Catholic bishop warns HHS mandate will mean an end to Catholic hospitals, clinics, charities

Will Catholic bishops eventually drop their objections to the HHS mandate and comply, even though it would require them to fund and facilitate access to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients like IUDs and “ella” that violate their deeply-held doctrines on the sanctity of life?  Not according to Francis Cardinal George, archbishop of Barack Obama’s home town of Chicago.  In a missive to parishioners on the first Sunday of Lent, Cardinal George warns that the Catholic Church will shut down its hospitals, clinics, and charities before submitting to the mandate — and provides a little history lesson as well:

What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down. …

Since 1915, the Catholic bishops of the United States have taught that basic health care should be accessible to all in a just society. Two years ago, we asked that whatever instruments were crafted to care for all, the Hyde and Weldon and Church amendments restricting funding for abortion and respecting institutional conscience continue to be incorporated into law. They were excluded. As well, the present health care reform act doesn’t cover entire sections of the U.S. population. It is not universal.

The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

The strangest accusation in this manipulated public discussion has the bishops not respecting the separation between church and state. The bishops would love to have the separation between church and state we thought we enjoyed just a few months ago, when we were free to run Catholic institutions in conformity with the demands of the Catholic faith, when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not, when the law protected rather than crushed conscience. The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.

Insofar as advocates of the mandate insist that Catholic bishops are out of touch with their own congregations, Cardinal George exposes this as a big non-sequitur:

Practically, we’re told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesn’t determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.

Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.

Although Cardinal George doesn’t spell this out, this is the crux of the difference between the church and the Obama administration.  Membership in the Catholic Church is voluntary, as is employment in their extended organizations like schools, hospitals, and the like.  If people don’t like the teachings of the church or want to work for an employer willing to give them contraception at no expense, they are free to seek those associations as they like.  Obama and his HHS want to force Catholic organizations to accept the administration doctrine on contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, and force Catholic organizations to fund and facilitate access to them — by declaring which organizations the church runs to be authentically religious and which are not, an arrogance without precedent in the US, although certainly precedents in other political models abound, as Cardinal George points out.

The church may have to demonstrate the proper jurisdiction for that designation, George warns, if the government insists on forcing religious organizations to violate their own principles:

If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.

Catholics may be giving up some luxuries for Lent, but the bishops aren’t giving up this fight.  They seem ready to make this a weekly battle with the Obama administration, and willing to escalate it to the point of closing doors and stopping services, a move that will make the issue acute in many of the areas where Obama normally would draw his most fervent support.

Update: A lot of people in the comments and on Twitter think that closing the Catholic institutions is what Obama has in mind, in order to make people more dependent on government.  Possibly, but the outcome will mean skyrocketing spending and angering a lot of people who will find out just how limited government intervention actually is.  Sounds like one of those ivory-tower solutions that always succeed in theory … kind of like Obamanomics.

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