Chicago’s Cardinal and Obama

From Business Insider:

Barack Obama’s hometown Archbishop, Cardinal George, has issued a dire warning: if Obama’s regulations on health insurance are allowed to stand, all Catholic hospitals and schools will be destroyed through fines, sold-off to non-Catholics, or closed down within two years.

He says that the Church will be “despoiled of her institutions” be stripped of its “voice in public life,” because Obama’s regulations of health insurance force Catholics to act against their faith.

The regulations which go into effect next year require religiously affiliated charities, hospitals, and universities to purchase insurance for their employees that includes contraception, sterilization and ‘morning after’ pills. For Catholics this amounts to “material cooperation” with an objectively sinful act.

Francis Cardinal George wrote about the choices Obama is forcing on the Church in his column this week:

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying forinsurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.

George has been warning of the state’s intrusion into religious affairs for a long time. In 2010 he predicted“I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

George wrote in his column that the “The State was making itself into a Church” and said he longed for “the separation of Church and State” that Americans enjoyed recently, “when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not.”

George compared the Obama’s vision of “religious liberty” of the United States to that of the Soviet Union in a passage worth quoting at length:

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.

Essentially George is saying that the Obama administration and the progressive intelligentsia are replacing freedom of religion with a more cramped vision of “freedom of worship.” You’re allowed to believe whatever you want, but you’ll do whatever the state tells you to do.

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  • I honestly don’t get this. I understand there is disagreement about the contraception mandate. But I don’t get why this particular mandate will end religious freedom. There has been a fairly similar mandate in Mass. and it hasn’t shut down the Catholic church there and frankly wasn’t even noticed politically until recently.

    I know this is not only politics. There is a real sense by many that this is a line in the sand that has to be fought. But I honestly do not get why now and what is different.

  • I guess I shouldn’t take the bait, but thus far the Catholic Church seems to be doing just fine in the 28 states that have a contraception mandate of some kind, as well as the eight states with a contraception mandate and no religious exemption whatsoever.

    I remain perplexed as to why celibate men in the Catholic Church are given louder megaphones on this topic than the women who actually work in health care. The Catholic Health Association’s support of both the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s contraception compromise is far more telling to me than the opposition to both by the Catholic bishops.

  • Tom F.

    Hmm. Seems rather drastic, but hey.

    I am of two minds on this issue: first, freedom of worship is extremely important, and I initially thought, this is ridiculous, why would we make the Catholic church provide something it thinks is wrong.

    But then it occured to me, we make lots of people do things they think are wrong. To take another health related example, if a hospital were to be established by Jehovah’s witnesses, would we allow them to refuse non-Jehovah’s witnesses blood transfusions? Or if your boss is Jehovah’s witness, would we allow them to only provide you a plan that covers bloodless surgery?

    Or what of scientology? If your boss or employer is a scientologist, would they be allowed to only pick a health plan that doesn’t cover whatever drugs they are opposed to?

    Again, I really feel like I understand where both sides are coming from, and I would love to hear about why these cases are not applicable to the Catholic case. I felt like Obama overreached at first, and even now, I don’t particularly like any of the options people are advocating for. Looking forward to hearing from the rest of you intelligent folks.

  • Jeremy

    The thing to keep in mind is that Catholic Charities has shut down adoption services in states that require them to not discriminate against homosexual couples. Birth control is a big deal to the Catholic Church, so the reaction will probably make absolutely no sense to the rest of us and send a message they don’t really intend to send.

  • Larry Barber

    Seems like a trivial issue over which to draw your line in the sand. I wish they would be so forthright when the government violates other aspects of Catholic teaching in areas like when it is permissible to go to war and how the poor should be treated. Why is it that this issue is the one they go to the mat over?

    I wonder if they would object if we had a government run health care program that provided for contraceptives? After all, they (Catholics) would still be paying for contraception through their taxes, how many layers of indirection does it take for something to become morally acceptable?

  • Larry

    Religious official makes apocalyptic proclamation out-of-touch with reality: Film at 11.

  • Bill McReynolds

    “You’re allowed to believe whatever you want, but you’ll do whatever the state tells you to do.”

    We have been heading this direction for a long time, where we are “free” to believe anything, but not to act out this belief. In our denomination (PCUSA), what is left of it anyway, we already are forced to pay for abortion on demand, any time, for any reason, among clergy and our dependents. We were told there would be an exception for conscience, but this is not the reality. Many more examples could be offered to support the Archbishop’s argument.

  • tokniffin

    I take the point that maybe this fight, in and of itself, doesn’t point towards an outright power grab of the government over the church.

    But why not take on the article’s main point: that the church is, year by year & generation by generation, being marginalized and pushed towards the periphery of acceptable thought. This, surely, is the case.

    It’s hard to imagine a president, republican or democrat, making a decision like this even a few years ago. As decisions like this become more common, they become more accepted, and “the separation of church and state” comes to mean, more and more, that the church has nothing to say to society at large.

