Friday, February 10, 2012

Night of the Long Knives

What Was He Thinking?
My friend Kathy commented at dinner the other evening that “we are supposed to bring our faith to our politics but it seems that most people bring their politics to their faith.”  I thought this was a comment worth reflecting on.  I remember the election of 2008 when so many Catholics were voting against Barack Obama supposedly for religious reasons when it fact, embarrassed by their Republican politics (and in the cases of two friends of mine, their racist prejudices), they were hiding behind the skirts of Mother Church as justification for their choice.  But the current flap over the issue of religious exemptions to President Obama’s Health Care Laws demonstrates that politics trumping faith is not simply the sin of the “religious” right.  The estrogen-deprived stridency of a range of voices from Nancy Pelosi to the internet chatter mavens show us that bandwagon-riders, liberal or conservative, crash the gates of faith with wacko political views.  We need people who will use well-informed reason to bring faith to politics. 
     I cannot conceive of why President Obama has put himself in this untenable position “between a rock and a hard place” over the issue of exempting Catholic institutions from the particular clauses of the health-care mandate that would require Catholic schools, universities, health-care facilities, diocesan offices, and other Church employers to provide employee coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients that are contrary to Catholic moral values.  All sorts of other establishments —Alliance One Tobacco, Ruby Tuesdays’s, Local 802 Musicians Health Fund,  CIGNA, Baptist Retirement, Denny’s, Aetna, UFT Welfare Fund, Cracker Barrel,  and about one hundred other employer groups were granted exemptions from the Health Care mandate in part or in full.  So why not Catholic institutions?  But the President has put himself in the middle of it now.  If he backs down, an alliance of groups as diverse as Planned Parenthood and the American Nurses Association will turn on him.  If he pushes on—well, there is no monolithic Catholic vote but he will lose valuable allies in the Catholic community.  Granted, he won’t lose all Catholics, but he will lose those who have most influence over others.  By that I don’t mean the bishops—they lost their influence over the Catholic faithful during the sex-abuse scandals.  He will lose Catholic teachers, professionals, writers, editors, journalists, social workers, and what clergy he has—mostly among the monastic and religious orders who are generally better educated than the diocesan clergy and have more influence over the laity they serve.      
      I was at a cocktail party the other evening—I hate parties of any kind and this was a particularly dull group of moneyed suburban liberal types —and there was plenty of chatter about this, most of missing the point as bandwagon riders have a tendency to do.  I have no doubt from the circles in which I am often trapped that the bandwagon liberals will support the President in ’12 just as the bandwagon conservatives opposed him in ’08 (and will again in ’12).  But as I posted on February 7th, the progressive Catholic intelligentsia—Sean Winters from National Catholic Reporter, Douglas Kmiec, America Magazine, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, Los Angeles Cardinal Mahoney, Notre Dame President John Jenkins, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, as well as top officials of such agencies as Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, and others feel betrayed and angry.  How does the President get out of this mess?  It’s beyond me.  What isn’t beyond me is that someone (ok not an individual but various advisors) got him to drive the getaway car for a hit on the big ol’ ugly Catholic Church 
     And don’t doubt for a moment that this is a slam on the Church.  Markos Moulitsas, in his political blog “The Daily Kos” is perhaps the most explicit in posting this vitriolic piece by one Kaili Joy Gray.  It tells us a lot about what the issue is for many in the “no-exemption camp.”
“… Catholic leaders who are outraged—outraged!—that women in this country will be receiving full, comprehensive health care through their insurers. Church leaders started whining last year that being forced to provide health care to women oppressed their First Amendment right to deny health care to women. And so, for the next several months, the Obama administration hemmed and hawed about whether to implement the new policy, as promised, thanks in no small part to the lie repeated by the bishops, Republicans, and even supposedly liberal commentators like E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post that such a decision would alienate the president's Catholic supporters. 
