Catholics Defend The President

St. Peter's Basilica at Early Morning

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It seems as if the Obama Administration’s rule change requiring that contraception (to those who want it) be insurance-paid commodities was seen to be a nuclear missile aimed directly at St. Peter’s in Rome.

But mostly just by the bishops…. The fuss! The hierarchy’s view of sexuality is- and has always been, about 160 years behind science- and popular understanding, not to mention practice. Humanae Vitae was the most dismal failure, in my opinion, to come out of the era of the Second Vatican Council. The chain attached to a wall in a room that no longer existed. (see below)

And some people realize that. In The Boston Globe today, Joan Vennochi says that the hierarchy is manufacturing a war against the president:

Last Sunday, the Catholic Church declared war on President Obama. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida quickly took up the cause, signaling the outlines of a serious religious rumble to come in 2012.

The president should be ready for the fight, knowing that on this one he is right.

At Sunday Mass, Catholic parishioners across the country were read letters denouncing the Obama administration’s recent decision to require religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges, and charities to offer health insurance coverage to employees for contraception and the “morning-after pill.’’ On Monday, Rubio, a Republican star who is often mentioned as a VP candidate, introduced a bill that would override the Obama policy by allowing religious institutions that morally oppose contraception to refuse to cover it.

But not all employees of Catholic institutions are Catholics. Why should their employers impose their religious beliefs on them and deny coverage for birth control and other medical care? As long as those Catholic institutions are getting taxpayer money, they should follow secular rules. That’s the Obama administration’s argument, and it makes sense.

But if truth is a casualty of war, reason is an even more specific casualty of culture war. Obama can’t let the other side frame the argument, which it is already doing in typically ferocious fashion.

…Obama isn’t trying to undermine Catholicism. He’s telling Catholic leaders they can’t regulate the beliefs of those of other faiths.

Keith Soko in The National Catholic Reporter agrees that a war is brewing but it may be one-sided:

But which Catholics would really be against providing access to contraceptives in health care coverage for women? Is it the 90-some percent of Catholic married couples of child-bearing age who use contraceptives? Is it the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who use contraceptives? No, it is not.

So who would it be? It must be a small minority.

One, of course, is the U.S. bishops and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy, including the Vatican. They are all men. In 1968, Pope Paul VI published the “birth control encyclical” called Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), which affirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to contraception. This was in spite of the pope’s own commission, which voted 75 out of 90 in favor of changing the church’s teaching and allowing contraception for married couples. Immediately, Catholic theologians issued a statement arguing against the document’s methods and conclusions. Years later, the long pontificate of Pope John Paul II began, with him reaffirming the “official” Catholic teaching against contraception, despite the fact that most Catholic theologians disagreed and most Catholics rejected the teaching.

So, the bishops are taking moral “high ground”- which is designed to… well, what, exactly?  Soko gives us some insight:

If the U.S. bishops and the conservative Catholic and Christian media are going to appeal to “conscience,” then they better allow for the well-informed consciences of Catholics and non-Catholics who work at Catholic institutions to make their own decisions.

No one is forcing Catholics to use contraception. It is merely stating that they should have access to contraception. Many Catholic theologians have argued that it is a fair and just decision that respects the ability of Catholic and other women to follow their own consciences and make decisions as responsible adults about their own health care and that of their families.

And they also must respect the well-informed consciences of professors at academic universities whose job is the pursuit of knowledge and truth, and for some, the pursuit of justice as well. This includes Catholic theologians who are trying to give advice on improving the church. Since the bishops and others have introduced this into the public arena, they need to respect the consciences and expertise of those voices without the threat of job loss or excommunication.

This is not a question of teaching Catholic doctrine in a classroom; this is wrestling with public policy in a democratic and pluralistic society, and that can get messy. And Catholic teaching has in the past acknowledged that public policy and morality are two separate things. Everything that Catholic teaching argues is immoral is not illegal, as that would not always be practical public policy.

Which Catholics are really against providing contraceptive coverage? My guess is not many, but they are vocal. And probably most of them would be men. Men controlling women. History marches backward.

The bishops are always decrying “cafeteria catholicism”- for the way some pick and choose what they’d like to believe and practice. You gotta believe the whole package, they say. But their use of conscience is carefully controlled and shifty- picky and choosy, if you will. But not according to them.

Credibility, boys, credibility. The people will notice.

 “It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy
by a resort to mathematics,
though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.”
~H.L. Mencken

Catholics and Gays: Joel Connelly Calls Out The Church

The Seattle PI’s Joel Connelly has an illustrious history of commentary in Seattle. I’ve enjoyed him for years. But in Monday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he makes one of the best cases for the Catholic Church to give up the paranoid same-sex marriage rhetoric- and his seasoned, well-reasoned thoughts beg to be shared. Excerpt:

English: Schwörstadt: Catholic Church Deutsch:...

The bishops see themselves as shepherds, but American Catholics are not sheep.  They think and act independently.  A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly three quarters of Catholics favor letting gays and lesbians marry (43 percent) or form civil unions (31 percent).

“Catholics are more supportive of legal recognitions of same-sex relationships than members of any other Christian tradition and Americans overall,” the survey concluded.

The church is also hurting itself:  Its social activism, defense of human dignity and witness to peace should make it a beacon for all who seek justice.  Instead, the church is pilloried as an instrument of reaction.

Its wounds are self inflicted, a classic case of clerical error.  As the National Catholic Reporter put it, editorializing after New York legislators approved marriage equality last spring:

“Even if the bishops had a persuasive case to make and the legislative tools at their disposal, their public conduct in recent years — wholesale excommunications, railing at politicians, denial of honorary degrees and speaking platforms at Catholic institutions, using the Eucharist as a political bludgeon, refusing to entertain any questions or dissenting opinions, and engaging in open warfare with the community’s thinkers as well as those, especially women, who have loyally served the church — has resulted in a kind of episcopal caricature, the common scolds of the religion world, the caustic party of ‘no’.”

Connelly is taking a fair and balanced approach, using the Catholic tradition of social justice and charity to argue for the reality of human experience- in this case the reality of same-sex relationships. The very reality of them flies in the face of the “Natural Law‘ argument:

“Jesus befriended those who were marginalized because He knew it was only in the security of loving, unconditional relationships that hearts and lives are healed,” argues writer Justin Cannon, reflecting the Christian faith as taught to us by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Not only healed, but enriched.  I’ve witnessed a warm, very traditional moment over the years.  A goofy, dreamy smile crosses the face of a friend, who after years of playing the field announces  “Well, I met this woman (or guy)!”  It signals a readiness to settle down.  My natural reaction is to say,   “You lucky dog!” and to be there, in affection and support, when the knot is tied.

Life together is a natural passage in life.  Yet, according to “natural law” the Catholic church frowns on my friends who fall in love with somebody of their own gender.  It violates nature, according to a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement, because such “inherently non-procreative” relationships “cannot be given the status of marriage.”

The church’s positions are, as state Sen. Ed Murray put it Friday night, “hurtful” as well as contradictory.

Out of one side of its mouth, the church condemns “all forms of unjust discrimination, harrassment and abuse” against gays and lesbians. At the same time, the Cathechism of the Catholic Church describes “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”

As my critical thinking professor at Carroll College taught me, the Church’s argument is flawed. It can’t have it both ways. It either acknowledges the reality of same-sex relationships- the reality of the complexity  of human love as a gift from God- or it becomes the ubiquitous symbol of fantasy, its credibility falling off the edge of its own absurdly flattened earth.

Connelly’s brave, full essay is here.