Not-So-Strange Bedfellows

George Weigel has a column today at National Review titled “The Catholic Betrayal of Religious Liberty.” It begins as an indictment of Democratic Catholic officeholders Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Rosa DeLauro and Kathleen Sebelius, women he describes as “Catholic Lite,” and goes on to add Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, to the list.

But in an interesting twist, the column winds up as a long encomium to John Courtney Murray, the liberal Jesuit priest and political theorist whose accomplishment was to, in Weigel’s words, “midwife a new Catholic understanding of the modern state and of the democratic project, which eventually reshaped the thinking and practices of the entire Church. ” As Weigel notes, it is John Courtney Murray who is often credited with providing the intellectual inspiration for the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae).

What is strange is that John Courtney Murray is also credited as having provided the intellectual firepower for a far less well-known “council” known as the Hyannisport Conclave. In a January 2009 Wall Street Journal article (How Support For Abortion Became Kennedy Dogma), Weigel’s National Review colleage, Anne Hendershott, sketched the origin and outcome of the Hyannisport Conclave:

At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a “clear conscience.”

The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book “The Birth of Bioethics” (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.

Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that “distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue.” It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians “might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order.””

What we might call the “Murray Principle” was crystallized by Father John himself in a memo to Boston’s Cardinal Spellman in 1965. Spellman had asked Murray for an opinion on the proposed decriminalization of contraception in Massachusetts. In his memo, Murray wrote, “It is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong. By reason of its nature and purpose, as the instrument of order in society, the scope of law is limited to the maintenance and protection of public morality. Matters of private morality lie beyond the scope of law; they are left to the personal conscience.”

As good modern liberals, Pelosi, Sibelius, and the others accept this principle on the pelvic issues. They may be “personally opposed” to abortion, but they also believe that in a religiously diverse polity like the United States, one in which there is widespread disagreement about these issues, it is best not to blur the line between the political/legislative and the moral/religious. George Weigel, who has written approvingly of John Courtney Murray’s “American Proposition” for decades, also accepts the Murray principle. A classical liberal, he just reserves its application for issues related t0 economics, and like his brethren on the left even counsels ignoring papal teaching when it suits him.

A year ago, George Weigel published an article in First Things titled “The End of the Bernardin Era: The Rise, Dominance, and Decline of a Culturally Accommodating Catholicism.” The irony of the title is that no one represents a culturally accommodating Catholicism more than George Weigel. His project has simply been to accommodate Catholicism to right-liberalism, including laissez-faire capitalism, Republican politics, and American empire. Perhaps someday, when Catholics in the United States have recovered from their infatuations with both strands of liberalism, someone will write an article titled “The End of the Weigel Era.”

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  • http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/kylecupp/ Kyle R. Cupp

    The Murray principle is a good one, but as it is with all principles worth their salty, the difficulty comes with applying it prudently.

  • Thales

    As good modern liberals, Pelosi, Sibelius, and the others accept this principle on the pelvic issues. They may be “personally opposed” to abortion, but they also believe that in a religiously diverse polity like the United States, one in which there is widespread disagreement about these issues, it is best not to blur the line between the political/legislative and the moral/religious.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you…. but aren’t Pelosi, Sebelius, etc. doing the exact opposite of this? That’s the whole point of Weigel’s article — that modern liberals are not defending personal liberty and personal conscience, and that the “Murray Principle” you describe is being jettisoned with the HHS rule. With the HHS rule, matters of private morality no longer lie beyond the scope of law; they are NOT left to the personal conscience. With the HHS rule, you have the law forcing itself on a matter of private conscience.

    • Mark Gordon

      Thales, they think they are defending the personal liberty and conscience of women who want contraception.

      • Thales

        Well, I’ll grant that they use the words “liberty” and “conscience,” but they’re doing so in an irrational and disingenuous way. (I.e., it’s silly to say that the government forcing person A to pay for person’s B contraception is not a violation of person A’s conscience; and that it’s a violation of person B’s conscience to not get free contraception from person A). What really motivates Pelosi et al. is not religious liberty or conscience rights; it’s unfettered contraception/abortion rights.

