Saturday, June 30, 2012

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Those words come from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene II, where they are spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The phrase aptly describes the bishop's overblown "outrage" over contraception.

In 23 years of pastoral service and experience, I can confidently state that an average of 3% of practicing Catholics strictly follow the teachings of the hierarchy on contraception. More disturbing than this for the bishops is reported in the following Huffington Post article,


The exemption debate has largely focused on Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies. Critics of the HHS mandate say it forces institutions to subsidize treatments that violate the tenets of their faith. Parishes and other church organizations focused on preaching and teaching the faith are exempt from the mandate.

Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide employees with free contraception coverage. Nearly as many (46 percent) say they should not.
A majority of Catholics (58 percent) support the contraception mandate generally. While Catholic Church teaching proscribes the use of artificial birth control to avoid conception, 98 percent of Catholics use contraception, according to separate surveys.





Aquinas said that we must follow our own conscience, even if it means excommunication, since it is our conscience that will acquit or accuse us at the end of our life. Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) applies primarily to individuals and not to institutions. It means that no one, especially the state, or religious "authorities" can dictate to an individual what they must do, or practice in matters of conscience. Moral teachers, like parents, can give guidelines and help to develop values, but they cannot make every moral decision for a child, especially after the child reaches adulthood, or an adherent. You cannot abdicate your personal conscience to another person or an institution (cf. Nuremberg trials).


Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) is primarily applied to individuals. No one should be able to impose upon an individual beliefs or practices with which they disagree. Religious Freedom (Freedom of Conscience) is secondarily applied to Religious Organizations since these are voluntary associations of like-minded people, e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. These organizations enjoy Religious Freedom/Freedom of Conscience, because their individual members enjoy these freedoms. However, these organizations may not use these Freedoms as a license to attempt to impose their beliefs/practices on the whole of society. If they attempt this, these institutions become guilty of violating the Religious Freedom of individuals. Ironically, the very attempt to use legal coercion on others constitutes in and of itself a violation of the principle of Freedom of Religion/Conscience that they invoke.


If an insurance company provides a benefit, it does not mean that you must use it. However, it is quite another matter to insist that others (especially your employees, students, or other subordinated peoples) not have that same option. The Jehovah Witnesses might just as well take exception that they are required to pay for your blood transfusion, a procedure they consider immoral. The Society of Friends (Quakers), religious pacifists, could well object to their tax dollars supporting the maintenance of the military and financing foreign wars. Orthodox Jewish people could object to their tax dollars supporting food programs that include non-Kosher items and preparation practices at public schools.


What is particularly offensive about this feigned outrage on the part of the bishops is that it is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to increase their political power. Katherine Stewart, writing in the Guardian brilliantly captures the logical and moral inversion the bishops are attempting with their feigned outrage over "Religious Freedom."



“In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, "religious freedom" has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for "religious privilege". It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.”



It is time the Vatican cleaned their own house first, and held personally accountable/punished bishops who Covered-Up pedophilia to protect the corporate wealth and "reputation" of dioceses. Apply Catholic social teaching to Diocesan employment (wage/benefit) practices AND then perhaps, they will have the moral authority to address general social issues. They would certainly look far less ridiculous to their clergy and the faithful. Then again, their attempt to mobilize society against Marriage Equality and The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act may simply be an effective way to divert the public's attention from the bishop's role in the Cover-Up scandal.

6 comments:

Gary (NJ) said...

I love the campy humor ;) It's a good tonic for coping with oppression. Throughout history Jews, blacks and other minorities have also been well served by it.

Silas Botwin said...

I am really rather sick of this attitude toward the contraception issue, and I am talking about the attitude that THIS article takes. How completely unoriginal and lacking in any actual critical thought.

It shows a fundamental failure to understand the place of public opinion in the role of American government. Quite frankly it does not matter if 100% of Catholics used contraception or if 100% of the population believed that Catholic institutions should be forced to provide contraception. Public opinion has NOTHING to do with the protection of rights. Actually, democracies have THE WORSE record of protecting minority rights of all types of governments, historically speaking. 90% of America believed that slavery was morally acceptable, therefore, by reason of your appeal to popular opinion as some sort of verification of somethings righteousness, the US was morally right to allow slavery.

It is NOT an imposition of your beliefs on other people to not provide something to them that is against your religion. There are so many things wrong with this point of view that I really cannot even begin to express everything. This country is rapidly going down the drain and it is precisely because of this ignorant liberalism that thinks that you can actually satisfy everyone's desires AND live harmoniously together at the same time. After all, Utopia is only one more piece of legislation away isnt it? QUite frankly I do not care about the Catholic Church's problems with contraception, I think it is simply anti-american for the government to take this stance.

