On birth control, are the bishops focused on the wrong moral actor?

Suppose you called a crusade and next to no one showed up? That happened in 1198, and it is likely … Continued

Suppose you called a crusade and next to no one showed up? That happened in 1198, and it is likely to happen in 2012 as the call from the U.S. bishops to crusade for religious freedom has been confronted by indifference in Catholic America. At a time of high unemployment, when social services face severe cutbacks and the global financial system is wobbly, threats to religious liberty seem remote from public concern. Whether or not birth control pills are covered by health insurance or if gay couples can adopt foster children are not questions that echo in the body politic. In fact, polling about the religious liberty issue shows it is virtually invisible.

The bishops consider an attack on religious liberty the proposed decision by the Department of Health and Human Services to include contraception as a preventive measure to be covered by insurance plans. It is not that Catholic people would be forced to use birth control against their will or that a religious institution would have to compromise its beliefs by fostering behavior it considers sinful. The decision only affects agencies that are not strictly religious, like not-for-profit agencies that do or might receive public funding. The government reasons that if an agency is open to tax payers’ money, it is bound by the laws that protect individual rights. A similar logic says include gay couples among those eligible to adopt foster children. Likewise, in providing services to the victims of sex trafficking, the government wants the funded agency to provide education about contraception and abortion to those made pregnant by forcible rape. I find it hard to accept that requiring this information constitutes “anti-Catholic bias.”

A cynic might equate the bishops’ crusade with a Karl Rove strategy. First, adopt a high-sounding cause that none can oppose like “defense of religious liberty.” Next link that premise to a particular action of the Obama administration. Finally, demonize the president and strike fear of a “slippery slope” if Democrats continue in power. For the record, I am not a cynic. I believe that the bishops are making an honest effort to re-brand sore points of church-state relationship in order to move beyond a single issue like abortion and also include concerns of other religious groups.

But is this an attack on religion or just the government drawing a “red line” about tax dollars? Strictly religious organizations entitled to conscientious exemptions are on one side, but on the other are agencies that must observe current laws against discrimination. The problem I find with the Obama administration’s logic is that there are actually three groups: a category of the “religious affiliated” comes in-between the purely religious and the purely secular. Thus a Catholic hospital is not completely religious but neither is it completely secular.

President Obama has met with USCCB head, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York in an apparently productive meeting to discuss a solution to this latest twist on church-state relations. I believe that with some open cooperation, a solution can be found by tweaking administrative policies. For instance, since Jewish and Protestant prospective adopting parents are often referred from Catholic agencies to other organizations of those faiths, it would not be such a stretch to do the same for prospective gay adopters. Religious freedom is about individual choices, not using tax dollars to enforce particular church doctrines. Just as Jehovah Witnesses pay taxes that are used to run government-funded blood-banks and still freely practice their faith, or Catholic agencies treat divorced-and-remarried couples with dignity, the church-state relationship accommodates very many grey areas and still finds a common good.

But by choosing abstract principles over a more pragmatic case-by-case approach, I fear that the bishops have chosen a shaky premise upon which to do battle. Their cause may be noble, but their approach is suspect. Most people think the church’s role is to persuade Catholics to take personal responsibility for their actions when choosing services. The burden is upon individuals; don’t ask the government to legislate for one religion’s teaching over others. Besides the Obama administration has funded Catholic agencies more generously than did the Bush administration. Why not negotiate rather than unfurl battle flags of a crusade?

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • itsbetterinLATIN

    What a terrible, poorly argued article.

  • CrusaderV

    Anthony Stevens-Arroyo said, “But by choosing abstract principles over a more pragmatic case-by-case approach, I fear that the bishops have chosen a shaky premise upon which to do battle.”

    Tony, isn’t that the way the Nazis thought too? Used a very pragmatic approach, cased by case; if you were not a Jew you got to live, if you were a Jew then off to the gas chambers with you! Clear, concise, and very pragmatic.

    At times Tony, we have to stand our ground to fight against evil no matter its guise, regardless of the bribe or of the consequences.

    I doubt if you’ll understand, though.

