dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The anti-Obama meme the bishops keep repeating

Or, Part Two of Why would anyone think the bishops religious-freedom campaign could serve partisan ends? The USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Libertys statement Our First, Most Cherished Liberty quotes the pope himself a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom to make its case that religious liberty is under attack. Speaking to the U.S. bishops in January, the pope remarked that some of them had spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.A few pages later that worrying tendency is referenced in a section heading: Religious Liberty Is More Than Freedom of Worship. True enough. But what specifically is the pope talking aboutor rather, what were the bishops who alerted him to this tendency talking about?Lets ask Cardinal Francis George. He wrote this in a diocesan-newspaper column on the HHS mandate in February:

The provision of health care should not demand giving up religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship -- no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.

That column was paraphrased recently in an article at LifeSiteNews by Thaddeus Baklinski. I noticed because the same story was given a full page in my parish bulletin on Sunday. (With no attribution, which is a problem in itself.) It's mainly a collection of remarks made by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in an interview at National Review Online, which Baklinski links to Cardinal Georges column:

Cardinal George had likened the Obama administrations rhetorical shift from supporting freedom of religion to freedom of worship, to Russias constitutional freedom to worship guarantee under communism, when the state controlled the church.

George said nothing direct about "the Obama administration's rhetorical shift." But what he did write functioned like a dog whistle for LifeSiteNews. They saw an opportunity to repeat what has become a popular right-wing anti-Obama meme, and back it up with the Cardinal's name.

You may recall an earlier dotCommonweal post in which Paul Moses noticed and debunked the charge that the Obama administration is methodically replacing references to "freedom of religion" with the narrower "freedom of worship." The claim, which popped up in early 2010, seems to have been popularized largely by this First Things article by Ashley Samelson. The case Samelson lays out to demonstrate that "both the President and his Secretary of State have now replaced 'freedom of religion' with 'freedom of worship' too many times to seem inadvertent" is laughably unconvincing and (as demonstrated by Paul Moses and others) easily dismantled. It is the sort of thing that could convince only someone so eager to believe the worst about Obamas intentions and actions that they willingly suspend skepticismto put it simply, its partisan. Yet another example of Obama's opponents trying to give a sinister gloss to something ordinary or unremarkable about his person or actions, in order to demonstrate his unfitness for office. (Past episodes have included: He uses a teleprompter! He writes books! He says "I" a lot! He puts his feet on the desk in the Oval Office! And so forth.) This one, perhaps because it deals with something that's actually significant, somehow gained traction beyond the right-wing fringe. Though groundless, the accusation that the administration has made a significant rhetorical shift was endlessly repeated and widely discussed. To be very clear: yes, the two terms can mean different things, both rhetorically and in terms of policy. But arguing about that is begging the question. There is no real reason to believe that the Obama administration is or ever was deliberately "replacing" one phrase with the other in its official rhetoric. Obama and Hillary Clinton said "freedom of religion" sometimes and "freedom of worship" sometimes, just like other people do. The accusation that they were speaking in a methodical code is nothing but a smear. Nevertheless, the claim has become quite popular in Catholic circles. Rick Santorum was repeating it on the campaign trail, as Paul Moses noted. That prompted some straight talk from Judd Birdsall in Christianity Today, who explained,

In late 2009 and early 2010, critics pounced on the administration for isolated uses of the phrase "freedom of worship." To some, this particular phraseology signaled a deliberate attempt to pare back America's religious freedom advocacy. Several news outlets ran stories on the ensuing controversy, with most articles quoting the same handful of vocal critics....

By this logic it was actually President George W. Bush who expelled God from Americahe employed the phrase "freedom of worship" scores of times during his presidency, much more than Obama. It's telling that Bush never received a word of criticism, let alone the kind of conspiratorial derision directed at Obama, for using the phrase.

