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US bishops' toxic tussle with Obamacare


'Bishos Vs Obamacare' by Chris JohnstonIn the US, it's an election year, and the atmosphere is toxic. The incumbent president Barak Obama is up for re-election in November. The Republican primaries have taken a lot of airtime.

One of the contested policy issues is Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Many of the US Catholic Bishops have been critical of this law on the ground that it might contribute to even more abortions in the US.

The Catholic religious orders which conduct health facilities are broadly supportive of the law because it would extend basic healthcare to millions of Americans otherwise deprived a basic right. The US Supreme Court is yet to determine the constitutionality of the law.

On 15 February 2012, the US Administration published draft regulations as a follow-up to the ACA. The legislative regime mandates three actions: each person must take out insurance; each employer must provide health cover; and every health plan must include preventive health measures including access to contraception, sterilisation and abortifacients.

Preventive health measures are mandated so as to reduce long term the overall costs of health care. Religious employers who have religious objections to such preventive health measures would be exempt.

On 14 March, the Administrative Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops declared the exemption for religious employers was too restrictive in part because it would apply only to employers who hired and served those primarily of their own faith. But what about Church institutions responding to the gospel imperative to provide health, education or welfare to persons of all faiths and none, employing persons of all faiths and none?

The bishops said, 'We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours.'

Feeling the heat from the bishops, the Obama Administration a week later issued 'a request for comments in advance of proposed rulemaking on the potential means of accommodating such organisations while ensuring contraceptive coverage for plan participants and beneficiaries covered under their plans (or, in the case of student health insurance plans, student enrollees and their dependents) without cost sharing'.

On 12 April 2012, the US Catholic bishops issued a statement on religious liberty entitled 'Our first, most cherished liberty'. The bishops are worried that religious liberty is under attack by an Administration that just does not get it and by an increasingly secularist environment which produces 'a naked public square stripped of religious arguments and religious believers'.

The bishops are not seeking a sacred public square which privileges religious citizens but 'a civil public square, where all citizens can make their contribution to the common good'.

They have asked Catholics to participate in a 'fortnight for freedom' in June–July in the lead up to the elections, and given notice that they intend a campaign of civil disobedience. Claiming that an unjust law is not law at all, they proclaim, 'An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices.'

While highlighting half a dozen concrete examples of religious liberty under attack, the bishops' major concern is the Administration's insistence that contraception be made available to all persons under their health plans. According to the bishops, the preventive services mandate amounts to an unjust law.

Twenty-eight States already require such coverage, and in the past, Catholic institutions such as Catholic universities arranging health insurance for their faculty and students have found a mode of accommodation.

As these church sponsored employers do not themselves provide contraception, they have been able to argue in the past that they are involved only in 'remote material cooperation' with the provision of health insurance which makes contraception available, and this is morally acceptable.

These church related institutions do not provide, counsel or pay for contraception or other practices inconsistent with Church teaching; they simply allow their employees or customers to avail themselves of these practices.

The State is wanting to guarantee a minimum of preventive health measures for all citizens, including the availability of contraception. The bishops are claiming that 'it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilisation, even if it violates their religious beliefs'.

Here in Australia, our taxes and health insurance premiums undoubtedly help to fund abortions, sterilisations, and the provision of contraceptives at more affordable rates. Most Australian Catholics, including most of our bishops, accept that universal health cover includes some remote material cooperation with activities which might not pass muster with the strictest codes of Catholic moral behaviour. We do not lose any sleep over this.

Let's hope the agitation by the US bishops does not lead to a similar campaign here.

If such a campaign were launched in Australia, we would all need to fill in a questionnaire on our tax return and health insurance applications indicating which medical procedures we thought consistent with our consciences informed by Church teaching. The questionnaire in principle could be extended to approval or disapproval of all other taxpayer funded government functions including war and border protection.

We would contribute only to those universally available citizen services of which we morally approved. Very soon, our public square would be toxic too.

Such a proposal would be not only unworkable; it would be wrong. As citizens and taxpayers we are committed to the common good which includes government provision of basic entitlements to all citizens regardless of their religious faith or ability to pay. Living in a pluralistic democratic society, we all need to make compromises.

Indeed it would be wrong for government to force us to cooperate formally in activities of others which we judged morally reprehensible. But we all know that some of our taxes will go towards activities in which we would not engage ourselves or which we think morally questionable.

The US bishops' emphasis on the primacy of conscience is welcome. They observe that 'if we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile', and ask, 'If citizens are not free in their own consciences, how can they be free in relation to others, or to the state?'

But they do not consider the conscience of those in Catholic organisations who think that their employees should have access to preventive health services at affordable rates, provided only that they do not have to be formally involved in the provision of the services.

There is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own church to act according to a rightly formed and informed conscience on matters relating not to their own faith and morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society.

To invoke conscience against Obama while imposing an iron Vatican will on all Church organisations does raise questions, and not just with the secularists in the public square.

Two years ago when warning of threats to religious freedom in the US, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, one of the intellectual leaders of the US bishops, said: 'I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.'

Thankfully none of our bishops has had cause to sound so shrill here in Australia. Let's hope we can keep our public square less toxic and more accommodating than the American one. 


