Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.

Pro-Lifers Might Want to Try Being Nicer

Michael Sean Winters has a great article on Congressman Akin’s comments regarding rape and the pro-life movement.

A snip:

Those of us who wish to claim the pro-life mantle must first don the garment of empathetic humanity if our witness is to be effective, and not just effective, but true to our own vocation as baptized Christians and, therefore, evangelizing. We must acknowledge the horror of rape, not minimize it. We must try to understand what would prompt a woman to think her only viable option is to end her pregnancy, even while we disagree with the decision to do so. We must seek out women who face such circumstances and show them all the love we can, and not just in a happenstance way, but the way we Catholics do ministry, with organization and fundraising and attention to public policy. We can never, never create a culture of life until we first create a culture of love. The reason the pro-life movement so often seems stuck is, in part, because so many of its champions are mean-spirited and judgmental, so devoid of empathy, so willing to swallow foolish nonsense in order to make a point as Cong. Akin did, we miss the essentially human aspect of the problem and, just so, we get the morality and the politics wrong.

Honestly, I’ve been talking about this the last week or so and it bears repeating here. If we were all just a bit nicer to others as Catholics it would go a long way. But many times we seem angry and bitter about the opposition and never win any converts over to see our point of view. We often don’t seem concerned about women who think their only choice is abortion and the few that do don’t get the accolades that they should receive. Like my friend Michael O’Rourke at Malta House in Connecticut who I tout every chance I get.

The vision for Malta House began in 1995 when Michael O’Rourke learned that there was “no room at the inn” for many homeless pregnant women and their newborns. These vulnerable young families often found themselves on the street or living in sub-standard conditions. Malta House was conceived not only to offer food and shelter, but also to give hope for the future.

After two years, a great deal of hard work and many miracles, Malta House opened its doors as a work of the Order of Malta in Connecticut. The Order of Malta is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church that has served the sick and the poor for almost 1,000 years. Many members of the Order in Connecticut devote substantial time, treasure and talent in serving homeless families in our community through Malta House.

If you’ve ever met Michael, he’s a sweetheart of a guy. Not a mean bone in that guy’s body. He keeps a running prayer list over email and always talks about praying for people. We need more folks like him and his donors come from all over the political spectrum. He just has this way of winning over all people to his cause because he’s so enthusiastic and makes this seem like a desperate cry for help without the meanness often associated with the pro-life movement.

So a very measured view from Sean this morning prompted more of the same from me. In short, stop being mean. It will go a long way.

And Congressmen Akin, I don’t think anyone could just will a pregnancy away. I will pray for you today and hope that you really were just misinformed and might choose better words next time.

Voices of Hope and Doom

E.J. Dionne has a great column today in the Washington Post and he rightly points out that the voices of doom seem to be all around us.

First he points to the voices of doom on the left.

Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) ran a full-page ad in The Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.”

The ad included the usual criticism of Catholicism, but I was most struck by this paragraph: “If you think you can change the church from within — get it to lighten up on birth control, gay rights, marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research — you’re deluding yourself. By remaining a ‘good Catholic,’ you are doing ‘bad’ to women’s rights. You are an enabler. And it’s got to stop.”

He immediately grasps that the secular left doesn’t care much for Catholicism, or I suspect religion of any kind, preferring to lump all of us “religious-types” together.

But there’s another kind of progressive minded group. And it’s those of us who believe in much that liberal principles hold and that it reflects much of Catholic teaching.

We’re the ones who remind some narrow minded folks that it’s not OK to just be against abortion when you call yourself a pro-lifer but that the title also demanded that we support women who struggle to not just bring a child to term, but also to support that child and mother well long after the birth. Not to mention those of us who call for an end to war, violence and the death penalty. We hope to care for the poor who all-too-often are in harm’s way and for the environment which continually gets ignored too often as well.

And we do so by pointing people to the wisdom of our tradition as the reason why.

Dionne then takes up a second group of doomsayers. Those on the Catholic right.

I wonder if the bishops realize how some in their ranks have strengthened the hands of the church’s adversaries (and disheartened many of the faithful) with public statements — including that odious comparison of President Obama to Hitler by a Peoria prelate last month — that threaten to shrink the church into a narrow, conservative sect.

