The Stranding of the Catholic Left – UPDATES

Literally bleary with fever last night, boxing metaphors came tumbling out of my brain and into my column over at First Things:

To that end, the White House seemed to have conferred not with the concerned Bishops but with members of the “Catholic Left” whose criticism of his original plans had had a weighty effect on others, and whose progressive credentials made their alliance vital to retain; he effectively went to Sr. Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, and sought imprimaturs that were not theirs to give, on what the press has taken to call (in apparent ignorance of the word’s meaning) his “compromise.”

Even before the president spoke, Keehan’s approving statement was released through the White Houses own press portals, with Dionne’s endorsement swiftly following. The one-two punch of Keehan and Dionne was meant to knock out the Bishops before they’d had a chance to find their mouth guards or rise from their corners, and also to signal that it was safe for the “Catholic Left” to regroup behind Obama.

It has not gone precisely as planned. If the matter has successfully been driven from the front pages–and why wouldn’t it be, since the press had initially tried to ignore the story–no one has yet been knocked down by members of the “Catholic Left” racing back into Obama’s corner. Stunned by Obama’s initial plans (which, by the way, were codified last Friday, in their original form, even as Obama was speaking) the “progressives” are paused and perhaps skittish.

You can read it all here

UPDATE: I wish I had seen Ross Douthat’s piece yesterday:

The original HHS rule almost seemed to have been deliberately written to leave Catholics like Sister Keehan with no alternative but to oppose it, even if doing so put the “the future of health reform” in jeopardy. The new rule, though, is much more savvy: Because it speaks the language of compromise and conscience, it provides grounds for anyone who desperately wants to believe in it to believe in it, even as it leaves the underlying policy more or less unchanged. (It’s telling, in this regard, that the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne managed to write an entire column today defending the compromise without once engaging with its substance.)

And by winning back the Catholics who wanted to be won back, the White House may have successfully defused the immediate crisis that its own ineptness created. Public opinion is highly malleable on this issue, and by dividing his critics, the president has made it more likely that this will be perceived as a left-right struggle on an issue (contraception) where social liberals have the public on its side, rather than a religious liberty issue that had centrist media types tut-tutting and swing-state Democrats jumping ship. (Compare this Kirsten Powers column on the supposed compromise to her take on the mandate last week, for instance, to get a sense of how the media conversation will probably shift.)

So the president has probably won today’s political battle. The question now is whether the Catholic bishops in particular, and religious conservatives in general, have a strategy for the longer war.

Right. Read it all!

Also: Te-DeumBlog has Cardinal-Designate Dolan’s thoughts:

“We bishops are pastors, we’re not politicians, and you can’t compromise on principle,” said Cardinal-designate Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And the goal posts haven’t moved and I don’t think there’s a 50-yard line compromise here,” he added.

“We’re in the business of reconciliation, so it’s not that we hold fast, that we’re stubborn ideologues, no. But we don’t see much sign of any compromise,” he said.

“What (Obama) offered was next to nothing. There’s no change, for instance, in these terribly restrictive mandates and this grossly restrictive definition of what constitutes a religious entity,” he said. “The principle wasn’t touched at all.”

From Rome, Dolan tells John Allen that he is not an “Obama hater”. Because whenever you disagree with this administration, you are accused of hate:

“We didn’t start this battle, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with it,” he said, “We’d much rather be conciliatory.”

Dolan also said he was “disappointed” with the quick support given to the administration’s announcement by the Catholic Health Association, saying it amounted to “popping the champagne cork” before the bishops had a chance to react. There too, he said, he wants to keep the dialogue going.

UPDATE II: While Doug Kmiec has not yet — as far as I know — made any public pronouncements, someone just sent this “compromise”-supporting document, which Kmiec has signed, as have others.

It appears the premise of my piece is perhaps a little wobbly; the “Catholic Left” is not so much “stranded” as perhaps being discrete and speaking mostly to themselves?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • kevin

    Love the line about imprimaturs which were not theirs to give.

    E.J. Dionne? He is some kind of alternate magisterium now? The mind reels.

  • Chris

    What’s most startling with the about-face from Sr. Keehan and Catholic Charities (now backpedaling), and various and sundry liberal Catholics from the periphery, is that it merely required some semantical sleight-of-hand to flip them from outrage to fawning relief. As Bishop Morlino of Madison has taught, “Language is the house of Being”, and the White House, like any good charlatan, can spin a tale of virtue out of the nightmare he’s inflicted on our collective consciences.