Frank BrennanFr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University and adjunct professor at the College of Law and the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. 

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, US Catholic Bishops, Obamacare, Affordable Care Act



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Myra | 07 May 2012  

Gosh Frank, the toxic tussle within the Australian CBC in own back yard would be more relevant, especially with the programme aired on the ABC last night. Who could bear to watch it through to the end?

L Newington | 07 May 2012  

This is another example of the American religious right taking over politics and using abortion and contraception as a scapegoat (add in homosexual rights to that too). How does providing a comprehensive health plan equate to encouraging abortions? If someone wants an abortion, they can get it and let God be their judge. But to pre-emptively prevent the whole population from access to real healthcare for that reason is not something that merits the high moral ground that Cardinal Francis George pretends the church holds. This is merely a face-saving superficial power play and at risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, an endorsement of the Republics why Catholic men who wear red frocks.

AURELIUS | 07 May 2012  

May I firstly tell a story about a Melbourne surgeon who was operating on a woman, Catholic mother of three children. She had an extensive abdominal cancer and while removing it he cut her fallopian tubes. It seems to me that this was appropriate surgical practice. He also knew that a fourth pregnancy would be possibly fatal and personally disastrous for his patient.A zealous Catholic nurse reported him to the Hospital Board and now he is banned from that hospital. May I secondly note that Catholic men and women have voted with their feet, as it were. Population and other statistics show that Catholics practice birth control as much as non-Catholics do and they have as many abortions as non-Catholics do. Do Catholics now care about what their Bishops say?

Gerry Costigan | 07 May 2012  

Zealous Catholic nurse, Catholic mother. Catholic doctor? Catholic hospital? You never mentioned that Gerry. A well known Catholic journalist let the cat out of the bag when stating a well established Melbourne Catholic private hospital was dealing with women 'in situations created by clergy' unable to maintain the vow of celibacy/chastity, still operational in the 1980's. If the same one, there were no complaints there.

L Newington | 07 May 2012  

Thankyou for this well thought out article. I am a Catholic doctor and it saddens me how the American hierarchy are acting like the pharisees in the gospels, who were condemned by Jesus for heaping burdens on others and not lifting a finger to help. Health care decisions must be made between the patient and doctor, not between the patient and employer. The American system needs to be removed from employer control. From what I have read, the Pope and American bishops are trying to block the re-election of President Obama, because they fear that he will make them accountable for their complicity in the clergy sexual abuse of innocent children. As a physician, I have met many who have been sexually abused by priests. Neither the Pope nor the American bishops want to be made accountable for what they have let happen.

Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh | 08 May 2012  

Thanks to L. Newington for the queries about my last entry. Yes, it was a Catholic Doctor and a Catholic Hospital.

Gerry Costigan | 08 May 2012  

-----The Jesuits Joan of Arch ?- Only God Knows--- Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva-Eric Bridiers. Washington D.C., May 7, 2012 / 12:47 pm -Georgetown University is drawing strong criticism for inviting U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to speak at a ceremony during its commencement weekend. “Georgetown insults all Americans by this honor,” said Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick J. Reilly. In a letter to Georgetown President John DeGioia, Reilly called it “scandalous and outrageous” that America’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university would provide such a “prestigious platform” to a Catholic who supports abortion and has played a key role in launching the controversial contraception mandate that threatens the continued existence of many Catholic institutions. On May 4, Georgetown announced Sebelius as one of several speakers chosen for this year. She will address Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute at an award ceremony on May 18. Georgetown holds individual graduation ceremonies for each of its undergraduate and professional schools, as well as several other award ceremonies. The announcement came one day before Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of U.S. bishops and emphasized the need for Catholic colleges to remain faithful to Church teaching. In 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document entitled “Catholics in Political Life,” in which they stated that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Sebelius has come under fire after announcing a federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs. Catholic bishops from every diocese in the United States have spoken out against the mandate and the threat that it poses to religious freedom. They have warned that the regulation could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to cease their services. Sebelius also has a long history of support for abortion, both in her current position and as governor of Kansas, where she opposed restrictions on abortion and vetoed pro-life legislation. In a May 2008 column in the Kansas City Catholic newspaper The Leaven, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said that he had met with Sebelius several times about her support for abortion and had asked her to refrain from receiving the Eucharist until she had “made a worthy sacramental confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life.” In announcing Sebelius as a speaker, Georgetown said that “she has led efforts to improve America’s health and enhance the delivery of human services to some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.”

Myra | 08 May 2012  

The Hierarchy seem to be unable to distinguish between ideals and what is practical. Where Jesus would say, "Let anyone accept this, who can", (Mt.19:12), The Hierarchy seem to be claiming:- " The Ideals we propose areyour conscience. They must be followed."

