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Monday, March 12, 2012

United State's Bishop's Conference Questions Amish Exemption


Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, US Conf of Catholic Bishops
   Writings for the Huffington Post, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Media Director for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has questioned why Amish Anabaptists are exempt from US President Obama's Healthcare Reform Directive and the Catholics are not.
    What is going on? 
    In an election year already proven one of the most scandal-ridden and bloody ever, Sr. Mary is merely the latest conservative Vatican paladin to complain about the church’s lack of status in American society.  She should try being Mennonite or Amish.
    Truthfully, like the Anabaptists, the Roman Catholic Church has come a long way from the days of being merely tolerated or even feared to being recognized as a full-fledged pillar of American society.  Just fifty years ago, people were alarmed at the thought of a Catholic president.  So where has the new martyrs’ complex come from?
    Problematically, this complex can also come across a bit mean.
    Sr. Mary closes her essay with a bite, “A Catholic might take personally the Administration's dissing their beliefs. Lucky the Amish … have their basic constitutional rights respected. If only we objected to health insurance generally, we might be able to enjoy the same protection. Seems odd that the Administration is more inflexible on contraception than on services that actually treat disease,” (Walsh, ibid).  [I thought condoms helped prevent unwanted pregnancies and diseases?]
New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan
    In the last few months, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been busy.  Former President, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, Sr. Mary’s old boss, compared local LGBT festival organizers to the KKK for attempting to curb drinking by starting the parade earlier – potentially conflicting with the morning mass.  New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Sr. Mary’s new boss, has proclaimed a new social crusade – exemption from allowing employees of Catholic charities to enroll in public healthcare systems that cover contraception and the Pill.  Though not a bishop, Catholic values Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has denounced the evils of public education.  All of these issues are seen as public infringements on Catholic culture.
    “What has the government got against the Catholic Church? Has it forgotten the contributions the church has made to the poor and needy for centuries?” Sr. Mary muses (Walsh, ibid).
    Probably not.  As far as I know, the people of the USA are deeply grateful for the contributions of Roman Catholics to American healthcare and social services – just as they are grateful to the contributions from Amish, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Baptist and Muslim citizens as well.
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George
    Sr. Mary is actually trying to compare apples to oranges.  The Amish exemption is based on their internal religious organization and on respecting the personal beliefs of individual Amish, not on extending the reach and scope of the Amish “Church”'s power or ideology.  Importantly, the Amish maintain a proven internal, communal commitment to health care.  They are not exempted per se as much as they never opted in.    
    Where Sr. Mary does not appreciate the Obama Administration’s criteria of serving the groups internal membership, hiring within the group and linking services directly to the maintenance of group beliefs, those criteria in fact describe the Amish exclusion (Walsh, ibid).
    Truly appreciative of contributions by religious groups to the greater society, the American public has at the same time agreed from the beginning on the separation between church and state.  The Amishers’ criteria are not arbitrary but have been negotiated over 238 years.
    If the Santorum campaign’s direction is any clue, Sr. Mary probably understands this.  Santorum’s solution – that the separation between church and state should be compromised.  “You hear so much about separation of church and state. I’m for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling what the church to do,” (ABC News, see below).   Is he demanding a new priviligium for the Catholics?
    What is at stake is the Catholic control over non-Catholic employees, non-Catholic recipients of Catholic Charities (often utilizing substantial tax payer subsidies and public grants) and the students of Roman Catholic schools and universities.  In other words, does the Catholic Church have the right to use public subsidies and tax deductions to force others to comply with their ideology?  For the most part, the US tradition is that one has to choose between public financing and private religion – even for the Amish.
    Sr Mary seemingly supports this deduction, “Catholic social service agencies, including adoption and foster care agencies, parish food banks and soup kitchens, meet human concerns. Services depend on need, not creed. Church sponsorship means the services have a little extra, be they volunteers from parishes, financial donations through diocesan appeals, or the dedication that comes from working for God as well as paycheck,” (Walsh, ibid). 
    The concern is with the little extra – the little extra provided by American taxpayers to help fund and support those services.  Or, the little extra in the form of indoctrination or additional rules with which one has to comply in order to receive those service.  These little extras are what require effective government oversight.
