The Cardinal Dolan two-step

Roman Catholic bishops rejected the Obama administration's latest compromise on birth control coverage for religious employers. But wait! Cardinal Dolan says it was critique not a rejection.

American bishops said Thursday the Obama administration's latest compromise on birth control coverage and religious employers doesn't go far enough to answer church concerns.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said a bigger buffer is needed between religious charities and any third party arranging contraceptive coverage. Bishops also want a clearer statement that faith-affiliated hospitals and other nonprofits are religious ministries. And church leaders continue pressing for an exemption for owners of for-profit business who say the requirement forces them to violate their religious beliefs. The government has given no indication that it is considering a religious opt-out for business owners.

The bishops made their comments nearly a week after the Department of Health and Human Services announced another revision on coverage for contraception. The regulation is part of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, known as the Affordable Care Act, and is meant to help space pregnancies and promote women's health.

The department had no reaction Thursday to the bishops' criticism, pointing only to an earlier pledge that the government wants to find a solution that would provide the coverage to women while respecting religious concerns.

Mark Silk, writing at Spritual Politics blog says:

To be sure, the language of rejection is much softer than heretofore. The bishops (in the person of USCCB president Timothy Dolan) acknowledge that the the Administration has heard their concerns, showed itself open to dialogue, made a serious effort. And they promise, for their part, to give the matter “additional, careful study.” No more banging the pulpit about an Administration “war on religion.”

But like the post-election chastened Republican Party, what’s changed is the rhetoric, not the substance. The bishops offer nothing to indicate that the many non-Catholics who receive health coverage at their colleges and hospitals may have rights of their own that ought to be recognized. Or that those institutions, by virtue of the substantial public funding they receive, might legitimately be distinguished from houses of worship. They recognize no difference between the prerogatives of religious organizations and those of secular employers asserting religious claims, and declare they will continue to support all lawsuits seeking exemptions from the contraception mandate.

In a real negotiation, both sides bring something to trade. Thus far, the Administration has offered substance and the bishops have turned down the volume. I say that’s as far as it goes.

Carter Eskew writes in the Washington Post blog "The Insiders":

The refusal of churches and businesses to comply with widely-accepted social mores, as well as the law, is an attempt to impose their religious or secular beliefs on their employees. This intolerance is selective, and dangerous in its implications. For example, the Catholic Church believes homosexual feelings are okay, but homosexual sex is a sin. Despite this, the Catholic Church is now the world's largest provider of care to patients with HIV. But what if other more reactionary forces in the church were to take charge and say that since AIDS is the result of sinful behavior, it will no longer treat its victims? A stretch? Well, contraception is integral to women's health and by attempting to deny it, the Church is endangering women.

In addition to the inconsistencies, there is the slippery slope inherent in the logic of the church's opposition. What if Christian Scientists decided they wanted to go back to their original tenets and deny health-care to employees of their institutions? Or a church declared that its beliefs meant its members should no longer be required to pay taxes because our defense budget is a sin? Or if private businesses decided they didn’t want to hire or promote gays, Asians, whites or whomever, just because they found some aspect of their behavior sinful?

Fortunately, despite some longing to the contrary, the United States is not a theocracy. Individual conscience should always be respected. Certainly, the Catholic Church should freely preach whatever they like and guide their adherents to live by those rules. But we are also a nation of laws, and we should not apply them selectively.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, while leading the charge, has also chided the press for calling the rejection a rejection.

Whispers in the Loggia writes:

In a blog-post this morning to share his Thursday statement on behalf of the body as its president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said the following (linked text original):
Yesterday, I issued a statement in my role as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the HHS mandate. Unfortunately, there were some news reports today that claimed the bishops “rejected” the White House proposal, ignoring the fact that we bishops said, “we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.”

Lest anyone forgot, this is the second time in a week that an American cardinal has taken to his own blog to rebut a significant story.

As watershed moments go for Catholic new media, well, there you go.

Though Dolan's lament of "some news reports" cited only the New York Times' story – which ran with the headline "Bishops Reject Birth Control Compromise" – for good measure, it bears noting that the "reject" lede was identically employed by outlets ranging from Politico, Reuters and Religion News Service to National Public Radio ... and, yep, even the cause's ostensible allies at Fox News. On both sides of the ideological coin, meanwhile, most Catholic commentators likewise took little time before either exulting or foaming at the mouth in their interpretations of the USCCB statement as a close of the door on the White House's latest attempt at "accommodation."


Comments (5)

Health insurance is part of an employee's compensation. Where does an employer get the right to determine how compensation is used?

Just to take a step back for a moment, I find it very interesting that our nation pays a great deal of attention to Cardinal Dolan. Face it; people are listening to what he has to say regardless of whether they agree or not. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Presiding Bishop's voice were taken so seriously? What a wonderful counterbalance that would offer to the mix.

1. The Presiding Bishop would be a breath of fresh air, especially if she addressed the policy with the opposite conclusions in explicitly religious and moral language. We have that language already on the books, it's just a matter of saying what it is. In case people haven't noticed, when we do that we impress, and we win. Yes, win.

2. What these conservatives want is not conservative, it's feudal. The lord of the estate where you work should have the divine right to decide what you should do with your body and what religious guidelines you get to follow? That's like 400 yrs out of date. And quitting a job to find another these days is nearly as easy as running your peasant a$$ off one lord's estate to another.

This is not what the Founders of this country pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to establish, but rather to overthrow.

I think the RC hierarchy is somewhat less concerned w/ paying for contraceptives (though that is a concern---especially when so much money is already going to pay child sex-abuse survivors!), than that Those Uppity Wimmins not GET any contraceptives. *

JC Fisher

* Yes, I said "get contraceptives" not "get subsidized contraceptives". We can have no doubt the RC hierarchy would OUTLAW them, if they could.

What is lost in this story is the Affordable Care Act has always allowed a total, complete exemption for churches from having insurance plans covering contraception. We are only talking about organizations affiliated with religious institutions such as hospitals. And having the insurance company provide contraception free is not an accounting trick - it actually is cheaper for an insurance company to provide free contraception than to deal with additional pregnancy costs.

But what we need is a single payer system to keep private businesses from decding what will and won't be covered by insurance. Though then we will hear the religious right's nonstop whining about their tax money paying for contraception. Good luck with that one.

Bob Button

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