At a Crossroad
CNN featured an article by Paul Moses on Tuesday 14th February 2012, with a headline “Can U.S. bishops regain their clout?” It focused on the role of the USCCB in standing up in opposition to the attempts by the Obama Administration to mandate that religious institutions provide coverage for abortion and contraception to their employees...
The article started out with this statement:
“For about a week, the nation's Catholic bishops enjoyed some measure of their bygone political clout The bishops launched a vigorous grassroots campaign to protest a rule from the Obama administration's health care mandate that would force many Catholic institutions to cover birth control through their employee health plans. Catholic churchgoers have seen such campaigns attempted before, with bishops issuing stinging denunciations that are repeated in church publications and in letters read to parishioners at every Mass.
But this time, to the surprise of many, the bishops' effort seemed to work. President Barack Obama quickly modified the rule. He didn't satisfy the bishops -- but still, the clergymen had upset the political calculus that they no longer affect Catholic voters. The bishops were able to wield influence because their message against the contraception mandate was framed in a way that appealed to a broad spectrum of Catholics. For moderates and liberals, there were calls to freedom and conscience, rather than blunt declarations to heed ecclesial authority. For conservatives, there was the opportunity to circle the wagons against secularism.”
The Obama Administration conceded to their protests and changed the language of the ruling. Note I said “language” not “intent”; insurance companies will still provide coverage for abortion and contraception to employees who request it but the Church will not have to pay for it.
This leads me to the following questions:
Question one: How do you label this victory for the Church leadership: “strategic”, “moral” or “pyrrhic”?
It’s really can’t be labeled ‘strategic’ as the battle goes on: As I’ve mentioned above, all we have is a change in language and not intent, but as Mr. Moses rightly pointed out “the clergymen had upset the political calculus that they (Bishops) no longer affect Catholic voters” - my parentheses. This leads to my second question:
Who is speaking for the church and who is listening to those who speak?
There can be no challenge on the role of the Pope and Bishops as the Magisterium or Teaching Authority of the Church. Vatican II taught (Dei Verbum # 10): "The task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition], has been entrusted exclusively to the living Magisterium of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." Nevertheless a serious divide between who speaks and who listens was poignantly exemplified when a local TV station spoke to the Archbishop on the HHS directive after a Mass at the Cathedral. The Archbishop unequivocally declared his opposition but the TV station also interviewed an attendee at the same Mass who said that while understanding the Church’s teaching, the choice should remain with the individual. This is not a new development when it comes to contraception and abortion. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 Encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ was received with a barrage of dissent from clergy and layperson alike, while Roe vs. Wade has not been in any significant danger of repeal in either the 24 years of Republican or 16 years (including current) of Democratic presidencies since the Supreme Court ruling of 1973. It remains a political hotbed issue but different surveys show Catholics both past and present as heavily divided on the issue, thus casting doubt on the reality or existence of a ‘Catholic vote’.
My third question goes even further: Who is speaking for Christ?
The Catholic bishops have found support from Evangelicals and other Protestant denominations, but the support comes, not so much from doctrinal alignment, for many of the other mainstream denominations have no issues with contraception and/or abortion but rather from the perception of intrusion by the state on churches. Therefore the arguments are couched in the language of “freedom of religion” which definitely illicit more fervent support against the Obama Administration rather than a universal declaration that abortion and contraception are simply intrinsically and morally wrong which as discussed above remains a divisive issue both within and outside the Catholic Church. This no longer is a debate guided by the simplistic slogan “What Would Jesus Do?”
Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century there have been numerous voices speaking in Jesus name. in regard to contraception The Catholic Church has always maintained it stance against its use while The Church of England has stated in the 1958 Lambeth Conference that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents “in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife” ; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows for contraception in the event the potential parents do not intend to care for a child; the United Methodist Church, holds that "each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances." Its Resolution on Responsible Parenthood states that in order to "support the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by parents and the community to ensure that each child enters the world with a healthy body, and is born into an environment conducive to realization of his or her potential." To this end, the United Methodist Church supports "adequate public funding and increased participation in family planning services by public and private agencies; the Presbyterian Church (USA) supports “full and equal access to contraceptive methods.” In a recent resolution endorsing insurance coverage for contraceptives, the church affirmed that “contraceptive services are part of basic health care” and cautioned that “unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, and maternal morbidity, and threaten the economic viability of families.” The definition and role of “conscience” as we have seen cuts a broad swath across Jewish, Christian, Islam, Hindu and other faiths. It is due to these divergent views as well as the morally reprehensible and unfortunately all-too-human failings of the leadership of those who claim to speak for Christ that have allowed past and present administrations to gamble on the political impact of their decisions whether it be on contraception, abortion, war, or attacks against basic human rights and other social justice issues such as poverty, hunger and equality.
Finally my last question goes back to the article by Mr. Moses: If the USCCB’s action is seen as being “political clout”, are we fighting our battles in the right arena?
I’m trying to reconcile the disparity between increasing emptying pews and the strong religious fervor opposing The Obama Administrations ruling. Can the bishops really effect a grassroots movement that would bring about the recall of this mandate (sadly the efforts against Roe vs. Wade would indicate ‘no’)? Maybe this would explain their increasingly vocal entry into the political arena; take it to the media and the halls of Congress rather than ‘the pews’. But Catholicism and thus Christianity did not have its origin in a favorable political milieu. No, we grew from the seed of martyrs, a lesson that should not be lost among us.
Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the USCCB, said in a recent publication:
“This has not been a fight of our choosing. We’d rather not be in it. We’d prefer to concentrate on the noble tasks of healing the sick, teaching our youth, and helping the poor, all now in jeopardy due to this bureaucratic intrusion into the internal life of the church. And we were doing all of those noble works rather well, I dare say, without these radical new mandates from the government. The Catholic Church in America has a long tradition of partnership with government and the wider community in the service of the sick, our children, our elders, and the poor at home and abroad. We’d sure rather be partnering than punching.” – I Owe You an Update: http://blog.archny.org/?p=2291
To be sure, we as the Church have always been able to define ourselves in the face of adversity. The actions of the Obama Administration may actually galvanize us into looking at ourselves in the mirror and assess what being the ‘Body of Christ’ really means once more, bridge the gap between clergy and laity and maybe, just maybe, re-inject ‘conscience’ into the soul of America once again. God works in mysterious ways.
As you can see your deacon has more questions and answers today and seeks wisdom and understanding. Help me, pray for me. Peace.
Hi, welcome to my weekly blog. I'm deacon Michel and I love blogging and the healthy exchange of constructive ideas. Now my mind has been known to wander on a million different things all at once so don't be surprised at what you find here. I often scratch my head and go 'Huh?' at my own thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts with me.
This blog reflects MY ongoing Christian journey: insights gained through the Holy Spirit, my experiences, my studies, my relationships. The content of this website is solely that of Deacon Michel du Chaussee, and does not represent the Archdiocese of Miami or any other entity of the Roman Catholic Church in any official capacity. Needless to say, I hope that none of my writings are contrary to the doctrines of faith and morals that are reflected in Sacred Tradition or as taught and guarded by the Magisterium of the Church or to the truths of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
For I take seriously what a very wise man has often said to me:
"Ordination is not license for private practice" - Msgr. A. Andersen