Bad Reaction

Conservative Catholics complain that too many liberal Catholics instinctively greet every statement from the Vatican with suspicion, skepticism, or derision. It’s a fair point. The motives and judgment of those who appear unthinkingly hostile to all hierarchical authority should be questioned. Patient attention to the legitimate concerns of others and the presumption of goodwill on the part of those we disagree with are essential virtues.

Unfortunately, patience and the presumption of goodwill were not much in evidence in the response of the U.S. bishops and many conservative Catholics to President Barack Obama’s compromise on the question of mandated contraceptive coverage for employees of religious-affiliated institutions. Even before all the details of the president’s proposal were known, the bishops rejected it and then upped the ante by insisting that the only possible solution was to repeal the mandate altogether. In other words, the bishops are now demanding that no employer be required to offer free contraception coverage to its employees. To justify their response, they offered only the most tendentious reading of the possible flaws in Obama’s proposal. Now the USCCB is threatening a concerted political and public-relations campaign—during an election year—that casts the president as a determined enemy of religious freedom.

What is going on here? Is the question of contraception coverage—something most American Catholics already have, and which the bishops have said almost nothing about before now—really where the hierarchy wants to issue a non-negotiable edict? Why were they not this vocal in their opposition to the Bush administration’s use of torture? Has the USCCB thought through how these demands are likely to undermine the church’s much more important effort to change hearts and minds about abortion? Or how they will further divide Catholics?

The Catholic community was largely united in its rejection of Obama’s initial failure to exempt religious-affiliated institutions from the contraception mandate (see “An Illiberal Mandate” and "Bad Decision"). Many of the Catholic leaders who led that protest, such as Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, and the presidents of various Catholic colleges and universities, are guardedly optimistic about the new mandate. Ideally, the administration would have simply broadened the original religious exemption. Nevertheless, the new plan, which requires insurance companies, rather than Catholic institutions, to cover the cost of contraceptives, is a welcome development. The details of how this will work are not entirely clear. One particular difficulty has to do with Catholic institutions that self-fund their health plans. Administration officials have expressed confidence that some workaround will be found that will prevent these institutions from directly paying for contraception coverage. This is a complicated legal and administrative matter, and a degree of caution, even skepticism, is warranted. What is not warranted is the USCCB’s demand that the contraceptive mandate be done away with entirely. This is a novel interpretation of the First Amendment, and one that will almost certainly be rejected by the courts. It is also a political gift to abortion-rights groups, who will use it to make the case that the church’s opposition to abortion is motivated by a larger disregard for the health of women. Republicans have already seized on the controversy, hoping to use it as a wedge issue in the presidential race. None of these developments will be good for the church or the nation.

The fact that many Catholic institutions already comply with state laws requiring contraception coverage makes the USCCB’s extreme demands all the more curious. For Catholic institutions to participate in insurance plans where individuals may decide to use contraception is at most remote cooperation with what the church considers evil. It is implausible for the bishops to insist that the revised mandate compels them to cooperate directly in a sinful activity when even the original mandate did nothing of the kind.

So, why are the bishops reacting in this way? Are all the bishops comfortable with the USCCB’s rhetoric? Will any bishop publicly express reservations or skepticism about this strategy? Are the bishops not worried that this initiative will be seen as transparently partisan by much of the public?

In their 2010 book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Robert Putnam and David Campbell showed what the likely consequences of this fight will be. By the 1990s, after decades of the culture wars waged by Protestant and Catholic groups, many younger people came to think of “religion” as politically divisive and overly judgmental, especially on questions of sexual morality. As a result, the number of Americans who have abandoned institutional religion has risen dramatically. One-third of adult Catholics have already left the church. Isn’t that sobering fact more deserving of a national campaign than this self-defeating battle over contraception coverage?

For more coverage of this issue at dotCommonweal, click here.



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Maybe part of the bilshops' attitude is caused by the selection process for bishop.  No priest who has not shown himself unquestionably loyal to Humanae Vitae need apply.   And so, even though the majority of Catholics have not received Humanae Vitae, the almost unanimous majority of bishops have received it because only devotees of the encyclical get the job.   This policy began under John Paul II, another example of how that brilliant pope who never knew a doubt has left the Church much more divided than he found it. 

Yes, this looks like another knee-jerk "liberal" attack on "conservative" bishops.  You're turned what you think is a tactical mistake into a mortal sin, proof of a damning character flaw.  That simply wasn't necessary.

I'm not sure this editorial can be characterized as a "knee-jerk" attack on conservative Bishops, as David Smith contends. It is a well balanced analysis of the status of the issue today and, I believe, a wise admonition that the attempt to broaden the issue beyond the First Amendment protection of religious institutions from being coerced into offering and perhaps paying for "medical" procedures that relgion considers immoral, may do more harm than good. It would have been wiser for the bishops to remained more focused. However, there seems to be a surprising level of naivete shown by the editors. There is no "compromise," just the expressed willingness of the administration to "look into the issue" and seek possible changes, with the likeliness nothing substantial will happen until after the November elections. The original mandate has already been published. It will have the effect of law in a year. Do the editors really believe the Administration intends to honestly change that mandate? Given the way the Affordable Care Act (which, I personally support, in part) was manipulated through Congress by the Administration and the way the spirit and letter of the agreements supposedly reached with the moderate Democratic legislators that made the passage possible have been largely ignored, the prospects of an honest compromise on the part of the Administration seems unlikely.


