Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"Conscience-Protection" Bill Filed vs. Affordable Care Act: The Face of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Public Square

Mark Pattison of Catholic News Service reports at National Catholic Reporter about a "conscience-protection" bill just introduced yesterday by three Republican House members. Essentially, the bill demands "Taco Bell" exemptions that would allow private employers to exempt themselves from coverage of contraception in healthcare plans for employees under the Affordable Care Act. 

I thought of the absolute unfeasibility of Taco Bell exemptions for any and all private employers who claim that they have qualms of conscience about the ACA yesterday when I read Jim Burroway's report at Box Turtle Bulletin about the sentencing of Beachy-Amish Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller for his role in the kidnapping of Isabelle Miller-Jenkins in 2009. Isabelle's mother Lisa Miller, who had formerly been in a lesbian relationship with her other mother, Janet Jenkins, refused to abide by a court order granting custody of Isabelle to Janet Jenkins, and fled with her to South America, with Kenneth Miller (and, apparently, others) assisting.

Kenneth Miller, who belongs to a group of Mennonites who insist that women be veiled, that they "do not have spelled out 'rights' as are necessary in secular society," and that women are "important," but their role is to be "behind the scenes," acted out of conscience in helping Lisa Miller defy a court order. But as Judge William Sessions III informed Miller when he sentenced him recently, no matter how strong his convictions of conscience, the claims of individual conscience have to be weighed against what the law demands if we expect to sustain a viable civil society.

I certainly support the rights of conscience, and I am happy to see people adhering to the claims of conscience. At the same time, I am strongly concerned about how some key religious players--notably, the U.S. Catholic bishops--have been willing to undermine notions of the common good for some time now, as they play to partisan political groups whose real purpose is political rather than religious, when they demand conscience exemptions from the birth-control stipulations of the ACA. Their real goal is to oppose President Obama, and to undermine his power in any way possible. And the bishops have, in my view, done serious harm to our society by permitting their partisanship to fray the common good as they assist partisan political groups in pursuing that goal with false claims about conscience.

But that's not my primary point in posting about this topic now. My primary point is this: look at the picture that heads the NCR article by Mark Pattinson. It shows Franciscan sister Jane Marie Klein of the Franciscan Alliance, nurse Cathy Cenzon-Decarlo, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, listening to the speakers at yesterday's House hearing about the conscience-protection bill, which they support.

Look at the picture, and ask yourself: is this the best face possible for a religion which claims to be all about God's all-embracing, all-salvific love in the world to put forward, as it presses its claim that God is love? Is this the best we Catholics have to offer American society right now?

How have we gotten, in just a half century, from the face of smiling face of Pope John XXIII to this face in American Catholicism? For that matter, how have we gotten from the faces of St. Francis of Assisi and of Jesus to this face as the face of our church in the U.S. public square?

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