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No Valentine for Obama Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 14 February 2012

That Was the Week That Was: Not only the bishops, but the body of the Church seemed to rise up in opposition. There was a clarity that could not be missed in the mandates of the Obama Administration, that all medical insurance contain coverage for contraception, sterilization, and abortion. 

Faced with a political storm, Mr. Obama announced an “accommodation” last Friday that altered nothing of substance. The concern was that religious organizations of all kind – hospitals, adoption agencies, as well as churches – would be covered by the same sweeping regulations that were of course binding on everyone under the law.

In the “solution” offered by Mr. Obama, any insurance arranged by a religious entity would still cover contraception and abortion. The government would simply compel the insurance company to cover these “services” under the fiction that there would be no “cost.” 

If people are credulous enough to think that there will be no costs, that the costs will not be passed on to the insured, or that this arrangement alters anything of moral substance in the case – anyone credulous enough to believe these things probably wished to be fooled in the first place.  

And so the Catholic Left chimed in with support. Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, released a statement at once noting that her organization was “very pleased with the White House announcement,” bringing a “resolution” that would serve “the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries.”  

This “resolution” can protect only a “conscience” safely removed from any objective moral standards outside the person himself and the bundle of likes and dislikes he is willing to regard as the voice of conscience.

But the question even more remarkable is why anyone – especially the bishops – should  have been taken by surprise. A Democratic administration understands abortion not merely as a regrettable private choice, but as a public “good,” something to be praised and promoted at every turn, and sustained with public funds.  

And not merely locally. It needs to be mandated in all agencies of the United Nations and all operations of the American government that can touch places abroad. As befits a moral good, it is universal in its goodness.  


              Sorry, sir, there are no “exemptions” from Catholic conscience 

As Aquinas taught us in the first law of practical reason, what is rightful and good should be done; the wrongful should be avoided. A moral judgment is binding: if we say that it is wrong to own humans as slaves, we mean that no one ought to do it, that everyone, anyone may be forbidden from owning slaves. 

Lincoln caught the logic of morals from the other side when he said that “If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” If we understand that it is wrong to create disabilities and benefits for people solely on the basis of their race, we understand that the law is justified in barring racial discrimination. 

And the Church does not doubt that the law is as binding on itself and its members. Did people not understand then that the Obama Administration has come to regard the right to abortion, and now the right to same-sex marriage, as moral goods on the same plane?  

And if the federal government took command of the whole field of medical insurance, was it not evident that the Administration regarded abortion as a legitimate and necessary part of the medical treatment of women, even though no sickness would be cured by abortion? 

At Mass on Sunday I heard it said that the Church had sought an “exemption” from these new regulations. But that cannot be. To seek an “exemption” is to concede the binding quality of the law for everyone not subject to the exemption. As I understand it, the Church is seeking a “rescinding” of the whole policy. 

It is not merely wrong to impose this policy on religious organizations; it is wrong to impose it on Catholic businessmen, but then on businessmen who are not Catholic and yet have a moral objection to it. In fact, it is arguably wrong on other grounds to make people pay for abortions when they don’t see a need for a policy of insurance encumbered with those costs.

The mandate of the government is certainly not needed for people to have access to contraception and abortion. These “services” are not barred by law, and if contraception and abortion make as much economic sense for the lives of people as their partisans contend, the buyers would find it as sensible to buy it themselves as to pay the bills for their iPhones.  

        This move of the Administration cannot be explained then by a need simply to make these services available. It can be explained only by the determination to insist on the deep “rightness” of abortion and contraception – and to brand as wrong anyone who would deny their rightness.

We delude ourselves then if we think that the current crisis can be resolved with anything but the thorough repeal of Obamacare. But no mere calculation can induce the party of the Left to acquiesce in that repeal. 

       What the bishops need to understand is that the Left would have to overthrow a moral conviction that now runs, for them, as deep as the moral convictions that have finally moved the bishops to overt, full resistance.
 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law.
 
 
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written by Dave, February 14, 2012
Prof Arkes, isn't it the case that it is wrong, period, to make anyone pay for the "services," inasmuch as the "services" are intrinsically evil? My premium payments, too, as a enrolled member of a plan, help to subsidize access to these "services," and while the participation of someone like me who enrolls in a plan for reasons other than access to the "services" is mediate cooperation in evil, cooperation it is nonetheless. Insurance providers are not the only ones being coerced here.