The bishops have never morally challenged a single insurance executive or agent for distributing contraception.  Some of them are leading and honored members of the parish. An official of the USCCB even said it was no big deal if private industry promoted contraception.  But while Big Business gets a pass, the USCCB is outraged that public authorities might establish contraception as a basic benefit.  They insist that if employees are to have contraception in their health care plans, it will be only if women have to go to their bosses, hat in hand, asking for it.

The amazing thing is the bishops' hard line with public authorities yet refusal to say a negative word towards Big Money  corporate authorities.  It seems they are insisting workers need to follow their bosses when it comes to moral guidance. 


It is a source of considerable astonishment to me that having contrived to execute the cognitive equivalent of a "full back bend" in Yoga, the editors seem to still want to imagine that there is some "right side up" (pun intended) way of seeing the Bishop's position as other than mendacious. Face Facts - there isn't; beginning with the Women Religious Inquisition of the past few years, the USCCB and Rome are evidently intending to put all American Women firmly "in their place." Enough already!

You say, ..."in what the church considers evil."  Why "the church"?  Don't you mean, "in what the pope and bishops consider evil"?  "The church" includes the entire Catholic population and the sensus fidelium.  Didn't Paul VI write "Humanae Vitae" and then hope that the church would receive his teaching?  Didn't he do it backwards?  Shouldn't he have first found out (and he had the means to find out but disregarded them) where the whole church stood on this issue, so that he could be morally certain that his teaching would be received?    

So isn't it better to say that the pope and bishops teach that articificial contraception is morally evil but that the church is genuinely conflicted?  

The person who keeps a monkey like that his/her back (i.e., the constant war cry: we should be 108 million!!!!!!!!), should pay for the glasses he breaks in logic! Isn't a 72 million member church a big enough church (in a country of 308 million)? Isn't 24% of the American people who identity themselves as Catholic enough?  People will leave church no matter what institutional religion does (whether ultra-liberally or conservatively). Sadly,  COMMONWEAL never speaks of the Catholic Church without loss (rarely an ascending development!!), even though every other church in America is experiencing far worse losses (no matter what such churches do to check the severity of the hemorrhaing they witness every year).

It may not be a universal contribution to the life of the Universal Church, but Catholics in America have the benefit of a testament to the gift of Reason in and of the Commons in our Declaration of Independence from the half-mad English crown.

Rereading the bill of particulars that finally pushed a significant fraction of the Continentals (probably not even a majority at the outset) to reject feckless leadership might be a timely exercise for those Catholics who are distressed by the minority view that 72 million (or 65M, or 52, or...) is "good enough numbers" to carry out the work of Salvation History.

That doesn't seem consistent with the Pentecost imperative.

Well written, measured editorial.  And good point by Kurt.  Both the Old and New Testament make this point very clearly any number of times: "The love of money is the root of all evil."  In fact, according to Kathleen Norris, the desert monks talked of "bad thoughts" rather than "sin," and lust was considered one of the lesser temptations.  It was seen as a form of greed, the objectifying and using of another person. 

As for more obvious greed, one of the two times Jesus showed anger was when he overturned the money-changing tables in the temple, an indication of what he must think of our greed-is-good culture.  With their latest comments, the bishops have identified themselves even more with the greed-is-good party.  

Here in MA, the Cardinal and board of directors sold the Caritas Health System to a private company, Steward, which kept the Catholic names and now covers contraceptives for its employees.  If contraception is such a big deal, why didn't he make not covering it a condition of the sale? In addition, employers (including Catholic institutions and CHURCHES) match their employees' 1.45% Medicare tax.  Medicare covers contraception for the eligible disabled who wish to use it.  Why no brouhaha about that?



In a couple of weeks, this furor will be politely ignored. It only invites horrific comments from either side. Somone should remember that 28 states already have this requirement. A challenge in California was overruled by a vote of 6-1 by its supreme court. If the church wishes, it certainly could identify the permitted contraceptives that are considered abortifacents.

Here in MA, the Cardinal and board of directors sold the Caritas Health System to a private company, Steward, which kept the Catholic names and now covers contraceptives for its employees.  If contraception is such a big deal, why didn't he make not covering it a condition of the sale? In addition, employers (including Catholic institutions and CHURCHES) match their employees' 1.45% Medicare tax.  Medicare covers contraception for the eligible disabled who wish to use it.  Why no brouhaha about that?



I believe the Bishops' response is indicative of a primitive survival mechanism being triggered when there is a perceived threat to one's life or in this case one's integrity.  In this case the challenge to the integrity of their position was on public display as opposed when it was not so apparent before the federal mandate.  When I look at the poverty, violence and human suffering all around us and observe the Bishops' response to these real threats to others' health and lives, it is apparent to me where their priorities lie.  This seems to me to be about an unconscious desire to appear to have significance in taking a public stand against "evil" since it has been so publicly displayed that they have been secretive and passive in their response to the real evil against children in the faith.  Is it an unconscious desperate response to their personal shame in their failure to protect the innocent children under their care?

