A Catholic nullification doctrine?

The Department of Health and Human Services has accepted the medical opinion that contraception is a preventive health measure. That … Continued

The Department of Health and Human Services has accepted the medical opinion that contraception is a preventive health measure. That otherwise unremarkable decision obliged health care plans to cover contraception (pills mostly) even if the insurance is offered by religiously affiliated not-for-profit organizations whose doctrine prohibits contraception.

A previous column defined this is an important issue because of the extensive government funding of Catholic Charities. Both the Catholic left and right have delivered (predictable) opinions on the HHS policy. Using a theological perspective, David DeCosse urges reconsideration whether Catholic conscience ought to be defined exclusively as “obedience to the bishops” or if instead Catholic America should use “practical reason.” DeCosse’s thoughtfulness contrasts with the strident denunciation of President Obama for “contempt for religious liberty.”

There are really two issues: 1) the government’s right to control tax-payers’ money and 2) believers’ freedom to follow church doctrines.


View Photo Gallery: The Catholic Church in particular is credited with organizing and driving the anti-abortion movement for decades, but religious arguments shape the pro-choice side, too.

Moreover, birth control pills are not the only issue: When the state requires recognition of married same sex couples, it entangles Catholic foster-child services; and state mandated counseling about an abortion option be presented to rape victims goes against the Catholic ban on ALL abortions. And other faiths have different doctrines against blood transfusions and drinking caffeine; in favor of smoking pot and wearing veils. What are the obligation of the state when making grants to religious agencies?

A bit of historical perspective is useful here. Until the first half of the 20th Century, Catholics in America fought against the influence of Protestantism in public life by creating specifically Catholic institutions like the parochial schools, Catholic hospitals and even a Catholic response to the Masons – the Knights of Columbus. We funded our own operations. By the 1950s, wrote William Halsey, Catholic America lived in a virtual parallel universe of segregated organizations like the Catholic Sociological Association and Catholic Lawyer Guilds.

Then came the II Vatican Council, the Civil Rights Movement and the War On Poverty — each arguing in different ways to end segregation. Conservative-turned-Progressive Garry Wills opined that rather than to perpetuate their parallel universe, Catholic America had decided public institutions should work for us as citizens, turning our tax dollars to Catholic purposes. Changes in regulations opened the way to government funding of social services and Catholics went into the streets, fighting for the poor alongside secular programs. By creating not-for-profit corporations separate from church ministry, Catholic agencies qualified for those government dollars.

Pope John Paul II and President Reagan changed the emphasis. Instead of working alongside secularists, Catholics were to assert faith premises as a condition for support of social programs. Protest replaced cooperation: The chief Catholic success was passing the Hyde

Amendment which continues to prohibit any government funds to be spent for abortions.

Under the Faith-based Initiative of the second President Bush, however, the government lifted many prohibitions on how public funds were spent by religious organizations, especially Evangelical Protestant ones. Waivers from professional credentials were provided to church workers with good intentions and only church members need be hired. In this third stage, religion was funded as a substitute for government agencies.

Despite liberals urging an end to public funding of church programs, President Obama redesigned Faith-Based Initiatives, by preferring projects that engaged multiple faith communities in a common effort. He also increased funding to Catholic Charities. But he plays no favorites: All religious organizations operating outside of the realm of ordained ministry with public funds are bound to observe norms of modern medicine about contraception, divorce, and stem cell research; they must recognize same-sex marriages as a civil right where that is law. In short, government no longer makes theological decisions.

The Obama policy suggests to me that we are in a new stage of Church-State relations. The Church will hold to its own doctrine, but it must do so in a world that is mostly non-Catholic. Catholics may have to abandon the idea that the state owes us funding for services, because such funding inevitably entails state controls. We might work from the ground-up to change public attitudes as we did with abortion. We might rethink the theological opinions that condition Catholic cooperation upon secular agreement with our doctrines (the “Hawaii Model” allows this). What we can’t do is argue that government treating everyone the same constitutes anti-Catholic discrimination.

