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Faculty members of Catholic university urge school president to accept contraception 'accommodation.'

Last week, 47 of John Carroll University's roughly 215 faculty members signed a letter to school president Robert L. Niehoff, SJ, asking him to accept the contraception "accommodation" and include such coverage in employee health plans. The faculty members express their concern that "the bishops have chosen a path of continued confrontation." Given that the bishops "have rejected the accommodation offered by the administration," they continue, "leads us to wonder what motivates their continued resistance." Rejecting the bishops' claim that the contraception-coverage mandate constitutes an attack on religious freedom, the faculty argue that mandate "is driven by a concern for women's health." The signatories include the co-founders of the university's new public-health minor program, and members of the following departments: Biology, Classical and Modern Languages and Cultures, Communication and Theater Arts, Education, English, History, the Library, Math and Computer Science, Philosophy, Political Science, Physics, Psychology, Sociology and Criminology, and Theology and Religious Studies."Access to contraception is central to the health and well-being of women and children," according to these faculty members. Therefore, they urge Niehoff to "stand up to those who would play politics with women's health," and "endorse a policy of insurance coverage of contraception that respects the religious liberties and health of all who teach and work at Catholic colleges and universities." (You can view the entire letter here.)Not sure if this is the first letter of its kind, but I doubt it will be the last.


Commenting Guidelines

No thinker of any merit would suggest that there is actually a "religious liberty" interest in having someone else supply one with contraceptives for free.

Not sure if this is the first letter of its kind, but I doubt it will be the last.---------Agree. The claims made by some who rushed to the barricades with their hysterical accusations, overwrought editorials, etc., that all/many/most liberal Catholics agreed with their denunciations of the President are crumbling. I wonder if any of them will now admit their error. Googling "all liberal Catholics agree with Dionne" brings up some examples of the premature assertions.

For a contrary view, addressing similar arguments in a recent America editorial Policy, Not Liberty ( ), see: The Bishops and the Mandate: Principled Witness vs. Politics as Usual by Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson, 2/28/12

Employees at Catholic universities need to make their views known to their Catholic employers regarding contraception coverage. The ideological biases of Catholic employers should not rule out contraception coverage as part of insurance plans offered at Catholic universities. So I applaud the efforts of the 215 faculty at John Carroll University.

Good for them; let's hope more follow. And let's hope Bishop Lennon of Cleveland doesn't decide to get out his mandatum and use it to slap them around. It would be more than a little ironic to suppress intellectual freedom in the process of one's fight for religious freedom.

Why the continued use of quotation marks around "accomodation"?8 million examples:

It's about time!It will be good for the hierarchs to increasingly feel how alienated they are from their own people.No matter how loudly the hierarchs huff & puff and stamp their feet in their unctuous, defensive manner, no matter what medieval "mandatum" they dust off and try to intimidate people, our best response to them would be to simply ignore them.It's a tough thing to say, but the hierarchs are dying-off, and they are becoming more desperate: We should be respectful to them, eschew overly deferential behavior toward them, yet remain resolute in what our consciences are telling us what must be done to salvage the church.

From the faculty letter there is this:"We thus ask urge the bishops to avoid the inflammatory rhetoric they have been using"And then, in the very next sentence, this:"We ask that you stand up to those who would play politics with women's health."So, you see, only the faculty is permitted to engage in inflammatory rhetoric. Nice work, if you can get it.It will be interesting to see how Father Niehoff and Bishop Lennon respond.

Michael J. Kelly, I don't see why you characterize the "America" editorial as a "contrary view"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.The campaign also risks ignoring two fundamental principles of Catholic political theology. Official Catholic rights theory proposes that people should be willing to adjust their rights claims to one another. It also assigns to government the responsibility to coordinate contending rights and interests for the sake of the common good. The campaign fails to acknowledge that in the present instance, claims of religious liberty may collide with the right to health care, or that the religious rights of other denominations are in tension with those of Catholics. But as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, the church does not seek to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to the faith. Furthermore, the campaign fails to admit that the administrations Feb. 10 solution, though it can be improved, fundamentally did what Catholic social teaching expects government to docoordinate contending rights for the good of all.By stretching the religious liberty strategy to cover the fine points of health care coverage, the campaign devalues the coinage of religious liberty.