The difference about the controversy today is that the federal government is now mandating the coverage in all health insurance programs, even those offered by religious institutions that object on moral grounds to some of the mandates, in what seems to be a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

Tragically for many women around the world, contraception is up to the woman - as is protecting herself from a host of diseases. An institution such as the Roman Catholic Church, with its historic antagonism toward lay people in general and women in particular (except as a secondary labor supply), cannot be expected to suddenly understand issues of global impact when the issue revolves around the W word. The good news is that Catholics do not vote as a bloc and do not understand church authority as a bloc. American Catholics understand the authority of God and the requirements for a sound, personal conscience. The US bishops had an opportunity to guide in this instance and chose grandstanding and hysteria instead - they simply cannot be rational (or even informed) about women-centered concerns. No wonder Catholics are leaving the Church in droves even in the midst of a "Catholics Come Home" initiative. Catholics ARE home - in their faith, in their decision-making and in their appreciation of global realities.

The amount of misinformation and disinformation in this editorial is beyond belief.  Where to start?

First of all, Commonweal seems intent on pitching the administration's bullet points by continuing to speak of the HHS mandate as being about contraception and contraception alone, refusing to mention the sterilization and abortion angles in the mandate.  Also, why is there no discussion from Commonweal on the question of whether the government ought to be mandating that private companies provide products to customers for free, and by presidential fiat?

The bishops did not rush to judgment.  They first said that the "compromise" was a step in the right direction, though they were left out of the loop in discussions on the compromise.  After taking a closer look, however, they and many others realized that the compromise on the HHS mandate was nothing more than a "shell game" or "cheap accounting trick" as some have called it.  How long should it take to see the obvious?  How long did it take for Sr. Carol Keehan and E. J. Dionne to give their blessing to this compromise?  To describe Sr. Keehan's response to the compromise as "guardedly optimistic" is laughable!  She declared the controversy solved, giving her nihil obstat to Obama's compromise almost before Obama's mic had been turned off from the press conference announcing it.  Also, the bishops did not "up the ante," as you claim.  They had been opposed to the mandate from the beginning.  It is the mandate itself, that trespasses on the liberties of Americans, not simply the inadequate exemption to it, which Obama did not change at all.

Do many Catholic institutions already comply with state laws requiring contraception coverage?  Yes, but many do so under duress, having fought the provision and lost in the courts.  Others continue to fight the laws.  You make it sound as if all of these Catholic institutions have no problem with these laws.  

You forget that it was the Obama adminstration that chose this fight.  Should Catholics win this fight, no woman is going to be denied the contraception coverage she already has.  Since the mandate is not yet in force, defeating the mandate before it is will not change the current situation at all.  Contraceptive will still be widely and easily accessible.

While your last paragraph describing the results of the culture war is not entirely created from whole cloth, certainly it takes no reminders from me that the situation for those religious communities that are quick to compromise their doctrines is abysmal, especially when compared to those religious communities that hold strong to their doctrines in the face of cultural or civil pressure to change.  In any case, recommending that the bishops make decisions on whether or not to bend to the demands of a government that would impress itself on faith and morals because of a numbers game is a sure way to reduce the Church to a play thing of politicians.  

Indeed "patience and the presumption of goodwill were not much in evidence in the response of the U.S. bishops and many conservative Catholics to President Barack Obama's" so-called compromise on the question of mandated contraceptive coverage.  This is a situation that was so blatantly anti-Catholic and anti-First Amendment as to require immediate objection!  Of course the bishops "upped the ante."  Why wouldn't they?  Mr. Obama is not stupid - he knows he's attacking our church, and he doesn't care.  This mandate has Kathleen Sebelius' anti-Catholic stance written all over it!  We should be patient?  Presume goodwill? 

"Why were they not this vocal in ttheir opposition to the Bush administration's use of torture?"  Don't the editors read newspapers?  Pope John Paul II, himself, sent his emisary to Washington to object to the planned invasion of Iraq.  The Vatican often and loudly objects to torture of any kind in any circumstances! 

"Administration officials have expressed confidence that some workaround will be found that will prevent these institutions from DIRECTLY paying for contraception coverage!!!  Catholics rightly refuse to pay for such coverage directly or indirectly!  It's not a "complicated legal and administrative matter."  It's a matter of faith; it's a matter of morality; it's a matter of it being none of the the governments business whether Americans do or do not use artificial contraceptives and certainly not the responsibility of citizens to pay for them!  This is not a "novel interpretation of the First Amendment!  "Why are the bishops reacting in this way??"  Because that's what Jesus did!  That's what John the Baptist did!  John didn't mind making Herod's wife uncomfortable.  Jesus didn't pamper false neaders.  Neither will the Catholic bishops.

Right about now I'm regretting that I paid more than one cent for a subscription to Commonweal.  It's doubtful I'll renew.




The First Amendment has seemed a veritable plaything for the bishops to finesse as they choose. No apparent degree of remoteness is evidently enough to satisfy their avoidance of material cooperation, even if the details are beyond any reasonable interpretation. Unending comments on recent threads do indeed cite numbing intricacies that glaze the mind.

