An excerpt from Francis Cardinal George’s May 20th column in Catholic New World:
Because public discussion of the Department of Health and Human Services’ interpretation of the requirements of the health care reform legislation will remain a matter of public debate, it is important to clarify and pinpoint the Catholic bishops’ concerns in this important issue. They are two: 1) government infringement on religious liberty; and 2) restrictions on freedom of conscience.
Religious liberty means that all religions are free to identify and control their own ministries, without interference from the government. The institutional names of our Catholic ministries in Chicago are well known; for example, there are Catholic universities (like Loyola, DePaul and others) and Catholic schools (like St. Ignatius, Marian, Fenwick and others). There are Catholic hospitals and health care centers (like Resurrection, St. Anthony, St. Bernard and others). There are Catholic social service agencies (like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago) and Catholic child welfare institutions (like Misericordia, Mercy Home, Marillac House and many others). Under the HHS regulations, none of these institutions is Catholic. The government has unilaterally decided that it has the “right” to determine what is Catholic (or Jewish or Muslim) and what is not. Religious ministries are reduced to public services, with their identity changed by government edict. This is a novel intrusion of the government into the internal life of the church and other religious organizations. It is a First Amendment issue and will eventually be decided by the courts.
Freedom of conscience means that neither an institution nor an individual should be coerced by the government into doing or paying for an action they believe to be immoral. Institutional and personal conscience had previously been protected in federal health care legislation by the Hyde, Church and Weldon amendments. These legal protections have been removed from the health care law, and freedom of conscience has been restricted. This is a policy issue and will probably be decided by either legislative or executive action.
On a related note, Leroy Huizenga made a point yesterday on the First Things blog that I’ve touched on a couple of times and bears repeating:
The appeal to religious liberty is important, but it must be one prong of a two-pronged strategy. We must also explain why Christians historically have held contraception to be an intrinsic evil. Otherwise, we’ll be regarded at best as irrational eccentrics the state merely tolerates. In the long run, those simply tolerated tend not to fare well.
It is not important, I think, that we actually convince people that Catholics are right on contraception, as amply demonstrated by the support for Catholic rights shown by many Protestants who accept contraception. I do think it is important that people see that we have substantive and well-thought-out reasons for why Catholics reject contraception (as did all major Christian bodies until 1930). We need to show that what is now the Catholic position isn’t simply the fruit of a papal diktat but rather that our position is beautiful, issuing forth from the most profound reflection on Nature and the human person, that our position is a matter of reason and not only revelation, that it’s not really a matter of a mere “religious exemption” at all.
We have before us a real opportunity not merely to defend our right to associate and serve freely in accord with our conscience but also to educate and thereby evangelize the wider public while also catechizing the many poorly-formed Catholics who have little problem with contraception. We should go on offense. …
We ought to show how our thinking flows from our reasoned and realist conviction that grace completes nature, while the modern biotechnological nightmare we’re facing is a secularized version of the old voluntarist and nominalist idea that grace destroys it. Modern wills use technology to shape their bodies apart from any concern for our natures as embodied men and women. We might make the point that contraception isn’t healthcare because pregnancy isn’t a disease, even though our Gnostic culture considers children a cancer. We ought to argue that Humanae Vitae has proven prophetic. In the face of the West’s demographic decline, we ought to ask progressives what the ultimate ideal future towards which they’re progressing actually is—a sterile secular simulacrum of Eden bereft of the messiness of children?
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