“Most people are both-and, not either-or…”

An interesting take on the HHS debacle, from Mary C. Curtis in this morning’s WaPo:

When the Obama administration made the decision to require Catholic-run organizations to pay for health-care plans that include contraception, officials no doubt expected its critics to attack. What they didn’t expect, I’m just as certain, is that those friendly to so many of its policies would cry foul, too…

…It’s a mistake that politicians and parties make, categorizing Americans into red vs. blue, poor vs. hard-working middle class, godless secularists vs. true believers. They don’t get that most people are both-and, not either-or. As someone in that small Venn diagram overlap of African American and Catholic, I can attest that issues and people are more complicated than any survey could ever show.

There are many Catholics angry with bishops and clergy more concerned with male hierarchy and harsh directives than tending the flock. But they return to Mass each Sunday for a renewal of faith and strength to face the week ahead. Liberal and progressive Catholics reject punitive rhetoric, and admire the church most for the way it reaches out to all — regardless of denomination or station — in schools and hospitals.

Many supported affordable health-care legislation because it fits that mission, and they feel that those in the trenches, doing good work with little reward, will have to make tough choices between serving those in need and being true to their beliefs.

Just like in life, you criticize your own family members but circle around when they feel threatened in any way. These supporters of health care for all weren’t looking for a capitulation, just a compromise from an administration that has given Catholic organizations financial and moral support in the past.

One of them is my colleague Melinda Henneberger, who questioned administration actions and at the same time said the church does itself no favors when a bishop uses his power to kick out a priest for praying wrong. She noted that Obama “has handed his critics an example of an action that fits nicely with the narrative that he’s a secularist who looks down on believers,” something the administration never intended.

There’s much more here.

Meantime, AP’s  Rachel Zoll has this analysis:

The religious freedom issue resonates across faith traditions, but is of special concern to religious conservatives. For decades, Christian right activists have been fighting against what they call a war on religion, ever since the Supreme Court ended sectarian prayer in schools and legalized abortion. As acceptance of gay marriage grows, religious conservatives increasingly view themselves as a besieged minority in an ever more permissive society. Catholic leaders have taken to calling the church the true counterculture.

However, the contraceptive mandate has infuriated many Catholics regardless of political ideology because it could potentially damage what they consider the pride of their church: the multibillion-dollar Catholic-run network of hospitals, schools, colleges, homeless shelters and food pantries that mostly employ and serve members of other faiths. The Health and Human Services regulation includes an exemption only for religious groups who primarily serve and employ members of their own faith. Noncompliance is punishable by fines that could bring financial ruin. The option of self-insurance, a common religious exemption in state mandates for birth control coverage, is not available under the federal health care law.

“I don’t think this is the president’s best judgment,” said Douglas Kmiec, a prominent conservative legal scholar and Catholic who has been excoriated by bishops and conservative activists for backing Obama, starting four years ago. “I’ve got a great deal of concern that he has caused for himself an enormous problem with my fellow Catholics that he didn’t need and that will indeed place his re-election in jeopardy.”

The mandate has been an embarrassment for Kmiec and other moderate Catholics. While they have defended the president, some bishops and activists have labeled Democrats the “party of death.” Kmiec was denied Holy Communion by one priest and excoriated by another from the pulpit. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, which represents some 600 hospitals, faced down American bishops by providing key support for Obama’s health care overhaul.

Nicholas Cafardi, a prominent Catholic and former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, resigned as a trustee at the conservative Catholic Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2008 so the school would not be targeted by critics who accused him of abandoning the church by backing Obama.

Cafardi said this week he was disappointed by the tight religious exemption in the mandate and hoped some compromise can be reached during the one-year grace period the administration has offered religious groups. “But what is so wrong is characterizing this as Obama’s war on the Catholic church,” Cafardi said. “Politicians will use the church for their purposes any time they can. I think the church needs to be careful to not let itself become a political tool of the left or the right.”

Read more.


  1. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Really, that’s what Rachel Zoll thinks? That Catholics are upset about this mandate because it could impact “the pride of the church” in her universities etc. She doesn’t understand that this is about first amendment freedoms? That’s one of the oddest articles I’ve yet read, fretful for Obama, not for our rights.

