|Religious Freedom Hearings, Feb. 2012, D.C.|
About that 26 September letter the USCCB sent to members of Congress, Ken Briggs tells it like it is:
The letter to Congress from Cardinal O'Malley and Archbishop Lori on Sept. 26 seems to me to violate the First Amendment by approving a government shutdown if the bishops don't get their way on contraception.
Nothing wrong with bishops pursuing their cause in a non-partisan way. But by pleading their special cause in the midst of this fight, they had to know they were joining the Republican drive to block a clean CR and to add another weapon to the GOP's attack on the health care act which the bishops have generally approved. The moral stands taken by religious groups will inevitably fall into one or another party's sphere of interest. A violation occurs, however, when religious groups "play politics" in a direct alignment with one party's strategies in partisan, opportunistic fashion. That is unConstitutional by my reading.
Why make such a blatant attempt to threaten a government shutdown? Did the bishops consciously they could take advantage of a climate in which the Republican strategy would work? What does it mean that the bishops' apparently ignored the pope's plea to downplay issues like contraception?
The saddest part of this is that the bishops' allegiance to Catholic social teaching has placed them on the side of most efforts to benefit poor and disadvantaged people. But this record is threatened by a type of narrow moral fanaticism that the pope opposes.