The Catholic Health Association v. the bishops v. Obama

Last week, the Obama administration published its final guidelines for contraception coverage by insurers, putting what should be closure on … Continued

Last week, the Obama administration published its final guidelines for contraception coverage by insurers, putting what should be closure on years of back-and-forth debates with the Catholic bishops.

The updates policies, as reported by the National Catholic Reporter, accomplished four things:

And indeed, the Catholic Health Association, which represents the country’s largest group of nonprofit health care providers, found the compromises to be considerably accommodating to the religious liberty of religious hospitals, and endorsed the policy this week.

Sadly, the predictable answer from Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori, was “not good enough.” Like the tea party faction in Congress, anything Obama is for, these prelates are against. They refuse to accept victory in order to keep fighting with President Obama.

These antagonistic politics run against dialog with the world as fostered by Pope Francis. Worse yet, they present little to alter a growing public opinion that today’s USCCB leadership act like partisan CEOs from the secular world rather than pastors. For instance, while he was Archbishop in Milwaukee, Dolan sought Vatican permission to shift $57 million of church funds to an independent cemetery fund to protect it from bankruptcy proceedings. On the eve of a legal process that would have required revealing church assets, Dolan sought permission to shift funds out of the court’s reach, writing to the Vatican: “I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” This documented correspondence contradicts statements to the contrary or that these were “old and discredited attacks,” “groundless gossip” and “malarkey.”

I do not doubt that Cardinal Dolan’s efforts were undertaken to protect the financial resources of the church. Moreover, his use of promised financial benefits to entice wayward clergy to leave the priesthood without litigation follows standard corporate behavior for such pay-offs. But that is the point: these are the tactics of secular CEOs, just as rejecting any accommodation with Democrats comes from the tea party arsenal. Are not we Catholics held to a higher standard? Has not the pope called for more pastoral approach in the Lumen Fidei, the title of his first encyclical issued July 5th? This is how I interpret #34 which reads: “One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all.”

The refusal of cardinal and archbishop to admit President Obama has shown good will flies in the face of the pope’s words. The American prelates’ denunciations do not enable “witness and dialogue with all.” Is it true that seems these bishops are intent on “a bogus holy war,” acting upon of political power motives to attack President Obama? Their issue seems to be the president, rather than insurance for contraception. After all, many dioceses, including Dolan’s New York, have long offered insurance plans with contraception coverage.They definitely leave the impression that it’s alright for Catholics to pay for such insurance before Obama took office, but now that he is in the White House, such insurance is “coercion.”

I do not know what is in the minds and hearts of the bishops, but these contradictions open them up for criticism aimed not at their defense of doctrine but at their partisan political tactics. The pastoral approach, as contrasted with theirs, is to emphasize first the Catholic obligation to virtuous behavior and never to deny the rights of those who disagree. When it comes to deciding between these bishops or the pope, I’ll go with Rome.

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.
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