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Dionne: Victory for bishops?

Now on our homepage. E. J. Dionne Jr. on the change in regulations concerning contraception coverage:

A little more than a year ago, the Obama administration set off a bitter and unnecessary clash with the Roman Catholic Church over rules mandating broad contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services' announcement of new regulations is a clear statement that President Obama never wanted this fight.The decision ought to be taken by the nation's Catholic bishops as a victory, because it is. Many in their ranks, including some of the country's most prominent prelates, are inclined to do just that -- even if the most conservative bishops seem to want to keep the battle raging.

Read the whole thing.

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Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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FWIW, here is the bishops' initial statement:

How "right wing" the American church has become will be shown by how the USCCB responds. Is there any way the leadership isn't going to criticize an Obama initiative?

The USCCB staff is taking time because they maybe are running it up a Taco Bell flagpole.

Dionne's analysis makes it clear why Catholic hospitals and universities should at least be accommodated if Catholic churches and religious communities are exempt: "the vast charitable work done by religious organizations to help millions, regardless of their faith, is manifestly inspired by religion. The church could not abide the implicit reduction of its role merely to private expressions of faith." But by calling the religious-liberty argument a mistake, Dionne fails to explain why either category of institution should be accommodated or exempted? What, if not religious liberty, would be the grounds for an exemption?

Matthew Boudway,Only Dionne can answer your question, I suppose, but maybe he is criticizing the language more than the substance of the bishops' response. In this country, any claim that one's liberty is being abridged becomes incendiary very quickly. Some people will immediately see tyranny and genocide when others see a mistake caused by insufficient staff work or less than adequate consultation.The Administration did start to backpedal right away and indicated an openness to accommodation. If the bishops had said simply that the original mandate was contrary to Church teaching and would force them to act against their conscience, and if they had carefully avoided the supercharged words liberty and freedom, this might all have been settled with less asperity.And let's not forget that it was an election year.

"How right wing the American church has become will be shown by how the USCCB responds."Beverly --Right. I fully endorsed the bishops' religious right not to pay for other people's contraceptives, but their response to the initial mandate was paranoid and excessive, reflecting their automatically negative response to whatever Obama proposes.The new administration proposal obviously gives them what they want, but still Archb. Dolan says he has to consider it "very carefully" as if there's a trap in it. Sheesh.

Ann: You'd prefer that Cardinal Dolan respond before considering it very carefully?

If the compromise is to work, it will need acceptance by both sides. A piece in the NYT and the comments it draws doesn't sound entirely hopeful. the other hand the NYT's own editorial sees a brighter future.

Rather than wasting all the money on lawsuits against Obama, why don't the bishops simply inform Catholics that they may not use birth control?

The Administration took nearly a year to publish this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.We should let everyone else take at least a couple of days to read through the actual language before responding.Likewise, we ourselves should take a couple of days and read the actual language before rushing to applaud and pat the Administration on the back for coming up with a scheme whereby the bottom line is that, in some convoluted way or fashion, employees of religious organizations will still be provided contraception coverage as a benefit of their employment with such religious organization. That is, religious organizations are still ultimately involved.But then again, some paranoid types might think that that is entirely the point of all of this -- to force religious organizations to be involved.And why would they think that? Maybe because if provision of contraceptives were really the point, then the government could have come up with a less burdensome method that does not involve religious organizations at all -- the government could have simply provided contraception vouchers to any person, employed or not, who wants them. Or, the government could have given a tax credit for contraception costs. Or, the government could have mandated that post offices become contraception dispensaries.There was no need whatsoever to involve any employer, religious or not, in this aggressive scheme to medicate American women to suppress their fertility. The government could do it entirely on its own.

Let's play "what if?" --What if, instead of a requirement of employer provided contraception coverage, we were talking about a requirement of employer provided gun coverage? What if employers were required to either (a) directly provide a gun upon hiring and, each month thereafter, ten bullets, or (b) have some third party administrator to provide the gun and bullets? If the employer objected, would it be sufficient to simply say that an accommodation will be made whereby those employees can be provided coverage through an outside group, like the NRA?Would that be enough to fully insulate the employer who has objections from being involved in the distribution of guns and ammunition that it finds morally wrong? Or would that be seen for the transparent farce of an accommodation that it is?

Bender:Re: your commentThere was no need whatsoever to involve any employer, religious or not, in this aggressive scheme to medicate American women to suppress their fertility.It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that the birth control pill suppresses ovulation rather than fertility. Fertility is more general and refers to the ability to conceive and bear children.However, there are some who claim that there is some effect on fertility by the long-term use of the pill.