Do the bishops notice how often those of us who regularly defend the church turn to the work of nuns on behalf of charity and justice to prove Catholicism’s detractors wrong? ….has it occurred to the bishops that less stridency might change more hearts and minds on this very difficult question?

Indeed. While I certainly think that those who oppose abortion, for instance (I would count myself as being in that group), are doing their darnedest to try to change the law and to protect the innocent who so desperately need our assistance, what good has it really done? Our opposers are more firmly entrenched because of the vitriol of some and they liken the words coming forth from well-meaning and dedicated people (Laity and Bishops alike) to hate speech and at best, mean-spiritedness.

I don’t think that’s the message that people need or even want to hear. It doesn’t call us to change and it doesn’t produce results apparently.

What do people want? They want two things: action and results.

It seems to me that this is what the nuns were doing pretty darn well and their heroism seems to be brushed off because they didn’t spew venom often enough.

Even with a Republican President for 4 years recently and a congress that also shared those principles what were we able to do about abortion?


That’s not a good record. And we should be ashamed. All of us.

There’s an old adage that some in the church should carefully heed.

“It’s time to put up or shut up.”

Why, might I add, haven’t we heard much about a small organization called Malta House in the state of Connecticut –a state I might add, that just abolished the death penalty?

Just a sample of what Malta House does:

Malta House promotes the dignity of God given life by providing a nurturing home environment, support services, and independent living skills to expectant mothers of all faiths, and to their babies.

Residents of Malta House participate in educational programs covering issues of Health, Nutrition, Parenting and Child Development. During their stay at Malta House, mothers also receive guidance designed to foster a positive self image for themselves and their children. Personal finance and budgeting advice is offered to promote self sufficiency as our young families assimilate back into the community.

In addition, each resident agrees to participate in an individualized educational component that may include GED preparation or certificate programs at a local community college. Tutoring is provided to support the rigors of each class.

Michael O’Rourke, Malta House’s founder, is a saint in my opinion. He put up and then he didn’t shut up–rather he went and spoke to thousands of people leaving no stone unturned in order to gain support for his cause. It was an easy sell. And he did it all with grace and a quiet voice of peace.

So why, might I ask, has nobody bothered to say…

“Y’know what might be a good idea? Let’s have one of these Malta Houses in every diocese! Heck, let’s have two! Get O’Rourke on the phone.”

It would provide jobs, care, and it’s clearly a pro-life message that can be seen and produces results.

Do we think that the secular left couldn’t get behind that? Despite the law, we Catholics need to find ways to support the cause of life ANYWAY.

And other causes that support and claim who we are–a people of action.

Or we can just keep crying foul as a voice of doom that claims that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and we are powerless to change that because of those pesky little laws.

Now c’mon folks, we’re smarter than this. A lot smarter.

Perhaps, as Dionne suggests, we should heed the words of John XXIII:

“Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. We prefer instead to reaffirm all our confidence in our Savior who has not abandoned the world which he redeemed.”

And as Dionne rightfully notes: “The church best answers its critics when it remembers that its mission is to preach hope, not fear.”


Oh! And if you’d like to help to Malta House click here—their gala event is Thursday!

This Was Pretty Inspiring

It’s not often that I bring up abortion but this video reminded me of something.

I was born in February of 1970 and abortion was about to become legal in New York in April long before the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, so many people assume that my mother had no choice but to have me.

The law at the time permitted women to have abortions if their life or their “health” would be compromised. It was probably used as a loophole by women who found themselves pregnant at older ages–then, not regarded as a safe practice.

My mother was 41 and here she was pregnant. A late in life baby. My sister is 16 years older than me. The doctors all gave her warnings. “Your age is a factor here, you’re taking a big risk.”

But then a nurse came in and clinched my mother’s decision when she said:

“41!? Forget it that kid will be retarded or severely brain damaged . I’ll make the appointment for you to be back here for an abortion in a few weeks.”

My mother doesn’t remember being angrier. And she reported the nurse to the hospital’s board of directors.

And she made a firm decision that she would have me despite all the advise that she was getting to the contrary.

There was one doctor who apparently continued to advise her to terminate.

After having me, my mother would do things like send the doctor pictures of her child that he insisted would have brain damage. I was a perfectly normal child. She’d later send him copies of my report cards, honor roll cards. I suspect if the doctor were still alive she would have sent him every article or book I ever wrote.