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.
  • amelia45

    Oh, good heavens, THANK YOU!

    I can be both a good citizen of this country and a Catholic. I cannot agree with laws that require or coerce those who do not believe in Catholic doctrine live by Catholic doctrine. It cannot even be appropriate for laws to require that Catholics live by Catholic doctrine. To do so is a slap at both democratic ideals of equality and freedom and a slap at the fundamental Catholic ideal of the supremacy of the individual conscience over a law or rule, even of the Church.

    What the bishops want is just not going to work. I want the Church free to teach but I do not want the Church to have a government sanction to enforce those beliefs on anyone.

  • NeilAllen1

    Catholic bishops are misleading the congregation, practicing the freedom to break the 9th commandment.

    Catholics already have religious liberty, which means you can practice the religion that you want.

    - It doesn’t mean you can tell everyone else what to do.
    - It does not mean you can take taxpayer money and refuse to give birth control because you don’t want other people having sex.
    - Your employees don’t have to use contraception or have abortions. None of your followers do if they really believe what you say. However, they also have liberty.

    Here’s a religious belief you should follow – start telling the truth.

  • Carstonio

    Decent entry, especially the last sentence. I wouldn’t want Catholics or any other religious minority to retreat into a “virtual parallel universe of segregated organizations,” because that amounts to marginalization of the minority.

    At the same time, no religious or secular organization in a society like ours should expect or believe that its teachings about private behavior constituted universal morality. Meaning that for non-procreative sex, Catholic teachings about it should apply only to Catholics, and that Catholicism should hold no position about this behavior for non-Catholics. Sort of like the Amish teaching about utility service.

    “Private behavior” here is generally defined as behavior that doesn’t affect others,and this would include both non-procreative sex and the use of contraception. It wouldn’t include abortion for various reasons. By contrast, right and wrong are about “public behavior,” meaning how one treats others, and religious and secular belief systems are justified in having teachings about treatment of others. A good distinction would be responsible consumption of alcohol versus driving while intoxicated – it’s only with the latter where anyone is justified in telling others that it’s wrong, because of the danger it poses to everyone on the road.

  • Member11

    That analogy enforces not denigrates the Catholic position, since your example: “A good distinction would be responsible consumption of alcohol versus driving while intoxicated – it’s only with the latter where anyone is justified in telling others that it’s wrong, because of the danger it poses to everyone on the road” applies in this case to moral sex vs. immoral sex, which applies to everyone not simply those who are card-carrying Catholics.

    Besides, we tell children who are not yet of license carrying age, that they are prohibited from consuming ANY amount of alcohol, despite their being not one aiota of scientific reasoning for it – the only reason we continue to do so is for the ‘greater good’ that protestant prohibitionists envisioned centuries ago. It has now been so common place that we don’t even think about it. There are many such occurances which can only be seen from the view of those outside the inculturated society or which a fresh set of eyes.

  • Carstonio

    Please explain from a secular nonsectarian standpoint how non-procreative sex is immoral. The only way it might harm others is if underpopulation was so severe that everyone had a duty to procreate.

    And the drinking age is often defended by the claim that teenagers are more vulnerable because they’re still learning limits of responsible behavior. I’m not schooled in the science behind this. And yes, some proponents of the 21 drinking age, particularly the Moral Majority a generation ago, seem categorically opposed to drinking. Some European nations deal with the teen drinking by having a lower drinking age and a higher driving age. I don’t know which solution is better, but I do say that the goal should be trying to prevent teenagers from hurting not only themselves as individuals but also others.

  • usapdx

    You never hear a word on the 9th or 10th commandment in these days. Most RCs do not know much on the teachings of the RCC but most do know about the RCC teaching on birth control and DO NOT FULLY ( 100% ) agree with the RCC on it. Ask them and look at their family size. The RCC or any other religion must not force their beliefs on another in any way in this country.

  • usapdx

    Your last sentence is in a collision course with our American government of the people and is wrong. What percent of USA RCs fully ( 100% ) agree with the RCC teachings or even know all of them?

