The February 10th statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that President Obama, in revising his health care mandate, “has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients.” His decree “would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.
“It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider.” The USCCB said “the lack of clear protection… for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer.”
The Obama mandate is a blessing in disguise. It offers a teaching moment to the Catholic Church in the United States on three points:
First, the nature of conscience. Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI has warned of the “dictatorship of relativism.” One result of relativism is the trivialization of conscience. “ ‘[O]nce the idea of a universal truth about the good knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its prime reality as an act of a person’s intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth different from the truth of others.” Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, no. 32.
In short, “Conscience is a judgment of reason by which the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1796. Once conscience is divorced from that duty to objective truth, it becomes a mere expression of personal, even idiosyncratic, taste with no transcendent claim to immunity, against oppression by the State. The Catholic Church is well suited, and has the duty, to reawaken the American people to the conviction that conscience is transcendent because it is the gift of God. It “is man’s most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” Catechism, no. 1795.
Second, the reality of contraception. The Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 was the first time any Christian denomination ever said that contraception could ever be a morally good choice. The Popes have courageously maintained the traditional teaching. Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968. Since that time, and even for some years before, the American bishops, with exceptions, have miserably failed in their duty to educate Catholics and others on the positive, hopeful teaching of the Church on marriage and the gift of procreation. Space limits preclude a detailed discussion here. But once men and women claim the right to separate the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act, they make themselves arbiters of whether and when life shall begin. Inevitably they claim the right to decide when it shall end, as in abortion and euthanasia. Paul VI predicted in Humanae Vitae that the acceptance of contraception would lead to a collapse of morals, the treatment of women as objects and the conferral on the State of a supremely dangerous power over life and death. He was right.
President Obama has given the Catholic bishops a priceless opportunity to recall the American people to the reality of contraception and the disasters resulting from its acceptance. We pray that, this time, they will perform that duty.
Third, the Catholic voter. Since 2004, the Church in America has debated whether a Catholic can vote for a pro-abortion candidate. The result, ascribable in large part to the timidity of bishops, has been to reduce abortion to a status as merely one issue among others. This has worked to the advantage of Democratic candidates, including Obama who was elected with 54% of the Catholic vote. The material cooperation with evil involved in voting for a pro-abortion candidate can be justified only for what Cardinal Ratzinger in 2004 called “proportionate reasons.”
President Obama has taken to a new and contemptuous level his commitment to an intrinsically evil pro-death, anti-family agenda. His health care mandate confirms that he has made himself, directly and personally, the Chief Persecutor of the Church. Can it seriously be said that “proportionate reasons” exist to justify a Catholic in voting to give Obama another term in which he will complete his agenda without hindrance by re-election concerns? Is it not time for each bishop, without endorsing any candidate, to declare his moral judgment that a properly formed conscience will not permit a Catholic to vote for Obama—and that a vote for Obama would be, in objective terms, a sin?