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The Church’s Failure to Communicate

February 15, 2012

The Church as an organized institution seems to have found its collective voice in decrying the HHS mandate, but its doing so now, with such coordinated ferocity, and in respect to material cooperation with contraceptives and sterilizations, has led many commentators to wonder or to speculate about the Church’s motives and priorities.  Why this?  Why now?

My guess: the Church isn’t just responding to issues of concern in light of its teachings; it’s having to defend its own freedom to act in accordance with its tenets and principles. The state has backed the Church into a corner; we can expect a forceful reaction.

And yet, this outcry bespeaks a problem.  I wouldn’t call the Church’s response an over-reaction, but it does stand out, doesn’t it? We haven’t recently seen the Church orchestrate a loud, uniform call-to-action regarding the impoverished, those terrorized by war and genocide, or those suffering from AIDS .

The Church speaks on a variety of important issues, no doubt, but it typically does so here and there and without a coordinated design and plan of action.  It’s just one voice among many, not one with much moral force or credibility, and not one speaking persuasively or in terms and styles to which the people of today’s pluralistic democracies can relate.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

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  1. johnmcg permalink
    February 15, 2012 5:38 pm

    Perhaps the bishops have recognized that their typical manner of speaking has been ineffective on a number of fronts, and have changed their approach, with this mandate happening to be the first issue that came up once they got their new strategy together.

    I suppose we’ll see.

    Everything remains the same until it doesn’t.

  2. February 15, 2012 6:33 pm

    It is extraordinary. I think this is accounted for by the fact that, while the other things you list (war, poverty, AIDS) are issues on which the Church might be expected to speak out against evil committed by others, the HHS mandate is understood as requiring the Church herself — or her members at least — to *commit* evil. That we simply cannot tolerate. I may fight against the evil committed by others, but my primary fight must be to avoid committing evil myself.

    • February 15, 2012 7:50 pm

      This makes sense to me.

    • Rodak permalink
      February 16, 2012 10:07 am

      @ Agellius —

      Are you suggesting that there are no Catholics “directly” involved in “war, poverty, AIDS” etc.? I think pretty convincing arguments could be put forward that the doctrines of the Church have contributed to all three of those evils that you have cited–and in ways directly related to contraceptive issues. The only difference in this current flap is that conservative politicians have picked up on this…quibble…to use against “Obamacare” and thus the Obama administration for partisan political reasons. At bottom, I think we can all see that it’s really about the G.O.P. manipulating the Church and the Catholic vote to get control of the government, on the political side; and about the Church playing ball with the G.O.P. in hopes of stacking the SCOTUS with pro-life judges.

      • February 16, 2012 1:51 pm


        No, at bottom, I do not see that at all. You seem to be attributing your own feelings and ideas to other people. Which, in my opinion, really does tend to lead to conflict — we find it so hard to believe that other people could *really* see things differently from ourselves, that we attribute their claim to see things differently, to dishonesty, disingenuousness and insincerity. And since they’re being dishonest, we don’t have to respect their opinions.

        But no, in this case, for me it honestly, ingenuously and sincerely is not about the GOP manipulating the Catholic vote or the Church playing ball with the GOP.

        Naturally the GOP is jumping on the issue for its own gain. What political party wouldn’t seize any advantage that presents itself in an election year? But it doesn’t follow from that fact, that sincere Catholics, including priests and bishops (and Vox Nova contributors), are only concerned about the issue for its political value.

      • February 20, 2012 8:31 am

        @Rodak – “I think pretty convincing arguments could be put forward that the doctrines of the Church have contributed to all three of those evils that you have cited–and in ways directly related to contraceptive issues.”

        I am skeptical of your claim but would like to hear any such argument.

  3. February 15, 2012 7:02 pm

    Reasoned as always Kyle – I appreciate your perspective.

    While I think that Agellius makes a good point about committing evil and johnmcg is perhaps right about what has not worked so far, I remain a bit skeptical overall.

    I am very weary of the pontificating and so forth on all manner of blogs and other social media. I am glad to not find that here today.

    • February 15, 2012 7:51 pm

      Thank you, Fran.

    • Rodak permalink
      February 16, 2012 2:17 pm

      “But it doesn’t follow from that fact, that sincere Catholics, including priests and bishops (and Vox Nova contributors), are only concerned about the issue for its political value.”

      @ Agellius —

      It doesn’t *necessarily* follow, of course. But it does *explain* why this suddenly became a huge issue when it became a federal issue, although it was evidently much less compelling at the state level.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 4:04 pm

        although it was evidently much less compelling at the state level.