    Without naming names, if there are “types” of antichrists throughout history (Herod, Murat, Pharaoh, Hitler, etc.), and “types” of Marks of the Beast, then this situation certainly bears the personality of the Beast (all-curing, militant secularism), the Mark (submission to the State, lest you lose your ability to buy and sell in the market), and the Abomination of Desolation (setting up the sacrilegious images of Contraception, Abortion, and Sterilization in the ‘Temple’).

    Without falling into a Dispensationalist, the-end-is-near tizzy, we Catholics should take heed of history, and how these eruptions of anti-Christian oppression move through the cycle in Biblical and political terms. The persecution – as prophesied by Cardinal Burke – has indeed begun. Cardinal George himself said that he expects to “die in bed”, while his successor will “die in prison”, while his successor will “die a martyr in the public square”. And whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, or whether or not the contraceptive mandate is overturned in legislation, Obama has raised his hand and cried “J’accuse” at all people of faith, not just Catholics. With the remarkably powerful mainstream media, pop culture, and mafia-like grip of anti-Church special interest groups on Washington and corporate America, the battle lines have been drawn and distributed to every home.

    Jesus teaches, and history confirms, that the Church will not fall before the gates of hell. Over the years, this has been mistakenly interpreted as the image of a passive Church being attacked by Satan. Quite the opposite: Jesus is teaching that it is incumbent upon the Church to attack the gates of Hell, where we will not fail. If this current iteration of “the Beast” wants to pick a fight, we had better pay heed to the words of Christ and rush to meet him/her/it on the battlefield (be it the legislative process, public protest, civil disobedience, and/or personal prayer and sacrifice, or all of the above.)

    While we cannot and will not submit to this injustice, we also cannot and should not sit back and get steamrolled by the forces of evil. It means courageously preaching the Truth to all those around us. It means doubling-down on prayer and acts of love toward our enemies and the spiritually impoverished. It means placing all of our fears and tears and hardships at the foot of the Cross, where Christ suffers alongside us.

    Eyes forward, straight ahead. The victory is ours.

  • kevin

    That was quite eloquent. It’s funny but if you read blog posts over at America magazine, everything is just fine; Obama has compromised, what is all the fuss about, etc.

  • Judith L

    Right below Glenn Reynold’s link to this fine article is a link to a warning that drug resistant gonorrhea will be a serious problem in the near future. As Glenn is fond of quoting, “The country’s in the very best of hands.”

  • Robert F

    What we have to continually remember is that this is not just about Obama and his Administration. Obama and Administration are embodiments and conduits of an evil that has been at work for a very long time not just in the leadership but in the collective life and conscience of this country, and the world. And we have to ask ourselves if and how we have colluded with that evil in the name of peace (where there is no peace) and a comfortable lifestyle (including the ability to worship securely in our quiet little church enclaves). The anti-Christ is the location in history where satanic forces coalesce with and exploit the evil that resides in every human heart in order to transform an already fallen world into a precinct of hell. We should repent where we need to, pray (including for our enemies) and resist that evil with every legitimate, nonviolent means at hand. It is a good time to re-acquaint ourselves with the history of the early Christian martyrs, and to remember that discipleship is an heroic adventure, the method of which is a pure heart, and the goal the vision of God.

  • Jon

    It may be worth while looking at Paul Rahe’s analysis of the situation: “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil”.

    [I think the piece has been linked to in every combox thread in this category. Please look around before posting another link to it? Thanks -admin]

  • Diakonos

    Thank you as ever for the insight. You write “Doug Kmiec, who perhaps did more than any Catholic to win over concerned consciences in 2008, has—at this writing—said nothing publicly about the “accommodation.”

    I am not sure if this qualifies as a comment but it appears that Doug Kmiec
    does support the latest accommodation. See here


  • kevin

    His comments to Allen concern me. Gerard Nadal has a good letter on Dolan’s “we don’t want to fight” musings. People like Obama hear that kind of talk and laugh. They know they can advance without any strong opposition.

  • Elizabeth K.

    @Mark, I agree that reading the comment, it seems a little weak–but hearing it is, I think, a different matter. After watching Dolan’s recent interview where he walks right up to the line of Calling President Obama a liar, I hear, after the words “we don’t want to fight” the unspoken, “but we will, and you’re not going to like it.” Better, perhaps, to let Obama leave his guard down a bit, believing he has won? He make think he can advance, but the opposition is building, and frankly, I’d like to see what’s next on the agenda. Perhaps the media’s moving on to other matters is actually advantageous.

    @Chris, beautiful. Exactly right, friend.

  • Ellen

    It is striking to me, Elizabeth, that you do not call out folks like Grant Gallicho and other Commonweal and America Magazine commenters by name and with citations. You need to take their positions seriously, address them seriously, and not be afraid to lose face in the sight of the liberal Catholic media establishment.

