Having failed to convince American Catholics to follow their hard-line ban on contraception, American Catholic bishops are ignoring the consciences of those who work for them by seeking to impose their extremist beliefs on all women, Catholic or otherwise.
The current issue of course is the January 20th announcement by the Obama administration’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, that religious organizations could delay but not opt out of a requirement that all health plans cover contraception and sterilization in health-insurance coverage.
Catholic bishops across the United States have begun not just a spirited but a fierce anti-Obama administration campaign.
New York’s next cardinal, Archbishop Timothy Dolan feels “terribly let down, disappointed and disturbed.” In Phoenix, on January 25th, Bishop Thomas Olmsted declared: “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”
Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh, in a column titled “To hell with you,” wrote that the Obama administration is saying: “To hell with your religious beliefs. To hell with your religious liberty. To hell with your freedom of conscience. We’ll give you a year, they are saying, and then you have to knuckle under.”
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., enlisted the aid of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting “this unprecedented governmental assault upon the moral convictions of our faith.” In a January 24th letter to Catholics in Peoria, Bishop Jenky has mandated that the prayer of St. Michael be recited “for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America” during Sunday Masses at every parish, school, hospital, Newman center, and religious house in the diocese. Older Catholics will remember that that prayer ends: “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil” and “cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
What’s happening here?
Who’s view of reality is more “real”?
Who’s understanding of “conscience” is more authentic.
Where do we go from here?
With all due respect to bishops Dolan, Olmsted, Zubik, and Jenky, I find the vision of my old moral theologian hero, Bernhard Häring, much more real and certainly much more hope-giving:
“Despite a certain trend towards conservatism in parts of the church and society, I am convinced that we have moved into a new era that will be determined by people who live by their own conscience and are particularly qualified to act as discerning members of community and society…the era in which almost everyone was content to be born and to live as a member of a certain church or ‘organized religion’ is over. The people who will shape the future of believers of all religions are those who have the courage to make their own choice, whatever pain may be involved, and to do so with personal responsibility.”