@John Hayes (2/28,12:12 pm) I think the "contrary view" is expressed in the response that appears at The Public Discourse.

Luke Hill, I commented on that in these comments under Grant's "independent Lens" post.John Hayes 02/27/2012 - 4:41 pm SUBSCRIBERJohn Hayes 02/27/2012 - 5:04 pm SUBSCRIBER

Grant, I know that a similar letter has been signed by faculty and sent to Pres. Jenkins at Notre Dame, though the letter has not been published anywhere. His response was to reiterate the university's position that it would continue to work with Obama to find a compromise.

There's nothing in the letter to indicate that the letter signees are Catholic; and yet the headline reads "Catholic faculty urge..." How do you know these professors are Catholic?Sloppy. And misleading.

Sorry to mislead you, Larry. I toyed with "faculty members of a Catholic university," but thought it was too wordy. Happy to change it. For the record, not all the signatories are Catholic.

John Hayes wrote: Official Catholic rights theory proposes that people should be willing to adjust their rights claims to one another.Catholic teaching does not propose any 'right to free contraceptive services', however it does hold that '...Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey...' So there is no conflict of rights in this situation.Furthermore, fertility is a normal, healthy human function. Infertility is a disease that warrants health care.Finally, rights are things that are: '...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...' as opposed to gifts that a benign government graciously showers upon its citizens.

John Hayes. My apologies. I should have written 'John Hayes quoted...'

The way the faculty put that, i.e., that the bishops "have chosen a path of continued confrontation" sums up the problem perfectly. The attitude's the problem. They're openly hostile, not the least willing to see goodwill on the other side. That kind of radical intransigence is something new.

Grant,Thank you for highlighting this sentence from the faculty letter: "Access to contraception is central to the health and well-being of [women and] children." I'm among those who think this is primarily a religious liberty issue, but those who accept the accommodation pretty much have to believe this about contraception, don't they?Catholic teaching is that fertility is not a disease, and that treating it like one (e.g. through contraception, sterilization, etc.) is harmful to human bodies and human relationships -- a view that doesn't lack for scientific and social-scientific evidence.

I know that I'm rather dim at times, but what about freedom of choice for these faculty members?By what right can these Catholic universities force their faculty to continue to work at those universities? How can they require that the faculty not be allowed to leave and work somewhere else if they do not like the conditions of employment that are part of the employment contract?And how could these Catholic universities have the power to hire these faculty in the first place against their will?It is time to tear down the walls built around these universities. Faculty should be able to quit and leave if they don't like it when Catholic universities act Catholic.

I found this interesting. Its not just the USCCB who objects to the 'accommodation'.Missouri Synod president says church remains deeply concerned about health plan mandate despite White House statementST. LOUISFebruary 14, 2012The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod, issued a statement today in response to President Obamas health plan accommodation for religious groups, which was announced last week:In response to President Obamas announcement Friday concerning an accommodation to a previous mandate that health plans must cover all forms of birth control (even those that can kill the unborn), The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod (LCMS) remains deeply concerned. We strongly object to the use of drugs and procedures that are used to take the lives of unborn children, who are persons in the sight of God from the time of conception. Drugs such as Plan B and Ella, which are still included in the mandate, can work post-conception to cause the death of the developing child, so dont be fooled by statements to the contrary.We see President Obamas action Friday as significant, in that it appears to have been prompted by the many voices united in concern over an infringement of our religious liberties. But the accommodation did not expand the exemption for religious employers, nor did it restrict the mandate in any way. It simply described a temporary enforcement delay and a possible future changea change that, unfortunately, would not adequately protect religious freedom or unborn lives.We remain opposed to this mandate because it runs counter to the biblical truth of the sanctity of human life. We are committed to working to ensure that we remain free to practice the teachings of our faith, that our religious rights are not violated, and that our rights of conscience are retained. Freedom of religion extends beyond the practice of our faith in houses of worship. We must be free to put our faith into action in the public square, and, in response to Christs call, demonstrate His mercy through our love and compassion for all people according to the clear mandate of Holy Scripture.The government has overstepped its bounds. This controversy is not merely about birth control and the Catholic Churchs views about it. Its about mandating that we provide medications which kill life in the womb. And moreover, and perhaps even more ominous, it is about an overzealous government forcing coercive provisions that violate the consciences and rights of its citizens. We can no longer expect a favored position for Christianity in this country. But we can, as citizens of this great nation, fight for constitutional sanity against secularizing forces. As we have vividly experienced in discriminatory state legislation with respect to homosexual adoption, we, and our institutions (and those of other religious citizens of good will), are being robbed of the right to the free exercise of religion absent government intrusion or threat. The next assault will come upon church-related retirement facilities. How much longer will it be legal in this country to believe and act according to the dictates of biblical and creedal Christianity?Jesus bids us, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's (Mark 12:17). We will pray for and support our government where we can, but our consciences and lives belong to God.