Oddly, Birdsall's article did not mention that one of those news outlets was Christianity Today, which published this masterpiece of baseless speculation in its July 2010 issue. The freedom of worship claim became a popular talking point for those voicing the Churchs opposition to the HHS contraception mandate. Here's Fr. Robert Barrons video on that subject, in which he repeats as if it were a long-established fact the baseless claim that the rhetoric of the Obama administration prioritizes "freedom of worship" over "freedom of religion." Cardinal George, as noted above, used the now familiar meme without mentioning Obama specifically; the same is true of Our First, Most Cherished Liberty. But taking out the presidents name is not enough to remove the appearance of partisanship when your argument relies on a claim that has always been nakedly partisan, and is based on nothing but a bad-faith framing of a few lines from a few speeches. And as if all that werent bad enough, somebody fed this nonsense to the pope. Imagine how this looks to anyone who has already heard and rolled his eyes at the Obama is signaling his nefarious intentions, in code meme. Why should that person take the bishops religious-freedom campaign seriously? Its one thing to hear the freedom of worship line coming from Rick Santorumcandidates on the campaign trail are expected to be partisan. But from supposedly nonpolitical Catholic sources? From the bishops? And worse, from the pope? I have to assume that Cardinal George et al. really think what theyre saying is true. But it isnt. So: who are the bishops trusting? Who told them this was a point they should focus on? They need to ask themselves those questions, and start vetting such advice more carefully, if they are serious about avoiding the appearance of partisanship. And if they hope to be credible in their denunciation of equivocal words and deceptive practices, they had better make sure they get their story straight.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

My favorite part of the bishops' latest religious-freedom statement is their citation of the pope's citation of them.

Circular logic? Great! I love watching circles spin. Where's this one located? Budget's tight right now. Hope it's not too far away.

" I have to assume that Cardinal George et al. really think what theyre saying is true. But it isnt. " Why must you so assume? Do you really think that the Bishops are above political manipulation? Whatever their motivation, the USCCB has decided that they will benefit from allying themselves with the Republican Party. While this may lead to some short-term policy gains that are more in line with Catholic teaching, it is a dangerous, ultimately destructive strategy over the longer term. Politics is ultimately cynical, a struggle over power. One would hope that the modern Church in America would be above that.

How about The Becket Fund (and Institute), including its former key staff member who is now the USCCB's general counsel? Yes, there is a web site, but it's not much help in figuring out what they are all about. Several new hires last year, as if gearing up for some major effort. Is all funding strictly from donations? Individuals only? I have been waiting for a good, in-depth piece on The BF. It's a topic that begs just now for some careful and balanced elucidation. But so far, no journalists that I know of have taken on the subject. That The Becket Fund, in some form or other, is a big player in the bishops' campaign is clear. They do have a very high-end Connecticut Avenue address in D.C.

So if Reagan or Bush says "freedom of worship", that's ok. If Obama says it, look for the coded conspiracy. Got it.

"So: who are the bishops trusting? Who told them this was a point they should focus on? "This would be a wonderful topic for an investigative reporter. I with my inquiring mind, would like to know:- Who coined "Fortnight for Freedom" ?- Who told Paul Ryan it would be good to reference Aquinas?Moreover,- Considering today's economy and the school/parish closings, how can any bishop of a diocese justify the 3% increase (as small as it may appear) of diocesan funds to the USCCB that they overwhelmingly approved last fall at their meeting?

"Why should that person take the bishops religious-freedom campaign seriously?"Because HHS issued a contraceptive mandate that infringes on religious liberty, and the Administration has shown precisely zero interest in rolling it back. That regulation's definition of what constitutes a religious entity is so narrow that it would force religious entities to violate their religious principles. For all practical purposes, this HHS definition reduces religious liberty to freedom of worship. This is specifically what Cardinal George wrote about in the piece linked above, and what he wrote was correct. If the reducing-religious-liberty-to-freedom-of-worship meme has sprouted legs, the HHS contraception mandate is the reason. It is the kernel of truth in the midst of the swirling cloud of inference and misdirection.If this Obama Administration action has the potential to hurt the Obama Administration's political prospects by infringing on religious liberty, that would seem to be a problem for the Obama Administration. It's not the pope's fault, it's not Cardinal George's fault, it's not the fault of the USCCB's ad hoc committee on religious liberty that HHS issued the contraception mandate. It's the Obama Administration's fault, and one it could easily rectify.If LifeSiteNews, which is not connected to the US bishops, has taken a nonpartisan quote of Cardinal George's and stretched and twisted it into a baseball bat with which to pummel the Obama Administration, then that should be taken up with LifeSiteNews.

@Jim Pauwels. "...HHS issued a contraceptive mandate that infringes on religious liberty, and the Administration has shown precisely zero interest in rolling it back. That regulations definition of what constitutes a religious entity is so narrow that it would force religious entities to violate their religious principles. For all practical purposes, this HHS definition reduces religious liberty to freedom of worship"This is a matter of opinion. I would say that HHS has already done a lot of 'rolling back,' an opinion that AB Dolan expressed himself.

