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Bishop Lori is not happy with 'America.'

From the Could Have Seen This Coming a Mile Away Department: Bishop Lori of Bridgeport -- chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom -- has sent a strongly worded letter to America magazine in response to their strong editorial on the contraception-coverage mandate, "Policy, Not Liberty."The bishop writes:

The March 5th America editorial takes the United States Bishops to task for entering too deeply into the finer points of health care policy as they ponder what the slightly revised Obama Administration mandate might mean for the Catholic Church in the United States. These details, we are told, do not impinge on religious liberty. We are also told that our recent forthright language borders on incivility.

At which point he crosses that border, delivering a thoroughly uncivil scolding to the editors of America.

Ignoring the substantive theological critique made by the editors, Lori rehearses the points you've probably memorized by now. Here's one:

What details are we talking about? For one thing, a government mandate to insure, one way or another, for an abortifacient drug called Ella. Here the details would seem to be fertilized ova, small defenseless human beings, who will likely suffer abortion within the purview of a church-run health insurance program.

Never mind that Ella is not designed to act on existing pregnancies, that its primary function is to delay ovulation, that the science on its abortifacient properties in the human body remains inconclusive, and that it is only in animal studies where it's been shown that very high doses of the drug terminated pregnancies. (An overdose of aspirin would have the same effect.) The bishop would rather score rhetorical points by making it seem as though the editors of America believe the bishops should not concern themselves with innocent human life. Nonsense.Has Bishop Lori forgotten his 2007 decision to allow Catholic hospitals to comply with Connecticut state law requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims? The law held that patients must have a pregnancy test before receiving such drugs, but not an ovulation test, as the bishops wanted. (At the time, Plan B [levonorgestrel]was the only FDA-approved emergency-contraception drug. The statute doesn't specify which drug should be provided, only those deemed safe by the FDA. Perhaps Ella is now provided to rape victims -- trying to run that down.) Arguing that Plan B can act as an abortifacient, the bishops sent a letter to the governor pleading with her not to sign the bill. Cooperating with the law, the bishops wrote, would force Catholic institutions to act in "direct opposition to our religious belief that life begins at the moment of conception and as such is a serious violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic faith."That was May 2007. Just four moths later, the bishops experienced "an evolution in thinking," according to a spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Conference, owing to "the state of existing science and the lack of definitive teaching by the church and the fact that there are many who are affiliated with the church that believe the ovulation test isnt necessary. Or, as the Connecticut bishops put it in their statement explaining their reversal: "The administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present."In other words, five years ago the bishops of Connecticut made a prudential judgment to allow Catholic hospitals to provide rape victims with pharmaceutical agents the USCCB now routinely refers to as "abortion-causing drugs." That would be the same sort of judgment Bishop Morlino of Madison made when he decided to comply with Wisconsin law and provide contraception coverage to diocesan employees.If the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was planning to make an actual moral-theological argument at some point -- one that goes beyond repeating that Catholic institutions will be "forced to provide for" services inimical to church teaching -- now would be a good time. While they're at it, maybe someone could point out to the chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom that not all women can tolerate the outmoded pills offered at Walmart for $9 a month.


Commenting Guidelines

Men not being able to use analogies is like...oops, guess I can't.

"Im curious about your perception of the America editorial as confused about the nature of the dispute. How do you think the editors got it wrong?"Hi, Grant - there are a lot of things that I find objectionable about the America editorial, and to catalog all of them would be time-consuming for me and really tedious for anyone who was to read the result. But in making the comment to which you responded, here is what I had in mind: the editorial says this:"The religious liberty campaign seems to have abandoned a moral distinction that undergirded the conferences public advocacy in past decades: the contrast between authoritative teaching on matters of principle and debatable applications of principle to public policy. The natural law tradition assigned application to the prudent judgment of public officials. Writing of policy differences in 1983, the bishops wrote, The Church expects a certain diversity of views even though all hold the same universal moral principles. Contemporary Catholic social teaching has spoken of policy in terms of a legitimate variety of possible options for the faithful and the wider public; it has urged that differences over policy be tempered by charity and civility."America's editors misapply the principle they've cited from 1983; had they applied it correctly, the editorial would read quite differently - and presumably would not have provoked Bishop Lori's acid response. The point of the current dispute is that the Obama Administration has not presented the polity with "a legitimate variety of possible options". In point of fact, the Administration presented us with only a single option (the mandate); and then subsequently stated an intent to substitute for the mandate a slightly different mandate; and both mandates, in the opinion of those who possess Catholic teaching authority, are *not morally legitimate*. This is not a case in which Americans are asked to choose from a variety of more or less morally equal and acceptable policy options.What is at stake here, what this controversy has brought into relief, is precisely that it is simply not true that "all hold the same universal moral principles." Perhaps it was true, three or four generations ago, that there was a consensus in the US around the importance of religious liberty, and a consensus regarding the immorality of contraception. But surely the consensus on the latter vanished some time ago. The morality that undergirds the mandate and the suggested revised mandate is deeply flawed. Contraception is gravely immoral in marriage, and contraception enables serious immorality outside of marriage. Forcing employers to subsidize it is highly objectionable. The bishops couldn't but speak up against it, even if the church itself were not so directly affected by it.The editorial also states:"The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. "What do the editors mean by "effective" in this instance? I take it to mean, "successful in convincing American Catholics to think as the bishops do." But is that really the measure of effectiveness in heralding moral truth? Isn't the real measure of a bishop's effectiveness the clarity and love with which truth is proclaimed? Whether people respond positively, or not, to a clear and charitable proclamation of truth is a different matter and, to a large extent, beyond the bishops' control. There have been a number of times and places in the history of the church in which clear and loving proclamation of the truth has been popularly rejected, from the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul on down to today. America's editors seem squeamish that the bishops had, for a glimmering instant, galvanized Catholic opinion across the political spectrum; but then 'squandered' the moment by ... proclaiming the truth. The truth must be proclaimed, in and out of season. It seemed for a few days that it was in season; but then the winds turned.