    Back to Cardinal Francis George and his worry about the gay KKK.  Cardinal George’s problems with the annual gay PRIDE festival pale beside his problems failing to effectively manage relations between the state of Illinois and Catholic Charities’ child adoption services.  As Dolan’s predecessor as head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, George, Walsh and Dolan form a continuum of power.
    George’s beef with the state of Illinois is that the Church wants to handle adoption services for the state, but only want to consider heterosexual married couples for adoption placement.  Problematically, the Illinois church’s intent is contra the laws and civil liberties of the Illinois state.  Rather than consider adoption placement with gay and lesbian couples, the church shut down all adoption services and gave up is license to the state.  Even when providing a state service, the Roman Catholic Church in Illinois would not tolerate state intervention or oversight into those services.  If controversial aspects of Catholic doctrine are not unquestioningly adopted, George would rather stop feeding the poor and assisting the needy.  What is the real priority?
    An unasked question is if the state did not intervene would these same adoption services begin perhaps prioritizing adoptions to Catholic families over non-Catholics?  How far would George go?
    If the Catholic Church can exempt itself from dealing with gays and lesbians in a state-run program, then should not Bob Jones University be allowed to return to teaching against inter-racial couples?  Fair is fair.  Internal is internal.
    Many Catholic laypersons have quietly questioned why the church has taken such a tough and public stance over the matter of contraception – a prohibition that Catholic law student Sandra Fluke of Georgetown University, in Washington, DC, recently indicated was apparently openly ignored at her Catholic school.  She was ridiculed across the nation, most notably by radio host Rush Limbaugh, for her support of President Obama’s directive.
    As a fellow alumni of Georgetown, I also recall many students cynically observing that for a Roman Catholic school that was strongly anti-abortion, yet tolerant of one of the nation’s most notorious hook-up cultures, there were surprisingly few pregnancies on campus. 
    Is it also likely that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is actually seeking precedents by which to preserve its own largely discredited internal privileges and a means by which it might not only prevent itself from losing more church treasure and property to damaging external lawsuits regarding incidents it would prefer to maintain as “private” and “internal” matters? Is Sr. Mary alluding that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is perhaps less concerned about condoms and more concerned about avoiding having more Cardinals and Bishops humiliated in front of Grand Juries and an increasingly hostile press over internal policies? 
    How different in fact is this new attitude of no-compromise from church principals, and claims of special privilege and the ability to discriminate from those principles against which the original early Anabaptists rebelled, eventually helping to spread the doctrine of separation of church and state in order to prevent such scandals in the future?
    The desire for undue power and the need for self-preservation are significant motivators.
Philadelpia's Cardinal Justin Rigali
    In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law stepped down as Archbishop of Boston over allegations that he used Church privilege and internal resources to help avoid public scrutiny of growing child sex-abuse scandals and to help suspect priests find new appointments – not for just a few years, but for decades.  Investigations into Cardinal Law’s actions soon spread to other influential members of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Possibly avoiding further questions and legal complications, Law controversially left the United States and was internally reassigned to Rome’s Santa Maria di Maggiore.
    Just last year (2011), a Grand Jury in Philadelphia, Penn., found that yet another archdiocese, after having been investigated in 2005, still failed to provide adequate internal oversight over its priests or to protect the well-being of minors with internal Catholic policies.  Cardinal Justin Rigali has been roundly criticized for this failing and for attempting to keep reports of child molestation covered up internally.
Cardinal Barnard Law, Boston & Rome
    In 2012, Cardinal George felt compelled to reassure potential contributors to the Catholic Fund Drive that none of the funds raised would be used to cover legal expenses or settlements incurred by church scandals.  Are these the little extras to which Sr. Mary refers?
    Sr. Mary – might it not also be true that that if the US Conference of Catholic Bishops were less political and a bit more flexible on contraception, and more open to cooperating with the state, that the they might now have more credibility, having less to hide?  Injecting a bit of the state’s public objectivity into the internal oversight of the church not only provides a fall guy for the church to blame less popular internal changes, but, as an auditor, the state could serve as a seal of approval and best practices, reassuring more jittery Catholics that their house is truly in order.  Forget about the Amish – they have their own concerns.

CBC News - Bishop Lahey to face Vatican discipline

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