid funding would be more like Catholic opinion [than Catholic doctrine].

McCluskey also says the voter guide’s scope was limited by available information. “We couldn’t compare apples and oranges. If Ryan had a position we need one from Biden.” The one exception they made, given how essential it is Catholic teaching, is for torture. That notwithstanding, the general impression conveyed by the voter guide is that a good Catholic would prefer Paul Ryan, since Ryan’s decidedly un-Catholic fondness for warfare and opposition to welfare are not mentioned.

FRC is currently just sending the guide to thought leaders in the Catholic community such as priests and groups at Catholic universities. “We’re not at this point sending to voters but if it’s financially possible it’s definitely something we’re going to look at,” says McCluskey.

It might not even matter if they do spread it far and wide. There is tendency among journalists and political professionals to act as if the Catholic vote’s priorities reflect Catholic theology. The lazy conventional wisdom holds that this is because Catholics follow their church’s teachings and thus hold commitments that are orthogonal to the partisan divide. Here’s Mark Stricherz, of

While experts define the Catholic vote in many ways, I define it as a vote that mirrors the social teaching of the hierarchy, especially the American bishops: culturally conservative, economically populist or liberal, and moderate to liberal on foreign policy.

Stricherz is approvingly cited by Douthat as a premise to Douthat’s argument that Obama has failed to appeal to these voters because he has emphasized his commitment to women’s rights and gay rights. Also in The New York Times, and also cited by Douthat, is Jim Arkedis, a Catholic Democrat who works for the Progressive Policy Institute. Arkedis writes:

The key to winning the Catholic vote is to understand its composition—litmus-test abortion voters, moderates, women and Hispanics—and to aim to carry persuadable Catholics by healthy margins in crucial swing states. The Obama campaign should tread lightly, however, and resist any poll-driven urge to drive a wedge between the faithful and official church positions on women’s issues or same-sex marriage. Divisive messaging probably won’t fly among most Catholics, who may grumble about their religious leaders’ positions, but don’t seek overt separation from them. I can’t say that there’s any scientific evidence to support this theory, but it comes from my observations over a lifetime in the Catholic community.

The Obama campaign’s message should unequivocally stand with the Church and Jesus Christ’s humble message of social justice, equality and inclusion.

Arkedis certainly does lack scientific evidence. And considering there is no shortage of polling data on the opinions of Catholic voters, it is mysterious that the Times would allow him to make such an unsubstantiated argument.

Catholics are actually no more socially conservative than the electorate as a whole. Gallup polling has found “almost no difference between rank-and-file American Catholics and American non-Catholics” on whether abortion and stem cell research are morally acceptable. That’s because Catholic voters do not take their marching orders from the church. A massive study by Georgetown University found Catholics growing more likely to make up their own minds about social issues. “American Catholics…increasingly tune out the hierarchy on issues of sexual morality,” reports the Religion News Service. “The sweeping [Georgetown] survey shows that over the last quarter-century, US Catholics have become increasingly likely to say that individuals, not church leaders, have the final say on abortion, homosexuality and divorce and remarriage.”

At the state level the Catholic electorate seems to actually be a force for social moderation. Take a look at the religious breakdown of states and you will find that predicting whether a state will lean Democratic or Republican is often as easy as simply asking whether it has more Catholics or white evangelicals. The ten states with the highest proportion of white evangelicals reads like a roll call of Red America: Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kansas. The most Catholic states are concentrated in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, including such Democratic bastions as New York and Massachusetts. In the Republican primaries, Catholic voters consistently favored the mainstream Mormon Mitt Romney, while evangelicals voted for the staunchly socially conservative Catholics Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

Stricherz points to the existence of Catholic anti–abortion rights Democrats as proof that a distinctly economically populist, socially conservative Catholic vote exists. “Think of the late Bob Casey Sr., governor of Pennsylvania, as the beau ideal politician for the Catholic vote,” Stricherz writes. “If there was no Catholic vote, these pro-life Democrats would be Republicans.” But a few anecdotes is not evidence. One could easily counter with the example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is Catholic, socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

The real cleavage among Catholics, as has been the case in recent elections, is how religious they are. Voters who go to church once or more per week, regardless of their denomination, tend to vote Republican, and those who go less often or not at all tend to vote Democratic. McCluskey points to this as evidence that their voter guide is in line with religious Catholics, if not Catholics more generally.