But my mother’s commitment goes deeper than that. I asked her once, “Well, what would have happened if they were right and you had me and I did have mental or physical handicaps?”

Her simple response: “We would have loved you anyway, for as long as God decided to give you to us.”

Sorta like this mother:

Amazing dedication. Life indeed is hard…but our attitude towards what life gives us makes all the difference in the world.

We have the choice to love or to be indifferent–often a far worse choice than hating–at least when people hate they acknowledge the other. Indifference means that one doesn’t matter at all. It’s what keeps the homeless on the streets and the lonely from being accepted. It’s what allows us to bully others because nobody will stand up. It what makes people disposable because of the opinion that others have formed that refers to them as “less than.”

Today, let us pray that we can see the other as someone who has value in our eyes and know that this is how God sees them. And in that choice we can give them the dignity that they deserve. May that gift inspire not only us—but those who we give dignity to to be inspired to experience God’s nearness to them.

Supporting Sisters

So I know a lot of Sisters.

I think it’s important to note that the recent investigation that has been in the headlines this week is an investigation not of every single religious women’s communities. That investigation did occur and the results have not yet been released. Rumors state there is much positive news coming out of that investigation.

This investigation was of a professional organization–a conference of women’s religious leadership, namely the Leadership Conference of Women’s Religious. So the Vatican isn’t saying that Sr. so and so’s’s dedication to the poor in our neighborhood isn’t wonderful, or that another sister’s work in Catholic education for years wasn’t amazing…no they are taking a particular organization of women’s religious leadership to task. You read about the problems they have raised—some that I think are justified and others that I think are a stretch.

But let me say something about the encounters I’ve had with religious women in ministry and in my life in general. Most of the religious women I’ve worked with have been wonderful colleagues and friends. Sr. Jeanne Hamilton, OSU was one of my campus ministers at Fordham and she’d often stay up into the wee hours with me in her office talking to me and making sure I knew of my self-worth. She really led me to take better care of myself and to be more able to see gratitude.

There’s colleagues of mine today who are sisters, like, Sr. Jeremy Midura, a Felician sister here in Buffalo, who knows more about urban renewal than anyone I know. She’s led our RCIA team for years and has brought so many people into the church. She also has a special care for the poor in our community–but you won’t see her letting people panhandle. She’s set up an entire system where we can care for the poor in a more dignified way. She’s always walking with someone on Sunday morning who needs just a bit more attention.

Sr. Eileen McCann, SSJ who works for the U.S. Bishops is one of my closest ministry colleagues and she has gone to the mat for me more times than I can remember. She’s been a voice for young people for quite a long time and brought attention to the hierarchy in ways that none of us could have done. She’s used her influence to make sure that young adults are heard and has prayed with us in our struggles to keep them on the minds of everyone who calls themselves Catholic.

Sr. Caroline, who I don’t think had a last time, was my CCD teacher back in the day for my first confession and my first holy communion in the late 70s. She was a Franciscan with a special love for children, both in and out of the womb. She had a quiet way of speaking and was always encouraging children. When I started as an altar boy, I made the usual foul-ups and mistakes that anyone would make. As time went on I got better and the rhythms of the mass became second nature. As I was extinguishing candles after mass, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. There she was, habit and all, with her rich Irish brogue and she only said four words to me that day:

“You’re getting much better.”

For a nine year old kid, still unsure of himself, that was all I needed. I probably got more involved in the church as a kid because of that moment. And the words I said back to her that day is words we should express to religious women often:

“Thank you, Sister.”

Now, not all the news is good. Like in any other walk of life, there are Sisters who haven’t always lived up to what God and the church has called them to. How many nuns did our parents fear when they were in Catholic School and who perhaps used corporal punishment as a way to dominate? The Magdalene laundries in Ireland are certainly a blight on the record of the nuns in our church. There are also some nuns who I have found to be bitter, angry women and I have met some who just seem to hate men and others who crave power and prestige and some who are just simply goofy.

But I’ve met lay folk and priests who exemplify the same attitude.

Simply put, there are nutty and challenging people in every way of life.

But just as sure as we know that every priest is not a child molester, we also know that every nun is not a heretic, or an angry man-hater. In fact, that’s not even close to the majority. And in reading around the Catholic blogosphere this week, you’d never know it.