  • Elohist

    Verbum satis sapientibus et hoc verbum satis plumbeo sine sapientia.

  • Elohist

    Hey Crus! The Nazis used the abstract principle of Jewish inferiority which Hitler described in Mein Kampf with the very words you use: “fight against evil” (chapters 3, 6 and 8).

    Jesus used the pragmatic approach: “those with out sin among you cast the first stone.” When it comes to choosing between Hitler and Jesus, I know what side I’d be one: the pragmatic.

    I doubt if you’ll understand, though.

    PS – Does your “V” stand for “vacuous”?

  • tz12341

    What does Anthony know about Jesus that he didn’t learn from the Church? It is silly that he thinks his feeling triumph moral reason, sacred tradition and the institutional church. But so it is….at least for the Washington Post Catholics. Secular Humanism is not Christianity.

  • CrusaderV

    Elohist posted: “Hitler described in Mein Kampf with the very words you use: “fight against evil” (chapters 3, 6 and 8).

    What are you implying, Elohist? Because Hitler used the same words that it invalidates my argument somehow? Have any clue as to how many times that phrase must have been used by both good and evil people in, oh say, the last 2000 years? Get a clue; Sin IS Evil, and Evil IS Sin, but there are evil people and good people and they will use whatever words they choose. You know, it’s called free will; enjoy it while you can. This may stretch your word vocabulary to the breaking point and I apologize if you get a headache.

    Jesus said “you will know them by their fruit” (ie, not by their words). So Elohist, what was the fruit of Hitler and what was the fruit of Jesus? See how easy this is? Even though people use the same words, their fruit is what gives away what’s in their hearts. Mark 21:7; “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…”

    “V” by the way, stands for “V”… Hard to imagine that, too?

  • LeastOfThese

    De pulpitis enim proterviter.. aes sonans aut cymbalum tinniens.

    Thank You Anthony, Ordinary Pew folks are grateful. Vox Populi

  • usapdx

    Of what teachings of the RCC that the USA RCs know, most DO NOT fully agree with. The BIRTH CONTROL RCC teaching is the one teaching that most RCs know and or DISAGREE with. The USA RC bishops speak to much on our USA political matters in the first place where as the USA congress should REPEL the TAX EXEMPT law . Who do these bishops think they are telling our government what to do and not paying tax for their dioceses? The RCC bishops have even said that they are against E -VERIFY . Our president should not give them any special attention than what he gives to the common citizen. What will the bishops say when earth can no longer produce the correct amount of food for all the people of the world?

  • john1513

    Mr. Arroyo,

    Do you believe the Church’s teaching on contraception; that it is morally wrong and destructive towards women, children, the family, and society?

    Why should Catholics and non-Catholics be forced by the government to pay for the downfall of America through contracpetion, sterilization, and abortion drugs? Evil exists when good men “negotiate” with evil.

    Thank you,

  • Elohist

    Intellectually lazy people like to solve problems with universal sounding slogans. Jesus called us to examine each case with the same love that God has given to us. The Cross of Jesus Christ and his sufferings for all us is not the “abstract principle” you so admire.

    The issue you apparently can not grasp is that when the bishops ignore the issues of income inequality, clerical pedophilia, shuttered closed schools and parishes and then spend $$$$$$$$$ from the collection basket on “religious liberty issues” they stray from the famous standard for Christians: What would Jesus do?

  • Elohist

    Negotiating with the president of the US is not negotiating with evil. Jesus sat down and ate with all manner of people as the NT says and only the Pharisees complained. Whose side are you on, John?

  • CrusaderV

    Oh, so that’s your complaint; misguided Bishops who “ignore” income inequality, pedophilia, closed schools & parishes and spending money from donations to spend on religious liberty issues.

    What would Jesus do? You don’t seem to be very familiar with what He said and did, just good at mouthing Christian words and phrases that fit your agenda. Regarding abortion; “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

    A religious liberty issue the Bishops are fighting for is the right of Catholic doctors & nurses to refuse to take part in an abortion. Since Jesus clearly commands that we do not stop the little children from coming to them, the Catholic Bishops are simply defending the right to choose for Catholics. Women have a human mandated right to kill their unborn children, Catholics have a God given right to refuse to help them do it.