Thank you for the insistence that the Democratic Party sees these "services" as moral goods they are morally obliged to spread universally. The only effective response has to be a counter-offensive by the bishops based in catechesis on their universal immorality: it is not merely the case that Catholic conscience rightly formed is violated as much as the "full spectrum" is intrinsically evil. The bishops long ago gave up insistence on the rightness of Humanae Vitae, even silencing forty years ago their brother bishop the great Cardinal O'Boyle of Washington. A good part of the current problem lies right there. What I wish they would do is begin a catechesis on Humanae Vitae that includes catechesis on Divine Providence, suffering, and subsidiarity. For those who argue that the bishops haven't the moral authority to do so because of the priestly scandals of the last decade, I would argue that they begin to regain that moral authority as soon as they begin to reverse their course on the accommodations they have made. The argument that they haven't the authority strikes me as a red herring designed to keep them pinned down. I suspect the hierarchy would counter that such a course as I propose is imprudent, and thus dismiss it out of hand. Perhaps then they could explain to those of us who pray for more decisive leadership from them why it is so.
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written by Grump, February 14, 2012
Hadley, your argument is persuasive, but you fail to mention that most of the Catholic bishops were solidly behind ObamaCare from the start. Which prompts the old but true statement, "Be careful what you wish for." They now rail against a law that they helped bring into existence and their new protests are two-faced.
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written by Sue, February 14, 2012
A persistent problem is the conflation of "the bishops" with the USCCB, ark of Marxist hegelian dialectic theatrics and unfortunate repository of the trust of American Catholics to "negotiate" the good of the American flock with the state.

The USCCB as an organization is programmed to align with the state and can be said to be the flagship of "Crony Religion".

The Alinsky tactic of identifying the target, freezing him, and demonizing is made too easy for the government by allowing the USCCB to stand for the Catholic Church - it doesn't, the Pope does. Like the Tea Party, the Church in America needs to show up as less of a big institutional target, and the bishops need to stand forward and assert their own individual canonical identity.

But if we _are going_ to allow the USCCB to speak for the Church, we'd better be darn sure it does so in truth. From Roe down to Stupak, USCCB has had a consistent pattern of misplaced high dudgeon that has led to the very corrupted society Humanae Vitae predicted. It's not hard to see the intentionality of this when you study the enabling acts of the sixties and the involvement of Hesburgh/Notre Dame and other Rockefeller Catholics.

Somebody tell me why we are putting up with merely "marching for life" forty years after aborticide was legalized. It would be a march of shame for Germans to be _merely_ marching against (and perhaps declining to pay for insurance for) concentration camps 40 years later. We would say this was nothing but an indulgence to be so anemic in our resistance to evil. Akin to the tolerance towards slavery indulged too long in our country.

It was never going to work, this democratizing of bishop authority. Each individual bishop needs to be held accountable for his own flock instead of allowing the USCCB to speak for him. Bishop Clement von Galen would serve as a good role model in the firmness and hard stance for principle that is required.

"We are the anvil and not the hammer. But ask the blacksmith and hear what he says: the object which is forged on the anvil receives its form not alone from the hammer but also from the anvil. The anvil cannot and need not strike back: it must only be firm, only hard! If it is sufficiently tough and firm and hard the anvil usually lasts longer than the hammer. However hard the hammer strikes, the anvil stands quietly and firmly in place and will long continue to shape the objects forged upon it."

Blessed Von Galen didn't need a bishops' committee to put forth his stand for the truth.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, February 14, 2012
What this shows is that the notion of limited government is an illusion.

Rousseau saw this very clearly: “Each man alienates, I admit, by the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control; but it must also be granted that the Sovereign is sole judge of what is important,” for “ if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decide between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical.”

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written by Ken Colston, February 14, 2012
Mr. Arkes as usual sees things clearly. I've just read the Bishops' statement on the usccb website, and it does not make a case against the evil of contraception per se, which is required to appeal that the mandate be rescinded. From the beginning of their opposition, they have turned almost exclusively to the argument from religious liberty, which allows some merely to make the analogy that forcing Catholics to pay for contraception is like making Jews pay for pork. But the Catholic objection to contraception is that it is immoral, and if something is immoral then it is immoral for all, not just Catholics. The more correct analogy is to pornography or prostitution, and the bishops should object that anyone is being forced to pay for contraception. I don't see why the bishops are not using this moment to remind the nation forcefully as a whole and their own flock most especially that contraception is an evil and why it is so. From the comments that one hears the Catholic faithful making in the media, we sorely need the reminder and catechism.
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written by Brian English, February 14, 2012
"They now rail against a law that they helped bring into existence and their new protests are two-faced."

Actually, they are railing at a regulation promulgated under the law. The Bishops should have been more concerned about vesting so much power in the federal bureaucracy, but what's done is done. Foolish decisions in the past do not negate the validity of their objections now.
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written by Ken Colston, February 14, 2012
I made the same point that Dave made, and it seems to have been lost: the Magisterium has defined contraception as an intrinsic evil, and an intrinsic evil is immoral for all, not just Catholics, and so mandating it is far more than requiring Jewish restaurants to serve pork. It is more like, but worse than, mandating and promulgating and subsidizing prostitution or pornography. The bishops should be more forceful in their objections than merely appealing to religious liberty, and from the comments of the Catholic faithful in the media a catechesis at this moment is sorely needed.
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written by Joe Lindsley Sr., February 14, 2012
Thank you Professor Arkes.