“One thing when talking about polling of Catholics is look at how frequently they go to church,” McCluskey said. “It’s basically an ethnic identity at this point. There are people in my own family who call themselves Catholic but don’t go to church on a weekly basis; that’s a sin. Most polls find those Catholics who go to church on weekly basis tend to run more conservative.”

That’s true, but it also suggests that there are not a large number of undecided voters out there who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal, who can be suckered into voting Republican by being told Catholic issues are limited to abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage and torture. But conservatives will give it a try.


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, October 9, 2012

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lord Knows He’s Been Vetted”: A Moment Of Sympathy For Tim Pawlenty

So how would you like to have been Tim Pawlenty yesterday, who was informed not by Mitt himself, but by Tagg Romney that he had been passed over for the vice presidential nomination for the second straight cycle?

It must have been a bitter cup indeed. Four years ago the McCain campaign had all but settled on TPaw before deciding he was such a cipher that he wouldn’t move the dial an inch. Being rejected in favor of Sarah Palin must have seemed, at the time and even more in retrospect, as sorta like getting dumped by your high school sweetheart after years of slavish devotion in favor of that troglodyte who used to beat you up during recess.

So now this time around TPaw spent months hearing that Mitt actually wanted a nondescript running-mate, acceptable to everyone and posing no danger of distracting attention from the Big Chief. Pawlenty certainly qualified, having abundantly demonstrated during his own brief presidential campaign that no quantity of visigothic rhetoric could make hearts beat either for or against him (the efficient cause of his demise, let us remember, was his inability to get a couple of thousand people to show up for him at an event a couple of hours down I-35 from his home state). With no day job, Pawlenty dutifully went wherever the campaign sent him and mouthed its talking-points. And now he’s again passed over in favor of a guy who’s been attacked by the bishops of his own church as somewhat morally depraved, and who, in Charles Pierce’s vivid phrase today, is “still the high-school kid living off Social Security survivor benefits and reading Ayn Rand by flashlight under the sheets.”

Pawenty remains a solid option for a minor cabinet position if Romney-Ryan win, and for all we know, could be on the short list for Veep in 2016 if the ticket crashes and burns. Lord knows he’s been vetted.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 11, 2012

August 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Preserving The Status Quo”: Pope’s Butler Arrested, Nun’s Investigated, Which Is The Bigger Scandal?

Let’s face it — everybody loves a juicy scandal, especially when it involves the Vatican. And dear Animals, lest you think I veer from the topic of politics to which I am pledged while guest-blogging here, I can assure you that there is nothing in the realm of the Holy See that is not political.

From the Associated Press:

The Vatican confirmed Saturday that the pope’s butler had been arrested in its embarrassing leaks scandal, adding a Hollywood twist to a sordid tale of power struggles, intrigue and corruption in the highest levels of Catholic Church governance.

Paolo Gabriele, a layman who lives inside Vatican City, was arrested Wednesday with secret documents in his possession and was being held Saturday, the Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

At issue are confidential letters to and from Pope Benedict XVI regarding the Vatican’s financial dealings disclosed in the recently published book, His Holiness, by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi. The AP notes that the scandal “has seriously embarrassed the Vatican at a time in which it is trying to show the world financial community that it has turned a page and shed its reputation as a scandal plagued tax haven.”

So, in arresting Gabriele, the Vatican is doing what it does best with those who would challenge its sources and methods: putting the screws to them.