I am most familiar with the bishops' shameless claims that no one can interfere with their right to assign priests, even though child protection statutes are neutral laws of general applicability. No, bishops claim the right in effect to be as negligent as they want in assigning predators, even if it criminally endangers children. Thank God more courts are no longer buying their distortions.

Bishops can have their self-aggrandizing maneuvers to reassert an absolute authority that all must bow before to inane lengths --- just because --- but it won't work anymore. 

The bishops are reacting the way Jesus did?  He got angry twice.  At the barren fig tree and at the money changers in the temple.   In reading the Bible, you have to work very hard to avoid "the love of money is the root of all evil."  And the Holy Father has amplified and updated this message by coming out clearly and strongly against our greed-is-good culture.  The bishops seem to be disregarding not only the Biblical message but also what their spiritual leader has written and spoken.  As I mentioned above, they are siding more and more with the greed-is-good party.      


Wayne Sheridan SUBSCRIBER

02/17/2012 - 2:29pm

The difference about the controversy today is that the federal government is now mandating the coverage in all health insurance programs, even those offered by religious institutions that object on moral grounds to some of the mandates, in what seems to be a blatant violation of the First Amendment.



This seems to stem from the decision of a panel or group created by the ACA to, effectively, ration health care - to push some treatments and suppress others, in the service of controlling government expenditures.  This mandating of contraception, therefore, will be followed by other similar mandates.  Any non-governmental organization's concerns about morality will be - as they have been here  - disregarded.

A problem with appealing to Constitutional protection in this, I think, is that the Constitution establishes only general principles.  Courts must be depended on for understanding of Constitutional language in conflict with the understanding of the other two branches.  Even if a court today may be sympathetic to a non-governmental appeal, it likely will not be in the future.  Judges, like most other people, absorb the philosophical understanding of the societies in which they live.  In the absence of a constitutional protection for  non-governmental organizations that take an active part in society (as opposed to organizations whose members are content to keep their beliefs strictly in their hearts), the government will have its way, forbidding actions it sees as contrary to the common good.


A flawed reading of the response and what is in play here.  Focus on the second and more contentious part of the problem - that of narrowing religious liberty and the objection as to conscience.  If your reading were the issue: why would others (Lutherans, Baptists, Jews, etc.) also be responding thus?

I have found those who, like you, see but one side of this mandate are simply trapped in the confines of the mindset that would offer this particular mandate.

Jolly good to make Mr. Obama and his handlers carry the water here.

All this discussion and some basic unanswered questions.  First of all, in the spirit of EB White and James Thurber's book "Is Sex Necessary?", is this discussion necessary?  Do we know if the mandate changes much or anything?  How many Catholic institutions with non-Catholic employees now offer insurance policies with no birth control coverage?  How many offer birth control coverage?  The basic question seems to be whether non-Catholics working for Catholic employers have their religious freedom respected.  Perhaps this is what HHS intended, but they didn't listen to VP Biden and others who warned them....  And then the bishops didn't reflect or think this through but just reacted.... And then the arguing began.... 

Is this what happened here?  All this has missed the central point?  It IS about religious freedom -- only not about religious employers but about religious workers whose employers don't respect their religious freedom. This, of course, raises a few further questions (and then I promise to stop):  what of Catholics working for religious employers of another denomination (or for that matter a secular firm), where the health plan includes BC?  Are their religious freedoms being disreapected?

One thing I think we can all agree on: we don't want workers religious freedoms disreapected. 

The problem with staking out extreme positions, as I believe the Bishops have done, it that it then very difficult to explain inconsistencies in the position, leading to ridicule.  For example, many Catholic related institutions already provide health insurance that provides contraception.  Will they be required to revise their policies in the face of this stated position?  Should not Catholic institutions then be required to divest of any investments in drug companies, retail stores, and who knows what other commercial enterprises that profit from the manufacture, distribution and sale of contraceptives?

Knicker twisting by men who refuse to marry and wear dresses ~ that sums up this American's view of that sovereign state, the VATICAN, attempting to manipulate MY SECULAR government for the Vatican's ideology. We just don't 'do' that in these United States.

And, as far as ORGANIZED (read that MALE-DOMINATED) religion and birth control, I'll let Monty Python explain this whole kerfuffle>



We more liberal Cahtolics have a problem. Many of us are bashing the bishops on their latest "post-compromise" stance on the healthcare mandate, based on habit, more or less, and not with much depth of thought. E.J.Dionne, earlier in this debate, rightly accused President Obama of "tossing under a bus" his liberal Catholic supporters. However, as soon as the President, stealthily on a Friday afternoon, annouced his "compromise" (which as later facts would confirm, is no compromise at all, but no more than a sort of openness, perhaps a cynical campaign ploy, to consider the issue further) Dionne more or less called the issue over. It's not. In fact what the President has done is to stop, temporarily, the bus running over us, half way on our bodies, offered us some pain relief and said we  will talk later about whether we will squash you. Let us beware. We often, rightly, I believe, take the bishops to task for not talking out more forcefully on other peace and justice issues, torture, for instance, as one blogger pointed out. However, now,  the very existence of the Catholic Church as an independent and forceful voice may be threatened if the bishops do not succeed in overturning this mandate legislatively or judicially. All Cahtolics will be truly "voices crying in the wilderness" if they lose, liberals and conservatives alike. If we want to maintain our power to influence this society as Catholics, and not just as indivduals of this or that politcal persuasion, we have to stand with the bishops here, as distasteful this may be for some of us.