  • Gerry

    The “Catholic” Left got another present – $10,000 per Chevy Volt – as his Majesty proclaims “Let them eat chalk”.

  • taad

    Some things I don’t get:

    Are the bishops in control of Catholic Charities USA or not? The administration Chief of Staff has said that Fr. Larry at Catholic Charities has approved the HHS Mandate as revised??? Who are our donations going to? Is government money to Catholic Charities more important than our morals?

    Are the bishops going to fight for OUR INDIVIDUAL conscience protection or just their own? We too will have pay for this abortion coverage in our own insurance policies. Why can’t we opt out of it? Do the bishops care about this? Or just their issues?

  • gracepmc

    This is driving me crazeeee! I dislike the fact that Sister Carol and her band of hospitals (some Catholic,some not) are referred to as Catholic Health Services. A good friend of mine, listening to my rant, said the bishops had sanctioned a name change to Dignity Health (I think) and this link contains that information as well. Can someone please clarify for me. Thanks.

  • vox borealis

    And Kmiec can sleep more soundly again. I’m so glad that Mark Shea made me see the light on Kmiec, convincing me to turn the my attention to the real threat to the Catholic Church: “conservative Catholics” who read Father Z. and watch the occasional Michael Voris video. /sarcasm.


  • Kt

    Remember in 2008 when Kmiec said he supported Obama because he “sounds more Catholic than many Catholics”? Good times.

  • conservativemama

    How can abortion ever be termed health “care”? Care for whom?

  • kevin

    Fulton Sheen predicted all of this happening. He said the “social” gospel, i.e., focus on material poverty, will be used to mask a lack of personal justice (i.e., unrepented sin) between God and the individual. The focus on the social gospel allows us to ignore the vertical dimension of the cross, while focusing solely on the horizontal.

    Comments like that by Kmiec were as incomprehensible to me now as they were then.

  • CV

    I wish they were feeling “stranded” but after reading that “compromise-supporting” statement by Kmiec and other useful idiots, well, I’m not so sure.

    Sounds like they are exactly in the same place they’ve been all along.

    As Douthat says, the challenge is whether or not the bishops have a strategy for the longer war, especially without an MSM soapbox.

  • Chris

    Douthat is correct in his perception of the longterm picture. The tsunami is appearing on the horizon, and we’re going to see a lot of people fleeing the beach for higher ground (Kmiec, et al). We have to stand in the breech and turn it back. That’s our solemn duty as sons and daughters of the Church.

  • kevin

    Rush is making a good point on this, which should have been obvious all along. Obama is using free contraception as a forerunner to free abortion. Government-funded abortion on demand is the end game, which we’ll probably see in a second term. All insurers will be required to pay for abortion. We will all be forced to pay for abortion, like it or not. As Anchoress noted I think once before, this is when civil disobedience will break out the real persecutions will begin. Those kooks who were calling this the guy the “antiChrist” may not have been so whacky.

  • Gerry

    What, you mean the Shea Hey Kid was wrong about Kmiec?

  • Left Coast Conservative

    Thank you Anchoress for your diligent and careful work here.
    The time has come to put on the armour of God and prepare for battle – adoration, the sacraments, fasting and prayer. And, then to take the battle to the marketplace in charity and love. Standing firm in the face of evil and keeping our eye on the horizon – Christ is here with all of us as we battle for Truth.
    God bless you all – Viva la Christo Rey!

  • DWiss

    Seems to me that Obama didn’t need to start this at all. Before last week, who really cared that many (not all) Catholic organizations didn’t cover conctraception, etc.? There might be a half dozed different ways that he could have ensured that women could get those services from alternate sources, Planned Parenthood being just one of them that’s already up and running.
    At the same time, I can’t quite believe that he just wanted to pick a fight with the Catholic church, 54% of whose members voted for him in 2008, so it’s not as though he viewed Catholics as a hostile group that needed taming.
    In his arrogance, was Obama just annoyed that the Catholic leadership wasn’t on board, and so rather than take the easy way around them he chose to mow them down instead (didn’t work)?
    Bottom line, I’m left wondering if the Great One isn’t kind of stupid.

  • dnb

    My question and a seriously major concern as a practicing Catholic is, “What do I do if my bishops ‘compromise’ on morality?” Is the Catholic Church still the Church if it abandons life and the freedom to practice religion? Will the shepherds abandon their flocks, and leave them to the wolves of secularism? Will the flocks then need to find different shepherds amonst themselves? The bishops really need to pray on this matter as the future of the Catholic church in America is in their hands. (And I’m referring to filling the pews with the faithful, because I will remain Catholic even if I am forced to leave the church.)

