Sunday, March 11, 2012

Foes of the Church would like nothing more than to redirect the current debate over regulatory mandates of the Department of Health and Human Services into a public debate over contraceptives. That would divert attention from the real issue. The real issue is the attempt by one branch of the federal government to redefine what constitutes a religious body and its charitable or faith-based works. The effort is a choking circumscription that removes almost all faith-based organizations from the definition of a religious employer.

Under the definitions of the HHS mandate, no organization can claim exemption as a religious employer if it provides services to persons other than adherents to its own faith. Were this attempt to confine religion not so serious in its implications, it would be almost comical to see the current administration lecture the Catholic Church on health care issues, especially women’s health care. Although Catholic healthcare systems are by far the largest private provider of medical services to women and babies in the United States (sorry, in the world), the present administration does not think that they are religious in identity. And this is because Catholic hospitals don’t turn away the ambulance from the Emergency Department just because the patient is not Catholic.

It’s not a women’s issue either. Centuries ago, when society believed that women had no place receiving education or participating in commerce, Catholic women were founding and administering hospitals and orphanages, human service networks, colleges and universities. And this was done precisely because of our religious identity and purpose, not despite it. The same women administered the business of large religious Orders – hundreds, and often thousands, of women who joined together to teach, to heal, to serve the poor for one reason only: for love of God and service in God’s name. Some of these very hospitals and healthcare systems, together with some of these very charitable and social service organizations, are now being told by the administration that they are not religious in nature (or at least cannot claim a religious exemption to the HHS mandate).

The issue at hand is not contraceptives; it is what defines a religious body and its faith-based works, for purposes of federal regulatory mandates. The first issue is about a government demand that they pay for contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs. What is the next issue? For persons of any religious background this attempt to whittle away at what constitutes a religious body ought to be chilling for what it represents: government intrusion into the very definition of religion. At some point a line must be drawn, and many believe that this is that point.

In other words, Catholics have always put our faith into action, but the current administration believes that by doing so, we no longer qualify as a religious body. In the past, some Catholic politicians sacrificed their beliefs on the altar of public opinion by saying that they were “personally opposed” to certain actions (especially abortion) but would not allow their religious beliefs to influence political decisions and votes. The current administrative mandate takes this one bold step forward: no religious employer is permitted to put their religious beliefs into action. Only if you keep your faith indoors where no one will see it will you continue to qualify as a religion.

Do you understand now what the real issue is? Do you understand now why the Catholic bishops are so upset by this?

The very reason Catholic healthcare treats persons of all faiths, and those of no faith whatsoever, is precisely because of our religious beliefs and our religious identity. We heal the sick of all faiths, because our faith teaches us to value all human life. We clothe and feed the poor of all faiths precisely because our faith respects the dignity of every human person. We educate students young and old of every faith because we value opening every mind to the wonders of God’s creation. And these same values lead us also to the moral conclusion that the taking of human life through abortion or abortion-inducing drugs is fundamentally opposed to the dignity of a human person created by God. The same values lead us to conclude that human sexuality, with its participation in God’s creation of human life, is a gift to be valued and honored, not treated with casual disregard or devalued as merely animal-like lust.

It is irrelevant whether one accepts or questions the Catholic moral conclusion that insists on never separating the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects of human sexuality, such that the intimate sexual bond of husband and wife is never very far from the power to create human life. That is a red herring in the larger context of government whittling away at what constitutes religion in public policy. To understand this larger reality will lead people of all faiths to the conclusion reached by Baptist minister and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, “In this matter, we’re all Catholics.”

Despite a promise of accommodation by the United States President, the final ruling did not change a word. The White House has notified Congress that the mandate has been entered into the Federal Registry “without change.” Despite an invitation to “work out the wrinkles,” the President immediately placed the mandate into practice as a matter of administrative regulation.

If you’re upset by this, please be upset enough to call, write, or visit your federal legislators to insist that they represent your interests in this, and insist that they pass legislation by a veto-proof majority that will prevent government from redefining what constitutes religion and that protects religious freedom.
March 3, 2012
Msgr. William J. King

No comments:

Post a Comment