Simply put:  they are obsessed with sexual issues to the grave neglect of many areas of sin and injustice in our world.  This absurdly recurrent response to all things sexual would evaporate like morning mist if women and married people were allowed to expercise their gifts in authority and deliberation in the institutional Church.  It is simply one of the most dysfunctional authority structures in existence now.  The good words the Church needs to speak about the dignity of life and the beauty of virtue are simply muzzled by this body of celibate men who lack all credibility and who feel no oligation to listen to---never mind love---the people they claim to "shepherd."  I am sick to death of the whole mess.  It is very hard to stay in the Church.  

Below is an insightful, explanation of the Church's teaching on the issue of contraception.

Personally, I think the Church's teaching on marriage, sexuality and the family is incredibly beautiful, dignified, and uplifting.

Whether one agrees or disagrees, this short essay provides a succinct and powerful explanation of the teaching, while leaving the open-minded reader with a lot of food for thought.

JH, someone posted the same link to the same blog post in a comment thread on an NCR article about a week ago; I read it, reflected on it, and tried to explain and document my objections. I was not the only reader to do so at that time. I also commented on the original blog post and invited the author to engage in a dialogue; so far, neither the blog author nor the linking commenter has responded to anyone's objections. If you'd like to, please, please, please do (if you're interested, just ask, and I can also repost this on my LiveJournal and anyone can respond, to spare Commonweal from having to host a lengthy comment war).

Below are the Allhands-ondeck essayist’s bullet points on the catastrophic effects of contraception on American moral and ethical culture, with my attempts to explain (with links to my citations) exactly why I’m not convinced.

<b>• Half of marriages end in divorce</b>

I haven’t found any studies anywhere that even come close to establishing a causal relationship between the availability of contraception and divorce rates; <a href=>the US Census Bureau’s 2009 report on divorce statistics</a> points out that the highest rates of divorce in the US are in the more socially conservative Southern and Western states (yes, yes, that includes California, but let me assure you that even though we’ve got San Francisco, Berkeley and Hollywood, they’re mostly surrounded by gated communities or small towns and farms), and the lowest divorce rates are in the left-leaning, overeducated, gay-marrying Eastern elite states. One Google search led me to a group called Americans for Divorce Reform (their stated agenda is reform of US divorce law and I’m uncertain of how I feel about some of their reports, but their statistical tables seem pretty solid and are all sourced from US Census Bureau data) who pointed out that the US divorce rate has actually fallen slightly from 1991 to 2005. Most studies seem to agree that the biggest factors in marriage success are age and education – the older you are and the more schooling you’ve got, the more likely you are to stay married.

Interestingly, England, Japan and Australia all have widely available contraception and abortion services, with very little of the controversy that surround both issues in the US, even among the devoutly religious, and all three have had much lower divorce rates than the US for decades. Which makes it very hard to justify connecting BC&A to divorce in the US, since by that logic, their divorce rates should be much higher than ours, not solidly lower.

 <b>• Almost half of today's babies are born out of wedlock</b>

According to <a href=>The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a consortium of 22 federal agencies researching and serving children and families, the actual rate of out-of-wedlock births in the US in 2009, the most recent year for which stats are posted, was 41%. Still high, but also a far cry from almost half.

<b>• 50 million abortions have been procured in the US alone over the last 30 years</b>

Actually, according to <a href=>this 2008 study from the peer-reviewed journal Perspectives in Sexual and Reproductive Health,</a> using data from the US Census Bureau, Guttmacher and health departments from all 50 states, it’s 49.3 million over the previous <b>35 years</b>. If you look at just 30 years, it’s 44 million; additionally, the 2008 number of 1.2 million is down 400,000 from the high of 1.6 million in 1990, the middle of Bush I’s singe term.

In a perfect world even one abortion is one too many; nevertheless, it’s extremely damaging to one’s credibility to fudge, by SIX MILLION, an easily checked and confirmed number. If one is too many, than 44 million in 30 years is 44 million too many, and it’s pure self-sabotage to post and widely disseminate an obvious untruth.

<b>• The spread of sexual disease is rampant</b>

It's true that sexually transmitted diseases are much too prevalent, examination of nationwide health department data shows that their spread is shockingly un-rampant. All of the following is drawn from <a href=>the CDC’s most recent report</a>:

Much like divorce rates, Chlamydia transmission rates are highest in the South. Gonorrhea rates have declined quite a bit since 1974, though here again the South continues to show impressive numbers. Syphilis transmission rates have been in steep decline over the last 20 years, with the year 2000 showing the lowest rates ever since they started being tracked way back in 1941. They rose a bit in 2001 but seem to be dropping again, and some CDC researchers think it may be possible to eradicate syphilis completely in another few decades. Other STDs are a mixed bag; HPV is up a bit, herpes is down a lot, and a couple others that I’d never even heard of before are steady to slightly down. HIV transmission, due to aggressive prevention and public education efforts, has dropped through the floor. In 1980, when it was starting but not yet identified, 95 out of every 100 people later proven to be HIV+ were infecting other people; by 2006, that rate had dropped to just 5 transmissions per 100 HIV+ people.