  2. Yikes, Kmiec is greatly concerned that Obama’s re-election is in jeopardy now. I wonder if he is losing sleep over the prospect of a Santorum or Romney in the White House, who, unlike Obama, actually oppose abortion on demand. Maybe he needs a week at Canyon Ranch to deal with the stress of the situation.

  3. These are two excellent, moderate articles that neither try to excuse Obama nor demonize him. In the real world of “grey” in which most of us live, this is very refreshing. I’m sick to death of the extreme statements made by both sides; by those who refuse to see that those with opposing views are generally good people who see the world differently.

  4. Steve Cavanaugh says:

    As Elizabeth notes in the first comment, while the flap and polls have been about contraception, what this is really about is the government saying “We define what is and what is not religion.” Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, et al. have all established hospitals because caring for the sick is a religious imperative. “And he [Jesus] welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God, and cured those who had need of healing.” (Luke 9:11). Preaching and Healing were the two most noted aspects of Christ’s ministry, and the Church has continued this.
    Should the Federal Government succeed in wresting the authority to define what is and what is not religion, what will be the next stop? I suggest it will then be the Press. Perhaps the Press will be defined in such a way that only licensed entities will count; others, such as bloggers, alternative media, et al will be declared outside the boundaries of the Press and be restricted.
    In Philosophy and in Debate, you learn a cardinal rule is to define the terms; the argument can be won at that stage. The Administration seems to be playing to win, and the citizenry will be the losers.

  5. Amen, amen. I have been spending the last two weeks pleading (mostly, it feels, in vain, but pleading even so) for acknowledgment that, as Mary C. Curtis says, “people are more complicated than any survey could ever show.” And those who are allowing their personal animosity toward the President to dominate the conversation on the mandate are going to be very surprised, if and when they manage to oust him, to see that the mandate is based on the “nonpartisan” (thus, not subject to election) recommendations of the NIH’s Institute of Medicine, which sets public health policy. Not defending Mr Obama on this and other issues on which we disagree, but making him the sole boogeyman, no matter how good it makes you feel, is naive.

  6. I have heard that some Catholics in his administration advised against this. He didn’t listen to them. Now that he has opened the Pandora’s box he alone is responsible. His arrogance deserves all the criticism he is getting.

  7. Elizabeth, I want to humbly and respectfully (and ungrammatically, with that split infinitive) suggest that your personal animosity toward Mr Obama might be a blind spot here. Rachel Zoll’s article shares what is a real concern among many Catholics of all political and prog/trad religious leanings—the fact that a challenge to our First Amendment freedoms might seriously compromise the Church’s wide network of social service and health care, one of the means by which we live the Gospel. I don’t think the overall impression one comes away from Zoll’s piece with is that she—or the more liberal Catholics whose discomfort with the mandate she describes—is “fretful for Obama.” If liberal and progressive Catholics can join this fight based on their fretfulness for social justice, I don’t think we need slap their hands or accuse them of being the President’s running dogs. It’s more complicated than that.

  8. OK, fine. All our problems will be solved once there’s a Republican in office. I’ll check back in then.

  9. I believe the President made a big mistake. But to attribute it to “arrogance” or view it as a deliberate and malicious attack on religious freedom and Catholicism is an extreme view that most people probably don’t share. The people who want all health plans to cover contraception believe they are helping women…we obviously think they’re mistaken, but they think they’re doing something positive. It’s ridiculous to attribute sinister motives…most who do still want to see Obama’s birth certificate.

  10. Richard Johnson says:

    Indeed it is. I’ve found that the issue is resonating as a freedom of religion issue among some of my fellow Unitarian-Universalists, and a number have joined me in signing the petition that has been circulated on the White House site opposing the ruling. While we support the right of women to have access to birth control, we view this particular act as a dangerous overstepping of government power and an encroachment on the First Amendment.

    Of course, what I am also hearing is the meme, “Why should we support the Catholics when they fight us on so many other issues?” It’s a difficult sell to these folks that we should be concerned about Catholics’ freedoms when they see Catholics taking so little concern about the religious freedoms of others.

    Yet we persist, and it makes coffee time after services rather interesting.

  11. Richard Johnson says:

    “Should the Federal Government succeed in wresting the authority to define what is and what is not religion, what will be the next stop?”

    This has been going on for years for many “minority religions.” A few years ago the Texas governor tried to restrict the tax exempt status of Unitarian-Universalist congregations in that state. Likewise there was a long and difficult fight to persuade the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow Wiccan soldiers who died in action to have the symbol of their faith placed on their goverment-provided tombstone. And then we have the ongoing complaints about the Air Force Academy and its Pagan worship circle.