  • JohnK17

    If the government insisted everyone praise Jesus before getting federal dollars, then wouldn’t Muslims feel discriminated against? Setting a condition that everyone must comply with does NOT equal anti-discrimination; it is precisely those universal conditions that impact different groups in different ways that tend to be most discriminatory. So it is here; while people in favor of contraception won’t care, those against are being forced to go against their religious beliefs. And forcing individuals to go against their religious conscience IS discriminatory, even if everyone has the same condition. I am disappointed your weak argumentation is given space on the internet.

  • amelia45

    No individual is being forced to use a contraceptive or to be sterilized by these regulations. Individuals are being given the ability to make a choice about a form of health care that is widely prescribed by the medical profession and widely used by the public.

    By widely prescribed and widely used – I mean it is huge. Studies put use of birth control at something like 90% to 98% of women of this country, at least some time in their lives. Most polls I have seem say that 90% of Catholic women use contraceptives, although I have seen the figure bandied about at 70%. And, other studies have shown that Catholic women actually choose sterilization more frequently than the general population as a permanent way to stop the chance of pregnancy after having all the children they want.

    26-28 states now require health insurance sold in those states to cover contraceptives. Is it any wonder, given the overwhelming acceptance of contraceptives in our society and among our medical establishment that states would have laws that reflect that acceptance? Is it any wonder that, along with writing regulations that would require insurance to cover child hood immunizations, those regulations would also include something that is considered normal by not just a small majority of people of this country, but my overwhelming majorities.

    What Catholic institutions want to claim is the right to deny individuals a choice. In order to claim their own “religious freedom” they claim the right to coerce other people to live by a tenet of the Catholic faith.

    Equally egregiously, they want to do it on the tax payors dime. I don’t want my tax-pay dime to be used to allow a religion to require or coerce my fellow citizens to live by a religious tenet they do not accept.

    Religious freedom that impinges on individual freedom makes no sense in a democracy. This position about use of contraceptives allows a religious freedom to one but denies it to another. Indeed, it present one person as having

  • Bluefish2012

    amelia45, once again you mistake who is being forced to do what. No one is requiring their non-Catholic (or Catholic for that matter) employees not to use contraceptives. They are free to practice what they want. But they have to do it on their own dime. If anyone is being forced, it’s the institutions—employers who are being forced to go against their consciences to provide coverage they hold to be immoral. It’s no different than attending BYU and being “forced” to pay higher tuition because you are non-LDS. If BYU accepts a single federal dollar, is that OK to do? Of course they do and of course it is.

  • amelia45

    Bluefish – I am not in the least bit mistaken. If religious freedom were really free, we would have people who could live openly in the polygamous marriages that their religion recognizes. If religious freedom could trump all in society, then faith healers would not be jailed when someone dies because no doctors or medical personnel were allowed to treat what could have been curable with modern medicine.

    We do put limits on religious freedom. And in this country, I would hope we keep our emphasis on the freedom of individuals to make their own personal health care decisions. I also hope we recognize that as valuable as religion is to us personally, we cannot allow a person of a particular or an organization of a particular faith to claim some sort of moral right to deny or suspend civil liberties and rights. Local governments say we can be taxed to pay for local schools, libraries, parks etc. The states define public goods that the state will provide and we are taxed to pay for them. The national government defines public goods, too, and we are taxed to pay for them.

    At each step along the way we elected those people who created the public goods. We elected them to represent us. No one elected Cardinal Dolan to decide that health insurance in his hospitals will include. In fact, he wants to use government money to let him do what he wants.

    If Cardinal Dolan wants to live outside of society and set his own rules, that is fine. But, he doesn’t get to use government generated tax dollars to set up a system that claims the right to suspend the rules that the taxed society has set up. Don’t tax me to pay for a system that treats its employees, my fellow citizens, as children who cannot make their own choices.

  • daniellekha

    You are not representative of Catholics. You do not speak for Catholics and I’m fairly certain you do not adhere to all of the Church teachings. So please, please, please don’t present yourself as one of us and speak on our behalf. EVER.

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