The biggest mistake the HHS made was to establish the small exemption for churches and others religious organizations. There should not have been such an exemption. Churches employ people. The HHS should write regulations based on labor law, because health insurance is part of the compensation that employees receive from employers. The HHS should treat all employers, including churches, as employers. There should be no HHS exemption for churches, regardless of the teachings of the churches.

Cardinal George and his mouthpieces in Chicago should retire (at leats from politicizing as should Chaput, Jenky et al.But they won't and we'll get the same line on the mandate, Oba,ma etc. from that encapsulated group.(Ryan is another story -terrible hypocrisy on his Ayn Rand stance -see America's 'In Al lthings" and the continued devotion to Rand by the right commenters there.)

Our l,ocal Ordinary spoke disparaging about "Obama"-- not "President Obama" -- at a gatehring of over 50 people for the Diocesan Pastoral Council. He stated something llike, "The church and I are telling you how to vote,,,, but Obama..." I guess he thught that was his nn-partisan disclaimer.When questioned about this at the break when questioned abut his political message, he nervously said , "I never said anything like that. " There is a tremendous dcognitive dissonance for the bishops at this time as they will will make outrageous statements and yet believe they are being "politically neutral." If I wanted to resort to the Bishop Jenky rhetorical excesses, I might invoke Salem in 1692, but "I never said the bishops were witch-hunters."

Margaret Steinfels' May 4 column is relevant to all this. Her concluding words ("That's just dumb") are not less applicable here.

Thomas Farrell: I don't go as far as you seem to in the issue of exemption. I believe that purely religious entities, e.g. churches, seminaries, are exempt from certain labor and civil rights laws. For example, a seminary can discriminate based on religion, which a Catholic affiliated hospital cannot. Interesting to me, Catholic hospitals and universities have not made a big deal out of this. The reason they don't is more economic than moral: if they insisted that only practicing Catholics could work in their institutions they would be unable to compete in the marketplace.

When groups of individuals with sufficient power have traveled down the road of crippling others for utterly unjustifiable reasons (yes, unjustifiable is a problem) was it really their "freedom of religion" or their "freedom of worship" being crushed? Without their lives and the lives of those who made their lives worthwhile why would one bother with that particularly convoluted question? I simply cannot convinced myself it is possible to crush beyond repair a person's ability to love and believe in faith. Damage serverly, certainly. As to which particular edict or media event lies at the core of the problem or merely expresses the problem, I often come here to find out. Thank you for that. In my uninformed view of a remarkable religion, I do sometimes believe a serious attempt to sever reason from compassion is occurring. Perhaps my perception is due largely to our ability to communicate at nearly the speed of light. If my belief is at all valid such an attempt simply won't work. A group may well break from Catholicism. Nothing new there. But for Catholicism to no longer be Catholicism a great deal more would be required. Very unlikely. Too many utterly remarkable people keeping its head above water. Are the numbers of those folks decreasing? Yes. Perhaps, however, those who arrive to replace them do so with greater conviction. One Teresa or Augustine more, perhaps.

A significant error in my previous post -- The bishop said that he was NOT telling them how to vote, but then reiterated his problems with "Obama."

If the objection is that the Bishops' statement is being used by third parties to make partisan points, how is this any different from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) taking Bishop Blaine's letter and using it to rebut Ryan in a recent interview? Or Michael Sean Winters seizing on the Pope's statements to the press on the plane to Cuba to rebut Ryan?Seems to me you have parallel situations: Bishop makes statement. Third party (partisan in nature) seizes on statement to rebut political position of another. So where's the outcry against DeLauro and Winters? Maybe because there is widespread agreement here with their POLITICS? So is the objection to partisanship then not itself just partisan?

No, Jeff, the problem is that the bishops are appealing to the partisan arguments (or talking points) of third parties to make their point. Jim, what about Fr. Barron? In the video I linked to, he explicitly makes a connection between the HHS mandate and the adminstration's supposed rhetorical shift to supporting "freedom of worship" rather than "religious freedom." He's not a bishop, but surely he's not to be dismissed as a partisan third party. Is he just off-message? The HHS mandate's narrow exemption was a mistake and the bishops are right to protest it. But there's a difference between explaining how that particular policy is an offense against religious liberty and referencing trumped-up evidence to say, in effect, "What do you expect from this religion-hating Obama?" If the bishops are sincerely trying to effect policy change, they should be careful not to lean on sources that are clearly much more interested in discrediting the current president.

Jim P. --Within two weeks Obama said OK, we'll scotch the original mandate, so now you suggest some alternatives. The bishops' response was to broaden the issue to the rights of conscience of small businessmen while offering no alternatives -- zilch, zip, nada, nothing. Since small businessmen are not the bishops it certainly looks like they wanted to widen the war, not avoid one.Don't let them catch you in their net of hysteria.