You’d think that the pope and his men might be so consumed with straightening out the Holy See’s financial mess, and penitentially finding the institution’s way back to the straight and narrow that they’d have little time to do much else. But, no, instead the pope has seen fit to focus his institution’s resources on a mission designed to bring U.S. nuns into line.

From Reuters’ Stephanie Simon:

The Vatican last month accused the leading organization of U.S. nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, of focusing too much on social-justice issues such as poverty and not enough on abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia. The Vatican also rapped the group for standing by as some nuns publicly challenged U.S. bishops on matters of church doctrine and public policy.

In a move that many nuns viewed as an insult, the Vatican put the nuns’ organization under the effective control of three U.S. bishops, who have the power to rewrite its statutes, its meeting agendas and even its liturgical texts. The board of the Leadership Conference is due to meet next week in Washington, D.C. to mull a response.

Those of a certain age may recall when, during a papal visit in 1979, Sister Theresa Kane, then president of the Leadership Conference, challenged Pope John Paul II to include women in the priesthood. At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict, was JPII doctrinal enforcer. He apparently holds a grudge.

Readers may also remember the Vatican Bank scandal of the 1980s, which involved all manner of financial shenanigans, including a counterfeiting scheme that involved the delivery of $14.5 million in bogus bonds to the Vatican. All told, the Vatican Bank scams amounted to a “$1.3 billion scandal,” according to the New York Times And back in the 1980s, $1.3 billion was real money.

In 2009, now retired from her office at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr Kane addressed a gathering of the National Coalition of American Nuns, just as the Vatican embarked on its investigation of LCWR. From the National Catholic Reporter:

“Regarding the present interrogation, I think the male hierarchy is truly impotent, incapable of equality, co-responsibility in adult behavior,” she said, not mincing any words. “In the church today, we are experiencing a dictatorial mindset and spiritual violence.”

A scandal, then, of epic proportions.


BY: Adele Stan, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 26, 2012

May 27, 2012 Posted by | Vatican | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Common Enemy”: Why Is It That Only Women Need Informing On Reproductive Health?

Legislators from Arizona to Virginia want women to undergo often invasive procedures before having a legal abortion, since the lawmakers are convinced that the women don’t really understand what they are doing. And leaders in the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, are fighting Obama administration rules requiring employers (including those affiliated with the church, although not the church itself) to include birth control in their healthcare plans. The battles—which many of us thought had been fought and resolved decades ago—have caused dissension over religious freedom versus religious dictate, and on the role of government in people’s lives.

Sometimes it takes a common enemy to unite people otherwise diametrically opposed on such an emotional issue. And for that, we have Desmond Hatchett.

Hatchett is the 33-year-old Tennessee man who has fathered 30 children with 11 different women. He has a minimum wage job, and is asking a judge for a break on his child support. Under the law, half of his earnings must go to support the children, and because his earnings are so low, according to local news reports, some of the women receive as little as $1.49 a month in child support. Hatchett told an interviewer who wondered how he managed to help conceive so many children that he had had four kids in one year—”twice,” he added.

Really, legislators and church elders. Do you really think it’s women whose sexuality and sexual behavior needs to be controlled?

There’s surely some sort of medical or psychological term for people who have children for their own sake, with little regard for the health and welfare of the children (not to mention the taxpayers who well might end up supporting them). It’s a special kind of narcissism, the desire for notoriety combined with the self-centered drive to keep replicating your gene pool all over the place. The judgment of the women who got pregnant by this man is also in question (or maybe their healthcare plans don’t cover birth control?), but Hatchett is a special case. At least the women are limited by basic biology to the number of children they can bear in a particular time frame.

So, legislators and radio talk show hosts: The next time you want to wring your hands over the women you consider (or call) misguided, uninformed about their own bodies, or even just plan sluts and prostitutes, have a sit-down with Hatchett. Perhaps he might have benefited from a precarnal video explaining the consequences of his actions.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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