The Catholic bishops have been gearing up for this fight for months.
Hours after President Obama phoned to share his decision with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops’ headquarters in Washington posted on its Web site a video of Archbishop Dolan, which had been recorded the day before.
“Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
Ah yes Archbishop Timothy Dolan. We’ve encountered him before.
In April 2009, for example, claiming that “traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people’s moral DNA.” In March 2010, for another example, arguing that it’s all so unfair because other people failed to stop child abuse too so why pick on the Catholic church? Yes really. He kept a blog, the then archbish of New York did.
What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.
That, of course, is malarkey. Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.
The Catholic church, which wants us to think it’s morally better than the rest of us, pointing at others like a three-year-old and shouting that they did it too. This is the man who thinks he’s entitled to tell Obama and all of us what to do. This is the man at the head of the organization which officially believes that a mother of four in Phoenix should be dead now, instead of having an abortion that saved her life.
This is the man who is bitterly aggrieved that not everyone bows the knee to his church.
The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture.
When, exactly, was that “once”? When was that lost Golden Age when the Catholic church was given deference in American society? Not in 1960 when Kennedy was running for president, certainly. Not before that, when immigration from mostly-Protestant countries was heavily favored over immigration from mostly-Catholic ones. So, when, then? After 1960…and probably not during the later 60s either, given the fact that deference wasn’t much in fashion then. Shall we date it from Jimmy Carter’s run for the presidency? Let’s do that. 1976 to now – not a very long Golden Age, is it. Not such an extended Golden Age that the bishops have much reason to think they have a permanent right to it.
And as for an increasingly secular culture…well let’s hope so, because the alternative is letting Timothy Dolan and his few benighted male officially-celibate colleagues tell us all what to do and what we can have. I don’t want Timothy Dolan having any say whatsoever in what I do and what I can have. I think he’s wrong about nearly everything, and that he got there for all the wrong reasons.
The bishops have found allies among conservative evangelicals, who do not share the Catholic Church’s doctrinal prohibition on contraception but are delighted to see the bishops adopt the right’s longstanding grievance that government has declared a war on religion. They have been joined by the bishops of Eastern Orthodox churches (like Greek, Russian and Ukrainian) and two Orthodox Jewish groups — small constituencies but ones that lend the cause a touch of diversity.
Diversity shmiversity. I don’t care how “diverse” they are; I don’t want them and their bossy unavailable god telling me (or anyone) what to do and what we can have.
Catholics may be persuaded by the argument that the mandate is a violation of religious liberty. One indication is that several prominent Catholic Democrats who supported Mr. Obama in 2008, supported the health care overhaul and defended the president at many junctures, have broken with him on the birth control mandate.
Michael Sean Winters, a writer for National Catholic Reporter, a liberal independent weekly, said: “I think they misjudged that no matter what people think about contraception, that’s an internal Catholic debate. Catholics do not like interlopers.”
But they are running hospitals, hospitals that are used by non-Catholics, often hospitals that are the only ones available for hundreds of miles. Therefore it’s not an internal Catholic debate. The bishops are the interlopers in the health care system.
It is of course possible to see the whole thing as an issue of religious liberty, but that’s a good reason not to let the Catholic church take over chunks of the health and education sphere the way it has.