Again, even one case is one too many, but all the evidence shows clearly that we’ve made huge progress against them over the last few decades, in large part to better treatments and better public education about how to live safely with these diseases and protect one’s partners from infection; it’s extremely unlikely that contraception has had any effect one way or the other (chemical contraception, anyhow -- condoms, of course, have helped cut HIV, herpes and gonorrhea transmission).

<b>• "Hooking up" and "friends with benefits" have replaced romance and courtship</b>

They’ve come much more out in the open, that’s for sure. But from my recollection of my friends in high school and college in the 1980s, stories my mother told me of her friends and family in high school and college in the 1950s and 60s, and stories my husband’s father told of his friends and family (and his own self) in the 1930s and 40s, it seems to me that hooking up and FWB have been around and complicating romance and courtship for a very, very long time. Possibly all the way back to that very first time, way back in prehistory, that two young hominids who didn’t know each other very well looked each other up and down and thought, “Ugh! Og think Throg cute! Og kiss Throg! What happen next?” The only real cultural change is that now instead of every Og and Throg feeling alone and ashamed and confused by the morass of desire and affection and all the ways their expectations of one or the other, both or neither can mess things up, at least we can openly engage with those big questions and try to work out a better alternative.

<b>• A popular culture rooted in the debasement, objectification, and sexual exploitation of women (have you looked at the magazines in the checkout line lately)?</b>

This is one bullet point with which I’m in total agreement, and I’m pretty sure any number of women’s rights organizations would be delighted to know that someone deep within the Church is raising a voice in loud and passionate solidarity with a major feminist critique of Western culture and the way it views women and girls.

In short, the blog entry has a lot of passion, but even cursory research suggests that it doesn't have a lot of facts. As the nun told my mom many long years ago: "There certainly is a grave sin happening here, but it's not what you think it is. The real sin here is that God gave you a perfectly good brain, and you're not using it."

JH:  It is not so much the substance of the teachings and the (partial) wisdom they might impart, but their lack of nuance, their being promulgated by a largely monolithic group of celibate men who have shown an almost absurd ignorance of sexual issues and the relationship between sexuality and power and who, from PP VI onward, have resolutely refused the considered advice and ignored the insight of women and the married in formulating teachings that work to enhance and forward the cause of human dignity.  The teachings have also been emphasized in a way that is totally disproportionate to the emphasis on other important teachings.  The bishops appear to be sex-obsessed and their voices largely irrelevant in influencing others.  Their arrogance and the lack of credibity inherent in the structure they support have muzzled them.  If folks can hear anything at all, growing numbers of them are no longer listening.

We need to support the bishops on this issue, not because we support them on every issue, but because the intergrity and independence of the Catholic Church is threatened when we allow the government to define what is and what is not the "ministry" of the Church, when mandates are made that require actions contrary to the teachings of the Church (whether we are in full agreement with all those teachings or not), and because in order to maintain the power and influence of the Church on issues, we cannot aid the diminuation of that power; if we want the bishops to speak out forcefully on othe issues (like torture and the death penalty, for instance) and they need to maintain the  "clout" to make politicians and society listen.

The simple fact is that Obama is trying to force the bishops to pay for free abortion-inducing drugs.

Why can't liberal Catholics admit that Obama is a tyrant?

There is room for honest and serious disagreement here, but saying "Obama is a tyrant" is the lowest form of nonsense.

The one thing noticeable about those who agree with the editorial is that they all have no problem with government intruding deeper and deeper into our lives.  How important is the First Amendment’s right to free exercise to them?  Sure, some employers already chose to cover contraception in their health care plans.  As we say, “It’s a free country.”  But when the government requires everyone to cover it, it is no longer “a free country.”  But as long as our emperor is a sensitive, fundamentally moral person – like one who would press for legalized infanticide – we should be safe and happy.

I wish the editors did not let the bishops get off so easily!  While I agree that both sides should speak from a place of respect and goodwill, I also think hypocrisy and misogyny should be called by name without incurring a charge of bad will.  There are numerous instances of the ingrained misogyny of the bishops as it relates to failure to respect women's full humanity and their authority to make their own life choices based on an assessment for a particular individual that she believes would enhance rather than inhibit the flourishing of her own life.  The hypocrisy takes many forms: the claim of a right to public money that allows the imposition of the bishops' point of view on those who disagree with them and the claim that legal prohibitions on abortion support life, when the reality is that the only life being supported is that of the embryo and then fetus only  from conception until birth.  Any commitment to supporting the lives of the poor (parents and children already living) is totally lacking.  I was disappointed that the major instance of the bishops' hypocrisy cited by the editors is the hypocrisy of previous silence on the issue of contraception coverage mandated by numerous state laws. 