        Well, the federal rule is broader, affects more people, is more intrusive, and has narrower religious exemptions, than any state mandate, so it’s not strange to think that the issue is bigger now at the federal, than at the state.

      • February 16, 2012 4:13 pm

        Rodak writes, “… it does *explain* why this suddenly became a huge issue when it became a federal issue, although it was evidently much less compelling at the state level.”

        As I said, even if it has risen to the scale it has attained, mainly due to conservative politicians and media hosts latching onto it as a campaign issue, it doesn’t follow that it’s not a legitimate issue to the bishops or other devout Catholics.

        We may be agreeing on this, I’m not sure… : )

  4. The Pachyderminator permalink
    February 15, 2012 7:03 pm

    Was there a “coordinated design and plan of action”? I thought it was just a bunch of Catholic hierarchs and laypeople who happened to be saying the same thing. As for the issues you name and countless others, the reason the Church doesn’t speak with a united voice on them and countless others is clear: large factions within the Church are paralyzed by their political affiliations from making an effective call to action. If the Church ever had a unified voice on social issues in general, that was in a long-gone golden age. Such a wide range of Catholics could only be united on this issue because they all saw it as an existential threat to the Church – but ask them all what the Church is and you’ll get a variety of answers. Catholics these days are united by the fact that they exist; little else.

  5. Mark Gordon permalink
    February 15, 2012 7:46 pm

    I think Pachyderminator is right, but I also think the Church could have a unified voice on other issues if the bishops would lead as forcefully as they are leading on this issue.

    I support the bishops stand on the HHS mandate, and I fully accept the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control. But I also think this controversy has exposed what a truly pathetic job they have done in communicating the Church’s teaching on contraception, and in making that teaching relevant to young couples today. Quite apart from the religious liberty argument, I get the sense that a lot of the country, and even a lot of rank-and-file Catholics, think any flap over contraception per se is retrograde and silly. And I find it telling that in the very week when Catholic leaders are about an “attack on the Church,” Barack Obama’s approval rating has climbed back up near 50%.

    • February 15, 2012 7:58 pm

      Yes, the church’s arguments against contraception and for its teleological understanding of human sexuality as being morally normative don’t appeal to rank-and-file Catholics or secular society. I myself find the arguments unpersuasive, though I obey the teaching.

      • grega permalink
        February 15, 2012 9:27 pm

        I do not think the contraception issue is a winner for the church.
        Most of us ordinary catholics are not particular surprised that the same bunch of out of touch fundamentalist american catholics that managed to infiltrate the american bishop ranks now starts overreaching.
        Most Catholics share your opinion Kyle that this is an ‘unpersuasive’ argument – unlike you, this group finds that the concept of blind obedience is equally ‘unpersuasive’ – the recent child abuse scandals did certainly not help here – but I think this is a much deeper problem – much of the Catholic Churches related concepts come straight from a time when most of the ‘sheep’ reported to local Nobility and the various regional Monarchs. Not much room for anything else but admiration and obedience in that sort of society – but today – a very different story.
        So I am a bit surprised that you and your family choose obedience despite the unpersuasive arguments. Certainly not an easy path to walk in todays free society .

      • Melody permalink
        February 15, 2012 9:28 pm

        I obeyed the teaching too (that’s past tense because we have aged out of the reproductive years). I also found the arguments against contraception unpersuasive; how can I blame and judge the younger generation for deciding that they find them unpersuasive too, and for making their own decisions? Maybe we would find the hierarchy’s arguments more persuasive if we thought they had a clue about women’s health issues. All we hear is happy talk about how fertility is not a disease. Well, it isn’t a disease, but neither are pregnancy and childbirth a walk in the park. Their knowledge is very cerebral and academic, no lived experience in this area. As the old Irish lady said of her priest, “I wish I knew as little about it as the dear man himself!”.

      • February 15, 2012 9:37 pm

        So I am a bit surprised that you and your family choose obedience despite the unpersuasive arguments. Certainly not an easy path to walk in todays free society.

        The road’s made easier by the health benefits my wife and children have received from our closely observing the signs of the reproductive cycle. NFP has that advantage over contraceptives.

      • Thales permalink
        February 15, 2012 10:34 pm

        People need to be exposed to the Theology of the Body. In my experience, I know dozens of people who find the Church’s teaching on contraception and sexuality persuasive in light of the Theology of the Body.