    Religious freedom issues have been being fought in this nation for many, many years. I think that is why I am seeing so many members of minority faiths who see this ruling as a religious freedom issue. They’ve fought this fight before…often against Catholic opposition.

  12. PSsssttt …. . EWTN is now suing Obama over his Obamacare ruling.

    HANCEVILLE, Alabama, February 9, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Lawyers for the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) say that the broadcasting network has taken the Obama administration to court over a mandate forcing Catholic employers to pay for birth control, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs.

    The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that it had filed suit Thursday morning on behalf of EWTN, considered the largest religious media network in the world.

    The federal government cannot force people to violate their religion like this,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund and a constitutional law professor at the Catholic University of America. “Mother Angelica founded EWTN to spread the teachings of the Catholic Church—not to betray them.”

  13. I don’t know who you are talking to but most people who talk about BHO to me do so in a negative light. One of the first things they mention is his arrogance–that he knows better than anyone else.
    Why didn’t he listen to Biden and Daley when they advised him that this would create a firestorm.?

  14. “It’s a difficult sell to these folks that we should be concerned about Catholics’ freedoms when they see Catholics taking so little concern about the religious freedoms of others.” How so? I’m not trying to argue, I’m just surprized that Catholics are viewed as not supporting the religious rights and freedoms of others.

  15. True…but, no doubt he will blame it on Bush!

  16. “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up” (Martin Niemöller, prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, best known as the author of the poem “First They Came”).

  17. Mother Angelica v. Barack Obama.

    I’ll put my money on her.

  18. Richard Johnson says:

    It’s not that so many Catholics actively are in opposition to minority religious rights. It’s that they really don’t seem to care until it is *their* religion in the crosshairs. As this HHS decision came down a call went out from many Catholic bloggers seeking people of ALL faiths to stand in opposition to it lest it be the first step in dismantling the First Amendment’s free exercise protections. A number of Pagans, atheists, and others have responded to the call even though it is not their faith under attack. But they wonder if the favor will be returned when they read things like this:


    “It is true that others have the right in our country to believe what they want, and we should defend that right, but it is another thing altogether to treat every belief as being equal when they are not.

    Consequently, it does not seem competent or rational when the Air Force Academy, one of the premier training institutions of our military, equates neo-paganism with the major religions of the world and claims this is, somehow, indicative of tolerance and respect.

    The language that Lt. Gen. Gould uses in his announcement further exacerbates my lack of assurance. He repeatedly uses the phrase “earth-based religion.” I do not think it is an accident that he uses vague, new-age language.

    Earth-based religion obviously has a completely different connotation than the cruel, primitive reality commonly associated with paganism and witchcraft. Thus, even while Lt. Gen. Gould speaks about tolerance and respect, his use of language gives the appearance of manipulation and disrespect. “

  19. Elizabeth Scalia says:

    Yeah, I forgot all about this, but re-read Zoll’s piece this afternoon and came away feeling differeint. It should be noted that I read this excerpt while half awake and grasping for coffee…and this is never me at my best! :-)

  20. I have yet to see anything personal from Anchoress. Here animosity is not toward Obama, but his policies. I am so tired of every time someone points out anything about Obama that you are making it personal. I will say no more and let her defend herself or maybe look for the blog owner to have something to say about this attack which I see as blantantly untrue. Deacon, do you believe Elizabeth is demonstrating a personal animosity in what she writes? Look to see a comment. Or maybe you do view her posts as filled with personal animosity versus a strong belief about his policies.

  21. Scout you are the voice of reason and intelligence on this issue. Your various comments have set a very thoughtful and civil tone.

  22. Go Mother and EWTN!

  23. What are the “extreme statements” that have been made by the bishops and other Catholic leaders? From what I have read they have been cordial but firm in basically pointing out that the Church sees it as a 1st Amendment issue. The other point that has not gotten a lot of press is the sense that many bishops and leaders have that the POTUS played them or if you want to get somewhat nasty even lied to them. Remember, he said at ND last year that he would work out a compromise that would include a conscience clause. He more or less promised the same thing to Bishop Dolan. He has reneged on that promise and therefore he has gotten a harsh response.


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