Apparently, "Liberals" don't believe in the seperation of Church and state in any sense whatsoever. It would even appear that they favor a kind of "amalgamation" of both. Ancient Christians were painfully aware that they had to stay away from such a thing, even as they were heroically accommodating what in modern terms we would define as the unreasonable demands of Ceaser, that is, accommodating the institution of slavery with great docility. What they (the ancient Christians) would NOT accommodate was the intrusion of the uninitiated into the Sacred Assembly and its protocols, up to and including the Emperor, even to the point of martyrdom. It would seem that certain "modern" Christians accommodate and even welcome the intrusion of the state into Church affairs, and even condemn those within the Body who resist.

The University of Notre Dame has an endowment of $ 5 Billion.  They provide no transparency as to how that money is invested, simply broadly diverse equities, bonds and 'alternative investment,'  (hedge funds and private equity).  One can presume that they invest, and make profit from, manufacturers and distributors of contraceptive products.  How is this not immoral (or at least against the teachings of the Bishops)

There is a mutual fund that is structured to invest in companies that purportedly reflect, or at least do not ignore, Catholic values. Here is a statement from their website.:

"Luther King Capital Management (LKCM) serves as investment adviser to the LKCM Aquinas Funds. Founded in 1979 as an investment advisory firm, LKCM provides investment management services to religious organizations, pension and profit sharing plans, endowments, foundations, investment companies, trusts, estates and high net-worth individuals. LKCM is committed to selecting securities for the LKCM Aquinas Funds based on sound fundamental investing principles and most importantly, Catholic values.

The investment guidelines set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops serve as a guide in the selection of securities for the LKCM Aquinas Funds. The LKCM Aquinas Funds follow these guidelines by using an approach that focuses on Catholic values screening of portfolio companies, proactive dialogue with those companies whose practices conflict with the guidelines, and potential exclusion of those companies that are unwilling to alter their practices over a reasonable period of time.

The LKCM Aquinas Funds are managed with the philosophy that investors should not sacrifice investment performance for their Catholic values. The investment team at LKCM is committed to managing the LKCM Aquinas Funds to provide a vehicle for Catholic values investing with the potential for solid investment performance."

I know nothing about them other than the information publicly available on their website and through their prospectus. However, they seem to rely on the investment guidelines "set forth by the USCCB." I'm not sure what guidelines, if any, Notre Dame follows with its investments.

I'm not sure any of this is relevant to the controvery of whether the mandate, even in it's vague "revised" version, is an infringement on religious liberty as guaranteed by The First Amendment; but, if all Catholic ministries with investment funds used Catholic values as a fundamental basis for investment decisions, it could make a very positive difference in the practices of modern corporations.


I agree with Mr. Sheridan, above.  But why I think this is relevant to the discussion is that if Catholics should not, even through large insurance policies, pay for people to procure birth control products, why should Catholics profit from their sale?  If, as you say, the Catholic Church, along with individual Catholics brought their vast financial power to bear, it would make a difference.  But, I suspect this won't happen, because the cost of doing so would be too great.  (Catholics could only invest in, say, the Defense sector.)  Hence the problem -- the money talks louder than the conviction of the doctrine.  The largest manufacturer of contraceptives is Johnson and Johnson, the largest distributor (I suspect) is WalMart.  Are we as Catholics going to be willing to not invest in them, and hundreds of other companies?  Are Catholic endowments and individuals?  A double-standard, I would think.  It would be disingenuous to claim that the profit is only small, or that merely voicing disapproval of the practice while being a shareholder provides sufficient cover.

jburns. I agree that the complexity of modern business might make such an investment doctirne difficult to implement. However, there can be gradations of "purity" vs. the values standard that would be helpful and perhaps pressure could be put to bear, as apparently the fund cited above tries, on corporations that violate the standards to reform. I'm not a trained investment advisor, nor a Catholic ethics expert, however, there seems to be potential for the Church to have a greater moral influence which should be explored. For example, by degrees of purity, perhaps a company that makes a large share of its profits from manufacturing cluster bombs would be ranked very low on the values scale, whereas Johnson & Johnson might be a bit higher, as the manufacturing of contraceptives would not have the same negative moral weight as the manufacturing of killing devices.


Catholic-affiliated institutions aren't mandated to do anything. They don't have to pay for contraception, sterilization, or anything else of that nature. The mandate applies to insurance companies, who wish to write policies covered by the affordable care act.  If the insurance companies have a  conscience problem, then they don't have to participate.  The employees aren't mandated to accept the contraception coverage. In fact, they have to apply for it separately.   There is a contract for this insurance rider between the employee and the insurance company.  The employer has nothing at all to do with it.I'll say it yet again, these mandates have been in effect for years, in 28 different states, and no politician has been on the receiving end of vitriol as Obama is over this issue.  And it wasn't even his idea in the first place.  It was the unanimous recommendation of the Institute of Medicine doctors who studied the issue for 6 months and gave a recommendation -- same as an FDA panel.  It's a medical recommendation. It's completely inappropriate for the Bishops to try and prevent their employees from obtaining this coverage, if the employees elect to do so.  The only thing it's got to do with the employer is that the employee works for the employer.  What the employee decides to do in her own private life, regarding medical care, is frankly none of the employer's business.  Conservatives rail about an imagined abridgement of 1st Amendment rights, while turning a blind eye to the attempted abridgement of 14th Amendment rights of the employees.I really think that this is mainly about defeating Obama, so that the new Attorney General will call off the Justice Dept prosecutors, who are looking into Dolan and other Bishops hiding assets to get out of honoring settlement contracts.