      • grega permalink
        February 15, 2012 11:47 pm

        Thanks for your kind and honest reply – according to this study your family is in the 2% range mine is in the 15-20% range.

        I doubt that a wider understanding of the theology of the body – Thales point- would have much of an impact – certainly in my case it had no noticeable impact.
        I do not think it is a failure to communicate it is a failure to recognize what one has to communicate. As Sullivan in another post points out most of us catholics see Abortion as the proper issue and contraception as a way to significantly reduce Abortions – the Bishops walked into a trap and foolishly made the one issue where they do not have the majority of catholics behind them the centerpiece – not very smart communication indeed. But hey tell that the GOP they are about to walk into the same minefield.

      • February 16, 2012 1:42 am

        Kyle, I too obeyed the Church’s teaching even when I struggled with it. Yet, the more I know about what hormonal contraceptives do to women and our environment, the more I believe the Church is prophetic. My secular female friends have all chosen to reject the hbc b/c of what it does to them. They were relieved to find a healthy, natural, environmentally respectful alternative (which they learned from me. Ironically, they are opening to the Church’s teaching b/c ‘it makes sense.’). Better, it was shared power in their relationships. Now that we know the destructive forces that hbc wreak not only in the female body, but in the natural realm, the Church could be making the obvious arguments. Yet, everyone is so quiet.

      • February 16, 2012 7:32 am

        Sofia, I agree that there are health reasons for preferring NFP to hormonal contraceptives, but do these reasons establish a moral imperative not to use contraceptives?

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 10:26 am

        That oft-quoted 98% statistic was arrived at by slicing the population of “Catholic women” so specifically that the result is almost a tautology. It excludes women who are sexually inactive, are not in childbearing age, or are open to becoming pregnant. Given that the Church encourages a default of being open to pregnancy, excluding them will result in a population that is not obeying Church teaching. I’m not claiming that this teaching is accepted by a majority of Catholics, but the 98% figure is too strong.

        Which leads to that almost all arguments against the Church lean heavily on this, rather than confronting the Church’s vision for love and marriage, and offering a superior alternative. It’s majoritarian bullying — almost nobody follows the Church’s teaching, therefore the hierarchy is out of touch, and it must change to keep up with the times. Mix in some references to the bishops as mostly old white celibate men, a nod toward the sexual abuse crisis, and your dissent is justified.

        The fundamental difference is a default of being open to life to a default of being closed to it. Our culture has moved to a default of being closed to life, and from this perspective, contraceptive is a superior means of accomplishing that than contraception, and should thus be embraced.

        But the Church’s teaching does not assume a default position of being closed to life, in fact it is a prophetic witness against it.

      • February 20, 2012 8:48 am

        I suspect that few of the the rank and file haven’t actually read any of the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception. I find the arguments compelling and full of insight. That is one of the things that I find beautiful about the Catholic faith. I used to disagree with the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. Cultural hangover. However, as a Catholic I am required to give intellectual assent. That forced me to a much deeper engagement with the teaching, a much better understanding of it, and finally, complete alignment with the teaching. It is awesome to have the Holy Spirit guiding the Church into all truth.

  6. Kurt permalink
    February 15, 2012 8:26 pm

    I hope the bishops are not speaking with one voice on this, At least I hope they are not all speaking with the Bishop of Sioux City who called for violent opposition to contraception.

    • Rodak permalink
      February 16, 2012 12:01 pm

      @ Johnmcg —

      The way I have heard that 98% statistic presented has been “98% of Catholic women in their child-bearing years have used birth control *at some time*,” or words to that effect. One wouldn’t count women who are infertile, or not sexually active, for the same reason that they are irrelevant to the issue. The women who are open to pregnancy *are* counted; it’s just that 98% of them are only open to pregnancy when they *want* to be–because they are also open to using birth control. The remaining 2% are the sexually active women in their child-bearing years who are always open to pregnancy and never use birth control.
      In short, the 98% statistic is not misleading, assuming that it isn’t simply based on falsified data. I have not heard that claimed.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 12:43 pm


        That’s not how the White House itself presents the stat. They present the stat as “most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.”

        The stat is misleading for the reasons johnmcg makes.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 12:51 pm

        The study excludes women who are pregnant, just had a baby, or are “trying to get pregnant.”

        I don’t know how “trying to get pregnant” was defined, but I guess I’m not inclined to believe that the Guttmacher Institute limited it to women actively trying to get pregnant as opposed to women willing to accept a pregnancy.

        The 98% number (actually the report sites the 2% inverse) is under the section describing the behavior of women who do not want to become pregnant.