     Thank you Ms. Gray for your insightful and articulate comments.  Are you a raving maniac or just the ordinary everyday garden variety jerk?  Have you read the arguments supporting exemption?  Do you have any idea what they are about?  Well, I suppose facts would probably only clutter your pretty little mind anyway so why bother, but Kos why do you print  the brainless raves  of a religious bigot who doesn’t even understand that that the issue isn’t access to contraception but freedom of conscience?   As I asked yesterday: would you deny a Muslim woman the right to wear the  hijab? Wouldn’t you consider a person who wanted to make her act contrary to her religion a bigot?   Do you know anyone who thinks a yeshiva should be forced to serve pork barbeque to their gentile employees?  Wouldn’t you regard that as insulting and contemptuous towards Jews?  But it’s ok to tell not individual Catholic employers but the Catholic Church itself as an employer: we demand that you violate your tenets?  Why would you do that except to insult and degrade a particular religion?  Well, Ms. Gray isn’t the only one using inflammatory language.  The National Organization for Women (NOW) posted on their website:
TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama: Free The Pill From the Bishops!  Will Obama through (sic) birth control under the bus.  (Obviously NOW needs to find a high-school graduate to check their spelling.  Maybe Kaili Joy  Gray needs a job and NOW will provide her with the coverage she covets). 
They also posted this slant:
Catholic Bishops Fail to Take Birth Control from More Women. In an important decision that ensures access to affordable birth control for millions of women, the Obama administration announced today that it would not expand an unconstitutional refusal clause that will already deny contraceptive coverage to some women under the Affordable Care Act.
     I am not sure what makes the refusal clause unconstitutional but until the Courts declare it to be so it is no more than NOW rhetoric designed to slant the issue.  And are the bishops taking birth control from more women or simply saying that if an individual wants birth control, sterilization, or abortifacients  please arrange for someone else who does not think these things to be immoral  to pay for them.  I don’t see Cardinal Dolan sweeping down to grab these pills from some sweet lady’s clenched fist.  
      Planned Parenthood, no friends with the Catholic Church (to be fair, the enmity is mutual)  has launched a nationwide television ad campaign encouraging Americans to back the President’s refusal to exempt Catholic institutions from requirements that violate Catholic moral doctrine, insisting that women have a "right" to have the Church provide them with birth control, sterilization, and abortifacients.  What right?  Who gives such a right?  Is it a right given by God? Is it a right inherent in nature?  Right?  Rights may be things recognized by law but they are not things conferred by law.  The Law may require the Church (or anyone else)  to do something but there is no intrinsic “right” to birth control or abortifacients.   Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, I grant you—but “the pill.”  No, not a right.  A law perhaps but laws are what we make them.  Rights transcend the law.  But I guess you have had to have  philosophy course or two to know the difference. 
One blogger, a Cecilia Bruck, wrote:
Exactly! First the Catholics try to force the rest of the world to live by their religious views, against our will, and take away our freedoms, then they are outraged when others do it to them. Can you hear the denials? This in no way forces catholics (sic)  to use contraceptives if they choose not to. The catholics (sic) are trying to force the rest of us to live according to a religion we don't want to be a part of.    we are entitled to the same respect as you are in our own religous (sic) freedoms and beliefs. If not, then you are discriminating against the rest of us because of our religion and because of our sex, and that is not only illegal, it is also against the constitution you claim to love so much.   (Well, I guess Ms. Bruck is not a winning candidate for that editing post so needed at NOW.) 
The Feminist Majority Foundation posted this on their website:  
Beginning today, women's rights groups - including the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Council of Jewish Women, and others - have launched a campaign and blog carnival to support the Obama Administration's decision to maintain full contraceptive coverage under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act. The administration has been under enormous pressure from the Catholic bishops to broaden the religious exemption. The campaign, which will include a blog carnival this week and other actions, aims to correct misinformation generated by negative newspaper editorials and other media outlets. The request to broaden the religious exemption, primarily pressed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, would have denied millions of American women contraceptive coverage, including students, teachers, nurses, social workers, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-connected or affiliated schools, universities, and hospitals, as well as social service institutions like Catholic Charities.
And so the vultures gather. 
I could go on and perhaps will post more on this in the near future.  But the question remains: what provoked the President to step into this pile of ****.  He is anything but dumb.  Why has he consented to drive the getaway car for those fiends who are fueled by a hatred for the Catholic Church?  This sort of divisive politics is against everything he has stood for to date.  How will he get himself out of this mess?   

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