By Monica Frede
Earlier this week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, penned a letter in response to recent visits by White House officials to the group of Catholic Bishops. In an effort to soothe the fiery debate ignited in recent weeks due to the Obama Administration’s mandate on private insurers providing its customers contraception coverage, the church leaders and White House staff discussed “the options.” Dolan’s letter, addressed to his Conference of Catholic Bishops, reaffirms the unapologetic position by the White House:
How fortunate that we as a body have had opportunities during our past plenary assemblies to manifest our strong unity in defense of religious freedom. We rely on that unity now more than ever as HHS [Department of Health and Human Services] seeks to define what constitutes church ministry and how it can be exercised.
The HHS seeks to constitute church ministry and how it can be exercised? This untoward conversation greatly concerned Dolan when White House officials further clarified their position:
At a recent meeting between staff of the bishops’ conference and the White House staff, our staff members asked directly whether the broader concerns of religious freedom—that is, revisiting the straight-jacketing mandates, or broadening the maligned exemption—are all off the table. They were informed that they are. So much for ‘working out the wrinkles.’ Instead, they advised the bishops’ conference that we should listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation, such as the recent, hardly surprising yet terribly unfortunate editorial in America. The White House seems to think we bishops simply do not know or understand Catholic teaching and so, taking a cue from its own definition of religious freedom, now has nominated its own handpicked official Catholic teachers.
They know that this is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception. It’s about religious freedom, the sacred right of any Church to define its own teaching and ministry.
With a President and his Administration who are not concerned with the fundamental rights granted to our religious organizations— because to do so would require a pause, for a few moments, ruminating the original intent of the U.S. Government, which we can all agree is not going to happen— the argument must come to fruition from citizens leading laborious debates rooted in limited government and individual freedom.
It is no surprise that the White House believes themselves to be more enlightened than this 46-year old institution that has driven humanitarian efforts alongside past and the present Popes. An institution as grandiose as the government, capable of altering school lunches while juggling CEO compensation plans, vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards and plastic bag usage, surely can deliver the exceptional alternative to the Catholic Church.
It is the very fact that we have allowed our government to take on the role of god that it believes it is god.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.” The distorted control we have granted to our elected officials has existed for some time, peaking in our present scenario of an entitlement, welfare-laden state, leading directly to the throne of federally-funded morality (or immorality).
But what we also have today is an opportunity to reshape the debate. The fact that Americans are debating whether the federal government should require private, non-profit and religious organizations to provide contraception to individuals is both good and bad. The argument is good because people who question the acts of their government are people who have the potential to react to unjust laws. The argument is bad because we must entertain the argument at all. King wrote:
[T]here is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.
Tension exists today— from Sandra Fluke’s passionate testimony pleading for financial provision from the government to support the co-ed lifestyle, to the Susan G. Komen Foundation entering the stage of public disapproval for its decision to cut its voluntary donations to Planned Parenthood (only to reverse course), to the Obama Administration defunding the Embryo Adoption Awareness Campaign in lieu of a “lack of interest” from the public— and we are talking.
Every enactment of an Obama Administration law and regulation supplies the Conservative aggregation a fresh opportunity to create tension, but we should approach the theatre of thought with the simplicity of the facts, rather than the subjectivity of public opinion.
After all, opinions change. Truth does not. King reminds us that “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”