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.

Buffalo Welcomes Barack – How Do We Welcome Others to Our Communities?

I thought about going down to stand and watch the motorcade as President Obama made his way to talk to workers specifically about the state of the economy–in particular as it refers to small businesses.

It’s raining here today and I figured I wouldn’t get too close, so instead I decided to travel to another church in the diocese for mass on this Ascension Thursday (just to get a feel for the rest of the diocese) and then I listened to President Obama’s talk and Q&A on NPR later at my desk.

So off I went to a packed house at St. Greg’s where we worshipped together, meditating on the readings for Ascension. It was an ordinary experience of mass, as if the changing of bread and wine into the living Jesus could ever be “ordinary.”

But there were very few of those “spiritual aids” that help us to pray today over there. There was no music, a short and simple homily and decor that was relatively uninspiring. Let me be clear though, it wasn’t an awful experience by any means. It was inspiring to see a large crowd for the Holy Day–albeit most people were well over the age of 50. I also saw one of the students, Marie, who went on our alternative break trip. It was a noontime mass after all, so i didn’t expect many young people.

I would think however, many churches won’t see a large group of young people today. And I think that’s so because simply put, most places don’t go the extra yard to inspire the hearts and minds of young people to attend. Fr. J. Glen Murray, a noted liturgist, once said (and I’ll parphrase, that when people say mass is boring, I think they may be talking about how we “perform” the liturgy. I get upset when I hear people say that because how can you say mass is boring. Especially when priests can be very enthusiastic and the congregation is barely responsive! I don’t think mass is boring, I think most of the time, WE are boring! We are less than intentionally engaged with hurling ourselves into the mystery and bringing our own gifts to the celebration of worship.

When we compare our engagement at mass with other “exciting” ventures. Like say a Presidential visit, what kind of engagement do we bring in comparision?

Now all of that being said, we also might want to admit something when it comes to younger people….

They live in a world of instant gratification and if that is so then it may be particularly difficult to gain their attention and thus their unyielding support. We have to think deeply about how to engage their interest so that they indeed can and will meet the living Jesus, not just at mass, but also in the rest of their more mundane activities.

I think President Obama has some words that we might be able to use for our own purposes:

“I know Buffalo is a big hockey town and while Wayne Gretsky may not be your guy, something great was said about him. He never thought about where the puck was he thought about where the puck should be. The same is true with the economy. What are the needs of our future? We want to have the most efficient private sector along with a government that is lean and mean, but working.”

I would say that we want an engaged future in the Catholic Church and we are far from engaging people’s hearts for Christ in most places. How do we do ritual? Are we even engaged with what WE are doing if we are the presider or lector or musician? Does our enthusiasm lead people to Christ or are we just “ordinary?”

Our President won’t stand for ordinary and neither should we.

And with that salvo, I offer the following reflections about being Catholic today:

1) Do we come to mass with enthusiasm and stand fully engaged with all that we celebrate in the mass?

2) Do we take our faith seriously as Americans and do we bring that into our experience of citizenship? Do we show concern for the least in our society and do we call our leaders to care for the unborn, the elderly, the infirm and the poor–and do we do that with a HEALTHY enthusiasm that respects those who disagree with us as human beings loved by our same creator?

3) Does our enthusiasm for justice and charity reach beyond our parishes (heck, does it even reach most of those in our parish?!) to let them see Christ working through us?

4) Are our eucharistic celebrations truly a celebration? Do they mix the contemplative with the communal to bring people into liminal space where they can more easily feel God’s presence amongst them?

5) Are we honest about ourselves? Are we really doing fine as a parish community or can we do a whole lot better?

What can we do? We can choose to show our enthusiasm for Jesus at least one hour a week at our Sunday or Holy Day celebrations and thus let people see that God makes a difference for us.

That kind of faith is what moves mountains.

And it is there where we always meet the living God.

Pope Presses Obama on Pro-Life Issues

From John Allen at NCR and in my opinion the right way to engage the debate with the President. Thanks to the Pope for taking the lead here.