So let’s remember how much the good Sisters have sacrificed for us, for the poor, for the unborn, for those who have no voice. Let’s remember how many of their prayers have been our prayers –for our families and our dead. Let’s remember how many hands of the sick and the dying they’ve held and how many have done all that they do without a personal assistant or a blackberry. They’ve baked the bread that will become God’s body and they’ve gone to prisons and the developing world and cared for those who everyone else seemed to have forgotten.

Sorta like this sister:

These women are truly free. They offer their lives for each one of us and for all those who they speak for—and they do it with a grace and a passion that most can only dream about.

I hope you all have a Sister in your life…

And if you do, just take a second today to thank her.

Gibson: Can Any of Us Avoid Cooperating with Evil?

David Gibson has an interesting take on the HHS debate which is tough to argue with. It’s similar to what I’ve been struggling with when I’ve said things like “Aren’t we already cooperating with evil just by dealing with the healthcare companies in general?”

It seems, in general, it would be hard not to.

A snip from Gibson’s article:

Some critics of the administration’s “accommodation” for faith-based employers argue that the distance between a Catholic (or other religious) employer is deceptive on two counts.

One, they say that the organization’s health insurance company will simply pass on the cost of the contraceptive coverage to the religious institution in the form of higher premiums, so the institution will in effect be paying for contraceptive coverage. But studies show that providing coverage for birth control actually saves insurers money (pregnancies and abortions cost more than contraceptives) and it is at least revenue neutral. So there are no costs to pass on.

The second objection is that the faith-based institution will be sending its money to an insurance company that provides objectionable coverage, and so the religious group’s dollars will still be subsidizing a sinful practice.

One response is that health care premiums do not “belong” to the institution but are actually part of an employee’s compensation, like their paycheck. Just as an employer deducts withholding for taxes, it is sending the employee’s money to a health insurance company for coverage. An employer has no control or culpability if an employee buys condoms with either her paycheck or her insurance plan.

In addition, insurance works by pooling risk and premium dollars, and anyone who buys a policy from an insurance company is indirectly paying for the birth control — or chemotherapy or Viagra or heart bypass surgery — of other clients of that company, just as those clients indirectly pay for treatments you will need.

As Boudway put it: “It is very difficult, not to say impossible, to avoid remote material cooperation with evil in a complex modern economy.

So in essence, we’re screwed any way you look at it.

A second point, different from Gibson’s brought up by my friend Alex in conversation recently:

Should there be a new standard that you dont have to put your tax dollars into government spending that doesnt fit your belief system? (For example, the Iraq War) Should Quakers have to pay for military expenditures?

I’d go a step further. Should Catholics in states that have the death penalty be able to remove themselves from paying taxes? States that have poor environmental practices–do they deserve my tax money?

Once we have universal health care does the same principle apply?

The larger question here, of course, is a federal vs a state issue. Does the Federal Government have the right to tell us what we have to buy? We know that the state government has the right to tell you that you must buy car insurance for instance (or of course, face the consequence when you get in a three car pile up). The question now, which will go to the Supreme Court eventually is does the federal government have the same right. I believe their answer will be to say no.

Regardless, is this what the Bishops and the church at large is also concerned with? That’s doubtful. They more don’t want their employees to have to purchase something that goes against their moral principles.

But leads to bigger questions. Should I have to pay for war, the death penalty, policies that we know keep people in poverty? The list could be endless. What about companies that make it difficult for us to buy their products because of their practices (Now even, girl scout cookies are bad to buy because they endanger gorillas!).

Just as we have socially aware investing, we may have to go down the road of socially aware health care or moreover, socially aware politics. I’ve tried to do this at the supermarket, buy local, avoid some of the morally questionable food companies, buy organic, etc. It’s difficult and I don’t always succeed in avoiding cooperating with evil but I at best have minimized it to some point.

The question here is how do we best minimize our cooperation in this area?

Perhaps it’s time for a health care company to get some phone calls and see if someone somewhere wants all the business that Catholic entities want to offer them? Then it will be up to them to lobby the administration to let them do exactly that instead of them being forced to offer health care that includes contraception, etc.

This is not going to end well for anyone I fear and frankly, I’m tired of hearing and talking about it.

UPDATE: An Accommodation Expected from the Obama Administration

Looks like the long national nightmare will soon be over. President Obama’s Administration is ready to offer an accommodation on the birth control law that would require Catholic employees and hospitals to provide birth control to their employees and patients.

