Rift: How Obama’s “accommodation” has split Catholics

A wide array of voices, from this morning’s New York Times:

The near-unified front led by the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops to oppose a mandate for employers to cover birth control has now crumbled amid the compromise plan that the Obama administration offered last week to accommodate religious institutions.

The leaders of several large Catholic organizations that work directly on poverty, health care and education have welcomed the president’s plan as a workable compromise that has the potential to protect religious freedom while allowing employees who request it to have contraceptives covered by their insurance plans.

The bishops, however, have continued to voice strong objections to the White House plan. And they have taken it one step further, arguing that individual Catholics who own businesses should not have to provide birth control to their employees in their health insurance coverage.

The uproar threatens to embroil the Catholic church in a bitter election-year political battle while deepening internal rifts within the church. On the one side are traditionalists who believe in upholding Catholic doctrine to the letter, and on the other, modernists who believe the church must respond to changing times and a pluralistic society.

To many Catholics, it is reminiscent of the rifts that surfaced in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which reaffirmed the prohibition on artificial contraception, disregarding a Vatican commission’s recommendation to do away with the ban.

Now, as then, even the nuns are not on the same page. The organization that represents a majority of women’s religious orders, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, said the Obama administration had listened to the concerns of Catholics and found a “fair and helpful way to move forward.”

But a traditionalist order in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, which was formed 15 years ago and has about 100 members, said in a statement that the “so-called compromise” by the White House was “insulting.”

Leslie Tentler, professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington, said: “Part of what is going on is a larger authority issue of who speaks for the church. And I think most Catholics would take exception to the bishops’ argument that only the bishops get to say what is Catholic morality in very difficult situations.

“It also reflects the unresolved status of the teaching on contraception, which is widely violated not just by Catholics, but also by the clergy, who don’t even talk about the issue,” said Dr. Tentler, the author of “Catholics and Contraception: An American History.”

Read the rest.

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