The Catholic Bishops’ statement of April 2012, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” is an ambitious undertaking with much to recommend it. Based on what people in the pews are saying, however, I think it is dead on arrival.
Instead of a unifying pastoral message, this effort is political and divisive. It might be right on theology, but its tone is off-key. The USCCB’s earlier Faithful Citizenship urged lay Catholics to engage in an admittedly imperfect democratic process to make things better. This document instead promotes protest and civil disobedience against the American government.
Sometimes passionate protest is appropriate for Catholicism, of course. Along with opposition to legalized abortion and contraception, this letter condemns the Alabama immigration law. I think the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee intended to demonstrate that defense of religious freedom demands opposition to issues of both right and left. While some may nit-pick the document for leaving out some issues like nuclear weapons, the death penalty and stem cell research, I don’t think that laundry lists are particularly good at motivating Catholic laity. However, in addition to its strident tone which seems out of touch with Catholic America, the letter adopts strained argumentation that undercuts its appeal.
The bishops protest the HHS policy that requires health insurance plans to cover “contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.” There is scant recognition that President Obama has exempted religious and religious-affiliated agencies from paying for such coverage. Moreover, no “abortion-inducing drugs” are included in HHS regulations. It is a factual misstatement to allege that the medication Ella causes abortion. Admittedly it has the same ingredient as RU-486, the so-called “morning-after pill,” but experts have pointed out that the amount of this element in a prescribed dosage is not enough to produce an abortive effect.
By continuing to falsely claim that this medication causes abortion, I think the bishops undermine the rest of their argument. In fact, the only sense in which they could claim abortion being financed by HHS is to alter the meaning that “pregnancy” had had for 7,000 years. Some theologians now claim that the soul is infused into an ovum at the moment it is fertilized, rather than when it implants in the womb and becomes a fetus. Medical science is mum on the issue of the soul, but notes that anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent of a woman’s fertilized eggs never implant, and are flushed out though menstrual issue. If the bishops truly believe there are “babies” in menstrual blood, wouldn’t they mandate a baptismal ritual every month for these aborted children? I have yet to meet a married man or woman who thinks that is a good idea.
The bishops go on to note that Catholic agencies refuse to advise sex slavery victims of their legal right to an abortion to end unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape. The government is bound by law to inform persons that although it will not pay for an abortion, they have a legal right to the same. The prelates, however, declare that Catholic religious freedom was violated when the government refused to continue funding Catholic agencies that failed their contractual obligations. Catholics’ constitutional right to practice religion, write the bishops, binds the government to fund religious agencies, even if they do not provide the services required by contract. It’s a losing argument. If a fireman is required to carry a 250 pound person down a three-story ladder, a person too weak to save the victim ought not to claim discrimination: If you can’t save the person, don’t expect to paid for doing a fireman’s job.
Finally, the bishops’ letter rejects any accommodation with government to provide for conscientious objection. They call for civil disobedience and the embrace of martyrdom. Their cause is not only Catholics and contraceptive services - it also Muslims’ right to alter health care to the provisions of sharia law, and to allow believers to eliminate vaccinations, blood transfusions, etc. from health insurance coverage.
Highlighted with the most dreaded seven words at Mass: “We have a letter from the bishop,” this frontal attack on the American government is scheduled from June 21st to July 4th during the summer. Write me how it comes out: I’ll be on vacation then.