For all practical purposes, this HHS definition reduces religious liberty to freedom of worship.Jim,Are you saying the only religious liberty in the United States is the liberty to not provide insurance coverage that covers contraception? How could one HHS regulation about insurance coverage reduce religious liberty to freedom of worship? Will it be the case that once a religious organization complies with the contraceptive mandate, that organization will have lost all religious liberty? What we have here is a disagreement in one area about religious liberty, which nobody ever said was absolute. If the contraceptive mandate, in its final form, is still objectionable to the Catholic Church, and if it survives in spite of a strong opposition party's attempts to knock it down, and in spite of a conservative Supreme Court, we will have a case in which our government, with all its checks and balances, has concluded that religious liberty does not extend to refusing to comply with this one HHS regulation. The bishops will consider that their religious liberty has been lessened, and they will add this to their other list of grievances (like losing funding in some states for adoption services because they run afoul of anti-discrimination laws), but all other religious liberties will remain intact.

David Nickol:Jim's point was about how the regulations defined "religious employer" for purposes of an exception from the contraceptive services mandate. You only get "religious liberty" when you're talking about something "religious." Laws against heroin use don't infringe your religious liberty because your heroin addiction has nothing to do with religion. So it very much matters how we define who or what qualifies as "religious" for purposes of "religious liberty." The regulations define a "religious employer" as follows:The amended interim final regulations specified that, for purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.That looks to me like a definition attempting to limit religion solely to worship.

BTW, citation for that quote is 77 Fed. Reg. 8726.

Did everyone catch the interviews last night on MSNBC's "Hardball" of James Salt, Ex. Director of Catholics United and Sister Simone Campbell, Ex. Director of Network??? http://video.msnbc.msn.com/hardball/47196455#47196455 Good job, Sister Simone! Good job, Jim Salt! Sister Simone demonstrated plainly why religious women are held in such solidarity and affection by American Catholics, while hierarchs are aloof, alienated and irrelevant to our lives. First question right off the bat from host Chris Matthews: "How come nuns tend to be Democrats and bishops tend to be Republicans?"Granted this was a superficial and less-then-artful treatment of internal Catholic politics. But, it doesn't take a genius to understand the underlying political dynamic that is roiling the US Catholic community!No wonder the hierarchs are desperately trying to shut down and silence the voice of Catholic religious women, especially the LCWR's Network organization [which the articulate Sr. Simone leads]: These sisters are messing up the hierarchs' political intervention into this years presidential campaign and their gambit to sabotage the reelection of Barack Obama.Catholic hierarchs are proving once again that they are little more than political hacks in the world's oldest all-male feudal oligarchy while the sisters are authentically living out the Gospels.

It's hard to argue with Margaret Steinfell's May 4 closing, "That's just dumb". The title of her piece, however, is a gross exaggeration. "Strategy" suggests a small number of thoughtfully defined, clearly expressed goals incorporating essential values, a path forward which reflects understanding of the environment, of other actors involved and their goals and options, and the inescapable uncertainty of the future. None of these properties is evident in the continuing flow of objections and diversions offered by the members of the USCCB. The question of who the bishops are trusting and may be taking guidance or direction from becomes more critical as they venture further into the current political uproar, intentionally or not. Their intense dismay is unquestionable. They act, however, as if unaware that, in a dozen fortnights or so, the election will be over but what they say and do will remain -- the Internet never forgets.

Catholic hierarchs are proving once again that they are little more than political hacks in the worlds oldest all-male feudal oligarchy while the sisters are authentically living out the Gospels.Then how do you explain multiple bishops objecting to Rep. Ryan's (and so the Republicans') proposed budget?Oh, you can't.

That looks to me like a definition attempting to limit religion solely to worship.Anonsters,The regulation you quote begins, "The amended interim final regulations specified that, for purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is . . . ." We're talking about one regulation of one activity of a religious entity that employes people and gives them benefits and wages. The definition of a religious organization is pretty much the same as for one that could hire and fire based on religion (which would otherwise be illegal). It would be one thing if the Obama administration decreed that for all matters involving religious liberty, the HHS definition of "religious employer" would now be the standard. But that is obviously not the case. And even if it were, religious individuals would not be affected, just religious employers. A loss on this point, just as a loss for Mormons of the right to polygamous marriage, would not mean an end to all religious liberties.

