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“No Communist Plot”: Catholicism Is Not The Tea Party At Prayer

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?

And do the most conservative bishops want to junk the Roman Catholic Church as we have known it, with its deep commitment to both life and social justice, and turn it into the Tea Party at prayer?

These are the issues confronting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee when it begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger.

When the Department of Health and Human Services initially issued rules requiring contraceptive services to be covered under the new health-care law, it effectively exempted churches and other houses of worship but declined to do so for religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, universities and social welfare organizations.

Catholics across the political spectrum — including liberals like me — demanded a broader exemption, on the theory that government should honor the religious character of the educational and social service institutions closely connected to faith traditions.

Under pressure, Obama announced a compromise on Feb. 10. It still mandated contraception coverage, but religiously affiliated groups would neither have to pay for it nor refer its employees to alternatives. These burdens would be on insurance companies.

The compromise was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Association. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, reserved judgment but called Obama’s move “a first step in the right direction.”

Then, right-wing bishops and allied staff at the bishops’ conference took control. For weeks, Catholics at Sunday Mass were confronted with attacks that, at the most extreme, cast administration officials as communist-style apparatchiks intent on destroying Roman Catholicism.

You think I exaggerate? In his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, wrote: “The provision of health care should not demand ‘giving up’ religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.”

My goodness, does Obama want to bring the Commies back?

Cardinal Dolan is more moderate than Cardinal George, but he offered an unfortunate metaphor in a March 3 speech on Long Island. “I suppose we could say there might be some doctor who would say to a man who is suffering some sort of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to start visiting a prostitute to help you, and I will write you a prescription, and I hope the government will pay for it.’ ”

Did Cardinal Dolan really want to suggest to faithfully married Catholic women and men who decide to limit the size of their families that there is any moral equivalence between wanting contraception coverage and visiting a prostitute? Presumably not. But then why even reach for such an outlandish comparison?

Opposition in the church to extreme rhetoric is growing. Moderate and progressive bishops are alarmed that Catholicism’s deep commitment to social justice is being shunted aside in this single-minded and exceptionally narrow focus on the health-care exemption. A wise priest of my acquaintance offered the bishops some excellent questions about the church.

“Is it abandoning its historical style of being a leaven in society to become a strident critic of government?” he asked. “Have the bishops given up on their conviction that there can be disagreement among Catholics on the application of principle to policy? Do they now believe that there must be unanimity even on political strategy?”

The bishops have legitimate concerns about the Obama compromise, including how to deal with self-insured entities and whether the wording of the HHS rule still fails to recognize the religious character of the church’s charitable work. But before the bishops accuse Obama of being an enemy of the faith, they might look for a settlement that’s within reach — one that would give the church the accommodations it needs while offering women the health coverage they need. I don’t see any communist plots in this.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 11, 2012

March 12, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Women Senators Breaking Ranks With Party, Come Out In Favor Of Obama Contraception Rule

While GOP senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged to fight the Obama’s administration’s modified regulation requiring health insurers and busnisses to offer contraception coverage without additional cost sharing, the revised rule “appears to have won over” two of the five Republican women senators.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME) — both of whom have sponsored legislation requiring insurers to offer contraception benefits in all health plans — are in favor of the new compromise, which would allow religiously affiliated colleges, universities, and hospitals to avoid providing birth control. Their employees will still receive contraception coverage at no additional cost sharing directly from the insurer:

It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,” Snowe said in a statement. “According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.

“While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,” Collins said in a statement. “The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom.  It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.”

Republicans in the senate seem determined to oppose the compromise and have introduced legislation that would allow employers or individuals to opt out of any benefit that undermines their moral beliefs. “They don’t have the authority under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to tell someone in this country or some organization in this country what their religious beliefs are,” McConnell told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down,” he said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who led the GOP’s opposition to the original rule, has yet to issue a statement on the measure and did not respond to ThinkProgress’ query about her position. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also did not respond. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) co-sponsored a 1999 bill requiring contraception equity in insurance coverage and has not yet to weigh in on the current debate.

 

By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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