When President Barack Obama came calling on Pope Benedict XVI today, the two men enjoyed a “truly cordial” encounter, according to a Vatican spokesperson, but at the same time there was no diplomatic silence from the pontiff about their differences over abortion and other “life issues.”

Not only did Benedict press his pro-life case with his words to the president, but he even found a way to make the point with his gift, offering the president a copy of a recent Vatican document on bioethics. According to a Vatican spokesperson, the pope drew a repetition from Obama of his vow to bring down the actual abortion rate.

Beyond the life issues, the Vatican’s statement indicated that Benedict and Obama also found “general agreement” on the Middle East peace process and other regional situations. The two leaders also touched food security, development aid especially for Africa and Latin America, immigration and drug trafficking, according to the statement.
Coming away from the meeting, however, it was hard to escape the impression that Benedict wanted to use it to deliver a clear pro-life message.

Read the rest and then think about the Pope’s actions today. Did he embarrass the President? No. Did he yell at the President and call him a baby killer? No. Did he not show up for the meeting? No.


My guess is that President Obama will read the book he gave him and start noting it in his plans to reduce abortions bringing us closer together on this issue.

Pope to Obama: You’re too conservative

From today’s Washington Post and E.J. Dionne

When President Obama meets with Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow, there will be no right-wing Catholic demonstrators upbraiding the pontiff, as they did Notre Dame earlier this year, for conferring the church’s legitimacy upon this liberal politician.

In fact, whether he is the beneficiary of providence or merely good luck, Obama will have his audience with Benedict just three days after the release of a papal encyclical on social justice that places the pope well to Obama’s left on economics. What a delightful surprise it would be for a pope to tell our president that on some matters, he’s just too conservative.

It seems that this Pope is indeed going to be critical of the Obama administration but just not in the manner that most people would expect.

To read the Pope’s new encyclical on social justice click here

Sotomayor: Pro lifers have something to like about her

President Obama nominated Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court pending congressional approval. Judge Sotomayor would be the first person of hispanic ancestry to rise to the Court. The question of her pro-life record is sketchy as she’s never really decided a case which directly involved abortion rights. But here’s an interesting case:

From Christianity Today

Shortly after President George W. Bush reinstituted the Mexico City Policy (which bars government funds to groups that support or perform abortion), the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy sued.

The pro-choice group’s argument was that the Mexico City Policy unconstitutionally violated rights of speech (since it couldn’t “actively promote” abortion) and association (it couldn’t work with abortion rights advocacy groups overseas) as well as the constitution’s Equal Protection Clause (it wasn’t on “equal footing” with prolife groups in competing for funds).

When the case came before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sonia Sotomayor (whom President Obama this morning nominated to the Supreme Court) ruled against the Center for Reproductive Law & Policy.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds,” Sotomayor wrote.

Sotomayor also has strong bi-partisan support. She was first appointed by President George H.W. Bush (the older, not the moron) to the federal bench and then later was nominated by President Clinton to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She was involved directly and most famously in upholding the players grievances during the 1994 players strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series.

She’s got an interesting background. From NPR:

Sotomayor grew up in a Bronx housing project after her parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. She suffered from juvenile diabetes that forced her to start insulin injections at age 8. Her father, a tool-and-die worker, died when she was 9, and Sotomayor was raised by her mother, a nurse.

As a girl, she was inspired by the Perry Mason television show and knew she wanted to be a judge. “I realized that the judge was the most important player in that room,” she said in a 1998 interview.

Sotomayor graduated summa cum laude from Princeton and went to Yale Law School, where she served on the law journal.

I love rooting for people who had to work hard to get where they are. So I hope for an easy confirmation.

Cardinal George Praises Obama on Conscience Rights of Health Care Providers

The USCCB released this statement from their President about President Obama.

I am grateful for President Obama’s statement on May 17 that we should all “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,” and his support for conscience clauses advancing this goal.

Since 1973, federal laws protecting the conscience rights of health care providers have been an important part of our American civil rights tradition. These laws should be fully implemented and enforced. Caring health professionals and institutions should know that their deeply held religious or moral convictions will be respected as they exercise their right to serve patients in need.

Catholic providers, in particular, make a large and essential contribution to health care in our society. Essential steps to protect these conscience rights will strengthen our health care system and enhance many patients’ access to necessary life-affirming care.

A government that wants to reduce the tragic number of abortions in our society will also work to ensure that no one is forced to support or participate in abortion, whether through directly providing or referring for abortions or being forced to subsidize them with their tax dollars. As this discussion continues we look forward to working with the Administration and other policy makers to advance this goal.


Awesome. Seems quite a change of pace from his remarks that inviting the President to speak at Notre Dame is “a complete embarrassment:”

The good news is that it looks like both sides are working more amiably together for the first time in awhile. Perhaps we can begin to be more than merely cautiously optimistic?

“Cautiously Optimistic”

After seeing what the fallout has been regarding President Obama’s speech I’ve seen several people who would never think about being supportive of the President speaking at a Catholic school now saying that they are “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of Catholics working alongside him to limit abortions. I find this to be sound discernment and even mature. Let’s face facts, we really don’t have much history of any President really helping us change the minds of women–even though some have worked on the legislative element of this issue. President Obama’s overture seems to be breaking new ground–and that, as Catholics, should give us hope.


Vatican Paper: Obama invites us to work in common effort

David Gibson quotes L’Osservatore Romano today:

The newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the president also confirmed that pushing for a more liberal abortion law would not be a priority of his administration. The comments came in a L’Osservatore report May 18, the day after Obama spoke at the university in Indiana.

“The search for a common ground: This seems to be the path chosen by the president of the United States, Barack Obama, in facing the delicate question of abortion,” the newspaper said.

It said Obama had set aside the “strident tone” of the 2008 political campaign on the abortion issue.

“Yesterday Obama confirmed what he expressed at his 100-day press conference at the White House, when he said that enacting a new law on abortion was not a priority of his administration,” it said.

The newspaper, which was reporting on the Notre Dame commencement for the first time, acknowledged the controversy caused by the president’s appearance at what it called “the most prestigious Catholic university in the United States.”

“Yesterday, too, as could have been predicted, there were protests. But from the podium set up in the basketball arena, the president invited Americans of every faith and ideological conviction to ‘work in common effort’ to reduce the number of abortions,” it said.

I guess the Pope’s paper is run by a bunch of heretics too? Would anyone dare to say that they are a bunch of people who are “killing our children?”

More moderate voices are arising. Thank God for that. After all, if President Obama is suggesting that we stop women from aborting by offering them viable alternatives than I think it’s time we took him up on the help he’s offered–as opposed to stating that he’s trying to hoodwink us.

More on President Obama and Abortion

So I’ve heard tons of comments online and in person with the new buzzword: President Obama is the biggest pro-abortion President in the history of our country.

Well, that wouldn’t be hard since there’s only 8 to choose from… let’s also remember that in 1973 the President was a Republican.

But let’s also think about something else. President Obama may indeed uphold the right of women to seek abortions, but what he also said yesterday is that nobody makes those decisions lightly. And that’s where we as Catholics come in.

At some point, a woman makes a choice to abort, it’s that window where we have an opportunity to present other options despite the fact that the law tells her that she can just kill her baby growing in the womb. Are those options presented to her in ways that don’t place undo pressure on her? Do they seem overly coercive or do they seem like sincere care and love? I fear that most often alternatives are presented as the former and not the latter.

President Obama, however short-sighted his view on the law may be, did have one very valuable point that we need to listen to:

“Let’s work together to reduce the number of abortions.”

Think about what that statement says:

Women have other choices than abortion, better choices. They just think that they can’t choose them for whatever reason. The main one is that they feel they have no support. The issue here is that Republicans most often think that these women should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, from their family or from the church rather than get help from the government. They think women will abuse the system and get pregnant to get more welfare money.

Fair enough. Some will most certainly abuse the system, but does that mean we make overarching rules for the exceptions?
Are we really motivated by love when we think that way?

But no matter, welfare is not and can not be the only solution–perhaps not even the main one. What are we doing as Catholics to lobby for the care of women seeking abortion? If President Obama is serious about helping us reduce the number of abortions, then at least we’re on the same page in SOME way. It also means that if we present a plan to put bigger and better pregnancy crisis centers in cities all over the country, we should be able to gain some support from the Obama administration.

The sisters of life are one group I know who does lots. Malta House in Connecticut is another good model. But there aren’t enough of these models out there. Why is every parish in the United States not saying, we’ll go an live in a tent so that these women can bring their children to term? Why is the outreach so minimal when it comes to offering to help these women?

President Obama seems to be saying some magic words to us and instead we are spitting venom back at him with our mantra of “most pro-abortion president”. The magic words are “Let’s work together to help these women not choose abortion to begin with.” If we help them not make the choice to abort at least we’ll save somebody, perhaps more than a majority begin to choose life–then we will be very successful at reducing abortions.

Women who abort despite these efforts are probably going to do it anyway. And if the law was not present they’d still find a way to do it illegally. I think that’s the big fear from the majority of the pro-choice camp. They think that women who can’t be convinced of the moral conviction that we hold dearly, are going to be placed in harm’s way. While we value life in the womb, we also value life outside of the womb and sometimes we will lose one of those battles here. It’s sad but even if the law were repealed, we’d still lose babies and we’d lose a few women along the way as well. Some people remain lost.

But the pro-life camp, of which I consider myself part of, also has its shortsightedness. They have an all or nothing approach. Now obviously our work isn’t done until we eliminate abortion entirely, but shouldn’t we also at least take small victories where we can get them. We seemed to do this with President Bush when he outlawed partial-birth abortion. We didn’t have an all or nothing approach there did we?

So the larger question is: Are President Obama’s efforts not welcome, even though he is much more vocal than previous Presidents about limiting abortion–where other Presidents would merely state that they would not limit a woman’s right to choose. While we may not agree with him that these issues are complex (for us murder is murder in our view), we need to at least acknowledge that he sees some room in working alongside us.

Or we can just parrot back mantras.

President Obama’s Big Speech

One word: WOW! Even some very staunch pro-lifers who disagreed with President Obama’s speaking at Notre Dame had to admit that he made a great speech today. Even engaging the abortion issue directly in it and Catholicism’s influence on his own life. You can see that portion of the speech below as describing it or even quoting it does not capture its power.

Some thoughts: I agree totally with President Obama’s words here about working for common ground with those who disagree with us. I would also say we have but no other choice but to do this as there is a diversity of opinion out there on many issues, not merely abortion. A colleague and I were speaking after mass today and I thought he made a good point about reducing these arguments to mere opinion. That somewhere there is a need for us to identify where we are being led by what we believe is truth. Some will say that all truth is subjective –that things differ in essence based on their context. I would say that we can cite several examples where that is most certain–but also we can cite at least a few where it is far from the truth as well. Therein lies the difficulty in working on issues of life with people who hold differing ideas about truth’s objectivity.

So where does that leave us? I think President Obama’s words about doubt and about certitude ring somewhat true here. While I know that I truly believe in many of my convictions, I also know that I have been humbled by thoughts and ideas where I was clearly mistaken. In the moments where I believe my more rooted convictions have held and led by the teachings of my church where I have found the fullness of truth residing, I’ve also found another principle at work. That principle is humbleness.

Truth doesn’t need ME. Truth will be revealed despite whether I defend it or not. Truth comes to all people, albeit more slowly to some, and often slower to me and God’s mysterious revelations remind us that we are not God. That we do not know everything. As Merton famously said: “The fact that I believe I am doing your will does not mean I actually am doing it.”

However, people of good will can take some comfort in the mystery, in the knowing of our own imperfect knowledge, in the knowing that we are not God by following more of Merton’s famous words.

“I believe that the desire to please you (God), does in fact, please you.”

Today I pray that we all, despite the courage we all have in following our convictions in the desire to please our God, may be able to more graciously listen to one another in humbleness, express ourselves in charity and forgive one another with love.

As the graduates of Notre Dame head into the big bad world, may they know of my prayers for their lives as young adults and beyond. And as the President heads home after inspiring all of us with his words may he find peace and continue to have the desire to please God–and may that lead him to see all human life as sacred. Amen.