        The study also mentions that “At any given point in time, 14% of married women are pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant,
        and there are no variations by religious affiliation.”

        My suspicion is that the Catholic portion of this population would skew toward not contracepting.

        Not sufficiently to mean that it’s still not the case that a large majority of Catholic couples’ practices do not align with Church teaching, but something less than 98%.

      • johnmcg permalink
        February 16, 2012 2:42 pm

        That study also includes that 11% of Catholic women practice “no method” of birth control, which would be within the Church’s teaching, and would make pretty much all citations I have seen of the 98% statistic a lie, unless there is some other study that is the source for the 98% claim.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 16, 2012 4:53 pm

        Let’s use the new CNN polling data, which is even more favorable to John’s view. 22% of Catholics and 17% of the general population believe that artifical birth control is morally wrong. 77% of Catholics and 81% of the general population do not believe that artificial contraception is morally wrong.

  7. Ronald King permalink
    February 15, 2012 9:43 pm

    I strongly believe the Church overreacted. This reaction exposes their priorities. Starvation, violence, wars all over the place and we will pray for an end to all of this at Mass on Sunday. To me, this reaction exhibits symptoms of a narcissistic personality.

    • Rodak permalink
      February 16, 2012 3:30 pm

      @johnmcg —

      The following is from the Guttmacher Inst. study to which you provide the link:

      “■ Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family
      planning; even among Catholic women who attend
      church once a month or more, only 2% rely on this
      method (not shown). Sixty-eight percent of Catholic
      women use highly effective methods: sterilization
      (32%, including 24% using female sterilization,) the
      pill or another hormonal method (31%) and the IUD

      2% from 100% was 98% the last time I checked. Again, the claim is that 98% of women in their child-bearing years use birth control at some times.

      • Rodak permalink
        February 16, 2012 3:38 pm

        @johnmcg —

        Besides which, even if you can make it come out to 89% instead of 98% by counting some women Catholic women for whom birth control is irrelevant, if the principle involved is a matter of scale, then–as Flannery O’Connor might say–to hell with it!

        • johnmcg permalink
          February 16, 2012 4:18 pm

          The claim has been that 98% of Catholic women use birth control,

          2% use NFP — this is what motivated the text you cite.
          11% use “no method” — This would seem to be the “let go, let God” contingent — not trying to get pregnant (since those were explicitly excluded), No evidence of either using contraceptives or disregarding the Church’s teaching.

          2 + 11 = 13.

          100 – 13 = 87

          87% < 98%.

          And, as mentioned, this is among the population that is sexually active, not currently pregnant, not currently pregnant, and not within 1 year of a baby.

          Still nothing to be proud of, but not quite the unanimous rejection of Church teaching some have made it out to be, either.

          I'm quite sure that if the bishops were touting statistics of dubious origins the way some have been touting this 98% figure, we'd be treated to lots of concerned commentaries about how the bishops are endangering their credibility, etc.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 4:10 pm

        You’re reading the study wrong. Read the chart at the end of the study. The 2% is separate from the 11% johnmcg is talking about.

  8. Thales permalink
    February 15, 2012 10:47 pm

    I’d go farther than Agellius: I’d say that the Church IS normally speaking out on dozens, nay, hundreds of social issues all the time; the social justice life of the Church is a myriad voices and a myriad people helping those in need, in poverty, in sickness, etc. The Church can’t and shouldn’t be coordinated on one single issue, because there is always another evil to address or another person in need to help.

    But now, in a way that we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, I think the bishops recognize a threat to the social justice life of the Church, a threat to the very ability of the Church to carry our its charitable missions.

    • February 15, 2012 11:02 pm

      The Church speaks out on many social issues, but they’re not being heard, in part because they’re not speaking out effectively.

    • February 16, 2012 5:58 pm

      @ johnmcg @thales —

      I’m beginning to think you guys are being deliberately obtuse, hoping that I’ll just give up. But I will try once more.
      The 2% thing never applied to “all Catholic women.” It did not apply to Catholic women who, for whatever reason, are sterile. It did not apply to Catholic women who, for whatever reason, are completely abstinent. It did not apply to Catholic women who hope to become pregnant everytime they have sex. And did it not apply to Catholic women who are simply sexually reckless and willing to take it as it comes.
      The 2% applies to Catholic women who are both sexually active and trying to avoid unwanted pregancy by using NFP. The 98% applies to the rest of the Catholic women who are sexually active and fertile, as well as responsible, and are avoiding unwanted pregnancy by using means more reliable than NFP and which are objectionable to the Church.
      None of the women in the first group above would give a hoot in hell whether their employer-provided health coverage includes birth control services, because of the HHS regulation, or not. It is irrelevant to their lifestyles.
      Of the women in the second group, the 2% would not care about that health coverage. The other 98% would presumably care about it very much. Is that clear now?