Robert Liddy | 10 May 2012  

This is the best article I have read on the Obamacare issue. I think Australian catholics have long since given up on their Bishops as leaders, although there are some magnificent exceptions. A significant number of our laity are better academically qualified and more worldly wise than any Bishop to speak on our behalf. Eureka Street is proof of this. I suspect the USA is in a similar position. The people of God use contraception. They have for a quarter of a century. They also use their own consciences as Vatican two suggested they should. At least one of our Australian church leaders has never accepted, nor I believe, understood what this means. The double standard of following one's own moral judgment has never been more apparent than what is now happening in the case of the American Bishops. Follow your conscience when it suits us but do as commanded when it does not. Well those days of blind obedience are over. I look to the church for one thing and only one, the nourishment of the sacraments. For the present, I am convinced it is incapable of providing me with more.

grebo | 10 May 2012  

I imagine that the so-called level of toxicity will remain very high in both positions, unless we maintain that abortions as such help to clear the air or that the fundamental principle such as the respect for the vulnerable and defenceless gets thrown out of the window.

Tony | 10 May 2012  

Another clear piece on a muddy subject by Frank. As re the Georgetown fracas, I am reminded of a similar uproar recently when Notre Dame chose to honor and welcome the President of the United States. A roar of protest: how could the nation's leading Catholic university welcome and honor who supports abortion? (No mention of his conducting wars, or allowing prisoners to be executed, but the seamless garment argument, however brilliant, has never taken firm hold, sad to say). The most intelligent remark in the whole roar came from Notre Dame's president emeritus, Father Ted Hesburgh, a man in his nineties: hmm, why would you not invite one of the most powerful and influential people on earth to the campus of the leading Catholic university, where you would have a chance to talk about one of the most pressing moral issues in history? Duh.

Brian Doyle | 10 May 2012  

I found the following article to be very enlightening on the legal issues involved. Basically the author argues that "Obamacare" is against the US constitution as it overreaches the reasonable bounds of the government's power. It boils down to the fact that the government does not have the power to force a citizen to buy this product. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/11/natural-rights-trump-obamacare-or-should

John Ryan | 10 May 2012  

This coming from Fr Brennan is, as expected, a well argued case, particularly in his plea that we in Australia do not create a toxic space for The Church in the public domain. That is, of course, desirable but unfortunately we have already managed to produce the sort of toxic space that has driven many priests and religious away from Catholism, together with some 85% of census (2006)-proclaimed Catholics. There may be some who might suggest that this has happened because of the appalling lack of courage in the public domain of bishops, priests and religious in Australia; lack of courage to deal with child abusers, to teach against the wanton destruction of human life, to teach the tenets of Catholic belief in our schools, to be identified as contrary to public opinion, to be identified in public with the Church. Those who do possess the courage to stand up are ridiculed, disrespected and publicly abused not only by the non-Catholic public but also by their gutless own. (The cardinal being a prime example). There is always one thing that we should never accomodate, however, and that is the deliberate destruction of human life under any circumstances whatever and should not fertilise the ground for this heinous crime on the groungs of human compassion or economic imperatives. We should not provide the forum for pro-killers to put their debate on the floor of our Catholic universities in the interests of just inclusion of all views (there is nothing just in the destruction of human life). Neither should we deride in the name of social justice the American bishops who recently sorted out the renegade nuns(8000 in number from a total of 54,000), some of whom have, again in the name of social justice, worked in abortion clinics in the USA. Clearly, I am one of those ratbag doctors who has spent many years opposing abortion, euthanasia and many aspects of Medicare (particularly the deaths arising from the economic rationalism of the system) in the public domain and have yet to experience any personal toxicity.(Plenty of time left to do so, I suppose). What Obama and his ilk are trying to do is simply implement the barbarism of economic management of human life based on the ethic of self rather than on the basis of Western Civilisation, the Judeo- Christian ethic, which teaches that human life is created in God's image; that is, that it has both human and spiritual components (like God) and ultimately belongs to God. Therefore, Frank, I think I am a little at odds with you today but make no apologies for being a little "shrill", unlike our bishops.

john frawley | 10 May 2012  

All citizens including all Catholics should not accept abortion, contraception, sterilisation,IVF,euthanasia, usury and same sex marriage. These actions are Mortal Sins which offend God greatly. Salvation to heaven should be the goal of all people. Our lord said many are called but few are chosen. With rampant secularism and sins of the flesh being pushed so hard by Hollywood, magazines, television and the media in general, people have lost sight of purity, modesty and obedience to the Divine Law. It is time that all the religious and laity of the Catholic Church become once more the Church Militant and attempt to wipe out socities' pre-occupation with sex, and help and pray to stop all abortions and all the evils of this modern evil society that is been pushed on us by anti-Catholic governments, media and even by some of our own supposed Church leaders who wish to change God's Law with their own version of Law by man not God. If so many "Catholics" are in faavour of abortion, contraception, same sex marriage etc, they are not True Catholics and do not have the True Faith which is a gift from God. Again, Many are called but FEW are chosen- those that have true Faith and obey the Laws of God not men. The fires of Hell are true and there is no universal Salvation. From all the teachings Church Fathers and from the Gospel and New Testament, there are many more souls in Hell than in Heaven.

Trent | 10 May 2012  

Yet another example of the dangers and the folly of allowing religions any place in the running of nation states.

janice wallace | 10 May 2012  

The availability of this health care insurance does not compel people to avail themselves of contraception, abortion, or any other service. The individual makes that decision. Conscience can only be exercised by the individual, not by the institution nor the Conference of Bishops. It seems that the bishops, themselves, are seeking to inhibit the exercise of conscience. It smacks of scandal to be trying to block Obama's legislation which will benefit the poorest and most vulnerable people in the society.