    This issue alone far outweighs your whiny complaining about income inequality, and shuttered churches and schools. As far as pedophilia goes, the Bishops are hard at work to wipe it out of the church. And don’t just point out the Catholic Church’s pedophilia problems; Penn State should give you a clue that it is everywhere in our morally bankrupt society.

    Anyhow, that’s what Jesus did; He commanded that the little children be allowed to come to Him, and not to hinder them.

  • CrusaderV

    Jesus demands that all He sat down with (and all mankind) to turn from their evil and be reborn of water & spirit… Jesus did more than talk, He commanded a change of hearts.

    John 3:3; “In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born! Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

    So, Jesus may have sat down with all manner of sinner but unless they listened to Him and did as He asked of them; be reborn – to turn from their sins and repent – they will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, Elohist.

  • CrusaderV

    Oh my, we really are clueless about knowing Jesus in this life tz12341… Here, get a clue as to how Anthony may know all about Jesus; the Truth from a sourced other than the RCC. John 14:23-24; Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

    Jesus is referring to the literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit living in your soul. Anthony may well know Jesus on a depth we cannot imagine! Do yourself a favor and research the Christian teaching about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; it is fascinating!

  • FrPeteBarnabite

    No actually it will force employers of all kinds to provide contraception coverage. Even if greater exemptions are granted for institutions – what about the private individual who is Catholic – why should they be forced to provide this “service”. The federal govt is so overstretching what it does that it cannot help but meddle in the lives of Catholics. It wants Faith to be a Sabbath day only thing. IT wants a USA where the government controls everything and therefore everything must be literally faithless in order to provide “separation of Church and State”. The bishops may be ignoring the call but that is at the peril of the Stupak and Professor Kmiec Catholics who fail toheed proper warning.

  • Elohist

    You didn’t burst any bubble. You agreed with me. My logic is so solid that you have no choice.

  • Elohist

    You are so uninformed! No one can be forced to take part in an abortion they oppose and no government funds can be used for an abortion. This issue is about whether non-Catholics can have birth-control pills covered by their health plan when prescribed by a doctor as preventive care. The matter only comes up when the employer receives tax dollars.

    Also, the word abortion is not found anywhere in the New Testament. The children referred to in the Gospel are already born. Read the bible!

  • Bluefish2012

    Parturiunt montes, et nascetur ridiculus mus

  • amelia45

    26 or 28 states now require insurers to include contraceptives in health insurance. Medical professionals consider the inclusion of contraceptives and access to sterilization to be important to the health of women. These are doctors makeing these determinations about what forms of health care need to be available for women’s health.

    I would rather have medical professionals making these decisions that non-medical people. A committee of Jehovah Witnesses may well find that blood transfusions are not necessary to good health. A committee of faith healers could find that no prescription drugs are necessary at all, just prayer. Should we find some middle ground between the Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, and faith healers? After all, each is equally recognizable as a faith based issue. What about no contraceptives, no blood transfusions, no prescription drugs of any kind. That way each religious belief is equally recognized.

    The government is not anti-religion or anti-Catholic because it refuses to write rules that a particular religion likes. What I hope is that it is neutral to all of them, neither pro-religion or anti-religion. And that is what I think the Obama Administration has based its rules on. It is neither for a religious viewpoint or against it. But it is for medical decisions made by medical professionals.

  • amelia45

    Very well done, Mr. Stevens-Arroyo.

    There are many Catholics who are not indifferent. They just don’t agree with the Bishops. I do not think the Obama administration is anti-Catholic or anti-religion. I do think they want good health care as determined by medical professionals and they want all the terms of a contract to be fulfilled. I do not think the state of Illinois is anti-Catholic; they just don’t want to endorse the right of an organization to discriminate by paying them to do it nor do they want to endorse the rightness of such discrimination.

    The point of all of this is that government is acting not against religion but for equity and for individuals to have the ability to make choices, even if they are gay. What the Catholic Church wants is to take away the ability of individuals to make choices on things they don’t like, such as contraceptives and sterilizations. It isn’t enough that they would not choose to make use of either. They also want the right to deny a choice to others.