I would also strongly agree with respondent Dave (February 14, 2012) in his suggestion that the bishops should initiate a catechesis on Humanae Vitae. I would add, however, that the basis of the education should be on the formation of conscience. The simple question every Catholic should honestly ponder is: What authority has informed my conscience? Is it the government, popular culture, the Church?

An honest and intellectual examination of this question, supported by solid catechesis on God’s gift of free will, and the teaching authority of the Church as ordained by Jesus Christ, will, I think, cause even those Catholics sympathetic to the use of contraception to realize the dangers of diminishing not only the Church’s voice—but more importantly—Its actions.

This, it seems to me, is a critical first step.
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written by Bob, February 14, 2012
Sue---describing the USCCB fealty to statist ideology as "crony religion" was absolutely perfect. I wish to inform you that I have appropriated that term. Thanks.
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written by 4Subsidiarity, February 14, 2012
The Church has made the mistake of being allied with the objectives of the Democratic party far too long without thinking through the long term implications.
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written by Bob, February 14, 2012
Sue

The USCCB as the flagship of "crony religion" is absolutely perfect. My compliments. I will flatter you by appropriating its frequent use.
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written by Hadley Arkes, February 14, 2012
I would like to thank some of my “regulars” who wrote in today, but I’m grateful to all the writers, who brought forth quite an interesting array of commentaries. This is another one of those instances in which the comments really did extend the piece, in taking the argument further and raising further questions. Dave jolts me with a really good problem as he raises the question about treating contraception as an “evil.” Of course we shouldn’t be compelled to pay for someone else’s contraception, and for layers of reasons. First, it’s not one of those risks for which insurance is formed. People know that they are going to engage in contraception. Why should one be obliged to pay for medical insurance designed to counter no illness or treat no malady? But then the slip: to require insurance companies to treat contraception as the subject of insurance is to reinforce the teaching that there is nothing morally problematic about this activity. We make a mistake if we don’t see this move as part of a curriculum in teaching people to regard contraception merely as a technique, with no moral significance at all.
But as a moral question, it deserves to be treated more carefully than one could treat it in this commentary. Dave’s comment, though, brought this recognition: It is obviously harder even to suggest in public today that contraception is something that can be restricted through the law—Mitt Romney, faced with the question, remarked that no one is thinking seriously of regulating contraception. And yet we may recall that even at the time of the famous Griswold case, in 1965, Justice Byron White suggested that it could certainly be legitimate to restrict the easy availability of contraceptives to people other than married couples. It was still possible to consider restrictions on the sale of contraceptives to minors, and perhaps their impersonal sale in vending machines to people pondering one-night stands. Recalling those possibilities raises this subject to be pondered: Even if it is evidently imprudent for a politician to call for a legal ban on contraception, there are places in which one could make the argument for those limited restrictions, as with minors. For every one of those restrictions carries a point. And if the laws are to teach anew they should begin somewhere, to teach where they can, where people can still recognize, even faintly, the presence of a serious moral concern.
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written by Chris in Maryland, February 15, 2012
When will the Church declare an annulment of its marrigae to BIG BROTHER? BIG BROTHER has co-opted and corrupted the Church with its vast array of "social justice" partnerships: Campaign for Human Development, "Catholic" Charities USA, "Catholic" Hospital Assn, etc, etc. And now those "Catholic" technocrat machines have turned on every Catholic citizen and joined with Obama-Sebelius-Dionne to threaten our 1st amendments rights. Behold, what is the Catholic diocesan machine doing now? It is letting Obama's Leviathan into our very own Catholic Grammar Schools, by cooperating with the government's "Blue Ribbon School" campaign. And BIG BROTHER will soon be telling us what will and will not be taught at ITS BLUE RIBBON SCHOOLs.
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written by Jeff, February 16, 2012
98% of all Catholic women use birth control. A Catholic invented birth control. The only people that object to birth control are men. Since men can't become pregnant, I don't think they should even have a seat at the table. Stop trying to control people's live and evolve a little.
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written by Graham Combs, February 16, 2012
I suspect that Prof. Arkes would receive a more civil welcome, but earlier this week on Catholic radio I listened as the normally civil host berated (yes, berated, humiliated, shouted down) a caller into silence. The caller had dared to observe as Prof. Arkes did that we should not have been surprised. Implied by the host and other hosts in following days (including a conservative Detroit commercial station) was a sense of disloyalty or lack of focus or just bad manners. But the question the vulgar caller was attempting to present perhaps was -- What Next?. Sr. Keehan presented one demoralizing possibility. But now there is no excuse for the Church to continue reaching out to this administration. In 1994 when I graduated from law school, it was clear this was where the zealots and extremists were taking us. But like that poor caller, who am I to be listened to?

In 2009 I sat at mass while a Jesuit priest and university professor stopped his sermon to say that "some are over-reacting to the healthcare bill." I'm not convinced the Church or at least too many in the Church have learned anything from this episode.

Do we need to be reminded -- at least those of us over 50 -- that the left never gives up and invariably gets what it wants. They didn't march through the institutions, they executed a permanent sit in. You wanted Social Justice. You got it.




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