      • February 16, 2012 7:22 pm

        We are not being obtuse, we are looking at the data in both the chart and table form. Both show that 11% of Catholic women use “no form” of birth control, which us unaccouned for in the 98% statistic.

        The statement that 2% of women rely on NFP is accurate.

        In their text, Guttmacher summarized that 98% of Catholic women use some form of contraception. This was likely an honest mistake on their part, failing to imagine women who were not trying to get pregnant but not acting to avoid it either. But this is the default disposition the Church calls us to have.

        A more minor problem with how this statistic has been used is that it suggests the study asked about BC methods used over one’s lifetime, when it was actually a “snapshot” of what the women were doing at the time if the survey.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 9:19 pm

        1. As Johnmcg said, take another look at the study.

        2. The 2% thing never applied to “all Catholic women.”
        I know that and you know that. But the thing is, that’s the way the stat is being stated all over the media, including the White House (see my link above).

      • Thales permalink
        February 17, 2012 11:04 am

        As another example of the statistic being wrongly cited: yesterday, when she was asked about the topic, Nancy Pelosi said 98% of all Catholic women use birth control.

        • johnmcg permalink
          February 17, 2012 4:26 pm

          For whatever it’s worth, Guttmacher is now claiming that the 98% figure is based on some other set of data, not listed in the original report, that they have access to. This was good enough for Politifact:

          I’m skeptical that the number from this other source just happens to be the exact number one would arrive at by making the simple mistake of dropping those who use “no method” of birth control in the data in the report.

  9. M.Z. permalink
    February 15, 2012 10:53 pm

    While they may be speaking with one voice, they aren’t speaking constructively.* This doesn’t make what they say wrong. In other areas, groups are ignored if they don’t speak constructively. Of course groups tend not to be heard when they speak constructively because such speaking tends to lend itself compromise.

    * By constructively, I simply mean that those who wish to allay their concerns are really unsure how to do so while maintaining respect for their own concerns. Perhaps that is because it is metaphysically impossible, although I’m doubtful on that count.

  10. brian martin permalink
    February 15, 2012 11:05 pm

    I don’t believe it was coordinated, and it was not an overreaction, it was a convergence of numerous factions faced with something they felt was a challenge to their right to live out their faith….and in some ways, it is a beautiful sight…this rallying around the right to live by one’s religious principles, or at the very least saying “I may make my own choice, but i’ll be damned if the government is going to dictate that the Church violate it’s teaching.

    We live, after all, a comfortable life here in America. We have the right to worship and believe as we will for the most part free from interference by the government. Perhaps we are too comfortable. We co-exist quite easily with the world. And we begin to act as though we are no different, and should be able to expect that comfort.

    Christ was not of this world…a king born in a stable…one could say he carried the odor of the stable with him. He scandalized society….he did not fit in.

    • February 16, 2012 7:13 am

      By “coordinated,” I don’t mean that there necessarily was or is some master architect, e.g., Dolan, but that the bishops united their actions and suggestions with their brother bishops to a unified response, at least in its very basics, if not every last detail.

  11. February 16, 2012 12:19 am

    It’s interesting seeing the range of responses in this thread. I suppose my inclination is to deny that there was any especially impressive coordination on this issue, and also to deny that coordination on a large scale is, or has ever been, really possible in more than a very weak sense. I do think that recent events show that things can be more coordinated than we’ve come to expect; but I don’t think that’s a very high standard to meet, either. I think looking for large-scale coordinated action from the Church is a mistake: as a matter of human nature, people only coordinate on a large scale when forced to do so, and people are forced into coordination on a large scale by massive necessities of survival, by focused application of a lot of money, or by laws they can’t ignore, and the Church currently has no way of taking advantage of any of these, and, for that matter, there are a lot of people, not all from outside the Church, who would make it their business to prevent the Church from ever getting into the position of being able to take advantage of them in this way. Merely voluntary coordination, on the other hand, tends to be local or else very weak.

    • February 16, 2012 7:20 am

      Was the Church being forced to coordinate on the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal?