Greg Bunbury | 10 May 2012  

Such a clear and concise statement, and how terrible if we had to deal with these issues, here in Australia. While I definitely respect human life across the spectrum from life in the womb to death, there is another issue here of life giving justice to the poor and marginalised, who often die because they cannot afford any medical care. This is also a grave issue, ask any doctor or nurse who has worked there. I wish the US Bishops would at least acknowledge the great initiative taken by the Obama Administration to reach out to the poor. I would hazard a guess that no US bishop is without health care when required.

Margaret M.Coffey | 10 May 2012  

Why is it that Catholic Bishops never seem to have any faith that their flock (being the lucky recipients the Catholic church's infallible, humanely egalitarian and relevant teachings, influence and example of morality that they are) will all be good little Catholics who would never, ever, have any reason to partake of "health measures including contraception, sterilisation and abortifacients"? A major explanation is that the only thing the Bishops value and respect is their own outraged sense of entitlement to power and influence, which they euphemistically refer to as "conscience".

Michelle Goldsmith | 10 May 2012  

Thank you Fr Brennan for such a sensibly reasoned article. But wow!...some of the comments it has elicited are pretty extreme. The US bishops are making themselves look ridiculous on this issue, and instead of doing everything to support universal healthcare for the poor, are doing quite the opposite. Jesus himself gave an excellent lead on these issues...it is the duty of Christians to pay levied tax to legitimate authorities even if you don`t agree with everything it may be spent on. And employers in the USA pay what is essentially just tax to contribute towards their employees` health costs. That may well be a daft way to fund a health system, but that is not the primary point here.

Eugene | 10 May 2012  

If the US bishops are happy to stump up to support women and children, then maybe they have an argument.

David Arthur | 10 May 2012  

There's a much easier way to reconcile the pro-life position with our nationalized health scheme (if we insist on having one) than the convoluted mechanism Fr Brennan suggests: Commit the National Health Scheme to underwrite only those services that address diseases. Since pregnancy is not a disease, then measures to prevent it (contraception) or "cure" it (abortion) won't find a place on the benefits list, any more than will tattooing, tanning, a haircut or recreational drugs. Novel idea, I know, that a National Health Scheme only address genuine health issues. But it's so out there, it might just work. And of course, compromise: those under the illusion that they are entitled to have this non-disease "treated" will be permitted to shop around for a private insurer that will cover them. This is not hard! In sum, under the current arrangement, many people are being forced to pay health taxes for others' non-disease procedures they find morally repugnant. Under my proposed arrangement, no-one is forcing their morality on anyone. Isn't mine the better arrangement for a pluralist society? Excellent points, Dr Frawley.

HH | 10 May 2012  

We need to remember that it is a health care plan that Obama is putting forward, and prevention and treatment of disease is a great thing. However, contraception and abortion and sterilisation don't prevent or treat disease. Fertility is not a disease that needs to be prevented or treated neither is pregnancy a disease that needs to be prevented or treated and a child is certainly not a disease that needs to be prevented or treated. As catholics, who believe these things are not in the best interests of anyone, and are being forced to participate in these things through supposed health-care, is appalling. There should be a conscience clause at least. Well done American Bishops for standing up for Catholic truth. Hopefully one day in Australia we will have a similar 'toxic' public square.

Rosella | 10 May 2012  

Trent, what you say may or may not be so, but you haven't addressed the issue that Frank raised. Is it reasonable for the US bishops to oppose Obama's health care legislation in toto? By the way, you mention the need to 'wipe out socities' (sic) pre-occupation with sex' and I am reminded of Jesus' comments on motes and beams. Perhaps you could start by wiping out the Catholic Church's own extraordinary preoccupation with sex and the negative consequences that flow from the nature of that preoccupation.

Ginger Meggs | 10 May 2012  

The other thing that the US Catholic bishops seem not to have taken into consideration is that if they do not offer at least contraception and sterilisation as part of the healthcare package for their employees, they will have a great deal of difficulty in attracting employees who are not practising Catholics, and not even all practising Catholics will be happy about it. Not an ethical issue, of course, but very definitely an economic one, assuming that the US economy recovers to the point where people are no longer taking any job that comes along.

Judy Redman | 10 May 2012  

What would Jesus do? Hmm let me think? He would write the unmentional sins of those men in the sand and say to the unfortunate woman needing an abortion "Go and sin no more".

good catholic girl | 10 May 2012  

Yes of course side with the person, Frank, who may facilitate more abortions - of course people who have reasonable doubts about this course of action must be dreadful - how dare they interfere with an easy abortion mentality disguised as care for the poor. I have yet to hear Frank Brennan express support for more homes for pregnant women in difficult situation financed by the Catholic church. Yes, let's keep the debate on the level of talk. Walking the walk and saving lives means engaging with the poor and that takes time.

