For liberals who sided with the church in this controversy, the most vexing problem with the original exemption on contraception is that it defined “religious” so narrowly that the reality that these organizations go out of their way to serve non-Catholics was held against them. Their Gospel-inspired work was defined as non-religious. This violated the very essence of Christian charity and the church’s social justice imperatives.
Some conservative Catholics still insist that the relief from regulation that Obama offered is not enough. I hope they reconsider, especially since the Catholic service providers most affected by the revised rule welcomed it. What bothers liberal Catholics about the arguments advanced by some of our conservative friends is that the Catholic right seems so eager to focus the church’s witness to the world on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research and, now, perhaps, contraception that they would effectively, if not necessarily intentionally, relegate the church’s social justice work and teaching to second-class status.
Liberal Catholics were proud to stand with conservatives in defending the church’s religious liberty rights in carrying out its social and charitable mission. Now, we’d ask conservatives to consider that what makes the Gospel so compelling — especially for the young, many of whom are leaving the church — is the central role it assigns to our responsibilities to act on behalf of the needy, the left-out and the abandoned.
And we’d ask our non-Catholic liberal friends to think about this, too.