      • February 16, 2012 12:54 pm

        I’m inclined to say yes. The only people who actually have to be coordinated in a liturgical matter are the bishops themselves (no one else really has a say), a relatively small group, and bishops are in fact under ecclesial laws they can’t ignore. Everything else follows from the fact that on liturgical matters no one can really ignore the bishop — priests can’t afford to, and laity aren’t directly involved in the process.

  12. Rodak permalink
    February 16, 2012 7:18 am

    The Bishops have all the credibility and moral authority of the Penn State athletic department.

    • Thales permalink
      February 16, 2012 10:12 am


  13. February 16, 2012 10:45 am

    We haven’t recently seen the Church orchestrate a loud, uniform call-to-action regarding the… those suffering from AIDS.

    No, the Church builds and runs hospitals instead of orchestrating something. Jesus didn’t say “I was hungry and you orchestrated a call-to-action.”

    • Rodak permalink
      February 16, 2012 12:06 pm

      @ Pauli —

      The Church orchestrated an anti-condom campaign in Africa, where heterosexual AIDS was running rampant and killing both wives and their children.

    • February 16, 2012 12:52 pm

      The call to action came from Jesus and comes from those who suffer. The church has the responsibility of answering that call. It does that, in part, by organizing and orchestrating the faithful into a communal response.

  14. Julian Barkin permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:11 am

    Agreed Kyle. And we’re all going to pay for it unless we “sell our souls” to the government (a.k.a. Mammon). Had the ‘institutional’ Church been much more unified in past and not given into the secular world as much, it would not be the pitiful shabby kitten trying to act like a lion. This battle will be lost.

  15. Kurt permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:13 am

    Amazingly it was not the bishops, who always had an exemption for themselves, but an alliance of the leaders of the organizations actually impacted by the first version of the mandate (Catholic hospitals, charities and colleges) along with a very thoughtful and sincere group of liberal Catholics who supported Obama but were willing to publicly break with him and to do so very loudly (EJ Dionne, Catholics United, my humble self, etc.) along with inside support from the Vice-President, Bill Daley and others.

    And we were successful in persuading the Administration to revise their very objectionable mandate in a way that we (the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Charities USA, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Notre Dame, etc) could accept. I think we of this alliance have tremendous moral credibility with the faithful and people of good will in general (not myself, but the others).

    Unlike the bishops, none of us have called for violence to oppose contraception. Unlike the bishops we are not turning to use the authority of a boss over an employee to promote restraints on contraception. I think there is a Catholic voice that the public sees with moral authority, it’s just not the bishops.

    • Thales permalink
      February 16, 2012 12:01 pm

      I don’t know about all the orgs you name, but I know that Catholic Charities USA and Notre Dame haven’t accepted the “accommodation” as resolving all religious liberty concerns.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 16, 2012 1:37 pm

        Notre Dame’s CURRENT practice is the same as the accomodation. Its health insurance policy does not cover contraception but the insurance company provides it directly.

        Let me ask the critics of the revised policy about this scenario:

        A boss agrees to contribute a dollar amount to an employee health and welfare fund that is owned and run by the employees, not the boss. The employees then contract with an insurer and with such benefits as they see fit. Now, while not denying the workers would be doing evil by including contraception and not denying the boss is losing a chance to prevent his workers from doing evil by surrendering control of the health insurance plan, is the boss actually complicit in doing evil in this set-up?

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 2:02 pm

        Notre Dame’s CURRENT practice is the same as the accomodation.

        I don’t know why you say this.

  16. ctd permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:30 am

    The issue is fundamental. We cannot be a pro-life church, a church that serves the poor, a church that speaks against racism, a peace church, a church that defends the immigrant, a church that responds to those suffering from AIDS, and so on, if it loses its religious liberty.

    If you look at the statements, comments, and more leading up to the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty and the comments of the Pope to the bishops on their ad limina visits you will see that this is why the bishop have shown greater unity now more than ever.

  17. February 16, 2012 11:54 am

    Grega writes, “So I am a bit surprised that you and your family choose obedience despite the unpersuasive arguments. Certainly not an easy path to walk in todays free society.”

    “And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may approve what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God.” Rom. 12:2.

  18. Thales permalink
    February 16, 2012 12:44 pm

    Archbishop Gomez gives his answer to Kyle’s question:

    “People are realizing that if the government denies our fundamental freedom to hold religious beliefs and to order our lives according to these beliefs, then there is no real freedom for anyone.”

    • February 16, 2012 12:54 pm

      There’s something to this, but then the government would have the responsibility of prohibiting religious practices that attack the common good.