For an alternate perspective on whether it is appropriate to invoke "women's health" in support of the HHS mandate:

Eric Bugyis, the Notre Dame Observer published an update yesterday. I wish the USCCB had the same temperament as Fr. Jenkins.The current version of the mandate requires insurance companies rather than religiously-affiliated employers to pay for contraception for employees. The Obama administration said self-insured employers, like Notre Dame, would be included in the exemption, but has not released specifics as to how this will work.Brown said Jenkins welcomes conversations with the White House because respectful dialogue is the only path to resolving disagreements."He has emphasized over the past three years that you can't change society unless you persuade people, and you can't persuade them unless you engage them in a respectful way," Brown said. "So you don't shun the person you want to persuade perhaps especially when that person is our president."Nick Papas, a White House spokesman, said the Obama administration appreciates its relationship with Jenkins."We deeply value Fr. Jenkins' advice and counsel," he said. "The White House also benefits from a number of Notre Dame alums who play an integral role in our Administration."The spokesmen for the White House and Notre Dame declined to share specifics about the nature and extent of Jenkins' relationship with the White House, citing those conversations as private....Brown said the University plans to discuss specifics as to how the contraception mandate will affect Notre Dame in the near future. In the mean time, Jenkins will remain in communication with the White House, he said. "There will continue to be engagement with the administration on this and other issues," Brown said.

Also, how can the bishops or any particular University accept an "accommodation" that has not actually been formally proposed. The law as it exists today does not exempt Catholic University from the mandate, there is just a stay of enforcement in effect while the official policy is created.

I've wondered myself about the differences between Fr. Jenkins' response and the bishops, and they both seem appropriate, and even mutually reinforcing, given their respective roles and their history with the White House. Certainly Jenkins hasn't criticized the bishops, and if the list of signatures on the "Unacceptable" letter is any indication he hasn't dissuaded those who work at Notre Dame from taking a harder position. I've assumed that Fr. Jenkins realizes he is uniquely positioned to influence the Obama administration. The bishops aren't, but that isn't their fault -- the Obama administration has already made it clear how little they care to respectfully engage with the bishops.Although the bishops have been frequently criticized for being "too political" during this, in a sense their response is a sign that they are free speak without worrying about political. Fr. Jenkins must be much more careful and diplomatic, because he must play this politically.Fr. Jenkins and the bishops may not be coordinating, but I would assume that Fr. Jenkins has been keeping in close contact with his local bishop, and in present circumstances, they need each other.

John Hayes, thanks for the link to the ND piece. It really helps illustrate how the call to accept the "accommodation" is premature since even the informal proposal does not in fact accommodate any self-funded plans like ND and several other hospitals and universities have. Let's hope the faculty at ND take a cue from Fr. Jenkins and wait for the process to move forward before they encourage ND to take a deal that doesn't work for ND. Go Irish.

MIkeD, I don't think there's any need to accept anything until a final draft is issued for the usual 60 days of public comments. In the same way, I don't think it's useful to reject it before seeing a final draft. I hear too much of "We don't need no stinkin' final draft - we know we won't like it."