"Jim Pauwels, to avoid the arguments about the accomodation for Catholic Hopitals, Universities, etc, let me limit my comment to just the Catholic Taco Bell stand owner wih 50 or more employees."Per the analysis by those Providence College moral theologians, it's not clear that the Taco Bell franchisee isn't still immediately cooperating in evil.And the proposed new mandate creates new classes of problems, for any Catholic employer who self-insures, and for any Catholic health insurance company.There already exist a number of government subsidies of birth control, starting with Medicare and Medicaid, and including subsidies to Planned Parenthood, that don't require employers or insurers to directly subsidize birth control. The government *already knows how to do this*.

"why not have a universal redistribution program that gives more women an extra $50 a month?"The government could implement an across-the-board $50 a month tax credit, or send out tax rebate checks in the amount of $50 a month. Recent political history is that proposals like this are almost impossible for Congress and Presidents to resist, particularly when elections are pending.

Setting aside the details of the debate between Bishop Lori and America, it is worth noting that there IS a debate. Not so long ago, America's practice of allowing varied points of view within its pages on religious issues prompted the ouster of a respected editor. It would be a bit awkward for church authorities to silence a magazine that wants to speak out in conscience on the bishops' campaign to protect freedom of conscience. So it's heartening to see a detailed exchange on the issues rather than the blunt use of authority to prevent dissent. Religious liberty means that those who have a dissenting viewpoint within the church should be able to speak out - and it means those who disagree with them should be able to, also.

Paul, Moses, America has gone though a reorganization, including the appointment of a new "President and Publisher" a few months ago - Fr. John Schlegel, S.J., the two possible assignments for Fr. Schlegel were either to New York or to Zimbabwe. He may wish he had been sent to Zimbabwe by the time this uproar is over, but I'm glad that he is supporting America's tradition of taking independent editorial positions while also providing a forum for opposing views.

Did someone recently say there is more pressure on Catholic journals and journalists?The removal of Fr. Reese in its day was a disgrace!We may see more from the right OMP who want to demonize al lwho disagre e politically or religiously from them.

According to some who argue here, even if distribution of contraceptives through an insurance plan was demonstrably free, it would still be immoral for Catholic institutions to procure such a policy for its employees. But some institutions, and many Catholics, including presumably Bishops already profit from the manufacture and sale of contraceptives -- Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer and WalMart anyone? If the 'one drop contaminates the soup' argument works for insurance, why not investments?

You have a point, jbruns, you have a point. Must all the dioceses divest themselves of the big pharmos? And other companies whose products they find morally objectionable? The German bishops right now are trying to unload their investment in a publisher of porn. They own it 100%.

"But some institutions, and many Catholics, including presumably Bishops already profit from the manufacture and sale of contraceptives"Well then we should all rally round, because an economic effect of the HHS mandates is likely to be an increase in the cost of contraceptives.""Obama really is a genius (and I mean that): in one move he has managed to split Catholics AND give a big boost to Pharma profits, ensuring their political support.

Mr. Landry, I've occasionally wondered if this whole scenario was not thought out ahead of time by the White House to make the bishops end up looking like Republican partisan shills --- by taking the bait!Makes ya' wonder...

I have no inside knowledge, but I have wondered at times if the WH realized that whatever they proposed first would be rejected as inadequate by the bishops so they held off on the accomodation until round 2 (February 10).

My sense is that whatever the WH proposes, the bishops will not consider the matter closed until the Becket Fund cases get to the Supreme Court and are either refused by it or heard and decided. In sequence, their milestones are probably:1. Get a bill passed by this Congress. FIrst try didn't get through the Senate and it's unlikely that they will ever get the 2/3 majority of the present Congress needed to override a veto2. In November, elect a Republican president and Republican majorities in both Houses so that a bill could be passed in early 2013 This raises the question of how much pressure they will put on Catholics to vote that way. 3. Wait for action by the Supreme Court - Since the cases have to be heard by District Courts and Appeals Courts first, this probably wouldn't produce a decision before the end of 2013, even if the Supreme Court accepts a case.

Moderator, sorry, my last comment was intended for another post. Please feel free to delete it here.

I recently saw an unusual adjective used to describe Bishop Lori. "Ubiquitous." The more visible you become, as political candidates discover to their cost (Santorum on torture?), the greater the danger that people will scrutinize your words and find them lacking. And the more you opine, the greater the possibility that you will wander into areas where you are not competent. Which is why I am keeping this particular comment short.