US Bishops Cherry Picking Political Battles
(MintPress)— When it comes to being vocal on political issues in the US, American Catholics seem to be struggling to sing in unison. Some issues, such as a proposed birth control mandate in the US have recently been decried by Catholic officials in the US, while other issues, like economic disparity and health care have not received so much attention.
On Tuesday the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB,) rejected a compromise on birth control coverage that President Obama made after Catholic groups argued the mandate, which would require religiously affiliated institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities to offer birth control to employees, was an attack on religious freedom.
The USCCB announced plans to “fight the president’s plan” which was reworked in an effort to find a way for employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to receive free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, without the Catholic Church’s direct involvement or financing.
In a statement the group said the new plan was “unacceptable and must be corrected” because it still infringed on the religious liberty and conscience of Catholics.
In a video posted on the group’s website, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, who also is president of the USCCB, commented, “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
But some Catholics are raising questions about why Dolan and other Catholic leaders in the US seem to be cherry picking political battles. While he has been very vocal about the birth control mandate, his views on US involvement in warfare, economic disparity – key issues tied directly to Catholic Social Teaching – and health care have been more subdued.
The Washington Post published a piece examining the birth control mandate debate in which Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo writes, “Many Catholics asked why the lobbying effort did not include other moral issues, like income disparity, for instance. Millions around the globe already had picked up this injustice in the Occupy Movements and would find echo in Vatican pronouncements. Including both religious liberty and economic injustice in bishops’ lobbying, I think, would have questioned the ideology of both political parties, and thus have put the bishops in non-partisan mode. Instead, the bishops pushed a full-throated campaign that was inescapably anti-Obama.”
Stevens-Arroyo reports that the measure is part of a larger effort orchestrated by the USCCB to “push Catholics toward the Republican party.”
However, writer and University of Michigan professor and politcal analyst Juan Cole argued, referencing Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, “The right wing Republican politicians who have been denouncing the requirement that female employees have access to birth control as part of their health benefits as an attack on religious freedom completely ignore the church teachings they don’t agree with.”
And not all Catholics agree that the birth control mandate is morally wrong. Marjorie Clifton, National Editor of GoVote.com, who describes herself as a product of 14 years of Catholic school and a practicing Catholic, actively involved in the church all her life, recently questioned the motives behind the Church’s vocal opposition to the mandate. Clifton said in an article she authored that as a woman with a career in politics and women’s leadership, she has quietly worked within the church to make change and has cautiously offered her voice only when she felt it “essential”.
“But, I can be quiet no longer,” Clifton continued, writing
“there is an important yet often overlooked reality about Catholic moral teaching: it mandates that Catholics make decisions with an “informed conscience.” This means that we must educate ourselves about the issues so that we understand Catholic social teaching and make decisions based on reflection, prayer, and counsel.”
Catholic Social Teaching 101
Catholic social teaching is a body of doctrine developed by the Catholic Church on matters of poverty and wealth, economics, social organization and the role of the state.
Clifton does not believe the mandate violates Catholic doctrine, because as she pointed out, “Just because an option is there, does not mean we have to take it. If an informed Catholic woman does not believe that she should be taking birth control, she shouldn’t and doesn’t have to. But that does not mean the option should be unavailable to others. To further illustrate the point, the Catholic Church has established policy (referred to as “indirect or remote cooperation”) to address precisely this sort of issue. This allows Catholics to indirectly provide support to activities that diverge from Catholic social teaching — such as paying taxes that fund wars or the death penalty. If we are not directly contributing, it is acceptable under Catholic doctrine.”
In addition to birth control, there are other issues where Catholics disagree over politically touting. In 2009 Dolan and other US bishops raised opposition to President Obama receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame University, citing his stance on several issues which were in opposition to Catholic doctrines. Critics within Catholicism were quick to point out that Dolan did not raise opposition to when President George Bush received an honorary degree from the institution in 2001, despite the fact that Bush had no opposition to the death penalty, signing 152 death warrants in his six-year tenure as Governor of Texas, a record for any governor of any state in the history, and led the US into the Iraq War.
When asked about his lack of opposition to Bush, Dolan explained “There are some issues, where the Church has weighed in, that one must be very sensitive to the morality of some issues, but they’re not intrinsically evil. Intrinsically evil means they’re always wrong. A case can be made for just war and the death penalty.”
However, leading Catholic figures – such as both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, expressed major opposition to the United States’ war in Iraq. Pope John Paul II spoke out against the war several times, and said that a war against Iraq would be a “disaster” and a “crime against peace.”
While the USCCB has long advocated health care for all, and in their pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, called for a “comprehensive health care system that will ensure a basic level of health care for all Americans. ” All of the Republican presidential hopefuls have expressed opposition to universal health care.
Recently the Catholic bishops of the European nations published a 25-page position paper on the concept of what they term a “social market economy.” Fr. Kenneth Weare, writing on the topic explains, “Following in the line of modern Catholic social teaching, the bishops straightforwardly criticize any economic model that focuses solely on the accumulation of capital. They emphasize that such a profit oriented economic model “threatens to overshadow the social and ecological dimensions of quality of life, which often cannot be directly expressed in monetary terms, and ignores the impact of economic activity on others, especially the generations to come.”
And in the US last month, bishops called for an increase in the federal minimum wage in a Jan. 8 letter to Congress.
“Congress needs to make budget and policy choices that will ensure adequate funding to help families escape joblessness, move beyond welfare, choose decent education for their children, gain needed health care coverage, and overcome hunger and homelessness,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee in the letter, also noting that current minimum wage, at $5.15 an hour, is $10,700 a year for a full-time worker — nearly $6,000 below the poverty level for a family of three. “The minimum wage needs to be raised not just for the goods and services a person can buy but for the self-esteem and self-worth it affords. We urge you to support H.R. 2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007” the letter read.
The measure was widely opposed by Republicans.
As Jim Murphy in the Albany, New York Times Union Sun urged, “When free market economics and rugged individualism are seen as ordained by God, and dropping drones on people wherever our country deems it necessary is presumed right, surely, there should be as loud and clear a voice from the bishops confronting violence and injustice as there is over sexual behavior.”
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