Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Catholic Bishops & Religious Freedom in America: a Reality Check

Several years ago, doing research for another blog, I ran into this:
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
"We try to bring you the facts, to help you form your opinion."
I agree. I understand 'differing opinions,' particularly since I've often seen life in a counter-cultural way.

What I don't understand - or, rather, what I would like to see much less of - are opinions backed up by imaginary facts.

Does it really matter, whether the opinions people form are based on reality?

Beware the - Lizard Men?!

Let's say someone really believes that shape-shifting, space-alien lizard men rule the world.

He thinks this is obvious, since newspapers and television news never mention that the President, the British royal family, and Bill Gates are space aliens. This 'proves' that the lizard men control all media, as well as government and business.

That's a silly example, but a real conspiracy theory:
The fellow behind the 'lizard men' conspiracy theory may not take it seriously.

But if someone really did believe that the world is run by space aliens, based on imaginary evidence, that individual would arguably make decisions that make sense to him - but nobody else. Except others who 'know' that the president isn't human.

Still, the 'lizard men' belief might not make much of a difference, except to individuals with an unsteady grip on reality, their friends, immediate neighbors, and families.

When folks in the establishment, individuals whose position and influence let them make decisions that affect the rest of us, start believing things that aren't so: that's a problem.

Remembering 'the Good Old Days'

I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism. The 'everybody I don't like is a commie' attitude went out of fashion, possibly because too many Americans started looking at facts, not accusations and assumptions.

After a while, folks noticed that their neighbor who didn't agree with their 'Uncle Bert,' or whoever, wasn't a communist. He just didn't agree with Bert.

I'm a practicing Catholic, so I'm not in step with today's establishment. But I emphatically don't want America to go back to 'the way things were.' I remember the 'good old days.' They weren't.

I'm getting off-topic, but not by much.

Folks, some of us, still prefer assumptions to facts, opinion to evidence. I'll admit that decision-making is easier that way: but I don't think it's a good idea.

Believing What Folks Say

I don't believe everything I'm told. But I do think that folks tend to be fairly truthful when they say what they believe. Particularly when it's something that matters to them.

For example, if someone told me that she's an ardent environmentalist and believes that trees are people: I don't think it's likely that she really hates forests and wants to burn Yellowstone. That just wouldn't make sense.

That's why I tend to believe what, say, the Dalai Lama says about Tibetan Buddhism. I also think that people working for a conference of Catholic bishops, speaking in their official capacity, are likely make accurate statements about Catholicism and the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church, America, and Unintended Consequences

America has a long and cherished history of, at best, not understanding Catholicism.

(from H.E. Fowler, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)

I heard about the depraved horrors of Catholic beliefs and practices, got curious, and became a Catholic.

What the Catholic Church Says: Reality Check, Please!

Not everybody bothers to see if there are facts behind the assertions, which is why Catholic bishops in America issued a sort of reality check last week:
I put the full text of the news release at the end of this post.1 Before making a short list of highlights from the news release, here's a backgrounder on what the Catholic Church has been saying for two millennia:
That's the basics. The Catholic Church also says that:
  • Concern for health is a good idea
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2288-2291)
    • Within reason
      (Catechism, 2289)
  • Scientific medical research is a good idea
    (Catechism, 2292-2296)
So far, this isn't all that far from what the establishment says. Here's where the Catholic Church gets counter-cultural:
  • Religious freedom is vital
    (Catechism, 2104-2109)
    • For everybody
      (Catechism, 2106)
  • Human life is sacred
    (Catechism, 2258)
  • Murder is wrong
    (Catechism, 2259-2262, 2268-2269)
    • Even if the victim is
    (from March 8, 2012)
  • Some actions are always wrong
    (Catechism, 1789)
    • Even if a ruler says it's okay
      (Catechism, 2242)
The idea that some acts are wrong, no matter what, may seem harsh. The Church isn't 'judgmental' about persons: but some things are, simply, wrong. (October 12, 2011) Like I've said before, ""I was only following orders" isn't an acceptable excuse. (June 26, 2012)

Advisory Memo: Five Points

Positions and statements of  Catholic bishops in America, in part:

