Saturday, April 21, 2012

Back to the Bishops

4/20/2012—While I don’t know Rick Garnett, the Associate Dean of Research at Notre Dame Law School, well enough to call him a friend, I do have great respect for him. He is an honest guy. So I want to respond here to his claim on the Mirror of Justice blog, and elsewhere, that the recent statement by the bishops on religious liberty is not partisan, that in fact the response to the statement is what is partisan. Since I am one of the sort of critics Rick is referring to, I want to better explain what I mean.

The partisan quality of the statement does not inhere so much in the specific claims it makes as it does in its tone, emphasis and timing. The tone is one of opposition to a fundamental, imminent and unprecedented attack on religious liberty. But this is not true and the examples with which the document begins plainly indicate that this is not the case. It was always true, for example, that it was a crime to harbor a fugitive. There has not been legal recognition of refuge for a very long time.

The emphasis of the document is on the contraception mandate under HHS regulations, the first example it lists. Now, with the exception of what the Church considers to be “abortion-inducing drugs,” this emphasis is not justified. This is an issue on which compromise is possible and my understanding is that there have been contraception mandates in the States before. The Bishops have shown no willingness to compromise or propose compromise, but appear to be picking a fight.

To illustrate what I mean consider a document issued in 2007, before the contraception debate occurred: The Challenges of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (summary the United States bishops reflection, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship). This document outlines political judgments that Catholics must make but uncompromisingly condemns a political/legal system that permits, and by implication support for politicians who support, abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, and destructive research on human embryos. These are called intrinsic evils. In addition, another set of acts is condemned as assaults on human life and dignity: genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in terror and war.

Obviously, nowhere on this list is vasectomies. The emphasis on vasectomies and tubal ligations in the bishops statement is ridiculous in comparison with what is actually of crucial importance. If suddenly contraception has climbed so high in importance, then I say the reasons are partisan. Duquesne University used to pay for vasectomies. I had one myself.

Which leads me to the timing. The bishops statement has turned into just one more plank in the Republican Party attack on Obamacare and the Obama Administration. And if the bishops did not anticipate that, they certainly should have. Worse, the statement completely omits any praise for the effort of which the opposed mandate is a part, to provide healthcare for the uninsured, which used to be important to the bishops but now apparently is insignificant.

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