Friday, 10 February 2012

Bishops' Hypocrisy on Religious Freedom and Contraception.

A headline at the National Catholic Reporter, to an article on thecurrent contraception controversy, states unambiguously,  "Catholics unite in opposition to contraception mandate". This is patently untrue. The bishops may have united, and may have the backing of several Catholic agencies and health providers - but the evidence once again, is that ordinary Catholics disagree. The findings of two separate surveys this week show clearly that Catholics back Obama's proposals, and are more likely (not less) to vote for him as a result.

I have no intention of getting into the details of US health care, but the principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience are important to us all, so I do want to share two pertinent observations by others, both Americans. The first is a short snippet, placed as a comment to a later NCR editorial on the subject:

Here in the San Antonio Archdiocese, insurance to cover contraceptives is available for an additional fee. This allows those who are not Catholic or for whatever reason need to obtain those services, to pay the additional coverage on their own. It is not denied, but neither is it supplied.

To me, the matter is simple: if in conscience you are opposed to contraception - don't use it. But that does not give you the right to impose your will on others whose conscience differs from yours. This archdiocese clearly recognizes that, making provision for such persons to obtain contraception coverage - for a fee. How does that differ, in moral terms, from providing coverage directly, for those who are not bound by the bishops' sense of conscience? What provision do bishops and Catholic health authorities make for the "religious freedom" of those in their employ? What, in particular, of those who believe that they are duty - bound to practice contraception for the sake of the planet? On what grounds can the bishops deny them the right to practice their own freedom of conscience?

More extensive is am analysis, also posted in response to the editorial  at NCR, which points to the repeated hypocrisy of Catholic bishops in their arguments from "religious freedom".

Now, the main analysis, posted by Richard C. Placone, which he has already sent to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, as head of the USCCB, and to his own bishop. It deserves to be widely disseminated:

Richard C. Placone
Palo Alto, California
February 8. 2012

This pertains to the campaign being conduct by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) re the current controversy about the application of the government’s Affordable Patient Care Act (Act). Policy implementing the Act requires all employers to provide health insurance for their employees, said insurance to offer, at no additional cost to the employee, access to contraceptives, voluntary sterilization and the so called “morning after pill”. The bishops oppose this part of the policy on grounds that it denies religious freedom of conscience, violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, and is contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching which considers birth control an immoral and therefore sinful act.

The objection by the USCCB to the government policy is seriously flawed, is misleading in its interpretation of the policy and seems to be designed to create hysteria, not just in the minds of Catholics, but in the minds of the body politic in general. This essay addresses the objections of the USCCB and offers alternative consideration on three grounds:

1) The incredible hypocrisy of the RCC in adopting this position as regards “religious freedom”;
2) The continued insistence on the part of the hierarchy regarding the sinfulness of birth control and related matters, without any proven scriptural support and in spite of the near universal rejection of the “teaching” by the people of the church;
3) The inaccurate, slanted and incomplete analysis of the heath care policy designed to force the narrow view of the bishops on the entire country.

The following amplifies these three positions.

1) Hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church

During the last 1500 years at a minimum, one of the strongest organizations that has opposed universal religious freedom and freedom to follow one’s conscience has been the Roman Catholic Church. For a period of several centuries the official church not just encouraged but in some cases sponsored and supplied the armies, to carry out crusades against what the church defined as non-believers, the infidel, enemies of the faith and so on. Under the guise of “defending the one true faith”, popes declared that crusades against these people rendered those who died in the crusade armies martyrs who would be welcomed into heaven as such. Thus rape, pillage and destruction of entire towns if not countries, whose inhabitants were the infidel Muslims or unbelieving Jews, was sanctioned. Then there was the inquisition (which continues to this day as The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) which over the centuries caused the state to capture, charge and try individuals whom the church identified as heretics, because they denied one or more of the teachings of the church at that time. Poor Galileo came under this program but was spared the stake, but was under house arrest and not permitted to publish his beliefs (based on science), which were not even related to church doctrine. On the other hand, Joan de Arc., posthumously canonized, was not so lucky; she was burned at the stake. Burning at the stake, alive if one did not recant before the match was struck, or toward the end, being dunked in a kettle of boiling oil, was the worst of the punishments for not believing as the hierarchy wished. Perhaps the most egregious example of church denial of religious freedom was carried out by the late Pope Pius IX, recently canonized, in spite of the fact that he required the Inquisition to kidnap an eleven year old Jewish boy, isolating him from his parents for the remainder of his childhood, under the assumption that a housemaid had secretly baptized the boy a Catholic when he was baby. This child grew up under the wing of the pope and was ordained as a priest. His father spent his life fighting the Vatican to regain his child to no avail. The boy’s last act toward his parents, when he was in his early 20s, and by then an ordained priest, was to denounce them for trying to keep him in a false faith, and praising the pope for having rescued him from such a fate.

In spite of this sordid history, and in spite of the fact that to this very day the Vatican routinely silences theologians and others for speaking their minds, for postulating more advanced interpretations of scripture based on rigid academic study, denying them the freedom of thought and conscience, the USCCB dares to proclaim that the application of the health care policy is a denial of religious freedom, is a frontal attack on Catholicism, is a plan of the Obama administration to discredit the Catholic Church, and as one observer stated, and example of President Obama’s crass attempt to appeal to his liberal sectarian base in attempt to win them over in November, thereby turning his back on the Catholics who supported him in 2008.