  19. February 16, 2012 12:46 pm

    The real problem is not one of communication, but an overestimation of how much authority the bishops actually wield in political matters. The days of “banned in Boston” – where the bishops could make a pronouncement on an issue and millions of Catholics would fall into line – are long gone and aren’t returning. The child sex abuse scandal killed any ability that the bishops might have to influence people both in and out of the Church. Even many orthodox Catholics don’t pay attention to the bishops, especially when the issue in question relates to some aspect of domestic or international policy.

    I doubt that many Americans, save for those in closed religious communities or members of mega churches that have pastor personality cults, really look to their religious leaders for guidance. I don’t know if the 98 percent figure about Catholics using birth control is accurate, but I would guess that use of contraceptives is the norm, rather than the exception, as few Americans of any religion are eager for large families in this dismal economic climate (the birth rate also went down during the Great Depression for this same reason).

  20. Thales permalink
    February 16, 2012 4:26 pm

    Here’s a wrinkle in the debate I haven’t heard anyone talk about yet. Forget the issue of employers and employees for a moment…. under the ACA, every individual is forced to buy insurance and they are forced to buy insurance that covers contraception, abortifacients, etc. Is that an infringement of the individual’s religious freedom? I haven’t thought about the answer to the question, but the Sisters of Life are raising it:

    • johnmcg permalink
      February 16, 2012 4:53 pm

      I would say not directly, or at least not egregiously as the original mandate.

      Buying myself insurance does not implicate me in an evil act unless I actually use the coverage.

      I’d rather not have to do it, but I don’t think it’s a straghtforward free exercise issue.

      • Thales permalink
        February 16, 2012 9:29 pm


        Agreed. It doesn’t seem to be as egregious a compulsion as the “force-the-employer-to-provide-employees-contraception-insurance” aspect.

        On the other hand, I haven’t taken a religious vow like the sisters have to enhance and protect the sacredness of human life. Consider if/when the government adds the requirement that every person must purchase from a private insurer abortion coverage. It’s interesting to think about at what point the government compulsion violates the religious vows.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 17, 2012 9:14 am

        The sisters are, of course, exempt from any mandate.

    • Kurt permalink
      February 16, 2012 4:57 pm

      I think every person who currently declines health insurance because it includes contraception should be given an exemption from the insurance mandate. Please send in any names.

    • February 16, 2012 5:38 pm

      I hadn’t thought of that specific angle either. Just one of the many complications you introduce when forcing people to buy a product privately. As I said before, they should either go whole-hog and socialize it — which would remove the conscience problems for most people — or if the people aren’t buying that, then try again in 10 years. The individual mandate is just a bad idea.

  21. February 16, 2012 7:18 pm

    By saying a “failure to communicate” are you referring to the present or the past? It would seem today, with regards to the mandate, that the bishops are communicating very well.

    The bishops realize that this is a constitutional issue, an issue of religious liberty. This exemplifies what is so wrong about government health care, and having the State declare that this or that are rights. The State can take away rights as easy as they can grant them. The right to freedom of religion is unalienable.

    • February 16, 2012 9:14 pm

      Present and recent past, at least. Forget agreeing with it, I bet you very few Catholics could even explain the Church’s understanding of human sexuality and the morality of contraception. The Church is largely to blame for this. I remember the “lessons” of my CCD classes in preparation for Confirmation: we listened to popular music and discussed how the song made us feel. Today the Church is having to explain how the HHS mandate violates religious liberty, but its audience, which includes Catholics, has no idea what it’s talking about when it mentions proximate material cooperation or why this idea matters for its position. The Church has in too may ways failed its faithful, and now it struggles to speak to a hostile audience that doesn’t follow its terms and manner of thought.

      • February 16, 2012 9:31 pm

        I agree with you that the Church in large part has failed in teaching it’s beliefs on human sexuality and the morality of contraception. A number of bishops and priests didn’t want to offend people and lose monetary contributions. I even have witnessed some priests admitting to not believing in the Church’s teaching on some of these issues. It is my supposition that some priests didn’t teach the Church’s teaching on sexual morality because they dissented from Church teaching on these issues. I’m sure some priests tried to teach this but societal pressures influenced a number of Catholics to dissent from Church teaching.