Just in from the Washington Post:

Women will be guaranteed coverage for contraceptive services, but would have to seek the coverage directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control on religious grounds.

Republicans are vowing to reverse President Barack Obama’s new policy on birth control, blasting the rule that religious schools and hospitals must provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as an attack on religious freedom. (Feb. 8)

Similar compromises are in place in Hawaii and several other states, but the White House had not included one when it proposed the health-care law requiring contraceptive coverage for all women. After a firestorm of opposition from Catholic church officials and other groups, the Obama administration said it would seek to modify its position.

President Obama is scheduled to announce the change Friday during an appearance before reporters in the White House at 12:15 p.m. He is trying to head off a growing political problem, after his decision Jan. 20 to grant only a narrower exemption to the health-care rule.

Also from the NY Times:

Administration officials called the expected announcement an “accommodation” that they said sought to demonstrate respect for religious beliefs. It will be similar to the path taken in several other states — particularly Hawaii — that have similar rules.

But administration officials also acknowledged that it would likely not mollify the Catholic bishops who have waged war against the rule or, for that matter, Congressional Republicans and candidates on the presidential campaign trail who have joined the fight. At most, the compromise could potentially help President Obama shore up support among wavering Democrats, who have also expressed doubt about the rule, along with more liberal religious organizations and charities, who oppose the rule but not as vehemently as the Catholic leadership.

Let’s see if this is acceptable to the Bishops. I would say that other Presidents might not have even considered a compromise, so I think this is a step in the right direction.

Stay Tuned.

Is the Contraception Controversy a Political Election Ploy?

The Washington Post suggests that perhaps it is:

Arron Blake offers this tidbit:

The White House’s decision to force Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception was a hot topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

And that’s probably AOK with the Obama campaign.

For a White House that has often been accused of trying to undermine Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race, the contraception debate is perhaps its happiest accident in that quest.

After all, while the issue hasn’t exactly been fun to deal with for the White House, what better way to help a social conservative like Rick Santorum in his quest to bring down Romney?

Interesting take. I think I agree with him. Perhaps this is strategy. Now the accommodation will come to make the President look like “the bigger person” as well. Santorum has no chance of winning but will certainly be more attractive to social conservatives than Mitt Romney, who is both a Mormon (conservative evangelicals don’t even consider that a religion) and a social moderate, while Santorum is a hardliner.

Oh and here’s this little item:

During a press conference Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney compared the Obama administration’s policy on emergency contraception at Catholic hospitals to the policy under Romney in Massachusetts.

“This is, I think, ironic, the fact that Mitt Romney is expressing — criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Carney said.

Does this distract the GOP a bit more and delay them getting their act together and naming a candidate to defeat President Obama? I think so and it’s already pretty late in the day for the Republicans to not have a candidate.

And for President Obama’s Administration–that suits them just fine.

Will Health and Human Services Really Force Catholics to Cooperate With Evil?

The Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration will soon require all employers to include “contraception and sterilization coverage in their health-insurance plans, including those provided to employees of religious institutions.” The USCCB is complaining that this violates religious liberty and requires Catholics to purchase a health care plan that violates their moral principles.

The Department of HHS also has given companies that don’t presently comply with this edict until August of 2013 to figure out how they plan to comply. Some will simply give their employees a lump sum payment of cash and tell them to purchase their own insurance on the open market. Sounds like a plan? Perhaps, until one realizes that those plans will be more expensive than what a company would have access to, putting especially those with families in a dicey economic quandary.

Providing health care is something that the Church and the Obama administration agree should be a fundamental right for all people. Is it a greater evil to say, not provide a diocesan employee or a Catholic Health worker with benefits or to have a benefit plan in place that includes coverage for contraception and sterilization? Would the latter be formal cooperation with evil simply by purchasing a plan like this? If it is then giving money to someone to purchase that same plan would also be formal cooperation as well, wouldn’t it? Just as say paying Independent Health (my insurance company) money for plans that don’t cover contraception even though they have other plans that do also qualify as a no-no.