        But, regardless, my point is that the thesis of Weigel’s article is that the “liberal Catholics” who subscribed to the “Murray principle” and to the notion that “private morality lies beyond the scope of law,” are betraying that very notion by not opposing the HHS rule, which is an instance of the law forcing itself on a matter of private conscience.

      • M.Z.

        You really need to stop assuming the point under dispute. If everyone agreed this were an issue of religious liberty, then there would be no dispute. Likewise if everyone agreed this was about giving people the freedom to make their own health care choices, there would be no dispute. It would also help matters if people stopped acting like this was a regulation particular to parachurch organizations. It isn’t. The nature of exemptions is that they are exemptions from the norm. There is nothing special about the requirement.

      • Thales

        You talking to me, M.Z.? I don’t quite understand you’re saying, but I don’t think I’m assuming the point in dispute. As for the second half of your comment, you bring up a point that is an interesting one that I’ve seen elsewhere and probably deserves greater consideration: that this HHS rule does not simply raise an issue of religious freedom for parachurch organizations, but that it raises a more fundamental issue of interference with personal freedom of contract and of association, that extends to all individuals and organizations regardless of religious inclination.

  • http://gravatar.com/blackadderiv Blackadder

    Some people have cited Murray in an attempt to defend legalized abortion. Since Murray died in 1967 he is of course unable to defend himself on the point, but nothing he said entails support for legal abortion nor did he ever suggest that this position would be a valid application of his thinking.

    The HHS Contraception mandate certainly isn’t consistent with his thinking on religious liberty issues.

  • Liam

    I think you mean boston’s cardinal cushing…

    • Mark Gordon

      Thanks, Liam. I actually meant Cardinal Spellman of NEW YORK! Good catch.

  • Anne

    << Murray wrote, “It is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong. By reason of its nature and purpose, as the instrument of order in society, the scope of law is limited to the maintenance and protection of public morality. Matters of private morality lie beyond the scope of law; they are left to the personal conscience.”<<

    <<Blackadder:"The HHS Contraception mandate certainly isn’t consistent with his thinking on religious liberty issues."<<

    How so? The HHS mandate does not require that anybody use contraception, only that contraceptive drugs and procedures — which can, of course, be used for preventing births but also for a number of other preventive health care purposes — be included among the category of medical services called "preventive" and covered by insurance without copays. That means no employer or employee has to pay for them; the cost is negotiated between insurance companies and providers. The mandate's as much about who doesn't pay as who has to pay. The President's accomodation even manages to separate out actual users from everybody else on plans owned by churches (and pararchurches) who object to contraception.

    Murray might easily have devised a better, more perfect solution for the Church, given his special talents in this regard. But claiming the situation as it stands headlessly tramples religious liberty or makes employers material accomplices in evil bears about as much relationship to the thinking of John Courtney Murray as the Inquisition did to Vatican II.

    • Thales

      That means no employer or employee has to pay for them; the cost is negotiated between insurance companies and providers.

      That’s the sticking point. Contraceptives aren’t free — they cost money — and so the cost will come back to the employer.

      • Kurt

        Thales,

        If that were an iron law of economics, can you explain why the Diocese of Madison (or anyone ever) found self-insurance to be prohibitively expensive?

      • Thales

        Kurt,
        I don’t understand the point of your question. I’m not completely familiar with the facts of the Madison situation, but I presume that the diocese had 2, and only 2, options: participate in an insurance program with contraceptives; and self-insure. And the latter was prohibitively expensive, and so they had to go with the insurance program even if it covered contraceptives.

      • Kurt

        Thales,

        My question is how can a self-insurance program be prohibitively expensive if one accepts as an non-debatable fact that an insurance company rigidly charges back to the policyholder the exact costs of the insurance (i.e., if the insurance company was required to pay for contraceptives, it is a non-debatable fact the expense is being charged back to the policy holder)?

        It seems there are only two possibilities:

        1) Morlino was either lying or his definition of prohibitively expensive meant a few extra nickels.

        2) It is not a non-debateable fact that each expense incurred by an insurance company is precisely charged back to the policyholder.

