Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Freedom of Conscience/Religion has U.S. Catholic bishops seeing Red & White.

Bishops in more than 140 dioceses issued statements that were read at Mass last weekend [28-29 January 2012]. Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., called the requirement “a radical incursion on the part of our government into freedom of conscience.” Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote that “the Obama administration was essentially saying ‘to hell with you,’ particularly to the Catholic community by dismissing our beliefs, our religious freedom and our freedom of conscience.”

This is significant, because it signals a nationwide coordinated plan put into effect by U.S. Catholic bishops. This all revolves, ostensibly, around the question of “Freedom of Religion” or, “Freedom of Conscience.” The particular issue in question here is contraception health services for women being paid for by health insurance plans; however, it can (and will) be expanded to include spousal benefits for Same-sex married couples, Same-sex adoption, etc.

Catholic Culture reports the following statement from Cardinal Mahony on this subject,

“Cardinal Roger Mahony, who served as Archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, has blasted the Obama administration for announcing that Church-related institutions will be required to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage for employees in their health-care plans.

Cardinal Mahony said that “I cannot imagine that this decision was released without the explicit knowledge and approval of President Barack Obama. And I cannot imagine a more direct and frontal attack on freedom of conscience than this ruling today. This decision must be fought against with all the energies the Catholic Community can muster.”

I did a double take when I read Mahony’s statement, since he has never been a champion of the Humanae Vitae (the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception). Read this article from the California Catholic Daily, a conservative Catholic publication along with comments from “orthodox” Catholics, and Mahony’s 180 degree apparent course change on this subject seems breath-taking.

Then again, Mahony’s nickname, “the Teflon Cardinal” is a testament of his ability to perform flip-flops usually associated with an Olympic gymnastic team, or some politicians. Consider the following statements, from some notable people, on Mahony's quality of conscience.

Steve Lopez, a Los Angeles Times reporter, in his new book “Dreams and Schemes: My Decade of Fun in the Sun,” shares this vignette,

“it includes such tales as the time Lopez was offered a free crypt in the Los Angeles cathedral by Cardinal Roger Mahony if he would take it easy on the Catholic leader on the church’s pedophile-priest scandals.”

and this article from the Los Angeles Times, on Mahony's handling of pedophile priests.

Before His Eminence passes the torch, I put in one last request for an interview, to no avail. That keeps my record intact, but it's a shame because I had several questions about the latest scandal at the archdiocese. This one involves a priest who admitted he was a molester but remained in ministry. The good reverend was even appointed, if you can believe this, to Mahony's sexual abuse advisory board.

and then there is this insight by former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating on the role of Mahony’s conscience in the priest sex abuse/Cover-Up scandal,

"To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy. Eventually it will all come out," Keating said.

Cardinal Mahony, who Keating accused of listening "too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart," issued a sharp rebuke Friday, calling the comments "the last straw" and saying he would ask other bishops to consider calling for Keating to step down during their meeting this week.

Keating's spokesman told the Times the former governor stands behind his remarks. "He uses strong language to make a point. He tells the truth, and apparently some people don't want to hear the truth," Mahony said.

David Clohessy, national director of the nationwide victims support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Keating's resignation would leave victims and lay Catholics "terribly disillusioned."

"It's very disturbing that a couple of candid remarks are apparently so upsetting to the bishops," Clohessy told the AP from Indianapolis, Ind.

"Here's a devout, conscientious, Catholic lay person who volunteered his time and essentially his reputation to get the bishops out of trouble, and he's suddenly forced out," he said.

But perhaps the most penetrating insight into Mahony’s motives is offered by Peter Hebblewaite, an outstanding Vaticanologist who in some 30 years of reporting on the papacy and the worldwide activities of the Catholic church, its enemies and admirers.
Hebblethwaite, gives the following assessment of Mahony’s intentions,

“he mentions Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony who, he maintains' arrived in that California see with two fevers -- scarlet. for the red biretta; and white for the papacy.”

New York’s Archbishop, and the current head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Dolan and newly minted Cardinal stated to the New York Times,

“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops’ conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore.

Dolan is the rising star in the church, unlike Mahony who’s mandatory letter of resignation upon reaching his 75th birthday was instantly accepted by Benedict XVI, enjoys the favor of the current pope. This pope has packed the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next pope, with individuals who share his pre-Napoleonic vision for the future of the Catholic Church.