  • Catholic bishops in America support religious liberty
    • Issuing the HHS 'forget your conscience' mandate before an election was
      • The President's idea
      • Not an action by Catholic bishops
  • Cardinal Dolan did not say the Administration is strangling the Catholic Church
    • He did say that the HHS mandate exemption was "...so strangling and so narrow and it's also presumptuous that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the church the extent of its ministry and ministers"
  • Bishop Jenky of Peoria didn't compare President Obama to Hitler and Stalin
    • The bishop did, however, express concern that
      • The federal government may have begun to distrust the churches
        • As rivals to its own claims to authority
  • Bishop Cordileone
    • Did not mention the HHS mandate when discussing despotism
    • did recall what Cardinal James Gibbons said in 1886
      • That the United States has "liberty without license, authority without despotism."
    • Noted
      • Recent attacks on the conscience rights of individual Americans
      • The right of religious institutions to serve the public
        • Without violating their teaching on marriage
  • The Catholic Church hasn't 'moved the goalposts'
    • Catholic bishops in America
      • Have
        • Voiced principled objection to coerced contraceptive coverage as part of HHS's 'preventive services' mandate
          • Since 2010
        • Supported
          • Exemptions from such mandates on moral or religious grounds for many years
          • The "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act"
            • Since December 2010
      • Initially welcomed the Administration's promise to broaden the narrow religious exemption
        • To something that would allow Catholic organizations to help people
      • Then saw the actual "final rule" from HHS
        • Found that the mandate and narrow exemption had been finalized
          • without change
If that's 'not what you read in the papers,' I'm not surprised. The establishment press today seems to be about as reliable as it was in my youth. 'The establishment' looks different today, and has a new preferred reality: but the folks in charge seem to have the same 'my way or the highway' attitude.

And that's another topic.

Related posts:

1 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) news release. I've disabled the disclaimers which warn you that you're leaving the USCCB website:
"Advisory Memo To Journalists"
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops news release (June 27, 2012)

"We became aware on June 7, that news media received a memo from John Gehring, casting aspersions on the Catholic bishops and their educational project on religious liberty, the Fortnight for Freedom.

"Mr. Gehring is Catholic Program Director of 'Faith in Public Life,' a group founded with help from a pro-abortion group long directed by John Podesta called the Center for American Progress; like the CAP it has received funding from billionaire atheist George Soros. These do not seem like eminent qualifications for telling bishops how to guide the Church.

"In his memo, Mr. Gehring juxtaposes what he calls the bishops' 'Fictions' with his 'Facts' - and he provides the media with 'questions to ask Catholic bishops' that he apparently thinks are embarrassing. In fact we're happy to answer those questions in this memo. But we'll begin by showing how fiction and fact is mixed up in his account.

"Gehring: It's especially important to scrutinize the bishops' campaign because of 'the charged political backdrop of this high-profile initiative -- five months before a presidential election.'

"Fact: Mr. Gehring should have noticed that the bishops' key insert for Church bulletins during the Fortnight for Freedom lists seven recent threats to religious liberty – only two of which have anything to do with the President or his administration.None of our materials, of course, say anything about an election.The Fortnight for Freedom responds to a broader trend in our society: We are in danger of forgetting our nation's great legacy of religious freedom, and of neglecting to defend such freedom for everyone when that is most needed. Even regarding the HHS contraceptive mandate – the only one of the seven threats that Mr. Gehring seems to notice – the timing of the regulatory process and resulting controversy has been determined by the Administration, not by the Church.

"Gehring: The bishops have accused the Administration of waging 'a war on religion' and 'a war on the Catholic Church.'

"Fact: Though he puts these phrases in direct quotes,Gehring produces noevidence of this. Instead he pulls a bait-and-switch, citing (and misusing) other quotes.For example:

"Gehring accuses Cardinal Dolan of saying that the Administration is ' "strangling"the Catholic Church.' What Cardinal Dolan said was: 'The exemption given to the church [by the HHS mandate] is so strangling and so narrow and it's also presumptuous that a bureau of the federal government is attempting to define for the church the extent of its ministry and ministers… It's almost like we're being punished for the fact that we serve a lot of people.' The Cardinal was noting that the narrow religious exemption is 'strangling' the Church's ability to live out its mission, because a Church institution can't be exempt from the morally objectionable coverage unless (among other things) it stops serving people of other faiths – thus it must violate one call of the gospel or the other. To point out this Hobson's choice is simply to recognize reality.

"Gehring says Bishop Jenky of Peoria has 'compared Obama administration policies to those of Hitler and Stalin.' Actually Bishop Jenky expressed concern that the federal government may have begun to distrust the churches as rivals to its own claims to authority – as happened with many European leaders of the past century and more, whether of the mainstream right and left (Otto von Bismarck and Georges Clemenceau) or of the extremist right and left (Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin).But then, 'Bishop warns against government trend toward a century-old European view of religion that, for all their other vast differences, was shared by Hitler and Georges Clemenceau' would not make a racy headline.