    I have a healthy correspondence going on with my state and federal elected representatives. I let them know that as a Catholic, I think HHS has done a good job in identifying what needs to be included in health insurance and in how a religious employer is defined. I wrote again to tell them that, as a Catholic, I did not agree with the bishops position on the contracts for services for victims of human trafficking and that I congratulate HHS for assuring that victims are made aware of all medically recognized and legally available health care options. I wrote them to let them know that I am one in the majority of Catholics who support the end of Don’tAsk/Dont Tell and believe that civil marriage benefits should be available to all couples, gay or straight. I have written my state legislators who are looking at a “personhood ” amendment that it goes too far and that we need to look at effective ways to reduce unplanned pregnancies; but that legal abortions need to b

  • CrusaderV

    amelia45, I doubt that you are a Catholic because you have no clue about the role, and authority, of a Catholic Bishop.

    From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
    883 “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head.” As such, this college has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff.”

    888 Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task “to preach the Gospel of God to all men,” in keeping with the Lord’s command. They are “heralds of faith, who draw new disciples to Christ; they are authentic teachers” of the apostolic faith “endowed with the authority of Christ.”

    You may want what you want, but it is the Pope and the Bishops that are the true representatives of Christ; you have no authority to change the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do I, nor does Anthony Stevens-Arroyo. A person has the authority to leave the Church, or join the Church but must submit to the true authorities of the Church; it’s each person’s choice to make.

  • amelia45

    Like millions of other Catholics in this country, I grew up.

    Something like 90% of Catholic women use or have used forms of birth control that are not accepted by the Church. I suspect that most of them know, as I do, that the Church claims a teaching authority. But, also like the rest of the 90%, I can recognize when they are wrong. Are the statistics much different in Catholic Europe?

    The same goes with civil rights for gays. It is one thing for the Church to decide that gays may not marry within the Catholic Churchy. It is quite another to decide that Catholic tenets of faith should be the law of the land. Over 1/2 of Catholics surveyed support gay marriage or gay civil unions.

    There are many Catholic doctrines that are called into question by people who are Catholic and love their Church. Birth control as taught by the Church has little reception by the members of the Church. James A. Coriden, Academic Dean Emeritus at Washington Theological Union, where he also teaches canon law, was ordained in 1957 and holds degrees in theology, canon law, and civil law. He put it this way: “The canonical doctrine of reception, broadly stated, asserts that for a law or rule to be an effective guide for the believing community it must be accepted by that community.”

    I am Catholic by baptism and confirmation and I am not going anywhere. So was my mother, who was sterilized, despite the advice of the priest, after 5 children and a warning from her doctor that more could be dangerous to her health. So did my grandmother, who was sterilized, despite the advice of her priest, after 4 children and the advice of her doctor that more children would be dangerous to her health. Do you think we are stupid?

  • amelia45

    Like millions of other Catholics in this country, I grew up.

    Something like 90% of Catholic women use or have used forms of birth control that are not accepted by the Church. I suspect that most of them know, as I do, that the Church claims a teaching authority. But, also like the rest of the 90%, I can recognize when they are wrong. Are the statistics much different in Catholic Europe?

    The same goes with civil rights for gays. It is one thing for the Church to decide that gays may not marry within the Catholic Churchy. It is quite another to decide that Catholic tenets of faith should be the law of the land. Over 1/2 of Catholics surveyed support gay marriage or gay civil unions.

    There are many Catholic doctrines that are called into question by people who are Catholic and love their Church. Birth control as taught by the Church has little reception by the members of the Church. James A. Coriden, Academic Dean Emeritus at Washington Theological Union, where he also teaches canon law, was ordained in 1957 and holds degrees in theology, canon law, and civil law. He put it this way: “The canonical doctrine of reception, broadly stated, asserts that for a law or rule to be an effective guide for the believing community it must be accepted by that community.”

    I am Catholic by baptism and confirmation and I am not going anywhere. So was my mother, who was sterilized, despite the advice of the priest, after 5 children and a warning from her doctor that more could be dangerous to her health. So did my grandmother, who was sterilized, despite the advice of her priest, after 4 children and the advice of her doctor that more children would be dangerous to her health. Do you think we are stupid?