      • Thales

        Kurt,
        Sorry, but I’m honestly still lost by your point. I’m no expert in insurance, but isn’t it possible that self-insurance without contraception (if permitted — remember, it’s not under the HHS rule) might be more expensive than participating in a larger insurance program that happens to have contraception?

      • Kurt

        but isn’t it possible that self-insurance without contraception … might be more expensive than participating in a larger insurance program that happens to have contraception?

        It is possible only if you first reject the assertion that under the revision of the HHS mandate, that it is an iron law that insurance companies will simply bill back the costs of contraceptives to the policyholder.

      • Thales

        Sorry, Kurt, I still don’t understand.
        1. First, remember, the revision of the HHS rule doesn’t exist yet. All we have is the original rule, and we’re waiting to see if/when a revision comes.
        2. “an iron law that insurance companies will simply bill back the costs of contraceptives to the policyholder”: isn’t this just the very nature of insurance in the first place? That insurance, by its very nature, is where policyholders pay funds to a company, which is pooled and is paid out by the company back to the policyholders for whatever item or service is covered by the plan?

  • Anne

    Thales: “Contraceptives aren’t free — they cost money — and so the cost will come back to the employer.”

    You’d think people arguing against the mandate (and compromise) were looking at some hard-and-fast rule on this. But there isn’t one. The President, of course, said there’d be no cost passed on to either employee or employer under the exemptions. But even among employers without exemptions, there’s no direct cost ratio to pass on for contraceptives specifically among all the other preventive care measures that under the mandate have to be covered with no cost-sharing for the insured. There are a slew of them. Directly passing on costs to the employer would not be good politics for anybody involved.

    There are also equal protection laws to consider even if this HHS mandate weren’t in the mix. In December 2000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said an employer’s failure to provide coverage of contraception, if it covers other prescription drugs and preventive care, is a violation of protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; those protections for employees’ benefits include no exemption for religious employers.

    We could really use the appearance of a modern-day John Courtney Murray, or Solomon, about now.

    • Thales

      Anne,
      I can’t tell whether you’re disagreeing with my point or not. You say The President, of course, said there’d be no cost passed on to either employee or employer under the exemptions.

      Well, frankly, the President is lying. He said that because of the claim that adding contraception is “cost neutral since it saves money” (I’m quoting from the White House fact sheet.) Some people dispute that’s it’s cost neutral. But let’s assume that it is cost neutral. The argument is a complete red herring. Think about it: Contraception services are added (which cost money), but since the demand for other services goes down (because of the addition of contraception), the cost for the other services should go down, which means that the insurance company’s total cost remains the same, and so the employer premiums should remain the same. But even if the employer premiums are the same before and after the change, after the change, some small amount of the employer’s premium still pays for contraception services because contraceptive services cost money. The employer is paying the same amount that he did before, but that’s only because he’s paying a slightly smaller amount for the same set of non-contraceptive services, and he’s paying a small amount for the contraceptive services. The conscience objection still remains: the employer is providing and paying for contraception.

  • Anne

    Data on costs (“the sticking point”?) of HHS mandate.
    Again, government spokesmen say exempted employers will not pay for contraceptive coverage, period. (They also promise the question of what happens to the one potential exception to the exemptions — self-insured religious employers– will be resolved before the mandate goes into effect in 2013.) Predictions and precedents:

    The National Business Group on Health predicts any short-term costs will be modest and offset rapidly by long-term savings in costs associated with pregnancy and complications.

    An HHS brief on cost implications of prior expansions of contraceptive coverage concluded the cost to issuers was “zero.”

    When coverage of contraceptives was added to FEHBP (federal employees) in 1999, it did not increase premium costs.

    • Thales

      Anne, in my comment above, I explain why the “cost neutral” argument is a red herring.

  • Orestes Brownson

    Murray was wrong. The Church silenced him, and his heretical interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae did not make it into the document. Murrayanism can’t defeat the therapeutic/Lockean state:

    http://www.cfmpl.org/blog/2012/02/17/religious-freedom-triumph-therapeutic/#more-4010