Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Continuing the conversation: Why are the bishops being so stubborn?

My Twitter conversation partner (see yesterday's post) expressed reservations about the bishops' handling of the HHS free contraception mandate, saying that they were painting the issue as if it were the one and only primarily moral responsibility of the Catholic Church, to the neglect of “justice, refuge for the poor and hungry, and abolition of war.” I am sure that Teddy is not the only person who feels this frustration. I imagine the bishops feel it too, being constrained to make claims on behalf of First Amendment rights when they have so many pressing pastoral issues to deal with already. If they had wanted to be constitutional experts, they would have gone into law, not ministry.
One thing Teddy may not have noticed is that when the current Administration first announced the “new, improved” mandate of free pills and contraptions (but not free medicine to heal ills), even before the bishops raised First Amendment issues at all, comments from Catholic spokespersons included the rather mundane observation that such a mandate would channel enormous sums of money away from direct service to the poor and into a single, specific benefit for a favored class.

In the case of institutions like Catholic Charities, which operates primarily from people's donations, that means an increase of administrative expenses and a decrease in the funds available for emergency housing, for heating assistance to low-income families, mental health services for the most vulnerable (in any number of languages), and so many other invisible services that are carried out for society's most invisible members.

I think it is safe to say that one of the reasons the bishops are being so vocal about this is that they see these precious services to the underserved (services which are already so difficult to fund) threatened by the new entitlement.

Just as I wrote last week, there can be a silver lining to this leaden cloud of intrusive government. If, as Fr. Robert Barron suggested, the goal of the administration is to relegate Catholicism to a private realm, such prophetic voices as Dorothy Day's suggested decades ago that social services ought to be carried out person-to-person, and not institutionalized. Catholics would no longer be able to delegate “the Church” to meet the needs of the poor; we would have to do it the old-fashioned way. Ourselves.

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