  • Margaret

    @Kevin– abortion is a no-brainer. The second Obama is re-elected, out the window goes the executive order signed in conjunction with the passage of Obamacare. Mark my words.

  • Manny

    If Obama has diffused this issue, or possibly gained by it, is a tribute to our wonderful (sarcasm) fellow Catholics on the left. Frankly any Cathplic that can vote for Obama now is not a Catholic first. They belong to the religion of Liberalism.

  • kevin

    Note also how he is disarming the United States. Just an all around swell guy.

  • Bender

    **So the president has probably won today’s political battle. The question now is whether the Catholic bishops in particular, and religious conservatives in general, have a strategy for the longer war.**

    Douthat makes the same false linkage that Obama, et al. do — combining the bishops with conservatives. And the pro-abortion / pro-contraception crowd would like nothing more than to delegitimize the Church by smearing it as just another partisan political organization.

    The Catholic Church (including the bishops) is not conservative, the Church is not liberal. The Church is not Republican, the Church is not Democrat. The Church is, very simply, Catholic. Period.

    As for a strategy for the longer war, again Douthat makes the same error as do those who hold the Church to be The Enemy, treating her as a mere worldly player. The Church has had a strategy for the longer war for 2000 years. A longer war, of which this present crisis is merely one tiny little battle. Stronger and more powerful people than this posuer Obama have tried to suppress and persecute the Church.

  • Bender

    **There might be a half dozen different ways that he could have ensured that women could get those services from alternate sources**

    Only one way is needed, were access to contraception really the objective of King Henry Obama and Kathleen Cromwell –
    The religious employer pays the employee a monthly wage for his or her services. The employee takes a small portion of that money, goes to the pharmacy, and privately buys the contraception himself or herself. Or perhaps he or she buys cold medicine or food or clothing or pays the rent.

    What’s that? That’s the system we have now? A system where the employee retains the complete freedom to sin all he or she wants, and the religious employer retains the complete freedom to not be involved in evil?

    This isn’t about freedom, it is about governmental control. This isn’t about reproductive freedom, it is about trying to force the Church to cooperate with and facilitate moral wrong.

  • kevin

    Powerful comments Bender, I couldn’t agree more. It’s this brilliant idea that Obama can’t seem to grasp – - the employer pays the employee a wage, and then that employee can go out and spend the money he or she earns on what he or she wants, including contraceptives. Sheer genius! Oh wait, we had that for 200 years before Obamacare.

    The Church has buried entire civilizations, including the Roman Empire, and one day she will bury the United States of America as well, as much as it pains me to say it.

  • SouthofReality

    So Kmiec stabbed the bishops in the back. Why am I not surprised? And wasn’t it just last week people were lecturing us about how we were supposed to support Kmiec and not say nasty things about him. Now I hope you all see the flaw in that kind of thinking. All it does is give him credibility when he does turn on the Church. As the scorpion said to the frog, “It’s my nature”.

  • taad

    We need to start beating the drum, Why do we need Planned Parenthood anymore since all of our insurance companies will be paying for contraception and abortion. End the government subsidy of Planned Parenthood now! It is a duplication of government services.

  • Jon

    It may be worth while looking at Paul Rahe’s analysis of the situation: “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil”.

    [I think the piece has been linked to in every combox thread in this category. Please look around before posting another link to it? Thanks -admin

    I do 'look around'. I am a long time reader. I simply don't have time to read every single comment on every single post - and you haven't addressed the important issues raised in the essay so I simply assumed you haven't seen it - not that you're specifically ignoring it.

    [It's very long, and I'm very busy, I have not had a chance to read it and I try to actually read everything I link to. -admin]

  • Wryman

    Here’s what I don’t get: Why does the Church allow the religious orders to be in open dissent from the leadership of the bishops year in and year out over the decades, with not so much as an “invitation to dialogue,” let alone outright denunciation of their behavior?

    I mean, really, isn’t it a scandal that the Southern Baptists support us more than the Jesuits? That’s not a slam on the Southern Baptists, whose support is very much appreciated.

  • Brian English

    “This isn’t about freedom, it is about governmental control. This isn’t about reproductive freedom, it is about trying to force the Church to cooperate with and facilitate moral wrong.”


  • Brian English

    “It is a duplication of government services.”

    The government loves duplication of services. It means more people who look to it for their livelihood, and therefore more voters for the government that promotes that duplication.