The world view of Obama's administration and his supporters is founded in traditional European Totalitarianism. Freedom and Utopia are FUNDAMENTALLY OPPOSED. I really cannot go on, there is neither the space nor the time for me to adequately point out all of the flaws and ignorance that this insanely common attitude contains. It is quite frankly unacceptable to anyone who values

Try actually dealing with the substance of the argument rather than skirting the actual issue and talking about all of these out of scope points. Liberals seems COMPLETELY incapable of grasping the concepts of SCOPE, FALLACY, and PRINCIPLE in debate. This article is how many paragraphs long? Yet not a SINGLE time does it deal with ANYTHING that has ANY baring on the actual issue at hand. THis in nothing more than just another shit on the church band wagon. I am really rather disappointed that you hopped on the bullshit cart without question.

Just for the record, I have a degree in Constitutional Studies with a concentration in the Origins of Rights in America, and a degree in Religious Studies. I am 24, I am gay, I am a non practicing Catholic, and I really used to be a big admirer of yours (actually I used to have a REALLY big crush on you). But I really cannot tolerate the mindless regurgitation of this idiocy. I expect better of you.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Silas,

Thank you for your comment. I have decided to respond to it in a subsequent blog, since I believe it is of general interest.


Fr. Geoff

Anonymous said...

Blogger Tal said...

Fr. Geoff, please forgive the length of this post, but Mr. Botwin's misguided arguments got me thinking. Fundamentally, the hierarchy misconstrues the Establishment Clause, and ignores Congress' power to regulate those institutions it funds.

I believe Agostini v. Felton, 521 U. S. 203 (1997) likely recites the issue the Supreme Court would consider: "whether the government acted with the purpose of advancing or inhibiting religion [and] whether the aid [or here, coverage requirement] has the 'effect' of advancing or inhibiting religion." (Cits. omitted.)

The applicable case law supports the Affordable Care Act's imposition of certain coverage requirements on Catholic affiliated institutions, like hospitals and service organizations, including: Bradfield v. Roberts, 175 U.S. 291 (1899) (holding constitutional public funding of Catholic hospital because it was a secular corporation, even though founded and run by the Sisters of Charity); Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589 (1988) (holding the Adolescent Family Life Act constitutional because "there is no reason to assume that the religious organizations which may receive grants are 'pervasively sectarian' [...] [and thus there is] no reason to fear that [...] the Government [...] [will] intrude unduly in the day-to-day operation of the religiously affiliated AFLA grantees"); and Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002) (holding school voucher program constitutional because any intersection with religion arose "only as a result of the genuine and independent choices of private individuals").

The hierarchy and Mr. Botwin are thus wrong for several reasons. First, Catholic affiliated institutions accept taxpayer funds because they are admittedly secular and not religious, which makes them no different to any other business. Second, the Act is clearly of general applicability, and is a constitutional exercise of Congressional power and authority. Federation of Ind. Businesses v. Sebelius, ___ U.S. ___ (2012). Third, benefits are electable by the employee and not at the direction of Congress (Congress merely ensured the employee had the benefit if desired). Fourth—as conceded by Notre Dame in its case against the HHS—the coverage is employee compensation, and not Church property. Fifth, benefited employees need not be conservative practicing Catholics. Last, by exempting the Church and its immediate subdivisions, the Act avoids undue entanglement.

Based on these factors, the Act satisfies the tests applicable to the Establishment Clause, including Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971) (holding that to be constitutional, "[f]irst, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion [...]; finally, the statute must not foster 'an excessive government entanglement with religion'").

In response, the hierarchy posits that it alone has the power to define the wall between Church and State, an argument I find legally odious. It would constitute the Church a political power, and vest in it the powers and prerogatives of the State—something the Establishment Clause clearly prohibits.

The United States is not theocracy. The Catechism is not the Constitution. The Conference of Catholic Bishops is not Congress. The Pontifex Maximus is not President. The hierarchy should tend to its own dilapidated house and try keeping quiet for a change. It would be … refreshing.

I am far from a fan of the Affordable Care Act, which I believe is a complicated, expensive, ill-considered boondoggle. But the Act is constitutional, for the reasons stated in Chief Justice Roberts' considered majority opinion. Congress has the power and authority to enforce it.

July 7, 2012 12:23 AM

Silas Botwin said...

Father Geoff,

I feel a bit awkward being thanked for such a comment. The tone was (almost) uncalled for but definitely a tad over-done, and I apologize for the use profanity - it was unprofessional and uncalled for.... I can be a bit tempestuous at times, and being still under the curse of youth means I suffer from mild impetuosity. Please accept my apology, you deserve to be treated with greater respect than I have shown you.

I will be in Boston for the next 2 years, and if you are ever in New England I would very much like to buy you lunch or coffee and have a conversation with you - if you felt comfortable doing so, that is.

vinmor said...

Today is a new day Silas and I believe Geoff took your comments and responded in a very loving a Christian way. Your insights are valuble as well.

I believe we as the LGBT community need to leave the politcal area and collectively focus on the good of the LGBT community.

With Rommey's choice of VP I am dissatified with the silence of the USCCB since they have already critisied Paul Rand's budget.

When will they speak out...after the general election? Will they continue to raise monies to defeat gay marriage?

Welome Catholics which cost thousand for the diocese that chose to use it is in reality a joke. Welcome home to what?

Come Lord Jesus Come and save you people.

Fr Vince