The politics of the HHS mandates is, at once, easier and more difficult than looking at the ecclesial implications. For starters, the politics will be played out before a fickle electorate and a media intent on ambulance chasing. Here we are this weekend discussing profound constitutional issues regarding the relationship of Church and State, and the President’s budget, and the mayhem and murder in Syria, and the threat of a nuclear armed Iran, but as soon as Whitney Houston died, everything else went away. Mind you, I liked Ms. Houston’s singing, and I feel very badly for her family, but the way our media and the electorate responds to the ebb and flow of events has little to do with the gravity of the issues at stake.
In case you missed it, I was interviewed last week for the CBS Evening News by Elaine Quijano. The interview was part of a report they aired Saturday night. Here is the link.
I should note that the interview was conducted before the President announced his "accommodation" on Friday.
And, I should also note that we filmed the interview at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in New London, Connecticut which, as you can see from the pictures, is one of the most beautiful churches I know. A shout out to the pastor, Father Bob Washabaugh, whom I have known since childhood, for letting use film at his beautiful church.
Mark Silk has posted a brilliant takedown of a recent column by Charles Krauthammer in which Krauthammer argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition calls all to private charity but not to government programs to help the poor. As Silk points out, when Moses laid down the Law, it was a solemn, legal obligation, with all the force we associate with a state mandate or program today because, of course, back then, the separation of Church and State would have struck the Israelites as a very odd thing.
The Krauthammer meme is one we hear often on the right and all of us who support government anti-poverty programs should have Silk's argument at the ready.
The best commentary on the Obama “accommodation” so far, and how to respond to it, has come from Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, in an article at America. He writes: “I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.” Bishop Cupich’s balanced look at the issues involved should be read by everyone, but especially by his brother bishops.
I am deeply ambivalent about President Obama’s proposed “accommodation” regarding the HHS mandates. I was grateful I was in the car most of the day on Friday, and unable to offer immediate comment. When I listened to the President’s remarks, it seemed to me that the better part of wisdom was to say nothing over the weekend and, instead, first consult with people whose perspectives, knowledge and expertise I value. Alas, I am as ambivalent this morning as I was on Friday.
There is much to say on this topic, and it is difficult to neatly separate the ecclesial from the political issues. The debate over the past several months, and especially over the past three weeks, revealed a great deal about our culture at this moment but, nonetheless, I would like to try and focus this morning on the ecclesial significance of the decision.
Folks - I am driving back to DC this morning, me and the three dogs, so no longish op-ed post this morning. Instead, here is a link to Jake Tapper's look at the debate on the conscience exemtions within the White House.
Here is the link to the audio from my discussion on "Radio Times" this morning with my freind Sally Steenland from the Center for American Progress and Radio Times' host Marty Moss-Coane.
From his new web-perch at RNS, Mark Silk looks at the significance of the voting on Tuesday and concludes that the culture wars are back in a big way. I suspect he is right, and not only for the Republicans.
In the Columbus Dispatch, Sister Judith Ann Karam, CEO of a Catholic health care system in Cleveland, called on Vice President Joe Biden to help "fix" the overly restrictive conscience exemption. Sr. Judith pointed out that she and others advocated for the Affordable Care Act. Her words should serve as a caution to those who are rushing to give the administration cover on the issue: The sisters who run Catholic health care were critical, indeed decisive, in getting the ACA passed. They have been thrown under the bus. And progressive Catholics are defending Obama? C'mon folks. The issue is not about contraception, it is about whether or not Catholic institutions can continue to follow their mission in good conscience.
Yesterday, I had the honor to speak with the "Global Issues" class at St. Bernard's High School in Montville, CT. Their teacher, Deb Fitzgerald, invited me to talk with her students and they were just great. They were completely unafraid to argue and question, they made good points, their comments reflected a real grasp of the way different issues interact with one another. I thank them and Mrs. Fitzgerald for having me and wish them lot of hard work and learning (and it is work, but it is worth it) in the rest of the year.