  • EBL

    This is slightly off topic, but bear with me. This new Santorum ad is just great. I love it. I have been hard on Rick lately for being a nanny scold driving potential supporters away (I worried he was heading in the wrong direction). But if he can sell his points like this and stay focused on big economic issues (and not let the left drag him into a fight over contraception on their terms) he will be this Rick. And Rick might be able to persuade some voters to support him who normally would not.

  • Dorian Speed

    I think Obama knows exactly what he’s doing. What is going to matter in this election (as in all elections) is not the actual reality but the electorate’s perception of that reality. Catholicism’s objection to contraception is so outside the mainstream, and the details of this “compromise” are so complex, that the situation can’t easily be boiled down to a sound bite. Which is why we have Planned Parenthood saying “I can’t believe we’re still arguing about contraception in 2012″ as though the issue were the legal standing of contraception. By the time the election rolls around, the bishops will have been fully marginalized on the issue and the average voter will think it was all about something like the Church trying to make contraception illegal for their employees. Better vote for Obama, or birth control might be outlawed!

  • Brian English

    “It may be worth while looking at Paul Rahe’s analysis of the situation: “American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil”.”

    The history Rahe sets forth is certainly accurate, but I don’t understand what he wants the Bishops to do now.

    The Bishops are opposing the mandate and the farce of an accommodation based on the moral teachings of the Church being violated. Rahe appears to be arguing that the Bishops should also be leading the fight to roll back the entitlement state, but that is a political fight that the laity will have to take the lead on.

  • craig

    I don’t expect sackcloth and ashes from the bishops for forty years of counseling the flock to support growth of the federal Leviathan. I’d be thrilled if they got as far as ‘mistakes were made’. What I’d really like to see is a newfound skepticism toward Caesar’s prerogatives and Soviet-style ‘positive’ rights, together with an appreciation of the distinction between those pseudo-rights and the God-given natural rights which no state may justly abridge.

  • Susan Gallen

    What really irks me is the belief of the “liberal, left Catholics” that there is such a thing as “liberal, left Catholics”. There is only one Catholic Church, anchored on the rock of immutable dogma and doctrine. Those are the properties that define Catholicism. Anything else is perhaps a close approximation but not the real thing. The “Left” of the Church have every right to believe, by reason of free will, anything they wish, ( and is a matter of convenience). But Truth is Truth and doesn’t change to accomodate an individual’s wants.

  • Michael

    It appears to me that the CHA has overstepped its bounds in more than one way. I cannot believe that Catholic bishops will stand still while the president of, what is basically a trade organization for Catholic hospitals, speaks for the church!! Do Catholic hospitals have to be a member of this organization? I am sure the individual hospitals pay a membership fee to join the CHA. I am sure the CHA can advise on the business aspects of running health care agencies and maybe that is what is the focal point of their perspective. It cannot be that they take the accommodation seriously

  • stan chaz

    One of the legitimate functions of government is to promote equality and fairness for ALL, to have everyone play by the same rules. No one is coming into our Churches and trying to tell parishioners what to believe…or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops want to start businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the rules…ESPECIALLY if they use our tax dollars in the process.  Just because a religious group in America claims to believe something, we cannot excuse them from obeying the law in the PUBLIC arena, based on that belief. They can legally attempt to change the law, not to deny it outright. And if they want to plunge overtly into politics from the pulpit, then they should give up their tax-exempt status. Did I miss something, or when it comes to the “sanctity of life”, is every single righteous Catholic still a card carrying conscientious objector, still refusing to take up arms,  still totally against the death penalty, and still against contraception and birth-control in all its forms? Oh well, hypocrisy is at the heart of politics, and politics masquerading as religion even more so. This country is an invigorating mixture of all the diversity that life has to offer, drawing its strength FROM that diversity. We need to work together to preserve, enrich, and strengthen this unique experiment – NOT to tear it down with poisonous, paralyzing, and un-Christian demonization of each other.

    [You seem to think the church picked this fight. It did not. We were weren't trying to limit access to
    birth control or trying to make it illegal. This administration cued this one, beginning with Stephanopoulos' odd questions about contraception to Romney during one of the debates. The church has never said birthcontrol should be outlawed; she just doesn't want to pay for it. She never says her employees can't use it. She just doesn't want to pay for it and up until three weeks ago, no one ever thought her conscience should be intruded upon so that she must. When 99% of women say they have access to birthcontrol -- as they have -- there is nothing impeding women from obtaining pills, condoms or anything else. This isn't ABOUT birthcontrol and if you're honest you know it. So, please don't come preaching about tolerance and togetherness and "rights for all" -- the church has rights, too, and suddenly----- aaaaallll of a sudden --- their rights are a problem -admin]