The Catholic Church or at least the Catholic bishops in both Canada and the US are on the defensive mode. The Ontario Bishops are fighting a desperate battle to defend their position on GSA’s while the American bishops, acting as Republican pawns, are trying to unbalance Obama’s attempt to provide for a nation-wide public health plan. What are Catholics to make of all this? In this day of Robo Calls, information overload and dirty politics it is easy to become confused about many of the issues presented as fact or truth.
For Catholics and other Christian believers it is important to stay grounded in Gospel values and take personal responsibility to discern the voice of the God within and in others. Remember the bishops have been wrong before but are sworn to uphold Church teachings and therefore more likely to be influenced externally and risk challenging dogma and doctrine. Hence the Vatican’s current strong commitment to oppose the primacy of individual conscience over Church teaching.
One of the voices I have come to respect a great deal is that of Professor Daniel Maguire. His view of the U.S. bishops’ current position regarding Obama’s plan to introduce a national health plan will help Catholics understand who’s wrong in this war on Catholics.
Who’s Wrong in ‘War on Catholics’?
February 7, 2012
Exclusive: GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich claims President Obama has declared “war on the Catholic Church” with a ruling that contraception must be included in health plans for employees of church-led institutions, but Catholic moral theologian Daniel C. Maguire says it is the U.S. bishops (and Gingrich) who are wrong.
By Daniel C. Maguire
The decision of the Obama administration to ensure health care coverage including contraception in Catholic institutions has enraged American bishops who lobbied hard against it. The bishops claim their religious freedom is violated by this ruling, but the bishops are wrong and out of the mainstream of Catholic teaching, including the teaching of bishops in other parts of the Catholic world.
A number of bishops, including Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa, have spoken strongly on the need for condoms, especially in areas ravaged by sexually transmitted diseases. The U.S. bishops are even at odds with the pope who approves the use of condoms “where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection.”
The papal change on condoms effectively ended the taboo on condoms since it says that health concerns may require their use, and there are many health concerns aside from HIV/AIDS. The nonpartisan and well-respected Institute of Medicine, on which the Obama administration relied, says contraceptives can be used to treat reduce the risk of endometrial cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease and other diseases mainly affecting women.
Also use of contraception is linked to the decline in infant death. Obviously contraception limits the number of abortions since it prevents unwanted pregnancies.
But the American bishops say the administration’s decision on Jan. 20 was a case of religious freedom. In that, they are right but not in the way they intend it. The bishops are claiming the religious freedom to violate the religious freedom of those who are employed in their institutions or who are served in their tax-supported hospitals. By denying contraception as part of employee health plans, what the bishops seek is more like religious fascism than religious freedom.
Furthermore, traditional Catholic teaching rests on a tripod, including the hierarchy, the theologians and the sensus fidelium, the experience-fed wisdom of the laity. These three sources of teaching are, as Cardinal Avery Dulles said, “complementary and mutually corrective.” An accurate look at Catholic teaching on contraception today shows strong support for the position that contraception is not only permissible but even mandatory in many cases.
Catholic theologians overwhelmingly support contraception. Dozens of Catholic hospitals and universities cover prescribed contraceptives. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives. Only 2 percent of Catholic women use the “rhythm method” of birth control favored by conservative Catholics.
Therefore the decision of the Obama administration, rather than threatening Catholic teaching on contraception, is actually more attuned to actual Catholic teaching than are the American Catholic bishops with their idiosyncratic taboo on contraception.
Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians.