From pulpits across the country, Catholic priests read letters from their bishops outraged at a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS, with the approval of the Obama administration, refused to exempt the Roman church from a requirement which mandates health insurance plans, for employees at Catholic institutions, must cover all approved and legal methods of birth control. The Church did receive an exemption for parish operations and any institution where the primary purpose is worship. However, Catholic hospitals, universities, social services etc. would have to offer employees insurance plans which include birth control coverage.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a blanket condemnation of the new rules. The Church is officially opposed to all forms of artificial birth control. The new rules violate the first amendment's freedom of religion clause, according to the bishops. The government is forcing them to enable women employees, or the spouses of male employees, to use birth control to plan and control the size of their families. The Church is being forced to provide assistance for an act it considers immoral. Catholics have been urged to contact Congress and the White House to put political pressure on both bodies and get this decision reversed. It is a full-court press.
HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sibelius, stands by the rule change. She points out Catholic hospitals, universities, elementary and secondary schools, as well as other businesses, employ large numbers of non-Catholic workers. Workers are covered by new healthcare regulations in all other businesses in the nation, and Catholic institutions shouldn't be treated any differently.
The position of the bishops reeks of hypocrisy and selective outrage. Catholic Healthcare West, a corporation which runs hospitals in Northern California, already provides such coverage to its employees...a fact the bishops failed to mention nor have they put a stop to it. While there still may exist the quaint image of a hospital full of caring nuns, and universities chock full of Bing Crosby-like priests teaching and preaching, the reality is hospitals, schools and other "Catholic" businesses employ high numbers of non-Catholics and are no different than any other business. They may be a non-profit operation for tax purposes, but walking into St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco is no different than walking into Valley Medical Center in San Jose. Simply because you are employed by a "Catholic" institution, whose primary function has nothing to do with faith or worship, should not mean you are a second class citizen with benefits other employees at "secular" institutions enjoy not available to you. The first amendment restricts government interference in religious affairs, but does not apply when the Church is operating commercial enterprises which serve much larger populations than just Catholics. Notre Dame deserves no more special status than do Harvard, Stanford or UCLA and their employees should be treated the same.
The outrage by the bishops also deflects attention from another reality. Over 85% of the Catholics in the pews listening to the bishop's rant, admit to using birth control and do not believe Rome should be able to tell them how to manage their families and fertility. They do not believe they are committing a sin by using technology for their benefit. The Church's position on artificial birth control is not infallible or even universal. In 1968, Pope Paul VI commissioned a study to see if the rules on using birth control could be eased. The committee's majority produced a report supporting the use of artificial birth control and recommended the Pope change the rules. Regressive forces in the Church convinced the Pope such a move would be a disaster for the Church's moral credibility, so the Pope rejected the majority report and issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, prohibiting all forms of artificial birth control. A firestorm of criticism rained on Rome with priests and theologians and gum-chewing Catholics attacking the Church for being out of touch. Priests left the church in droves out of protest.
The Pope added insult to injury when he encouraged Catholics to use the rhythm method of birth control. (It was natural and naturally would get you pregnant) In other words, if one Catholic family intended to have sex, but didn't want to procreate, and used rhythm, it was proper, but if another family, also intending to have sex and not get pregnant, uses the Pill it is immoral. Even though the intention is exactly the same, one is a sin and one isn't. Catholics rejected Rome's position en masse and still do to this day.
The punditocracy quickly seized upon the Obama administration's decision as a political blunder which could cost the President the Catholic vote in November. Since over 85% of Catholics disagree with the Church's position and since those same Catholics use artificial birth control to plan and control the size of their families, how could this decision cause them to suddenly not vote for the President? If anything, women have to see that under regressives like Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, their access to birth control and abortion would be dramatically curtailed. The same men who talk about smaller government and less regulation are on the record as believing government should be able to tell a woman what to do with her body and what kinds of medicine and other steps she can take to manage her fertility.
What really shows the bishops have no clothes is the extent and force of their objections. The American bishops have come out in opposition to the spate of anti-immigrant legislation and sentiments expressed mainly by regressive Republicans. The Church condemned cut backs in programs for the poor and hungry. They decided the war in Iraq was immoral and they oppose the use of capital punishment. Yet, not once in recent memory have the bishops seen fit to blanket the nation and the pulpits with letters expressing their outrage. Priests did not stand and, under orders, direct their congregations to contact Congress and the White House to right these wrongs, restore the social safety net and develop a more humane immigration policy. Catholic politicians like Santorum and Gingrich are not condemned by the bishops for policies they support which the Church opposes.
The credibility of the American bishops is at an all-time low. They spend their efforts fighting against gay marriage, abortion and artificial birth control methods but are nowhere to be found on issues ranging from rapacious and crony capitalism currently wrecking families and communities to the growing rates of poverty and loss of homes and even calls for a new war with Iran. They make a mighty noise about sexuality issues while barely a peep is heard as the military might of this nation kills hundreds of thousands, children go hungry and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. While the bishops concern themselves with the bedroom, the exhortations of Matthew 25 are ignored in Washington, on Wall Street and across this land.