      • Melody permalink
        February 17, 2012 6:41 am

        I don’t really think the Church has done so badly at communicating its teaching on this matter. There is basically no one above kindergarten who isn’t aware of what the teaching is. I’ve seen people complain online that “their priests never talk about it”, where do they live, there must be communication blackout or something. We get at least several homilies a year; and the archbishop has written letters in the diocesan newspaper. They’ve done the best they can with what they have. The problem is that, unlike abortion, the teaching on bc is just not that logically obvious. By now, people are either convinced or they’re not. They’re going to do one of three things: follow the teaching because they’re convinced; follow it out of obedience in spite of not being convinced; or make their own decision based on the realities of their lives. Just yelling louder won’t help. And actually the teaching of the Church is distorted when it becomes a one-subject obsession.

        • February 17, 2012 12:22 pm

          Melody writes, “I’ve seen people complain online that “their priests never talk about it”, where do they live, there must be communication blackout or something. We get at least several homilies a year; and the archbishop has written letters in the diocesan newspaper.”

          There is definitely a communication blackout regarding contraception in some dioceses. Frankly I’m amazed that you get several homilies a year on the subject. The only place I’ve ever heard it preached on in my diocese was at a Latin mass.

      • February 17, 2012 9:11 am

        The problem is that few people, clergy or laity, who can sum up the Church’s opposition to birth control in three sentences or less, using basic English. If you start talking about double effect, cooperation with evil, and the like, you’ve already lost the argument. Mystical arguments a la Theology of the Body are also useless when trying to explain this matter to the public. If you don’t KISS (keep it simple stupid) the argument is lost.

      • Kurt permalink
        February 17, 2012 9:11 am

        I’m going to have to agree with Teresa here. I’ve never heard a sermon against contraception in my life. A majority of the priests I know believe that it is possible for women to responsibly use contraception and at least 90% of the laity I know think the same.

      • Thales permalink
        February 17, 2012 9:45 am

        Melody’s comment made me think of another possible explanation: Maybe the Church hasn’t done so badly at communicating its teaching — it’s just that it’s a teaching that is easily rejected in today’s sex-saturated society, by people who know that it’s wrong for them to reject it. Consider pornography use among Catholic males. I don’t have any statistics, but aren’t the majority of Catholic males, even married men, engaging in that behavior? And isn’t it fair to say that most of them know that it’s wrong to do but still do it?

        (As I said above, my personal view on the contraception issue is that the Church could do a better job teaching people, by framing the issue not as “you can’t use condoms” but as “here is the Church’s understanding of sexuality in the Theology of the Body, which brings greater joy, fulfillment, and happiness than society’s alternative.”)

      • February 17, 2012 12:19 pm

        Kyle writes, “I remember the “lessons” of my CCD classes in preparation for Confirmation: we listened to popular music and discussed how the song made us feel.”

        I absolutely agree. Catechesis sine Vatican II has been atrocious. Damn liberals. ; )

        • Ronald King permalink
          February 17, 2012 4:36 pm

          Agellius, I was around before Vatican II and went to catholic grade school for 8 years and also was an altar boy. Those were not the good old days. The Church is attempting to evolve and it must continue to learn how to be a loving Church through the gift of God’s Love. The pre-Vatican II Church was not as loving as it is today. The hierarchy must still learn how to relate to the rest of humanity through humility. John XXIII seems to have had that quality of humility.

    • Rodak permalink
      February 17, 2012 8:18 am

      @ Teresa —

      But so is the right to freedom *from* religion. Non-Catholics should not have to conform to Catholic *religious doctrine* in any setting. While I fully agree that the agency involved handled the issue stupidly at the outset, the accommodation that has now been offered should be sufficient to account for both the beliefs and the constitutional rights of everyone involved. It is not possible to exist in a secular and pluralistic society without making concessions to the beliefs of others.

  22. Kacy permalink
    February 16, 2012 8:42 pm

    Before HSS, the only time the bishops had letters read in parishes were to ask for money for the annual faith appeal. This is my own experience, anyway. I found it a bit awkward and strange to hear such bellicose language read from the pulpit regarding HSS, when, as Kyle stated, there isn’t a unified voice on other issues. My cynical side thinks this has something to do with 2012 being a presidential election year.

    • February 16, 2012 9:19 pm

      I don’t think this is because this is an election year. Cardinal-designate Dolan as well as others seemed to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt up until now -until Obama basically lied or deceived Archbishop Dolan. I am not sure which bishops voted for whom up til now in presidential elections but if they believe the best way to ensure their constitutional right to religious freedom is to vote for the Republican nominee this time around I see no problem with that. The reason the bishops are so outspoken on this particular issue is because this is such a blatant attack on religious freedom and the conscience clause that they can’t ignore it.


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