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.”