  • Jeremy

    Bill, to be perfectly fair, there was no golden era here. The law and courts have consistently established that freedom of religion only goes so far. In Reynolds vs. United States (1878), the court ruled “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.”

    Nevermind rulings on animal sacrifice, drug use, and a plethora of other religious oddities

    There was no Golden Era. We’ve just reached the point where “Christian” religious freedom doesn’t trump everything else.

  • Jeremy

    That repetitive No golden era bit was accidental rather than me trying to be a jerk!

  • Jon Altman

    Methinks the Cardinal doth protest too much

  • Jon Altman

    Does the Cardinal know that DePaul University ALREADY offers this insurance option? I know, what with his residence and the main DePaul campus being SO FAR away from each other, this may have escaped his notice.

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    I believe Rick Warren said something about government interference and his willingness to go to jail over it. Maybe the issue comes down to who is willing to go to jail and who is not willing to go to jail? I thought the Bishop’s words were powerful about him probably dying in bed, his succesor going to jail, and his dying a martyr. If things ever get that far, then all the people at the beginning saying, “Hey, what the big deal, etc.” will be terrible wrong. Hindsight is always better than foresight so it may be a long time before any of us can look back and see how serious or unserious the ramifications of all this really was? I am a Protestant and not Catholic but since I hear a few cliches thrown around on this list, here is one I am sure some of the Catholics are saying about us Protestants “They just don’t get it!”

  • Tom F.

    Bill and Tokniffin, I hear what you are saying. That is definitely less than ideal.

    Maybe you could help me get totally behind what you are saying though. What is the solution to the riddle of the difference between a Catholic employer refusing to pay for contraception and a Scientologist employer who refuses to pay for anti-depressants?

    Or maybe you think both should be able to dictate that their employee’s plans don’t include those options? Let’s talk about how to best protect religious liberty while not allowing employers to unfairly restrict other’s health care choices.

  • Though the matter of contraception may seem like a trivial issue to some, for the Roman Catholic Church it is a matter of serious religious conviction. Would anyone of us like to be forced to violate our own conscience and convictions? I think not.

    Those who think this is merely about contraception are really missing the bigger picture. Just because religious freedom is not being stripped away all at once does not mean it is not being stripped away.

  • Amos Paul

    Just another example of the current Republicrat establishment reaching further and further into the personal lives of Americans, extinguishing the fires of personal and religious liberty ever more.

  • Kristen

    As a general rule, when Catholic bishops start sounding like Anabaptists in church-state issues, something funky is going on. Maybe the Anabaptists are right, but a traditional Catholic line of thought has been very different.

    Catholic moral teaching has always distinguished between direct cooperation and indirect cooperation and recognized that some level of indirect cooperation with evil is quite unavoidable in the world.

    I saw some commentary after the “Compromise” proposal came out saying that the government was essentially saying “Well see if you don’t do it directly then Jesus won’t notice!” Ummm no, actually such distinctions are quite legitimate in Catholic moral thought.

    After all, we pay taxes that support policies on war, capital punishment, immigration, torture (among others) that are quite contrary to positions espoused by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. But while we would very much like those to change, we recognize that living in a democratic society means the Church doesn’t get to call the shots. We are part of the society, of course, and advocate to change things, but we recognize that we don’t get to call the shots.

    So, I guess the argument is, if we had adopted a single-payer system where these things were covered, well we’d oppose covering those things (as we oppose war, capital punishment, torture, various immigration policies) but this “assault on religious liberty!!!” argument would disappear. But because things are structured differently where there are private insurance companies who have the responsibility of providing such coverage, well clearly this is the end of civilization as we know it.

    I’m generally pretty good at parsing fine moral distinctions, but for a distinction that fine to carry so much weight, well that’s a bit much for me.

    Also, in all this, it would be difficult to imagine that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had lobbied for DECADES that universal health care is obligatory as a human right. (They did.) And yes, they meant from the government. (“Taking care of people is the job of the CHURCH, not the government!” is simply not a Catholic line of thought.) And yes, I do know that doesn’t mean “at any cost.” I get that. Really I do.

    But if any of these statements reflect an agonized weighing of two really powerful and important goods … well I’ve missed that part. Saying that all these Catholic hospitals, social service organizations, etc., will end up shutting down does not sound like “Hey we’re really stuck in a bind here, as all of these are such critical parts of our mission but we CANNOT do it like this and that breaks our heart.” It sounds more like “We’re going to take our ball and go home and then won’t YOU be sorry!”

    And that is disgraceful.

  • A sampling of Catholic-affiliated universities and hospitals that already provide contraceptive coverage for employees . . .

  • Joshua

    Two things;

    1. There is a religious exemption.

    2. It is only if you accept federal funding.

    His view is gravely wrong.

  • scotmcknight

    Joshua, not sure what you are saying. “His”: who is his?

