Friday, November 25, 2011

Times Editorializes about Obama and the Bishops: Don't Cave

The New York Times weighs in today on the kerfuffle regarding the powerful (and highly funded) U.S. Catholic bishops' lobby in D.C. and contraceptive coverage in health-care plans of Catholic institutions.  The Times's editorial advice to the president: do the right thing.  Don't cave in.

As the editorial notes, the HHS guidelines now under consideration, which would require Catholic institutions to provide contraceptive coverage for employees, originate with a recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine.  And there's abundant evidence that making contraceptives accessible drives down the rate of abortions.

The rules already contain a religious exemption for faith-based groups.  What the bishops are demanding here is akin to what they've demanded as civil marriage for same-sex couples is enacted in places like New York: they want special faith-based exemptions that go far beyond existing ones and give people virtual faith-based veto power over civil law and the "right" to discriminate on faith-based grounds.  And when 28 states already require employers to provide contraceptive coverage to employees, the bishops' demand for special privileges in the case of the HHS guidelines and their desire to draw a line in the sand over this issue become even more difficult to understand except as a gauntlet thrown down to the current administration in advance of the 2012 elections.

The editorial states:

It was distressing but came as no surprise that the new rules prompted protests from Roman Catholic bishops and other church leaders. What is surprising, and even more distressing, is that the White House is considering caving to their call for an expansive exemption that would cover employees of hospitals, universities, charitable organizations and other entities that are associated with religious organizations but serve the general public and benefit from public money.
President Obama should stand firm against the church’s overreaching. Allowing a broad exemption for health plans sponsored by employers that object to contraceptives coverage would amount to imposing church doctrine on millions of women who may differ with the church’s stand on birth control and who may not be Catholic. It would deny them coverage for a critical need.

But as the Times notes, it's very likely the president will cave in to the powerful and wealthy USCCB lobby.  And even as this measured, reasonable statement about the controversy appears in a newspaper likely to be attacked by the Catholic right and many Catholic centrists as anti-Catholic for publishing the editorial, the Catholic centrist crowd keeps madly spinning op-ed statements in many places, giving cover to the bishops.  And lining up with the every right-wing Catholic group around, while actively colluding with the bishops to shove progressive Catholics out of the conversation.

And to pretend that women and advocates for women's rights have no place in authentic Catholic conversations.  Or that gays and advocates for gay rights have no place in authentic Catholic conversations.  

Accent on the word "pretend."  As Robert McClory notes at National Catholic Reporter recently, citing Jim McCrea, the price the Catholic community in the U.S. expects those who remain actively Catholic to pay for being Catholic is to do an exorbitant amount of pretending.  And the centrist intellectuals who set the tone for official Catholic conversations in the U.S. are at the forefront of the let's-pretend movement.

Let's pretend that the magisterium is right about sexual ethical issues and that no one uses contraceptives.  Let's pretend that the gays just aren't there and that when we do deign to notice them, we treat them justly and kindly and welcome them with open arms.  Let's pretend that the gays who refuse to remain closeted and the advocates for women's rights are enemies of the church. 

Let's pretend that Catholics are still a powerless, persecuted minority group in the U.S. and that anyone, whether inside or outside the church, who raises critical questions and asks about the cognitive dissonance between what we preach and what we actually do is "attacking" the church and is "anti-Catholic."  Let's pretend that our own lives, as intellectual standard-bearers in the church, have nothing to do with the validity of what we proclaim, so that we can and must keep talking about abstract theological issues in the absence of any self-critical examination of who we are and how we behave.  Or in the absence of any critical examination of the effects of our abstract theologizing on the real lives of the brothers and sisters we exclude from the table.

Above all, let's pretend that the bishops remain the best thing going for American Catholicism, that--as NCR reporter Michael Sean Winters often observes, it's their church and they can do what they want with it--their moral authority remains intact despite what they've done in the abuse crisis.  Let's pretend that anyone appalled at how the bishops have handled the abuse crisis is simply--along with the gays and women--out to get the church and to force it to change teachings that it can't change, since they're inerrant and for all time.

Let's pretend that the reverend gentlemen who just met in Baltimore to tell us they're under attack and deserve special privileges from secular society, including the "right" to impose their moral standards on an entire society and block the rights of others, are all wearing resplendent royal robes.  Let's pretend that they aren't parading around totally naked.

And let's pretend that all this toxic denial is good for us as a Catholic community.

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