Skye | 10 May 2012  

Thank you Father Frank. It is good to read the voice of moderation. Although it may be imperfect,Obama care attempts to address a great social injustice being the lack of universal access to health care in the USA. In opposing this, the church appears to care more about power than justice. Shame, Shame.

Dr Martina Gleeson | 10 May 2012  

Rosella, in your contribution, you have expressed the views of many thousands of Catholics who love and are prepared to defend our Holy Catholic Faith. Yes well done American Bishops for standing up for Catholic truth.In Australia we are blessed to have Cardinal Pell and new Bishops who are prepared to stand up for Catholic truth.

Ron Cini | 10 May 2012  

Not 'good catholic girl', but a wise one. I have often referred to the same sayings of Jesus, to the same pontificating 'wise men' slinking away one by one, when each of their names is written in the sand. How can they throw the first stone.

L Newington | 10 May 2012  

I am surprised that a professor of law should give the impression that there is an equivilance between the proposed ObamaCare legistation and laws already in place in 28 US states. The ObamaCare 'exemptions' are much more limited than the exemptions given to religious believers and others. Of the 28, 20 give much broader exemptions then those proposed by ObamaCare. Prof. Brennan does not mention this, nor does he go into any detail as to how Catholic institutions actually deal with the situation in the remaining 8. And, as we know, its in the detail that we find the devil.

Peter John McGregor | 11 May 2012  

Men telling women what to do with their bodies. How novel. The obsession of the Catholic church with abortion would be funny if it weren't denying poor women basic rights. And the bishops should be ashamed of themselves for putting this weird obsession (which is just misogyny wearing a mitre) ahead of the right of all Americans to access affordable healthcare.

Penelope | 11 May 2012  

Under HH and FRAWLEY's arguments public funds shouldn't be used to create maternity wards to deliver babies either (obstetrics) as pregnancy and child birth are not diseases. Are you suggesting women should be forced to have home births?

AURELIUS | 11 May 2012  

Aurelius: rightly said - pregnancy and childbirth are not in themselves diseases or ailments. And it is the purpose of hospital delivery units, labour wards, etc to keep mother and baby as free as possible of diseases, ailments, mishaps, etc, during the process of pregnancy and childbirth. Hence they clearly qualify under my scheme.

HH | 11 May 2012  

Thank you for a very thought proving analysis, I do hope and pray Australia does not follow suit. I am greatly saddened that the Catholic Bishops are considering joining the extreme religious fringe in opposing Obama. It is small wonder so many turn their backs on the Church, which is seen to be irrelevant. Marie Ryan

Marie D.Ryan | 11 May 2012  

Fr Brennan totally misrepresents what the bishops (and millions of other people of all faiths and none) are saying in objection to this proposed law. They are objecting not "on the ground that it might contribute to even more abortions" (it probably won't) but on the ground that millions of people who have moral objections to abortion, sterilization and contraception will be forced to provide and pay for abortions, sterilizations and contraceptives, or else be punished with massive fines (and be gaoled if they fail to pay the fines). This is a totally unacceptable denial of human rights, of freedom of conscience and of freedom to practise one's chosen religion. It's nice to know that you Father, "accept", and "do not lose any sleep over" the fact that our "health insurance premiums undoubtedly fund abortions, sterilisations, and the provision of contraceptives". But please don't claim that "most Catholics" or "most bishops" share your views.

Sharon | 11 May 2012  

Ginger Meggs, where do you get the idea that the "US bishops oppose Obama's health care legislation in toto"? In fact the bishops' statements have repeatedly pointed out that they strongly endorse the overall idea of a national health insurance scheme and that they and their predecessors have been calling for it since 1919! And that their ONLY objection to the law is to that part of the regulations which forces people against their consciences to pay for abortions, sterilizations and contraceptives, or else face massive fines.

Sharon | 11 May 2012  

Penelope, who is it who has an "obsession with abortion"? Obama's very first act upon being elected President was to do away, with one stroke of the pen, every single last one of the dozens of (relatively minor) restrictions on abortion which had been enacted after lengthy debates over the previous 35 years.

Sharon | 11 May 2012  

Penelope, a child in a mother's womb is not the "woman's own body". To claim that it is flies in the face of science and biological truth. Such platitudes are simply designed by the abortion lobby to justify its position.

john frawley | 11 May 2012  

Sharon, I think it's important to recognise the differences between the US context and the Australian one. Our primary insurance system is funded by the state from taxes and our secondary one is heavily subsidised by taxes. For reasons known only to themselves, Americans abhor universal tax-funded health insurance and so the voluntary employer-funded model has developed. Obama has sought, within the limits of what is politically possible in the US context, to extend this voluntary employer-funded system to those many who have not been covered in the past. By making insurance compulsory he is In effect imposing a 'Clayton's tax' - the tax you have when you are not having a tax. And as Frank rightly points out, the nature of a tax is such that one can't choose to opt in or out of it.

In the US context, that means that if every person is to be able to access the same scope of insurance cover, no employee, or more importantly no employer, should be able to opt out of any part of that scope. Granted, it's a messy arrangement, but short of a government funded system as we have here and in the UK and in most other civilised countries, but which is an anathema to the US, what is the alternative?