These claims border on idiocy and a denial of the basic right of every human being to be allowed to think and act freely according to his/her conscience as long as this brings no harm to other members of the society.

2) Birth Control and related matters

One of the strong points made in the USCCB’s position is that the policy of the government requires most employers to offer health insurance to their employees, and that these insurance programs must offer uniform coverage to those covered under the insurance plan which includes availability of contraceptives and related prescription medications, voluntary sterilization and so on. The bishops further claim that these features of the policy violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, individual conscience and religious freedom itself, for which the first immigrants to this land fought and died in the formation of what has become the United States. The Act is designed to provide insurance coverage for most Americans and included, where needed, are government subsidies for employers who need such help. But what the bishops are doing is insisting that the rather narrow and absolute position the Church takes on these matters be forced on the entire country, if not the world. Therefore, in an attempt to preserve what they see as a denial of the Church’s right to freedom of conscience, they would force others to abide by their version of that freedom. The bishops cannot have it both ways. The Obama administration makes a somewhat oblique point which is this: If the Catholic Church cannot convince the majority of its own followers of the necessity of avoiding birth control, not using contraceptives for any reason, then why should the government make exceptions for the church. He has a point: study after study, in country after county, show that 80 to 95% of practicing Catholics use or have used birth control at some point in their lives, and do not accept the Church’s teaching on this subject. Even the papal commission appointed by Pope John XXIII and continued by Pope Paul VI, with all but one or two of the members, declared there was no basis for the Church’s teaching on the subject. Paul VI, in consultation with one or two of his close Curia advisors, was asked if he intended to negate the position of all his predecessors. In response, he issued Humanae Vitae thereby retaining unchanged the church's view on the subject of birth control, a view that was rejected by most theologians and even bishops at the time, and certainly by the Catholic people of the church.

3) The USCCB are giving an inaccurate and deliberately slanted analysis of the policy

I have given some study to the Act and to the policy implications currently under attack by the Bishops. I have shown in 1 and 2 above that it is hypocritical of the Church to insist on its own religions freedom as it pertains to these issues, when in the face of history it hasn’t a leg to stand on, and that in the matter of the sinfulness or not of birth control and related matters, the world jury is out on these subjects. The Catholic majority is definitely rejecting the Church's teaching when it comes to birth control. The Church is fighting an uphill battle in forming the argument as it is doing.

We live in a pluralistic society, where individuals are guaranteed the right to think and believe what they wish about every matter under the sun, including denying such scientifically proven matters as evolution and climate change. One is only not allowed to force others to their beliefs, or to force the government to support one set of beliefs that are contrary to another set of beliefs. In the present situation, the Act and the policy are attempting, however imperfectly, to provide as many people as the present political climate will allow, full health care coverage. If the government is using tax dollars to support these programs, and it is, then the programs must be designed such that no individuals are denied the opportunity to avail themselves of these benefits. Even so, the government recognizes special circumstances where individual conscience may become group conscience, and so has provided exceptions for these cases. Examples are, churches, church offices, church liturgies and such , that employ only believers, and whose appeal is strictly to believers, need not follow the government’s plan. If they provide insurance coverage at all, these organizations may exclude any benefit they wish (assuming they can find or design a plan to fit their individual preferences.) So the Diocese of San Jose, for example, no doubt comes under this exception, as does the Catholic Schools and parishes it operates. But an organization that serves the broad public and takes all comers regardless of race, religion etc., and whose employees also come from the broad spectrum of the public mix, then that organization must provided the insurance, and the insurance must include the full range of benefits. O’Conner Hospital and Santa Clara University come to mind as such Catholic organizations in the San Jose diocese.

Moreover, adding contraceptives to the menu of benefits is not likely to cause the insurance premium to be any more expensive for the employer. In fact, a customized plan that must be written to exclude what are otherwise universal benefits may in fact cost more to write. Employees of conscience working at such an organization are not required to take advantage of these “forbidden” benefits.

Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities and similar organizations that serve the broad public and employ from the same broad public, fall under the new government plans. Most, if not all of these organizations receive government and therefore tax payer money. Hospitals accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, universities accept government grants and student loans under government programs, and so on. All of these are government/taxpayer funded programs, and so must be open to all comers who qualify for admission. The Catholic Church and all of its subsidiaries are beneficiaries of one of the biggest government taxpayer giveaways there is: it is called tax exemption - from income, property and other taxes at the state and national levels. This has always seemed strange to me, when I see the multimillion dollar churches and rectories and such, and bishops and priests more and more preaching politics and supporting or not supporting candidates from the pulpit. These are direct violations of the tax exemption regulations, yet the IRS, due to the undue influence the Church has on the government, more often than not refuses to pursue what are clear violations.

What I see happening now, is once again the USCCB using undue influence to formulate government policy to support its own often narrow point of view on matters it claims to be strictly spiritual and moral, when in fact they may be scientific and medical in nature. I see the USCCB taking on the mantle of the far right and mimicking Fox News by generating an atmosphere of fear and hysteria amongst the Catholic as well as the non-Catholic population of this country. My advice to the bishops is this: See to the log in your own eyes before you tend to the splinter in the eye of the body politic.

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