CTSA considers resolution on contraception mandate.
At the Catholic Theological Society of America business meeting today, the membership considered a resolution urging “federal and state government to exempt employers from funding or providing contraception and sterilization when such funding or provision directly violates the moral tenets of the employer’s religious tradition.” Even though the original version of the resolution was tweaked after initial discussion (e.g., the final version excised the original’s naming of the Obama administration), its chances of passing were never high. Privately, some CTSA members expressed a concern that a no vote would only serve to highlight the distance between the organization and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But, thanks to an exceptionally clever intervention by one member, the CTSA dodged that bullet. Here’s the full text of the resolution:
The Catholic Theological Society of America expresses deep concern with the decision of the federal government to not extend full exemption from the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception and sterilization coverage mandate to all Catholic employers. While the society recognizes that differences of opinion exist in terms of the morality of contraception and sterilization, it also upholds religious liberty as well as the fundamental right of both individuals and institutions to not be forced to act contrary to their informed consciences. The society urges federal and state governments to exempt employers from funding or providing contraception and sterilization when such funding or provision directly violates the moral tenets of the employer’s religious tradition.
Richard Gaillardetz, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, opened the discussion with an explanation of the committee’s purpose: not to recommend passage or rejection of a given resolution, but simply to assess whether it’s worthy of consideration by CTSA membership. In the case of this resolution, the committee decided that it ought to be brought to the floor. In other words, the resolution could have died in committee. It didn’t.
One of the eleven members who sponsored the resolution framed the statement as a simple affirmation of religious freedom. “Nothing more, nothing less.” Its drafters, he said, are aware of the landmines in the debate. And he emphasized that the statement was not intended to be a political statement, an ideological statement, or an ethical statement. Why should the CTSA consider the resolution? Because, he claimed, the mandate undermines the free exercise of religion, and challenges the self-definition of the religiously based institutions most members work for.
One member noted that ‘Dignitatis Humanae,’ the normative document on the Catholic Church’s understanding of religious freedom, states that while government must respect the corporate and individual right to religious freedom, that right is guaranteed “within due limits.” One of those limits is “justice and the fundamental rights of persons.” An argument could be made, the member said, that on the basis of the teaching of Vatican II, the contraception mandate presents an appropriate limit on the religious freedom of some people. Yes, the group could get into a long debate about how to interpret such matters, but the resolution itself doesn’t address these issues with sufficient complexity.
Another member stood to point out that the resolution, as written, holds that any business should be exempted from the mandate–in other words, it endorses the so-called Taco Bell exemption. She also said that the resolution presents a curious, if not incoherent, notion of corporate conscience. The tradition lacks a commonly accepted theology that allows us to know what we mean when we talk about informed institutional conscience.
The resolution does not address the mandate’s exemption structure, which narrowly defines a religious employer as one that hires and serves “primarily” co-religionists, and whose purpose is to inculcate its values. Still, one ecclesiologist urged support for the statement because the mandate’s definition of religious employer is “profoundly un-Catholic, sectarian, introverted, and cultic.” Are we going to look out only for our own? he asked.
Another member simply noted that the resolution does not contain the terms “religious institution” or “church.”
Finally, as the discussion was winding down, another theologian rose to ask a procedural question. Is it possible for the membership to table the resolution without a vote, “so the CTSA would not be in the public media as appearing to be against or for the U.S. bishops?” As the Fortnight for Freedom approaches, on a day that saw religious-freedom demonstrations across several U.S. cities, the member’s concern was eminently warranted. “We need a motion,” the chair said. The motion came, was seconded, and passed by voice vote–nearly unanimously. Problem solved.