Several commentators here do what a whole lot of people out to get Obama are doing with this issue.  They know that virtually everyone in America who has been sexually active for 5 years or more has used non-Church approved methods of contraception.  Contraception just does not inspire indignation.  So they have to bring in the abortion elephant. "Thinning the uterine lining."  "Abortifacient."  The Obama haters are always careful to bring this into the conversation.The trouble is; it's not true.  Firstly, there's no direct evidence that these drugs prevent implantation.  Secondly, they certainly don't cause "thinning of the uterine lining" when given acutely (as opposed to chronically) and when given in the low, "morning after" doses, as opposed to in high, "abortion" doses.  They can't be used as abortifacients, unless maybe a dozen or so women get together and pool their morning after pills and give them to the person who wins the abortifacient lottery.  If these drugs were effective at preventing implantation, they'd be a lot more effective overall, but they are only about 40% to at most 50% at preventing pregnancies which would otherwise occur.  They only work when ovulation has not yet occurred.  They have some efficacy at preventing ovulation and there is some evidence that they can interfere with fertilization.   But they don't work by aborting even the earliest embryos.Whenever I read someone criticizing the HHS contraceptive mandate on the grounds that it includes "abortifacients," I know that it's the intellectual dishonesty of someone with an agenda to take down Obama, more than anything else. - Larry Weisenthal/Huntington Beach CA

Bottom line, I DON"T WANT TO PAY INTO ANY SYSTEM that covers anyone else's birth control or abortion. What YOU DO on your own private time with your own bodies and tragically the bodies of the unborn is for the moment your business, but NOT with MY money. Use your own money to sin with. You betray the Church and you betray God, and you do it shamelessly.

Mr. Plinck,

However, you already do.  Your taxes fund programs that provide contraceptives.  And, as noted above, Catholic institutions profit from the sale and distribution of contraceptives.  In both cases, the amount is proportionally small, but so is the cost of insurance coverage for the provision of contraception.

But you do not understand. I DO NOT WANT TO. It is not so much the government that I object to, but rather liberal Catholics who manipulate same to take my money as it were, by force to publicly fund activities which I consider evil. And who are you, sir, to say or even imply that I should do such a thing, and that on a Catholic website? As for the bishops, on the Day of Judgment their negligence will not be Christ's object regarding our scrutiny, but rather the extent to which we followed the will of God.  Pax et Bonum, John

In the last year, I have seen the state of Wisconsin torn in two. The consequences have been large and small and healing no where in sight. I see Cardinal Dolan standing on the same precipice as Gov. Walker who probably wishes he had never started the fight he is in....a fight he could have avoided if he had been less arrogant and had shown an ounce of compassion in his rhetoric. In today's paper the Cardinal is asking Catholics to take stands politically. We know where he stands. We also know what he is saying to those of us who are weary of the Church speaking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to politics. We say we do not want the government intruding on our religious liberty. The Church needs to consider the liberty of all Catholics. I urge the Cardinal and Bishops to avoid the nightmare we are already living in WI. This topic will continue to divide our Church as it becomes more obvious what the agenda is.  Thank goodness for our local priests, who daily work to save all of our souls.

Mr. Plick,

I am trying to understand your view but I think we are on a slippery slope. You may not want to pay for my birth control like I might not want your cancer treatment covered because it may have been caused by something I don't like...smoking. Insurance must cover all health care. That is how it works. Each of us has different issues and will have different health concerns. You are paying for me and I am paying for you. None of us, including the Church, should presume to know th depth of an individual's needs when it comes to living their life as best they can.

I beg your pardon, but that is NOT the "way it works..." It is merely the way YOU say "it has to work..." Ultimately in a power struggle, God always wins. That is why Christ came into the world, because ALL OF US were destined to lose. If you wish to lose, by all means. Who am I to violate your free will. But please do not drag me or others down with you. And I don't ever remember asking you or anyone else to pay for my "cancer treatment.." If the martyrs could give their lives, I could certainly die of cancer. Everything was created a priori to belong to God, except for men and angels. It is not I who will judge you. 

Just how long do you intend to have Cardinal Dolan “hang” on your cross? It has been a few weeks now, I believe. You know, Jesus had a “bad reaction” to Pontius Pilate (another politician) which of course led to Good Friday. He too, it would appear, was willing to “cut a deal” but Our Lord wasn’t interested. What Pilate DIDN’T anticipate was Easter Sunday (which was even a worse reaction). Payback in human terms, they say, is a bear, but “payback” in Divine terms is catastrophic.

It is written sonewhare in Scripture, "In silence, even the fool is thought to be wise..." You seem to like the picture of the Cardinal. Perhaps you will keep it up even until November? But God does not wet his watch, so to speak, according to the machinations of the American government. You are Catholic, and so am I. And in God's eyes, that is the most important thing. I will be patient.  JP

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