There is an odd “we are nothing” philosophy behind this HHS decision and the Secretary who made it, and the President who supports it—a chilling promise of emptiness where tomorrow should be. Humanity, cajoled away from fertility and trained in sterility, is being weaned from those thoughts that travel beyond the present moment; we are self-interested beyond reason, and thus profoundly bored; condom-strangled, tube-snipped, and detached from the essential materials of reproduction either through artificial means or artificial equivalencies, our vision of the future is as limited as a pay-telescope’s viewer: tick, tick, tick and then a resolute click!, and it is gone.There is, however, a silver lining in this cloud. The reality of an Administration bent on imposing its ungodly will on all things religious has brought together Catholic factions which have long seemed to have irreconcilable differences.
With the administration’s decision, the covert culture of death has finally made a truly overt move against the culture of life. On one side, there is cheering. “Women’s groups” are happy. Anti-religionists, particularly those with an animus toward the Catholic church, are nearly delirious. On the other side, there is a grimness that is interesting in its unity, particularly as it is playing out in Catholic media. The furor of more conservative Catholics is unremarkable, but the reactions of the so-called “progressive” church may surprise some for the intensity of their disappointment. At the National Catholic Reporter Michael Sean Winters—furious on behalf of those Catholics who “took some punches” for the sake of President Obama—declares he cannot, in good conscience, cast another vote Obamaward. He now suggests that the bishops chain themselves to the White House fence in order to bring attention to the direct assault this administration is making against the church’s constitutional right to its own conscience—its right to be what it is.
Some, just as disappointed, but looking for a way to continue supporting Obama, are calling the decision “botched,” as though the thing simply wasn’t sufficiently thought-through. Others are hoping that one state’s exemption rules might somehow be adapted to Obamacare, so consciences might be assuaged by November. On NPR, Cokie Roberts expresses concern that Obama may have “created problems” for himself and his re-election.
But HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Obama “botched” nothing. The decision put forth is a purposeful one, transparently provocative. If the administration had simply wanted to provide free contraception and sterilization to those who want it, they could have inserted that notion into any one of a number of spending or entitlement bills. Had they meant to demonstrate respect for conscience–and according to Archbishop Timothy Dolan the president said he “considered the protection of conscience sacred”–the administration could have taken the advice of others and looked closely at how Hawaii managed conscience exemptions under their law.
There are questions as to whether HHS has authority to issue exemptions to Obamacare, although quite a few have been issued for reasons other than conscience. There appear to be no questions in the president’s mind, or in Secretary Sebelius’, that they have the authority to intrude on freedom of religion. With this ruling they insist that church-affiliated institutions either act against their own belief or so narrow the scope of their community service as to be removed from the public square; either way, the government is deliberately affecting the free exercise of religion. Considering some Catholic schools, hospitals and charities were serving their communities before the secular governments even thought to follow suit, that is a damnable, and damning, legacy for a president who once taught constitutional law.
To be sure, this situation is cause for concern, but there are some bright spots in all of this. Although the mainstream press has reported very little about this event—a close examination might prove uncomfortable for their own worldviews—the unified public expression of righteous defiance by the U.S. bishops is a powerful development.When the culture of death first began its slow march, during the sexual revolution of the 1960's, abortion advocates devised a strategy of "divide and conquer," vilifying the Catholic Church and enlisting the support of liberal Protestant denominations and other "progressive" religious groups. The heirs of that Faustian bargain continue to pontificate their shrill gospel of "if it feels good, do it" to an ever-shrinking audience of drones but the opponent they so feared has neither been divided nor conquered. Somewhere on the battlefield, Catholics and evangelicals found each other and discovered their common commitment to the dignity and value of human life was of enormously greater importance than the petty dogmas which had so long kept them at arms length.
Just as importantly, the laity—divided for decades on issues ranging from felt-banners to dress to dogma—has found a line in the sand upon which they can come together; “conservative” Catholics are reassured to see their more “progressive” brethren defending the church’s right to be who and what she is; more “progressive” Catholics may be coming to realize that—as relentlessly single-minded as some of their opponents could be—had they not held the line all these years, much could be crumbling at this moment.
Now is the time for all good Catholics to come to the aid of providers—the schools, hospitals, charities, and soup kitchens who serve communities in need without asking affiliations. And, in coming together, perhaps now is the time to ponder their long-held presumptions, each about the other, and broaden our own outreach as well.
If nothing else, in declaring war against our consciences, the Obama administration has given American Catholics a great gift of clarification; a fractious family we may be, but—as the saying goes—we are church. And we have the right to be who we are.
Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are values not unlike the sanctity of life. Indeed, they are part and parcel to the dignity of every human being. What we are beginning to see with horrifying clarity is that the erosion of the right to life inevitably leads to the erosion of freedom as a whole. Once again, evangelicals, Protestants, Anglicans, Orthodox, and persons of myriad other traditions are called to stand with their Catholic brethren, united in a common cause far greater than any difference that would divide us.
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.