Exactly what freedom of worship for a religious employer is I am not sure. A religious employera diocese, for exampledoesn't worship.

"Jim, what about Fr. Barron? In the video I linked to, he explicitly makes a connection between the HHS mandate and the adminstrations supposed rhetorical shift to supporting freedom of worship rather than religious freedom. Hes not a bishop, but surely hes not to be dismissed as a partisan third party. Is he just off-message?"Hi, Mollie, istm that the specific claim by Fr. Barron - the supposed rhetorical shift by the Obama Administration to reducing "religious freedom" to "freedom of worship" - is, at the very least, debatable, and you and Paul are making important points with these posts.

@ Anonster:Don't you think that some hierarchs "objecting to Ryan's proposed budget" is evidence of just a wee-bit of embarrassment for being shown-up by the Sisters? By being undercut politically by Sisters, yet again? Makes you wonder which group of Catholic leaders, the hierarchs or the sisters, is most faithful to the Gospels? Which group of Catholic leaders are astute enough to understand the deepest moral principles of US Catholics?

"Within two weeks Obama said OK, well scotch the original mandate, so now you suggest some alternatives."Hi, Ann, this is not precisely correct. The President's response to the storm of criticism that erupted when the mandate was publicly announced was to announce that his administration would craft an "accommodation" for those for whom the mandate is problematic (and the administration is now conscientiously following up on the accommodation). But piling an accommodation atop the original mandate is not the same as "scotching" the mandate - it leaves the original mandate in place. It would be as if a builder built a single-story building to which the community strongly objected, and so he added another story on top of it to try to fix the flaws in the original building. IIRC, the original mandate was formally codified on or near the same day that the president announced the intention of adding an accommodation. It will take effect within a year.I'd love it if he would truly scotch the mandate!

"Then how do you explain multiple bishops objecting to Rep. Ryans (and so the Republicans) proposed budget?"Exactly. Those who claim that the bishops are Republican surrogates in shepherds' clothing need to be able to explain this.

"Are you saying the only religious liberty in the United States is the liberty to not provide insurance coverage that covers contraception?"No, of course not. But the liberty to not provide insurance coverage that covers contraception is a genuine liberty. And the definition of what constitutes a religious body is a precedent that those who value religious liberty should not want to be set.

David Nickol:Were talking about one regulation of one activity of a religious entity that employes people and gives them benefits and wagesYes, and the March 26 notice of proposed rulemaking in the Fed. Reg. also made that point. But it requires exceptional naivete to think that this has no possibility to set a precedent. This is, in fact, how precedents begin: "This is a one-time thing and will have no application anywhere else outside this one application!" Until it does. Much in the same way that extrajudicial wiretapping of American citizens was only supposed to be done in terrorism investigations vital to national security. Only they spread and the power was abused. Which gives us every reason in the world to resist the innovation in the first instance.Exactly what freedom of worship for a religious employer is I am not sure.Me either. Happily, my comment doesn't suggest that religious employers enjoy (or don't enjoy) such freedom. My comment was, rather, about how we define "religious," in general, and specifically why the regulation's definition is troublesome, not about what rights employers do or don't have.Jim Jenkins:Dont you think that some hierarchs objecting to Ryans proposed budget is evidence of just a wee-bit of embarrassment for being shown-up by the Sisters? By being undercut politically by Sisters, yet again?Um, no. Given that if you look at USCCB press releases and bishops' statements going back well before the HHS kerfuffle, going years back, there are plenty of statements there favoring the Democratic side on social issues. Or just look at the recent bishops' statement on religious freedom. They specifically cite the continuing horror-show that is Republican immigration policy as an example of how religious liberty is under threat. They've been talking about such ridiculous immigration laws for a while now, in fact. Actually, your comment is illustrative of one of the things I find most irritating about this website. The first, knee-jerk reaction of many, many commenters here is to assume something about the motives or motivations of people (typically bishops) and then build grand narratives on those assumptions. This is, of course, often equally the flaw of conservative types on the other sideonly with the assumptions made about political liberals or nuns or whatever. It's irritating and hopelessly simplistic no matter who does it. So maybe we should all stop doing it?

Among the many things that George et al. seem to be illegitimately conflating is a move toward socialized public services with the curtailment of religious freedom. I don't see, as George seems to, that increased government control over healthcare or education necessarily threatens the practice of religion in the public sphere. That the Soviet Union consolidated health and education under the auspices of the government is not the reason that religious freedom atrophied. I imagine it had more to do with the fact that religiously motivated political dissidents were jailed and executed. So, this whole thing seems predicated on the spurious, and, yes, partisan, argument that big government = socialism = Soviet-style Communism = individual and religious persecution. One would expect a little more subtlety from people who spend their time parsing the metaphysical vagaries of the Divine, but as Mollie suggests, it may not be the Divine that they are interested in parsing.

