Saturday, February 23, 2013

German Bishops Approve Morning-After Pill in Rape Cases, and U.S. Bishops Now Have a Problem on Their Hands

The German bishops have now taken the step about which I've posted several pieces recently (and here and here): they have issued a statement affirming that Catholic hospitals can administer the "morning-after" pill in cases of rape. As Christa Pongratz-Lippitt reports at National Catholic Reporter, the conservative cardinal-archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, told the media several weeks ago that he had consulted with medical experts about how the morning-after pill functions, and had learned it's a contraceptive and not an abortifacient--hence the willingness of the German bishops to consider its use in cases of rape:

Then on Jan. 31, Meisner made his surprise announcement. After consulting experts on the so-called morning-after pill, Meisner said that he had learned that "different preparations have different effects. ... This has ethical consequences." An emergency contraceptive that acted to prevent fertilization is "permissible" in the treatment of a rape victim, the cardinal said. "If a preparation is used whose active principle is to prevent an already fertilized embryo from implanting, then that is not permissible, as the fertilized embryo's human dignity must be protected," he added.

Pongratz-Lippitt also cites a Vatican official, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who states, 

"To consider the possibility of using a drug whose active ingredient is a contraceptive in the case of a woman who has been raped seems acceptable to me," Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula told "Vatican Insider," the online news supplement to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

She notes as well that when Meisner made his statement about the distinction between the morning-after pill as a contraceptive and abortifacients, and about the moral legitimacy of using a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy in cases of rape, he "made his statement with the knowledge of Rome, his spokesman confirmed."

And so now we have a problem: there is a serious disconnect between what one conference of Catholic bishops and the Vatican itself are saying about these matters, and what the U.S. Catholic bishops choose to keep saying for political reasons. Last March, the head of the U.S. Catholic bishops' "religious freedom" campaign, Bishop William E. Lori, stated flatly in an open letter to America magazine that the morning-after pill Ella is "an abortifacient drug." It was Lori who led the Catholic charge at the "religious freedom" hearings in Washington, D.C., a year ago, at which an all-male panel of witnesses equated opposition to birth control with a make-or-break position faith communities must hold in the name of defending religious liberty, in their attack on the Obama administration.

Google the phrases "Cardinal Dolan" + "abortifacient" + "morning-after pill" or merely the phrase "abortifacient morning-after pill," and you'll see the problem to which I'm pointing: from all sides, everyone, from "pro-life" Catholics to the Knights of Columbus* to the Southern Baptists, and you'll see how successfully the U.S. Catholic bishops have spread the lie the notion--they've spread it everywhere--that the morning-after pill is an abortifacient, that they are obliged to oppose the Obama administration for including it in the new ACA guidelines, and that their attack on those guidelines is premised on their adamant resistance to abortion and not to contraception.

Here's how the American public now largely understands "the" Catholic position on these matters, as it has been articulated by people like Bishop Lori or the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan: this is Jennifer Bain writing last January for the New York Post:

Dolan, who is set to become a Cardinal next month, was asked after a lecture at Fordham University Law School at Lincoln Center if he disagrees with Obama. 
"You bet we got a disagreement," Dolan said after the event called, "Law & the Gospel of Life."
"The government doesn’t have the right to butt into the internal governance and teachings of the church," he added. 
The mandate by the feds is part of the health-care bill Obama signed in 2010. It means employers must cover the morning-after pill.

And so, as I say, we now have a problem on our hands: now that the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the conservative cardinal of Cologne, and the German bishops' conference have clearly distinguished between the morning-after pill as a contraceptive, and abortifacients, and have concluded that Catholic hospitals can morally administer the morning-after pill in cases of rape: how will the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church in the U.S. begin to repair the damage they have done by lying about spreading misinformation about the morning-after pill and Catholic moral teaching? By spreading it everywhere? For political reasons?

My hunch: they'll keep their mouths shut now and let the disinformation continue to roll forth. They have too much invested politically in continuing to mislead their own flock and the American people about these matters. Here's an indicator to me of where they'll continue to go with their partisan political approach to these issues and their refusal to be credible moral leaders: according to Kevin Clarke at America, Richard Doerflinger, the leader of the bishops' "pro-life" crusade (and a strong pro-Republican partisan within the USCCB structures) has responded to the German bishops' statement and that of Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula by claiming that the morning-after pill isn't even a contraceptive--since, you know, Rome could never approve the use of a contraceptive in any case at all!

More outright lying spin designed to keep faithful, church-going Catholics confused about these issues, to keep them voting Republican, to keep the religious right convinced that the Catholic church is its best ally in a holy crusade against the evil Democrats, to keep the American public certain that, in the eyes of the Catholic church, the Republican party is the only possible choice for God-fearing, moral people. More politically determined abdication of real moral and pastoral leadership, that is to say--things the German bishops have just provided abundantly to their flock.

For more on the discussion of the German bishops' statement in the German media, see Charles Hawley in the German paper Spiegel.

*This is a pdf file that opens slowly.

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