It is clear as day that the American bishops support the Republican party on practically every issue. They are a rightly discredited group who have lost their way and become more political and less spiritual every day. They did have an issue and had support. But they quickly showed their colors and receded into the politicos they have become. It is not inflammatory to rebuke them. It is irresponsible not to.

Does anybody besides me find it thoroughly ironic that the Archbishop of New York who was originally touted as the ultimate in geniality, charm, and warm-hearted good nature, and who was seen as such recently also in Rome, is coming on in this brouhaha like Godzilla?What is Cardinal Dolan really like?

Cdl Dolan is and will be whatever it takes to ingratiate himself with as many Cardinals as possible. I do believe that he seriously thinks he has a better than 50/50 chance of being elected pope.Ambition and ego make for a dangerous combination, particularly when its public face is "aw shux", "let's have a beer and brat together", etc.

Jimmy Mac... no American would get enough votes on the first ballot to be even a distant contender. Charm in Rome is cheaper than pizza slices..

Good pastoral response from Cardinal Wuerl after a priest refused to give a woman communion at her mother's funeral. It's a relief after all the political maneuvering of the past few weeks.Archdiocese officials would not comment. Instead, they issued a short statement saying that the priests actions were against policy and that they would look into it as a personnel issue.When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person, the statement said. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.Messages for Guarnizo and other parish staff were not returned. Neither he nor other parish leaders were at the church or the rectory Tuesday night.Active Catholics in the Greater Washington region said they could not recall another recent occasion when a priest had refused to administer the sacrament to a gay Catholic. Guarnizos refusal, they said, seemed at odds with the strong stand against denial of communion to Catholics enunciated by the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.Wuerl said he did not believe in denying communion because it is impossible to know what is in another persons heart. The issue took off during the 2004 presidential campaign, when some conservative Catholic leaders said that Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, should be denied communion because of his pro-choice views.

SEcretary Sibelius says moving ahead with draft:HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the Obama administration plans to issue a rule "in the near future" on its compromise plan on contraception coverage and is meeting with insurers, clergy and health leaders to get feedback on how to make it work.Weve begun outreach. I have talked to Catholic health leaders, Im reaching out to priests. Were also talking to union leaders, were talking to our partners at labor who run the self-insured plans to figure out a strategy, Sebelius told reporters at a conference in D.C. on Tuesday.We intend to propose a rule in the near future on some implementation strategies that I think do exactly what the president says - which is make sure women have preventive health services and respect religious freedom," Sebelius said....This will be an implementation rule, so well propose it and have it in place in time, Sebelius said. For those religious employers who do not fall under the exemption, their implementation deadline is August of 2013. So we have 18 months, but we intend to move well ahead of that deadline."

The John Carroll letter is exactly what one would expect from a herd of independent minds. The courageous cohort boldly embraces the position that 95% of their colleagues at secular universities hold. Perhaps its more like 98%.

What is the percentage at Catholic universities?

I couldnt agree more Patrick. No real thought other than 'whats everyone else think?'

John H. -- Cdl. Wuerl's stand on denying Communion may be adaptive. About the time Abp. Burke was speaking harshly on bishops' practices on the matter, the Sebelius problem arrived in DC. "Sebelius Communion ban to apply in Washington" "Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2009 / 05:26 pm (CNA).- According to the Washington Times, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington plans to maintain the pastoral request Kathleen Sebelius bishop made in 2007 asking her not to receive Communion."

Jack BarryThere there is this from the Washington Post:"Archdiocese officials would not comment. Instead, they issued a short statement saying that the priests actions were against policy and that they would look into it as a personnel issue.When questions arise about whether or not an individual should present themselves for communion, it is not the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington to publicly reprimand the person, the statement said. Any issues regarding the suitability of an individual to receive communion should be addressed by the priest with that person in a private, pastoral setting.Is Cdl Wuerl at odds with his own policy?

Oops, That should have begun "Then there."

Alan M. --He might distinguish in that one is a DC personnel issue whereas the other is fraternal respect for the judgment of another bishop. The uproar over politicians is becoming something of a tradition around the country.

Off topic.