Grant Gallicho over at dotCommonweal provides us with better insight on this issue:

Paying for health-insurance that includes contraception coverage does not amount to formal material cooperation with evil because an employee may or may not take advantage of the benefit — and the act of using artificial contraception is something an employee could engage in with or without health insurance. Rather, when a Catholic institution pays for health insurance that includes birth control, it is remotely cooperating with evil. Remote material cooperation is permissible when there are proportionate reasons. Providing health care for someone who could not get comparable coverage as an individual on the open market (and at this point an individual could not) is sufficient reason to freely and remotely cooperate with evil. (emphases mine)

In short, my view is simple: If you don’t want to use contraception or have a sterilization procedure than don’t do that. Perhaps therein lies the issue. Why couldn’t the Bishops simply call on Catholics to not use such things and trust that they won’t? If statistics are to be believed, many Catholics use birth control (and I’m not saying that they should, I’m just stating a fact). Presumably, some are employees of a Catholic entity (a school, a hospital, a diocese). So they are already finding a way to use contraceptives with or without access to it in their health care plan. The issue at hand here is really trust. Do the Bishops trust that Catholics won’t use these options in their health care plan? The answer is apparently no.

Is this as big of a deal as we think it is? I think that’s doubtful. Is President Obama purposely trying to annoy Catholics in this regard? No, I don’t think so either, but there was an easier solution to be sure. Some Catholics are claiming that he’ll now lose the Catholic vote. I find that even more highly doubtful. Why? The last time I checked very few Cathoiics checked what the Bishops have to say about who they should vote for. After the sexual abuse scandal the Bishops moral leadership was put into a grave situation with regard to whether people consider them a trusted source with regards to morality. These days they don’t rate very high unfortunately. So the risk of losing the Catholic vote is minimal because statistics show that for most people, they generally don’t consider what the Bishops say when making the decision to vote or to not to vote for someone anyway.

Still, President Obama and the HHS department could’ve expanded the exemption for religious entities that are not churches. To not do so seems to disregard the moral conclusions that concerned people of faith have concluded after deep discernment. Their conclusions are not ones that should so carelessly be dispensed with and this law will give them more to chew on unnecessarily. That said, people of faith should also smartly realize that we need not fret as much as we might first think.

As Catholics, we should not worry as much about what a health care package gives us the freedom to do. Rather, we should worry about what our freedom allows us to be called to do. We have the power, despite the law to tend to those who seek abortion or sterilization and to honor them with such a profound care that their worries about bringing a child into the world cease. Do we do that? Some do. Most of us are concerned. But more needs to be done.

Do we take time to really articulate a sexual ethic that says more than “No-no, don’t do that! That’s dirty” to young people? Do we honor women with our sexual ethic regarding the body by campaigning against pornography, sexism, domestic violence and genital mutilation? Do we dispense with outmoded examples of female submissiveness in favor of mutual partnerships in marriage that call EACH person to freely give all that they are to one another promising that they will stay with that partner, come what may? Do we honor that covenant marriage, or do we think of it more as a corporate merger that can be reworked or dispensed with at will frivolously? Do we spend enough time with our teens to notice to whom their attractions lie and work to teach them proper ways to interact with one another instead of regarding the other as a mere sexual desire to be quenched? All of these are ways to combat the choice that evil gives them.

It seems to me that more “preventative” measures can be taken to make sure that Catholics are discerning well when it comes to these matters of moral levity. In doing that, perhaps we’d have less of a reason to be concerned about what health care companies offer at all. Simply put, we’d have no need to even venture the question.

Breaking: Fr Pavone of Priests for Life Removed by Bishop

A scandal has hit the pro-life movement. CNS has the story.

Father Frank Pavone, one of the country’s most visible and vocal opponents of abortion, has been suspended from active ministry outside the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, over financial questions about the priest’s operation of Priests for Life.

The suspension was made public in a Sept. 13 letter from Amarillo Bishop Patrick J. Zurek to his fellow bishops across the country, but Father Pavone told Catholic News Service that he was returning to Amarillo and planned to continue functioning as a priest there.

“My decision is the result of deep concerns regarding his stewardship of the finances of the Priests for Life (PFL) organization,” Bishop Zurek wrote. “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight.”

They’ll be more as the day unfolds and this is going to be a huge black eye on the church AGAIN because we’re really not careful in selecting the people who are speaking for us. My initial thought is that Fr. Pavone simply isn’t a good business manager and mismanaged this into a place where he was able to distance himself from his diocese.

It will be interesting to see if he goes “independent” like Fr. Corapi.