Ginger Meggs | 12 May 2012  

-----NARAL’s pro-abortion president, Nancy Keenan, announced today she will resign her position at the end of the year to help the pro-abortion group overcome one of the problems plaguing the pro-abortion movement — a lack of young leaders..Keenan said part of her focus is to get younger pro-abortion activists into top leadership roles, at a time when polls are showing the next generation of American leaders is pro-life...Emily Buchanan, of the Susan B. Anthony List, told LifeNews that a change at the top doesn’t affect the fact that younger Americans are trending pro-life.

“No change in leadership will change the fact that NARAL and their pro-abortion allies are losing ground. Polls show more and more Americans moving to the pro-life position and state legislatures taking on increasing measures to protect Life. NARAL’s position of abortion for any reason, any time, paid for taxpayers simply does not resonate with the American public,” she said

A 2010 internal NARAL survey examined the views of young Americans and found a stark “intensity gap” on abortion. Some 51 percent of the under 30 voters who are pro-life call opposing abortion a “very important” voting issue compared with just 26 percent of abortion backers. The poll found a pro-life gap, too, with older voters but it was smaller.

At that time, Keenan talked about the emerging pro-life generation with Newsweek and said her concern is that abortion advocates are dominated by women over the age of 50 and that younger generations aren’t filling the ranks of pro-abortion groups the same way young pro-life advocates are getting involved in the pro-life community.

Anecdotally, Keenan related the story of getting off her train in Washington during the weekend of the March for Life, which saw 400,000 pro-life advocates fill the nation’s capital to rally against abortion.

She saw huge numbers of teenagers and young adults that she doesn’t typically see at pro-abortion rallies.

“I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”
Exract from : NARAL Prez to Resign: Says Pro-Choice Side Getting Too Old

by Steven Ertelt | Washington, DC | LifeNews.com | 5/10/12 6:18 PM-----It was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger-(Romans 9:12)-----

Myra | 12 May 2012  

GM, the alternative is the recognition that pregnancy is not a disease. So contraception and abortion are not cures of some ailment. Those who think they are, are wrong-headed. Now, will you disagree with that? If so, what is your medically-based evidence?

HH | 12 May 2012  

Thanks HH, a good question, albeit a bit like 'should we pay tribute to Caesar?. But it's also off-topic. Frank's article is not questioning the official Church view on contraception and abortion, nor have I in the comments I made above. Frank's articles, and my comments, are about which is the greater good, or lesser evil if you like; of digging-in with one's own conscience even at the cost of denying affordable and quality health care to others who see things differently, or accepting some accommodation which allows those with troubled consciences to remain remote from service delivery, whilst ensuring that those who want and need affordable services have access to them.

Ginger Meggs | 13 May 2012  

Ginger, you misunderstand and/or misrepresent me. I have no problem whatsoever with the idea of Obama's "Clayton's tax" model to pay for MEDICAL treatment. In fact I agree with the bishops that it's an excellent idea. The ONLY objection which I, and the Bishops, and millions of ordinary US citizens have to the proposed law, is Obama's determination to extend the plan to cover the NON-medical expenses of abortion, sterilization and contraception which they and I have moral objections to, and which it is totally unjust to force them to pay for. Yes the Australian system is somewhat different from Obama's proposed system but only insofar that in Australia it is a little more indirectly that we taxpayers are forced to pay for abortion, sterilization and contraception through the Medicare Levy and in many cases through private health insurance schemes which we are financially penalised by the government of we don't join if above a certain income. Of course Fr Brennan doesn't lose any sleep over this as being a member of a religious order he has no personal property or income and pays no personal income tax or Medicare Levy, and presumably has no need to take out private health insurance, as whatever medical treatment he needs he receives pro bono from Catholic health practitioners and Catholic hospitals.

Sharon | 14 May 2012  

Thanks Sharon, I may have misunderstood you, but I certainly didn't intend to misrepresent you. Nor do I dispute the facts as you put them in your latest posting, although I think you are a being more than a little rough on Frank for suggesting that reason he doesn't lose sleep on this issue is because he may not pay tax personally. And I understand the importance of conscience. But one of the points that Frank is making, I think, is that one of the personal costs of living in a pluralistic community in the real world is that sometimes we have to accept that we need to make compromises. Another is, I think, that we can hardly use our own consciences as the justification for preventing others from acting according to their own consciences where they have conscientiously reached a different conclusion to us.

Ginger Meggs | 14 May 2012  

To clarify Sharon's misperception as to why I do not lose sleep over taxes and health insurance premiums going towards wars, border protection policies, and medical procedures of which I do not personally approve: being a Jesuit and a university professor, I do not own property; I do pay income tax; I do pay the medicare levy; and I do pay for private health insurance. One of the costs in living in a pluralistic democratic society is that government will commit tax revenues to things of which I do not approve.

Frank Brennan SJ | 14 May 2012  

Fr Brennan: "There is a risk that the US bishops are escalating a campaign of civil disobedience in the name of conscience when they are not willing to allow members of their own church to act according to a rightly formed and informed conscience on matters relating not to their own faith and morals but to civil entitlements of others in a pluralistic democratic society." "RIGHTLY formed"? (emph. added) Gosh, who could argue with this proposition? Pretty much tautological.