"Finally, Gehring says Bishop Cordileone has expressed worry about the 'despotism' of the HHS mandate.Bishop Cordileone was citing an 1886 speech by Cardinal James Gibbons that said the U.S. has 'liberty without license, authority without despotism.' Noting recent attacks on the conscience rights of individual Americans, and on the right of religious institutions to serve the public without violating their teaching on marriage, he worried that 'we could be starting to move in the direction of license and despotism.' In this context the bishop did not mention the HHS mandate or the Administration -- and the conference at which he spoke distributed a list of ten recent threats to religious freedom, only three of which have anything to do with the Obama administration. Yet Gehring simply assumes that all this is a direct reference (and an overreaction) to one federal policy.

"Gehring: The Obama administration has now provided a 'wider religious exemption' to its contraceptive mandate, and the bishops initially welcomed this before 'quickly moving the goalposts' so they could object to it and support the Blunt amendment in Congress.

"Fact: There was no 'moving of goalposts.' The bishops have voiced principled objection to coerced contraceptive coverage as part of HHS's 'preventive services' mandate since 2010; they have supported exemptions from such mandates on moral or religious grounds for many years; and they have supported the 'Respect for Rights of Conscience Act' (identical with the Blunt amendment) since December 2010.What happened on February 10, 2012 was that the bishops initially welcomed the Administration’s announcement that its incredibly narrow religious exemption would be broadened; but before the end of the day they saw the actual 'final rule' from HHS, and found that the mandate and narrow exemption had been finalized 'without change.' So 'spin' gave way to grim reality. A widening of the exemption not only did not happen – it would actually now be illegal, unless a new rulemaking process were to nullify the current one.

"Gehring: The 'accommodation' to which the bishops object 'makes sure no religiously affiliated institution will have to pay for services that violate its moral beliefs or even refer employees for this coverage,' and so has been welcomed by Catholic Health Association and other Catholic groups.

"Fact: No, the Catholic Health Association has objected to the proposed 'accommodation,' as have others across the political spectrum, once they found that the coverage will ultimately be subsidized by premiums paid by employers and employees and that the Administration's various proposals are unworkable. Religious employers are excluded from having to 'provide' the coverage only in the sense that the decision about providing it to their own employees will be taken away from them by the government. And Gehring's claim that the coverage will be provided only 'if a woman employed by an objecting Catholic institution wants this coverage' is absolutely false: The Administration's new notice says the coverage will be provided 'automatically' to these women, and to their teenage children, even if the woman objects. So individual conscience rights as well as parents' rights to guide their children in matters of sexuality are now also at risk.Gehring doesn't notice that in this respect, the new advance notice promotes a more coercive policy than the original one he describes (which is now obsolete). The problems with the 'accommodation' have been thoroughly explained in a recent comment letter and fact sheet from the USCCB.

"Gehring: Covering contraception is nothing new for Catholic institutions because it is already required in 28 states.

"Fact: This canard was thoroughly addressed in the USCCB's August 2011 comment letter to HHS.The state mandates usually apply only to health plans that provide prescription drug coverage generally; only one state requires coverage of sterilization; the mandates can be side-stepped by self-insuring, or coming under federal ERISA standards; and only three states have a religious exemption as incredibly narrow as the HHS mandate.The federal government has the most inescapably draconian mandate and the narrowest religious exemption in the country.No, this is not 'business as usual.'

"Gehring: Most Americans and Catholics support the HHS mandate and reject the Church's concerns.

"Fact: The findings of public opinion polls are notoriously changeable and dependent on the wording of questions, but in fact many polls contradict Gehring's claim.Majority or plurality opposition to the mandate and/or its application to religious institutions, among Catholics and the general public, has been seen in polls released between February and June by Rasmussen, CNN, Gallup, QEV Analytics, CBS News/New York Times, and Marist. In any case, our entire history of religious freedom in the United States has been aimed at defending the consciences of minorities against coercion by majorities.

"Gehring's Proposed Questions for Bishops

"Now for the questions Mr. Gehring wants news media to ask of the bishops.

" 'Catholic organizations have received significant funding increases under the Obama administration. Doesn't this undercut your claims that the administration is ''strangling” the Catholic Church?'