  • CrusaderV

    To areyousaying:
    —————————————————————————–
    “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

    They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:3-7.
    ——————————————————————————–
    Look to your own sins before judging the Bishops…

  • CrusaderV

    amelia45,
    First of all the Church is not a democracy; even though, according to you, 90% of Catholic women reject the teachings of the Bishops regarding birth control, they have no authority to change the Church. And yes, as I clearly documented in my previous post, if these women persist in their willful disobedience against the Truth as taught by the Church, and do not repent they have automatically excommed themselves.

    Do you realize that this large number of parishioners rebelling against the Church is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy? Its called the great apostasy, when many people will abandon the Church. I think that is what is happening today, great numbers of people are in rebellion against the Church. St Paul wrote about it as a sign of the end of days.

    The Catholic Church itself prophesies that in the end of days the Church will be reduced to a very small remnant because the world will persecute it (Satan) and only the truly faithful will remain. The Church teaches that it will be like its Master, Jesus, such that it will walk the way of the cross in the last days, it will not be a kingdom of this world but will suffer just like Jesus did.

    So, when you tell me about all of the rebellion against the Bishops it merely confirms what St. Paul predicted nearly 2,000 years ago; a sign of the coming of the Anti-Christ will be proceeded by a great falling away from the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Elohist

    Cruse V (for vacuous?) forgets that the same apocalypse speaks first of the appearance of an anti-Christ, such as perverted Cardinals and bishops who use their authority to lead the people astray. Yes, it looks like Cruse V is one of the apostates who refuse to listen to the words of Jesus, preferring to cite canon law and man-made rules in order to impose control for political power.

  • CrusaderV

    Jesus said we should love our neighbors as ourselves, right? So why do you use hateful words to refer to me as vacuous? It is you who does not listen to the words of Jesus…

    “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7:19

    Enjoy!

  • gracie11

    Stop showing off, Latin speakers.

  • ThomasBaum

    There have been those in the Catholic Church that have stated that a person’s conscience takes precedence.

    Many have stated this and one of those relatively recently has been the present Pope, this was before he was Pope whether or not he has said it since or wrote anything concerning this, I do not know.

    God gave us both a mind and a heart, we should use both.

    The Catholic Church is not a democracy as some state but it was not the Catholic Church that Jesus invited us to follow, His Invitation was to “Come follow Me”, was it not?

    The word “catholic” means universal, something to think about.

    According to the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church is not bound by those who “belong” to the Church, it is not even bound by those that consider themself Christian.

    It is written that upon the birth of God-Incarnate that there were two statements and their proclaimations were: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” and “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

    Two completely different statements, both true, haven’t quite come to fulfillment yet but they will.

  • agapn9

    I agree that no government should write rules for one religion. However, any government that cowers to one segment of the population at the expense of the common good is also in error.
    The federal government is cowering to desparate women, pregnant and without the means to support their innocent infant.
    The women are desparate because society has accepted promiscuity as a defacto standard. How many peope are celibate when they get married? Not many. And the amount of money and services available to unwed mothers is meager at best, non-existent in most cases.

    Having a relatively high birth rate among middle class families is in the interest of the common good. Why? Because as Aristotle said many years ago the middle class is the most important class in any society because it provides a buffer between the rich and the poor. If you doubt the accuracy of his words go to a country without a middle class but be prepared to duck and cover.

    The government as an institution has failed on a number of counts. I am not talking about the Obama administration but government in general. The greatest threat to america is not more babies. Babies are sweet lovable creatures. The greatest threat to america is a lack of discipline in limiting our use of gasoline to a minimum. This lack of discipline is one of the primary reasons being used to justify our low birth rate. Our low birth rate invites foreigners to come into our country. However, many legal immigrants do not come here because they want freedom but rather wish to impose their own life style on us. Many of them are also seeing their own land being destroyed by global warming and so they have a dual sense of entitlement: ideological combined with a sense that you wretched by country so I will wreck yours.

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