While the administration continues to play cute with its so-called contraception mandate “accommodation,” the U.S. Catholic bishops remain unimpressed. (For that matter, so does the faculty of Notre Dame law school, as Ed reported earlier.) His Eminence, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, joined Martha MacCallum on America’s Newsroom this morning to explain why.
The president says his accommodation ensures that no religious employer will have to “pay for” or “provide” insurance for contraception; instead, those costs will be shifted to insurers. Ed has already thoroughly dismantled the president’s insurers-must-cover-contraception-at-no-cost-to-anyone idiocy, but Wuerl brought up another point: Many religious employers are self-insured. They have no insurance provider onto whom they can push the cost of contraception insurance.
More importantly, the president’s accommodation doesn’t address the fundamental objection to his administration’s original decision anyway: It still leaves the power to define what constitutes ministry in the hands of the federal government. That’s the real problem, Wuerl said.
“It isn’t the prerogative of the government to announce who does what ministries, what qualifies for ministry and what really defines a church,” he said.
Supporters of the president’s mandate love to toss out statistics that reveal just how many Catholics are in disobedience to the Church on this — as though that’s an excuse to trample religious liberty. Wuerl had a simple response to those supporters.
“The teachings of the Church are never determined by the polls,” he said. “That isn’t the norm for Catholic Church teaching: The Gospel is. Revelation is, not the polls.”
Indeed. In 1968, when Pope Paul VI first delivered the encyclical Humanae Vitae, onlookers were already shocked at the steadfastness of the Church, which secular forces fully expected to conform to the world on contraception. In that letter, the pope predicted that it would be a difficult teaching to accept.
“It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching,” Pope Paul VI wrote. “There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a ‘sign of contradiction.’ She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.”
The pope reminded skeptical members of his flock that following this teaching would be an unexpected source of freedom for them — and he presciently warned that its abandonment would make it easier for national governments to impose their will upon the people.
“Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty?” the pope asked. “Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.”
Given the pope’s prescience, perhaps now would be a good time for Catholics to review the “why” of the Church’s seemingly archaic prohibition of the pill and other artificial forms of contraception — not solely out of a sense of obedience to the magisterium, but also out of a desire to reclaim for themselves their freedom and to proclaim their dignity by self-discipline. Contrary to popular perception, Rome doesn’t ban contraception out of a primitive desire to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. The Church seeks instead to affirm the fullness of the meaning of marriage. It’s a teaching worth exploring even just as a matter of cultural literacy — and there’s no better place to start than Humanae Vitae itself.