Today, a series of protests around the nation for religious freedom will take place, in part to support the 43 Catholic institutions and dioceses that have filed suit against the HHS contraception mandate as an unconstitutional incursion on the free expression of religion. CNS News went to the most important and well-informed Catholic in American politics to get her reaction to the lawsuit, and to find out whether she supports it:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) said on Thursday that the 43 Catholic institutions—including the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and the Archdiocese of New York–that are suing the Obama administration over its regulation mandating that all health-care plans must cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients are not speaking for the Catholic Church.
CNSNews.com asked Pelosi, who is Catholic, whether she supported her church in the lawsuits it has filed, which argue that the administration’s regulation violates the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“What about the 43 Catholic institutions [that] have now sued the administration over the regulation that requires them to provide contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients in their health care plans?” CNSNews.com asked. “They say that violates their religious freedom. Do you support the Catholic Church in their lawsuits against the administration?”
“Well, I don’t think that’s the entire Catholic Church,” Pelosi responded. “Those people have a right to sue, but I don’t think they’re speaking ex cathedra for the Catholic Church. And there are people in the Catholic Church, including some of the bishops, who have suggested that some of this may be premature,” Pelosi said.
For those who wonder what ex cathedra means, it refers to declarations from the Pope considered to be infallible. They are exceedingly rare; the only one of which I’m aware since the formal declaration of the ex cathedra process established the doctrine in 1950 that Mary was bodily transported to heaven. Popes do not issue ex cathedra declarations on issues pertaining to governance, not even of the church itself. The doctrine that opposes abortion and contraception goes back to the earliest days of the church, and doesn’t require an ex cathedra declaration. Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae in 1968 recapitulated that doctrine and brought the teaching into modern times, and bishops rely on it as instruction to themselves and the faithful.
The problem in this case is that Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, and Nancy Pelosi are trying to dictate ex cathedra their definition of religious expression — in order to curtail it. The Constitution doesn’t allow them to do that, and the bishops are making that point plain.
As most Catholics outside of Capitol Hill know and understand, the bishops speak for the Catholic Church, quite literally within their own dioceses, and in every other way when united as a group. They do not need an ex cathedra declaration to make decisions on public policy (and as I noted above, most of them would go a lifetime without seeing one anyway). Furthermore, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops unanimously oppose the HHS mandate and have called for opposition to it. That is speaking with as much unanimity as one is likely to find within the Catholic Church, and while that doesn’t mean that every Catholic has to agree with it, it does mean that every Catholic should at least recognize that the bishops are indeed speaking for the Church in this matter.
Speaking of which, the Catholic bishops will be participating in today’s rallies, and in a “Fortnight for Freedom” protest that follows (via Asian Conservatives):
Under the leadership of national co-directors Eric Scheidler and Monica Miller, Stand Up For Religious Freedom has built a coalition that includes 96 Catholic and non-Catholic religious and civil rights organizations.
Stand Up For Religions Freedom’s first nationwide rally took place on the anniversary of Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech. Its upcoming event coincides with the 223rd anniversary of James Madison’s introduction of the Bill of Rights to the first U.S. Congress.
The new wave of protests comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the 2010 health care law, under which the contraception mandate was drafted and finalized. The mandate requires employers to purchase plans that include coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so goes against their beliefs.
Soon after the June 8 protests, U.S. Catholics will join with their bishops in a “Fortnight for Freedom” dedicated to religious liberty.
Some may choose to close their ears. Others will hopefully have them opened.