"Hi, Ann, this is not precisely correct. The Presidents response to the storm of criticism that erupted when the mandate was publicly announced was to announce that his administration would craft an accommodation for those for whom the mandate is problematic (and the administration is now conscientiously following up on the accommodation). But piling an accommodation atop the original mandate is not the same as scotching the mandate it leaves the original mandate in place."Jim P. ==Not precisely accurate. After the bishops objected strenuously to the first version of the mandate, Obama said OK, we'll revise it -- tell us what your suggestion are. Since then the bishops have made no suggestions, and Obama/HHS has not changed the official first statement of policy. But surely you can see that Obama made a peace offering, but the bishops have only ratcheted upwards their complaints

Ann:Since then the bishops have made no suggestions, and Obama/HHS has not changed the official first statement of policy.That's just false. Their first suggestion was to broaden the definition of religious employer, but they were told that that wasn't going to happen, period. So then they said they at least want protections for self-insurers and a few other things. In fact, in late February or early March, they issued a statement complaining that the Obama administration wasn't being responsive to their suggestions, and that the administration was essentially telling them to get in line (and referenced an editorial in America, the Jesuit magazine, as indicative of the line they should get in).But of course we don't know the details of those negotiations. But it's just false that there haven't been any.

"No, Jeff, the problem is that the bishops are appealing to the partisan arguments (or talking points) of third parties to make their point."Really? So they're stealing the talking point of the left with respect to the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws? My gosh!

"Among the many things that George et al. seem to be illegitimately conflating is a move toward socialized public services with the curtailment of religious freedom. I dont see, as George seems to, that increased government control over healthcare or education necessarily threatens the practice of religion in the public sphere. "I am not completely certain who is encompassed by the "et al", but Cardinal George's point in the newspaper piece that Mollie linked to - and a similar point has been made by Rep. Paul Ryan - is that when the government assumes monopolistic ownership of an entire sector of society, like health care or education or providing social services, the intermediary institutions that formerly provided some of those essential services - including Catholic institutions - are crowded out. By the very fact of that crowding out, our religious freedom is curtailed, because the Catholic vision of public ministry encompasses activities such as education and the provision of health care and social services.

"No, Jeff, the problem is that the bishops are appealing to the partisan arguments (or talking points) of third parties to make their point."From my reading, there seems to be an internal disconnect about the source of the partisanship that is supposedly evident in the Bishops' statement. Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, in the response to my comment quoted above, indicates that it is the Bishops who are mimicking the worst talking points of right-wing groups. Yet Matthew Boudway seems to have it the other way round, at least from this comment from the post entitled "Religious Freedom and the US Catholic Bishops" on April 12, 2012, which debuted this "the bishops are a bunch of right-wing jerks" theme:"But there is another question, which has less to do with the substance of the bishops argument than with its timing and manner of expression. Is the statement brazenly partisan? No, I dont think so. Does its rhetoric lend itself (unnecessarily) to partisan exploitation during a campaign season? Maybe. Im not sure. I am sure, though, that the bishops could have done more to minimize the likelihood of such exploitation and, with it, the risk that their statement will backfire."So is it the bishops adopting the (partisan) talking points of others, or the other way round, i.e. the exploitation of the statement by others for partisan means? Or is it just that the disagreement itself is partisan in nature, i.e. conservatives see partisanship in Bishop Blaine's letter to Ryan, liberals see partisanship in the religious liberty debate, and we have a big (partisan) fight of over who's not as partisan as the other?

"... when the government assumes monopolistic ownership of an entire sector of society, like health care or education or providing social services, the intermediary institutions that formerly provided some of those essential social services - including Catholic institutions - are crowded out."Jim Pauwels:Wow! This seems to me to way overstate the reality. Or is this meant to express a fear of some hypothetical future?Off topic and not limited to Jim's post: those of us who were fortunate to have had Sisters for all eight years of grade school were taught that in American (British, otherwise) punctuation commas and periods go within quote marks; colons and semi-colons outside. I think these rules continue.