Using the bishop’s logic on the stated issue of the day (insurance coverage for health care), if your employer were the Jehovah Witnesses, they could deny you coverage for a blood transfusion, since this violates their religious tenets and would be an assault on “freedom of conscience/religion.” The bishops are taking a cherished inalienable right endowed to every person and co-opting it to a corporation. They are saying that an institution’s conscience trumps the conscience of employees of that institution.

What the Catholic bishops are attempting to do here is sleight of hand. They are not speaking of an individual’s freedom of conscience/religion. This becomes very evident when you read Archbishop John Nienstedt’s pronouncement on individual conscience and freedom of religion.

Archbishop John Nienstedt is warning Catholic clergy across Minnesota that there should be no "open dissension" of the church's strong backing of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman.

In a letter to his clergy, Archbishop Nienstedt wrote,

It is my expectation that all the priests and deacons in this Archdiocese will support this venture [a state constitutional amendment against Marriage Equality] and cooperate with us in the important efforts that lie ahead. The gravity of this struggle, and the radical consequences of inaction propels me to place a solemn charge upon you all — on your ordination day, you made a promise to promote and defend all that the Church teaches. I call upon that promise in this effort to defend marriage. There ought not be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly. If anyone believes in conscience that he cannot cooperate, I want him to contact me directly and I will plan to respond personally.

Contrast Nienstedt’s understanding of conscience with that taught by the Church for centuries,

“Every judgment of conscience, be it right or wrong, be it about things evil in themselves or morally indifferent, is obligatory, in such wise that he who acts against his conscience always sins.” –Saint Thomas Aquinas

So why would Mahony, Dolan and Nienstedt all set aside this principle, the primacy of an individual’s conscience, and pretend such “shock” regarding contraception, as if this were still 1968 and they were collectively unaware that most Catholics (and theologians) disregard Vatican pronouncements on contraception?

First, the Catholic Church is a very highly hierarchical organization. The only way to advance in a clerical career is to please your superior. Right now that means pleasing Benedict XVI and he has very traditionalist views on human sexuality, women, contraception, and the role (power) of the Catholic Church in society. For members of the hierarchy, this means that the only way to move your career forward, is to move your views backwards.

Second, Benedict XVI will probably die in the near future and a new Conclave (election of a new pope) will take place. Cardinals are already considering (and some quietly campaigning) who should be the next pope.

In Cardinal Mahony's case, he is 76 and has less than four years before he turns 80 and no longer will have a vote in papal elections. He has to distinguish himself to the College of Cardinals before he becomes yesterday's news. At 80, he will have zero chance at trading in his red dress for a white dress.

In newly minted Cardinal Dolan's case, he is a rising star in the Church. If he can manage to stall Marriage Equality in the U.S. until after the next papal election and intimidate President Obama into a retreat on contraception, he will impress the cardinals who will elect the next pope. It has been a long held opinion that it is unlikely that any American would be made pope, because of America's international dominance. However, an American pope who can bring an American President to heel, is another matter entirely.

Sadly, we are led to the obvious conclusion that there seem to be two standards at work in Catholicism, one for 99% of Catholics (laity, nuns and simple priests) and another for the 1% elite (bishops, cardinals and popes).

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, in announcing he was recalling the Irish ambassador to the Vatican, denounced "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism – and the narcissism – that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."

Once in a blue moon, a person of sincere principle actually is elected pope. It happened with the election of Blessed John XXIII and it happened in 1978 with the election of John Paul I. For the sake of the world's 800 million/one billion Catholics we can only hope it will happen at the next Conclave.


Dennis Ebel said...

Once again we see the hierarchy confusing ecclesiastical moral standards with prudent public policy and consequently taking a stance so absolutist as to be worthy of certain evangelical pastors from the Bible Belt. O tempora, O mores! Heil, Ratzipabst!

Matthew said...

Admitedly, I am not a catholic, but the piety of the bishops seems manufactured. In the wake of this, I emailed all my catholic and non-catholic friends at various catholic universities (and I know many of them) and they all said that contraception is already covered now in their health plans (i.e. Seattle Univ). If anything they were freaked out that that might change. Granted, many of these friends of mine live in the 28 states in which this is already the state law so the diocese has been doing it for a long time. And nobody remembers an uproar when it became a state legislative issue (for example in MASS where O'Malley never complained during Romney's tenure as gov when this became a state requirement). So, why the outrage now? And, why the outrage when they are already paying for contraception now in many places either by choice or state law. Are they also lobbying the governors and state legislators to change those laws? It screams anti-Obamaism to me. Nobody remembers them complaining before when these 28 laws came into existence. And, they are saying they will refuse to comply now but they have complied with state law all these years. Why? Until the bishops answer these specific questions, they have no credibility.