Here are a couple of excerpts from Cardinal George's letter which I think give you an insight into the USCCB's thinking.Practically, were told that the majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. There are properly medical reasons, in some circumstances, for the use of contraceptive pills, as everyone knows. But even if contraceptives were used by a majority of couples only and exclusively to suppress a possible pregnancy, behavior doesnt determine morality. If it can be shown that a majority of Catholic students cheat on their exams, it is still wrong to cheat on exams. Trimming morality to how we behave guts the Gospel call to conversion of life and rejection of sin.Theoretically, it is argued that there are Catholic voices that disagree with the teaching of the church and therefore with the bishops. There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. Perhaps this is the time for everyone to re-read the Acts of the Apostles. Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles. Bishops dont claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic.You can read the full letter here.

Thanks for the link Bruce. The Cardinal framed the matter quite clearly. "Were one to have listened uncritically to the more hysterical elements in Americas news media over the past month, one would have concluded that contraception is intractably hard to come by in the United States; but a cursory glance at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygienes well-appointed website gives quite the opposite impression. There, contrarily, visitors are informed that anyone in need of contraception is somewhat spoiled for choice."

The Cardinal did frame the matter quite clearly. He basically said that if you disagree with the bishops, your personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church. "Bishops are the successors of the apostles; they collectively receive the authority to teach and govern that Christ bestowed upon the apostles." Sounds like episcopal pride to me.I think Ladislas Orsy has a better understanding: All who are people of God are called to build the church and sanctify the world. Not one of the letters from St. Paul (who was much concerned about building the church) is addressed to the heads of the churches. Instead, they are addressed to the people. In his letters, we have an authentic source for the correct theology of the people.- Ladislas Orsy, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates

I'm not sure we need another thread on denial of communion again, but maybe it's good it was mentioned as just another culture war issue dividing the church as this topic isd.Ken and Bruce can fon off anyone who disagrees with the hierachy but they are preaching to their own choir.I say once again that the lived experiences of Catholics many of whom loyally serve need to be taken far more seriously, but loyalty to the party line will be heard from again and again; and as often happens here, Jeanne analyzes the dynamic well.

Responding to Jeanne FollmanLet me just say that the Apostolic line of succession has successfully husbanded the deposit of faith for 2000 years. I highly doubt that is because the clerics are better humans than you or me, but rather because Christ somehow keeps them generally going in the right direction. Individuals, however, can and do wander off, sometimes in great numbers. My personal bet is on the Bishops, not 'correct theology of the people'

It's an embarrassment to Catholic colleges that they would employ so many people who are so driven by political ideology and opposition to the Church that they would put out a letter like this. The letter's signers -- who bring with them no expertise in anything of relevance to this debate -- seem to think that: 1) Bringing a Group 1 carcinogen to more women is a boon to "women's health" (which is arguable at best); 2) Your "religious liberties" are at stake if someone else fails to give you free contraceptives; 3) It is possible to "insure" an item that is cheap and used on a weekly basis; 4) "Access to contraception" is somehow in danger (access has never been greater in any human society in history); 5) Any threat to religious liberty is refuted by claiming that the Obama administration's motives are merely to benefit women's health (the fact that religious liberty can be infringed even if the rule is not deliberately meant to do so seems to escape the letter signatories); 6) There has been any actual "accommodation offered by the administration" at this point; 7) The "accommodation" would make any moral difference; 8) Their opponents are the ones "play[ing] politics with women's health"; and9) The judgment of the Institute of Medicine simply settles the matter, as if no one outside that organization is allowed any critical thinking ability whatsoever. What a frivolous letter.

You don't know what motivates them, Stuart, and you are out of line for pretending that you do.

Bruce, I agree bishops are key to the web of the institution that has lasted 2000 years. But they are individuals as well and just as capable of wandering off as the rest of us. I don't think God whispers to them any louder than to anyone else. So it wouldn't kill them to listen more humbly to the voices around them, including to the voices of their own priests.

Jeanne, to paraphrase Grant, you don't know that they haven't listened. I, for one, read a lot of naivete in the comments on this website with regard to negotiating an acceptable settlement, and the concept of rights.