Wow! This seems to me to way overstate the reality. Or is this meant to express a fear of some hypothetical future?"John - I assume the "reality" to which you refer is our reality, today, in the US, as for example under the regime of the Affordable Care Act which is now being rolled out. But what Cardinal George described, and Eric Bugyis is disputing, (and which spurred my comment) is neither our present nor some hypothetical future, but what happened in the past, in the Soviet Union. Eric Bugyis stated: "Among the many things that George et al. seem to be illegitimately conflating is a move toward socialized public services with the curtailment of religious freedom. I dont see, as George seems to, that increased government control over healthcare or education necessarily threatens the practice of religion in the public sphere. That the Soviet Union consolidated health and education under the auspices of the government is not the reason that religious freedom atrophied. I imagine it had more to do with the fact that religiously motivated political dissidents were jailed and executed."Here is what Cardinal George wrote:" The provision of health care should not demand giving up religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society."My comment was, "Cardinal Georges point in the newspaper piece that Mollie linked to and a similar point has been made by Rep. Paul Ryan is that when the government assumes monopolistic ownership of an entire sector of society, like health care or education or providing social services, the intermediary institutions that formerly provided some of those essential services including Catholic institutions are crowded out. By the very fact of that crowding out, our religious freedom is curtailed, because the Catholic vision of public ministry encompasses activities such as education and the provision of health care and social services."My apologies if I've mispunctuated;I do try to observe standard punctuation but don't always get it right in the heat of dashing off a comment.

Jim Jenkins, I agree Simone Campbell was outstanding on Hardball. If they put her on with Cardinal Dolan or Archbishop Lori, they would have to end the show in the first round on a TKO as they adminstered CPR to the hierarchs. Your reference to the bishops in this election campaign as little more than political hacks may be an unfair slur on hacks. Hacks don't try to hide behind crucifixes. It is typical election year episcopal hypocrisy that bishops knock the Ryan budget, while they pull out all stops to elect Romney who has praised that budget. And having Bishop Blair of Stockton in the lead. To help Cardinal Mahony avoid testifying under oath, Blair last week paid $3.75 million to a single abuse victim. Now all lawyers will want at least as much for each client victim. Just do the math. That is on top of the more than $3 billion already wasted on the legally flawed and financially disasterous "take no prisoners" abuse defense strategythat is aimed mainly at protecting bishops.Is it any wonder the pope and US bishops have apparently put on a full court press to get access to most US nuns' cash? How many more dioceses are already "de facto" bankrupt?For more on the pope's strategy for most US nuns in this election year, please read "Philly Predator Priests & Papal Politics", accessible by clicking on at: http://www.bilgrimage.blogspot.com/2012/04/gerald-t-slevin-philly-predat...

Jim Pauwels,I regret my punctuation comment.John P.

'Off topic and not limited to Jims post: those of us who were fortunate to have had Sisters for all eight years of grade school were taught that in American (British, otherwise) punctuation commas and periods go within quote marks; colons and semi-colons outside. I think these rules continue.'Nope, the rule about always putting periods within a quotation that ends a sentence is now in dispute, and it seems to be losing. Go to the online grammar checker below and try writing this little paragraph. His father said, "Put your books away". Harry picked up his bookpack and went to his room. The light was not on, and he stumbled over the new bike. The use of the period after the quotation will not be contested. https://ed.grammarly.com/register/signup/report_pale/

Thanks, Ann. I am too old to change. Nearly all the Sisters who taught me are now dead, and I will be following them soon enough. In the meantime, I will stick with the 14th edition (1993) of The Chicago Manual of Style.In another post today, you referred to Cardinal George's having served at some point in Mississippi.I don't believe so. Perhaps you were thinking of Cardinal Law, who was ordained a priest of Natchez-Jackson. As editor of the diocesan paper in the early 1960s he was very courageous in his opposition to segregation.Cardinal George as a young OMI priest in the mid-1960s did do a doctorate in American philosophy at Tulane.Thanks again, and a blessed Good Shepherd Sunday. John RP

One thing is true is that the bishops have somewhat successfully got us into discussing HHS rather than their continued rogue actions in administering the church. One of the most dangerous things is that those who defend the bishops here and elsewhere, admit that they are scoundrels but are duped into believing that dogma is somehow more important than morality. If we want to get to our gospel roots we really need to consider that our faith is a Way of Life as opposed to the church of Dogma. Morality is always more important than dogmas. One can be moral without dogmas while dogmas are dead without morals. So think about how the bishops are changing the subject. Their finances are still a scandal while their continued cover-up reveals their character. Consider this current review in America lest we lose focus. http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=13390

Very helpful. I had heard this enough to think there was something to it. Glad to see it shown wrong. The deeper you look at certain parts of the bishops' statement, and the more it is placed in the larger context of the language and worldview that many of them have been using to describe and understand Obama from the beginning, the less it seems to be just about religious freedom. I particularly like the way Mollie has challenged and called attention to the "equivocal words and deceptive practices" line in the statement--certainly one of the least charitable references to the conduct of a sitting president ever made by the USCCB.