HH | 14 May 2012  

Ginger, you certainly misrepresent me to claim that I, or the bishops or anyone,"use our own consciences as the justification for preventing others from acting according to their own consciences where they have conscientiously reached a different conclusion to us." Nobody in this debate has suggested that people who regard abortion, sterilization and contraception as immoral, should be allowed to PREVENT anybody else from doing them. All three are cheaply/freely and easily available to any adult in Australia and the USA, and there is no suggestion this will change. The immoral use of force is in the OTHER direction - Obama wants those who (presumably) claim to have conscientiously concluded that abortion, sterilization and contraception are moral, be allowed to force those who regard them as immoral to provide and pay for them.

Sharon | 14 May 2012  

Fr Frank, I don't want to pry into your personal affairs, but I'm puzzled why you should have to pay income tax and the Medicare levy and require private health insurance? This can't be right. Surely the fees for your university duties are paid to the Jesuit order and are not taxable? I'm sure you know that this is not about "things the Government pays for of which we don't personally approve". Hey I don't approve of probably most of the things that Governments pay for. It's about morality. If an act is intrinsically immoral (such as abortion, sterilization and contraception) it can't possibly be immoral for you and me and moral for somebody else. Pluralism and democracy are not moral relativism. You have actually had quite a lot to say in public calling for the government to stop spending money on wars and border protection policies of which you disapprove. I can't say I've seen you do the same about the government to stop spending money on abortion, sterilization and contraception.

Sharon | 14 May 2012  

GM, it’s so easy to advocate “accommodation”. It’s like motherhood. Who’s against that (Obama admin excepted)? The hard bit is to draw a clear line between accommodation and rank capitulation. The “shrill” US Bishops see that the deal is stacked against justice for those for whom the Church is batting (everyone ultimately, including significantly the unborn), and that to accede to it is outright capitulation. See, shrill as they are viewed by some, they have accommodated already. For they have not insisted – as they could in principle, and not even on purely religious grounds – that abortion and contraception are manifestly not health care, and thus shouldn’t be on the schedule of any official health insurer, as this forces premium-payers into paying for non-health items and diverts funds away from other genuine health items, thus making universal health care much more difficult to achieve. No: all the Bishops have said is, “If you go ahead with this, just don’t involve Catholic institutions in this small part of the system.” Obama, on the other hand, has offered no compromise whatsoever, thereby fomenting the “toxic” debate which so distresses the irenic Fr Brennan. Let’s not kid ourselves about the Obama workaround, in which insurers are the ones who pay for contraception and abortion, as if they won’t promptly pass on the slug to Catholic institutions by way of higher premiums. Who’s he trying to fool (apart from liberal Catholics, who are never good at economics)? If “shrill” and “toxic” apply to this stoush, it’s Obama who must fess up, not the U.S. bishops.

HH | 14 May 2012  

Your last sentence says it all: "Let's hope we can keep our public square ... more accommodating ..."
It seems to me you propose an accomodation that would amount to a complete surrender, not to Christ but to the black standard.

Peter Thygesen | 15 May 2012  

I find it offensive when I read of Catholic opinion being presented when in fact it is merely Roman Catholic opinion. The rest of the Catholic church has to bear the shame of the Roman branch.

graham patison | 19 May 2012  

I find it offensive when I see people describe Catholics by the bigoted protestant-invented term Roman Catholic (which Catholics have never used) implying that the Catholic Church is merely a "branch" of the Church which Christ founded and that protestants comprise other "branches". The vast majority of protestants who have the basic politeness to call Catholics by their proper name which they call themselves, have to bear the shame of this small minority of protestant bigots.

Sharon | 21 May 2012  

So now even the liberal Notre Dame University is joining the US bishops suing the Obama Administration over the HHS mandate! And columnists for the ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter are in sympathy!! Let me repeat that: the NCR! Maybe, just maybe, the US Bishops are onto something, and you've got the wrong end of the stick, Fr Brennan.

HH | 22 May 2012  

A list of entities suing the Obama administration over the mandate: 1. D.D.C. Lawsuit o Archdiocese of Washington o Consortium of Catholic Academies o Archbishop Carroll High School o Catholic Charities of D.C. o The Catholic University of America 2. E.D.N.Y. Lawsuit o Diocese of Rockville Centre o Catholic Health Services of Long Island o Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre o Archdiocese of N.Y. o ArchCare 3. W.D.Pa. (Erie Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Erie o St. Martin Center o Prince of Peace Center 4. W.D.Pa. (Pitt. Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Pittsburgh o Catholic Charities of Diocese of Pittsburgh o Catholic Cemeteries Association of Diocese of Pittsburgh 5. N.D.Tex. (Dallas Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Dallas 6. N.D.Tex. (Fort Worth Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Fort Worth 7. S.D. Ohio (Columbus Div.) Lawsuit o Franciscan University of Steubenville o Michigan Catholic Conference 8. S.D.Miss. (Gulfport Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Jackson o Catholic Charities of Jackson o Vicksburg Catholic School o St. Joseph’s Catholic School o Diocese of Biloxi o De l’Epee Deaf Center Inc. o Catholic Social & Community Services Inc. o Resurrection Catholic School o Sacred Heart Catholic School o St. Dominic Health Services 9. N.D.Ind. (South Bend Div.) Lawsuit o The University of Notre Dame 10. N.D. Ind. (Fort Wayne Div.) Lawsuit o Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend o Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend o St. Anne Home o Franciscan Alliance o Our Sunday Visitor o University of St. Francis 11. N.D.Ill. Lawsuit o Diocese of Joliet o Catholic Charities of Joliet o Diocese of Springfield o Catholic Charities of Springfield 12. E.D.Mo. (St. Louis Div.) o Archdiocese of St. Louis o Catholic Charities of St. Louis