"We didn't quite say that (see above).But we note that the claimed funding increases are for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011.The restrictive requirements that tend to exclude Catholic organizations from domestic and foreign service grants did not appear in federal grant documents until mid-2011, so 2012 would be the first year that is even relevant.In any case, the government grants are not gifts that signify how much the government likes the Catholic Church.Nor are they payments in exchange for our silence when our religious freedom is attacked elsewhere.Instead, they are payments in exchange for the delivery of human services, without profit.They are a sign only of the fact that the Church delivers human services more effectively and efficiently than others participating in a competitive process.

" 'How much money is being spent on this religious liberty campaign and where is it coming from?'

"This cannot be answered nationally because each diocese chooses its own activities and funding. But Gehring's focus here is to discredit the national funding received from the Knights of Columbus, which has devoted many hundreds of millions of dollars to nonpartisan life-saving humanitarian goals, because that group's current leader worked for a Republican president 25 years ago. This is an unwise objection for Faith in Public Life to raise, since its own staff of seven people includes: one person who came to the group directly from serving as communications director for a Democratic congressman and his election campaign; one who worked for various Democratic campaigns and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; two (including Gehring) who worked for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a blatantly partisan Soros-funded political initiative; and an executive director coming from the secular and partisan Center for American Progress. People in glass houses shouldn't throw boomerangs.

" 'In all of your religious liberty materials why is there no mention that it was a conservative Catholic, Supreme Court Justice Anton in Scalia, who wrote a major decision weakening religious liberty protections?'

"As a start: (a) We don't tag Supreme Court justices with religious and political labels to discredit them, (b) this decision in Employment Division v. Smith happened 22 years ago, and (c) we already have spent many years of litigation and legislative advocacy to counter its effects, with some success.Among other things, we helped enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to restore federal protection of religion to the status it had before the Smith decision – and it is most likely under that law that the HHS mandate will be invalidated by federal courts.

" 'Are you concerned that this religious liberty campaign is in danger of becoming politicized during an election year? Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, recently expressed concern that some groups "very far to the right" are trying to use the conflict as "an anti-Obama campaign".'

"Partisan misuse of such legitimate issues by other groups is indeed a concern, whether those others come from the right (as Bishop Blaire has properly warned) or from the left (as Mr. Gehring has exemplified). The solution is for the bishops to resist the distractions of those others and stay focused on the merits of the substantive issue, emphasizing the Fortnight for Freedom as a time for education, prayer, and action on the great gift of religious liberty.

" 'Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference has argued there is now "a drive to neuter religion," but aren't your objections to the Obama administration disputes over policy issues not a culture war clash between Church and State?'

"No. A dispute over whether existing government funding of contraception should be increased would be an example of a 'dispute over policy issues.' But a dispute over whether the government will force religious employers to fund and facilitate contraception, even when they object to it in conscience, is a religious freedom dispute.Mr. Gehring simply ignores the element of government coercion, as do so many others who attempt to diminish the religious freedom aspect.In any event, the trend Cardinal Dolan describes goes well beyond the HHS mandate, or even this Administration.It also involves actions by state legislative and executive bodies, some courts, and powerful interest groups.

"For example, the Administration has excluded the Catholic Church's efforts to serve victims of human trafficking from federal support because of the Church's religious and moral conviction not to promote abortion.Adding insult to injury, ACLU claims that such religious discrimination is not only permitted, but required, by the First Amendment—and a trial court recently agreed (and is being appealed). Similarly, the Administration has taken the position that the First Amendment affords no special protection for the hiring of ministers by religious organizations. Fortunately, this view was rejected unanimously by the Supreme Court as 'remarkable' and 'untenable.' At the state level, some states would criminalize ministry to undocumented immigrants as forbidden 'harboring.' At the local level, religious groups are denied equal access to public facilities, which comparable secular groups could obtain without difficulty. No, something new and troubling has been happening, and to ignore that is to bury one's head in the sand - or worse, to try to protect from criticism those who are fostering the trend.

" 'Are you willing to sacrifice Catholic charities, colleges and hospitals if you don't get your way on the contraceptive mandate?'

"We will keep fighting until we prevail.And if, in the meantime, any Church institutions are ever 'sacrificed,' it will be the result of government action making it impossible for those Church institutions to continue to operate consistent with their religious beliefs.

" 'Are you willing to drop all health insurance for your employees?'

"Same answer.

"Thank you for your attention to these observations. For more about the bishops' religious freedom efforts, see www.usccb.org/conscience and www.fortnight4freedom.org. If you have other questions feel free to contact the USCCB Office of Media Relations at media-relations@usccb.org"

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.