John Page ==Yes, Cardinal Law served in Mississippi, but Cardinal George was in the seminary in Mississippi and later taught philosophy in that school, so I'm sure he does know how bad an American government can behave. This, I think, just might make him more suspicious of all governments. But I really don't understand his extreme conservatism. I have my B.A. from Tulane (Newcomb, '51) with a minor in philosophy, and did my course work for my doctorate at Catholic U. at the same time C. George was getting his master's in philosophy there. We might have had some courses together, though I don't remember him. He surely must have had Fr. Mohan for political philosophy, and Fr. Mohan was a liberal politically. The place just wasn't nearly so conservative then. I guess it's a matter of temperament with him. It often is.

Hi, Ann, I would add that Cardinal George grew up in St. Pascal parish in the Northwest Side of Chicago, which is and, I believe, always has been quite a Democratic stronghold, inhabited by many union members (including quite a few policemen, firemen and other city workers). That milieu would seem somewhat progressive politically, and yet conservative in personal behavior and moral outlook. (I was a resident of an adjoining neighborhood myself, quite a few years after Cardinal George left, so I'm sharing some of my personal impressions of the community here).I don't think he is an "extreme conservative". (The period belongs outside the quotation marks in this usage, in my opinion :-)). His views on social justice, considered in and of themselves, probably would mark him as a progressive (as is proper for any Catholic). He does hew to church teaching on sexual matters, which of course seems conservative. He has spent a lot of time in Rome and is a defender of the existing order, so I suppose he would be considered conservative in that sense. Because of his experience in his religious order, he has also lived in other parts of the world, including the developing world, so his point of view on questions of poverty and human rights are pretty progressive. And I would say he's not nearly as grumpy as some other conservative churchmen :-).I don't know if anyone on the Commonweal editorial board today was around when Margaret heard him make his famous remark about progressive Catholicism being 'a parasite on a creature that no longer exists' or some such, and and invited him to a symposium with Peter Steinfels, EJ Dionne, and probably some others I'm forgetting about now. I'd think there are princes of the church that wouldn't give Commonweal the time of day for something like that. I wasn't present for the presentations, but I read them all, and they all seemed courteous enough.He headed up the USCCB at the time that President Obama came into office, and during the passage of the Affordable Care Act, so it's natural that a Democrat would perceive him to be a conservative. Any bishop with that responsibility in that situation is going to come across as a conservative, because the Obama Administration, more so even than the Clinton Administration, has pursued some policies, particularly those that touch on life and sexuality issues, that are antithetical to what the church teaches. But I don't perceive that Cardinal George is particularly more conservative than, say, Cardinal Dolan (although he's not extroverted nor loquacious like Dolan.) Do you also consider the latter to be an extreme conservative?

Jim P. --I think when we say that a Catholic prelate is "conservative" we mean mainly that he very strongly supports what Rome says. Rome, for all its faults, supports collective aid to the poor, so Rome itself is not conservative in that regard. What concerns me about the new USCCB leadership and C. George is that they're turning more Catholic than the Pope. Rome has not made an issue of dioceses in Europe having to pay for contraception for their employees. Benedict didn't speak out against Notre Dame honoring Obama, and in fact he is much more willing to dialogue with those who disagree with him than our prelates seem to be (see his Courts of the Gentiles). Yes, he is supporting the USCCB's campaign to defend religious freedom, but not nearly as loudly nor emphatically as they.I think that the bishops behavior during the ACA debate was terrible. They had no good reason to oppose it at least in the end. Even Rep. Bart Stupak, a super-conservative who understood the bill well, urged passage of the final bill. But they didn't, and George was their leader.So far C. Dolan seems very conservative to me. I don't think jolliness has anything to do with conservativism one way or another. Look at Calvin Cooledge and Ronald Reagan.

Yet again, thanks, Ann Olivier. As you may know, Cardinal George was one of my bosses from 1997 to 2002. I thought I knew his CV well. But I had not known that he studied and later taught philosophy at the Oblate scholasticate at Pass Christian. I think Cardinal George could have been more diplomatic in his letter of good wishes to President-elect Obama in November 2008. The catalogue of "neuralgic" issues could have been saved till later.

Pages