Myra | 23 May 2012  

Father Brennan the issue is not the toxicity of the atmosphere nay rather the toxicity of the womb and environs. The sang froid of remote cooperation in the holocaust was the Nuremberg plea of Goering, Von Ribbentrop, Speer 'et alibi aliorum..' offering free 'available' transport to suggested finer pastures[ lionised on Goebbels movie docs], Nuremberg learned defence attorneys pleaded antiseptically remote cooperation re free available showers. I find the US bishops' issue much much less remote than the 'Austalian taxation' comparison vis a vis the abortocaust .obviously I dont share Father's Nuremberg casuistry. I do however, applaud the reasoned position of the president of the Catholic University of America http://youtu.be/eQVBHVjhmCY

Father John Michael George | 23 May 2012  

Perhaps I had done Speer a disservice; Albert Speer at Nuremberg Trials unsuspectingly articulated the unmitigated momentousness of collective responsibility, versus "let-others-take-responsibility", above or below! During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime's actions: "In political life, there is a responsibility for a man's own sector. For that he is of course fully responsible. But beyond that there is a collective responsibility when he has been one of the leaders." [Albert Speers,wickipaedia] The US Bishops embrace their collective responsibility, for the unborn and Catholic bioethics. Thereby they repudiate hiding behind remote control escape clauses, that epitomised the Nuremberg condemned

Father John Michael George | 23 May 2012  

A breakthrough at state level[may 11] http://www.diocesephoenix.org/news.php?newsmonth=201205&story=72582619

Father John Michael George | 23 May 2012  

Fr Brennan's 'don't-lose-any-sleep' ethic on immoral use of our taxes [vis a vis US HHS ISSUE] needs bettering indeed besting. Catholic World report argues much more AD REM: "'Obeying the mandate and paying taxes' While there are some similarities between providing coverage for these immoral practices[re HHS] and paying taxes, which are then used by the government to fund some immoral practices, there are some important differences. The HHS mandate requires employers to provide coverage specifically for immoral practices, which they had previously been exempt from doing. The very purpose of the mandate is to provide insurance for contraception, etc. That being the case, to purchase such insurance for one’s employees, even as part of a policy that covers many truly good health care services, is to deliberately pay for drugs and procedures which are violations of the moral law, and their own consciences. This is not the same thing as paying taxes which go into a general fund from which the government takes money to pay for all its projects, including some that are immoral. Citizens are not asked to pay taxes (or perhaps even more in taxes) specifically for immoral practices. And no religious body is asked, as a matter of policy, explicitly to fund immoral practices in violation of its held beliefs."

Father John Michael George | 30 May 2012  

Peter Steinfels from Commonweal gets to the nub of the issue when he says: “For most people, being exempt on moral or religious grounds from directly taking part in some action, like bearing arms or performing an abortion or eating forbidden foods or undergoing forbidden medical procedures, is quite different from paying taxes or insurance premiums that fund a wide variety of social measures for others, including some measures one finds morally objectionable. Quakers may be exempt on religious grounds from fighting in combat; they are not exempt from paying the taxes that support the Defense Department. Jehovah’s Witnesses may be exempt from participating in the classroom Pledge of Allegiance; they are not exempt from paying school taxes. The bishops are not only blurring this common-sense line in a way that may come back to haunt them, they are also pushing the claim to religious exemption from indirect support beyond that of religious organizations to that of any individual employer or employee with religious objections to contraceptive services. This opens vast problems and actually undermines the USCCB’s original concern about the HHS definition of exempt and nonexempt religious organizations.”

Frank Brennan | 01 June 2012  

As noted in my article the Obama Administration in March 2012 issued “a request for comments in advance of proposed rulemaking on the potential means of accommodating (religious) organisations while ensuring contraceptive coverage for plan participants and beneficiaries covered under their plans (or, in the case of student health insurance plans, student enrollees and their dependents) without cost sharing”.

On 15 June 2012, the Catholic Health Association of the US responded to this request making two significant demands:

1. it is imperative for the Administration to abandon the narrow definition of “religious employer” and instead use an expanded definition to exempt from the contraceptive mandate not only churches, but also Catholic hospitals, health care organizations and other ministries of the Church;

2. if the Departments unfortunately continue to pursue the course that all employees must have access to contraceptive services without cost, then the government will need to develop a way to pay for and provide such services directly to those employees who desire such coverage without any direct or indirect involvement of (all) religious employers.

Frank.Brennan SJ | 19 June 2012  

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