  • Joshua

    Obviously, the Archbishop, Cardinal George.

    You’re not forced to provide contraceptives, abortions, or anything of the sort. Just do not accept Federal money.

  • Dan de Roulet

    The politicization of this does no one any good. Political figures–period–are typically concerned about political power, not about religion, or even the greater public good. The same people now leading the charge on the Republican side are saying that the President’s desire for people go to college makes him a “snob”; the same people will not repudiate Rush Limbaugh’s repulsive insults about the young woman from Georgetown. Perhaps it’s time for some of us to reread Stan Hauerwas’s Resident Aliens.

  • I’d guess this news would be a shock to the Italian Catholic employees of the Vatican who benefit from the Italian nationalized health care – which provides contraceptive care & abortion services, as far as I’m aware. I’m sure the Vatican said something equally florid when the 1978 Italian law legalizing abortion passed; I have vague memories of the hubbub!

  • Tom F.

    Not to seem testy, but I’m still waiting for someone to explain how to create a conscience clause that doesn’t allow scientologist employers to decide not to cover anti-depressants.

    Jeff, you’ve thrown your hat in the ring that this is a slow removal of religious freedom. How would you craft a conscience objection that avoids this problem?

  • Lindsay

    I’m still confused about how covering birth-control violates the teaching of the Catholic Church. Does the insurance provider incur moral guilt by providing access to these services? Especially if the provider expresses to those covered that such practices go against Catholic Church teachings? I guess my question is if those Catholics who provide access to this coverage are sinning (according to Church teaching). If not, then there doesn’t seem to be any argument for violation of religious freedom. If so, then it surely brings up many more moral issues about guilt and sin.

  • CGC

    Last words by two different authors (quotes):

    1. The nation state has replaced the church and it is to provide the means for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And since the pursuit of happiness is endless, the demands upon the state are without limit. If, for modern western people, nature has taken the place of God as the ultimate reality, the nation state has taken the place of God as the source to which we look for happiness, health, and welfare (Lesslie Newbigen)

    2. The illusion has been created that we live in a noncoercive society because it is one where “the people” rule. If the church challenged that assumption, then I think we would find that our society might well think us mad. In particular, I suspect Christians would find our society less than willing to acknowledge the church’s freedom once the church makes clear that her freedom comes from faithfulness to God and as a result can never be given or taken away by a state” (Stanley Hauerwas)

  • The reality is that the Obama administration’s solution to Catholic institutional objections has been standing policy in some states for many years, and the Catholic bishops have been silent until now. What is it about American Catholic bishops that they have suddenly become concerned? Is there something about the Obama administration, other than this policy that has never bothered them before, that they want to fight it now? It would be nice to know what their real agenda is.

  • My money has been used by the United States in violation of my conscience every time it buys a weapon for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. How come I don’t get to have a moral objection?

  • I think David Gushee at ABP handled this really well. He wrote,

    I don’t see it that way. The Right is going wrong in dismissing the legitimate public-health concern related to women’s access to contraception. While I believe their concerns about the Plan B morning-after pill are more legitimate, they are irresponsible to project a “war on religion” from the White House – rhetoric that seems aimed at replacing its current occupant.
    Some of the current legislative proposals in Washington would allow any employer to deny birth control or any other coverage if they can claim that it runs counter to their beliefs. This is not really about birth control. It’s about gutting any federally mandated health-care rules.
    It’s about killing not just Obama’s health-care law of 2010 but the very idea of federal regulations on private health-care plans. If successful, such laws would do cruel harm to women and would undoubtedly increase the number of both abortions and out of wedlock births.

  • Joshua Danis

    Statement from the US Bishops regarding the question of states that have similar contraception rules.
    This misleads by ignoring important facts, and some of it is simply false. All the state mandates, even those without religious exemptions, may be avoided by self-insuring prescription drug coverage, by dropping that particular coverage altogether, or by taking refuge in a federal law that pre-empts any state mandates (ERISA). None of these havens is available under the federal mandate. It is also false to claim that North Carolina has an identical exemption. It is broader: It does not require a religious organization to serve primarily people of its own faith, or to fulfill the federal rule’s narrow tax code criterion. Moreover, the North Carolina law, unlike the federal mandate, completely excludes abortifacient drugs like Ella and RU-486 as well as “emergency contraceptives” like Preven.

  • Joshua Danis

    The most disconcerting part of this is that there are so many other ways for people to get contraception which do not involve invading Catholic consciences.

    Here is a great FAQ sheet put out by the US Bishops to explain many of the questions discussed here.

  • Joshua Danis

    In regards to scientology to engage in your desired question, Tom, my understanding of their belief system would rather exclude them from running a ‘hospital’ in the traditional sense of the word. Am I mistaken? In contrast, by federal standards of medecine, even if penalized for not participating in contraception or abortion, Catholic Hospitals perform at remarkable levels of excellence.