Gerelyn asked at 10:43"Rather than wasting all the money on lawsuits against Obama, why dont the bishops simply inform Catholics that they may not use birth control?"I think the answer is that if they preached against contraception, it would upset everyone.If they use contraception coverage as a stick with which to smack Democrats, they only upset Democrats whilst contraception-using Republicans will even help them swing that stick.Maybe they win the battle, but I can't see how this is helpful for the US Church in the long run.

It's not exactly the smell of napalm in the morning. It is a lack-luster victory that tastes like defeat, because (1) Obama comes across once more as a reasonable and moderate guy, unlike the bishops; (2) the bishops know that the concession will only irritate catholics who want the freedom to use contraceptives even more; (3) the bishops have lost one of their hottest selling-points and rallying-cries as defenders of threatened Religious Freedom.

Obama should know that softness encourages further exactions from bullies.

"this aggressive scheme to medicate American women to suppress their fertility. Today we believe in responsible parenthood, not servitude of the past when priests would pressure overburdened parents to produce their annual baby as if they were mere breeding animals.

JAK --I'd prefer that C. Dolan were more civil to the President of the United States and would encourage the other rude bishops to be more civil. Hitler indeed.

Ann: It is not uncivil to postpone comment until one has considered the object in view.

"Would that be enough to fully insulate the employer who has objections from being involved in the distribution of guns and ammunition that it finds morally wrong?"Yes, it would. If a democratically elected government decided it was a national priority to make sure every citizen who wanted a gun got one without having to pay for it himself, and if, for whatever bizarre reason, this government decided to implement its policy partly by requiring employers to provide guns to their employees, then it would have done enough to satisfy the conscience claims of objecting employers if it found a third party to supply guns to the employees of the conscientious objectors. Your hypothetical scenario may be transparently farcical, but its analogous accommodation is not.

Bender: You don't need to play what-if. The Militia Act of 1792 required citizens to buy guns.

Whether it's a victory depends upon what the goals are. I doubt if all the bishops have the same goals. I haven't had a chance to study it in detail because I moved this past week and have to start teaching tomorrow. So I am sorry I promised more than I delivered thus far. But I will deliver as soon as I can. And I am following Joe K's admonition that it is not good to comment before studying something well. And the only thing I have studied -- but unsuccessfully-- is how to hook Roku up to a Comcast router.

To the extent this is a victory (and it seems as good an outcome as we could hope for), it's important to note that this is a victory, not for the bishops per se, but the bishops in service to the church. It's a victory for the church.

The Militia Act of 1792 required citizens to buy gunsDid it require that employers - such as Commonweal magazine - provide them for their employees, either directly or indirectly through some convoluted scheme that might allow for a wink-and-a-nod for those who want to insist that the employer is not involved in what it might find to be morally wrong, but which is ultimately specious because it is still the case that, but for the employer, the employee would not have the gun and ammo coverage?

Yes, Jim P., it was a smashing victory for the Church. Let us recall some of the highlights: the hilariously overhyped and underattended Fortnight for Freedom; comparisons of the President of the United States with Hitler and Stalin; Holocaust allusions; lawsuits all around; threats of Eucharist denial; and the pretense that the Catholic Church, which has probably never had a more congenial home, was undergoing a persecution not seen since Diocletian's days.And why? Because in putting together a program of preventive medicine, federal officials were insufficiently sensitive about a religious teaching that hardly anyone heeds. They misjudged, but probably not maliciously, and a few phone calls and emails from calm people might have corrected the mistake short of rhetorical Armageddon. But a fight is what was wanted, not an accommodation. At the end of it, Obama will have achieved what he set out to do and looks reasonable and responsive in doing it, and the bishops will have made their point another way. Maybe that's a win of sorts for both.

The "but for the employer" business is not quite right, Bender. The Affordable Care Act has various mechanisms for making sure as many people as possible have health insurance. If an employer decides to pay the penalty instead of offering health insurance, his employees will be able to get insurance on the exchanges authorized by the ACA. Or they may even qualify for the expanded Medicaid coverage. One way or another, they will probably be insured, and all insurance will cover contraception. So the employer is simply providing basic coverage that will be provided anyway; he may opt for the penalty in order to minimize (but not eliminate) his own remote material cooperation, but he should not fool himself that he is saving his employees from the moral peril of contraception coverage simply by refusing to provide it himself.

Jim P. ==Yes, it's a victory but in large measure a Pyrrhic one. The bishops won't have to pay for other people's contraceptives, but they have, by their exaggeration of the issue and the nasty accusations against Obama by some of them, reduced their moral influence even further. In this round they have reminded me of spoiled brats stamping their little feet in an effort to get their own way. Obama, on the other hand, was cool and respectful, and gave in, while Sibelius admitted they had been insensitive.

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