All of this has had an effect. I have been a member of the same Catholic parish in suburban Washington for almost 28 years. But never, until last Sunday, did I hear a sermon applauded. Yet that is precisely what happened when our permanent deacon (a retired scientist at the National Institutes of Health) gave a vigorous, thoughtful defense of religious freedom and called the entire congregation to intensified prayer, penance, and reflection on the defense of that first of American liberties during Lent. Friends around the country report similar experiences with similar sermons.
This, too, the administration did not expect.
David Gibson’s Religion News Service story further quoted “Church officials familiar with the negotiations” who “privately” worried that some bishops’-conference staffers were “veteran cultural warriors” who “often take a harder line than the bishops themselves.” Like Gibson’s anonymous official in the White House, these anonymous representatives of Catholic Lite just don’t get it. They imagine that accusing the bishops of partisanship is going to spook them into acquiescence; they are wrong, because in this debate we are down to first principles. They imagine that accusing the bishops of being at the beck and call of “cultural warriors” will cause the bishops to blunt the sharpness of their critique of the administration’s “accommodation”; they are wrong on this, too, for the bishops know quite well who declared war on whom in this affair.
And while they will doubtless continue to press their points with the administration and in Congress, most bishops know, as the conference leadership knows, that an administration as deeply committed to the abortion license as this one is not likely to back off on its determination to impose the dictatorship of moral relativism through HHS regulations. The bishops are also fully aware that the White House, in good cop/bad cop fashion, will try to mask what it’s doing with the soothing language of “accommodation” while occasionally resorting to further efforts at intimidation from more Anonymous Officials. The administration’s divide-and-conquer tactics will also, in all likelihood, continue; but even the White House must eventually recognize that there is only so much mileage to be gotten from America editorials.
As Cardinal Dolan indicated in the March 2 letter that clearly got under the White House’s corporate skin, the issue of the HHS mandate will almost certainly be decided in the federal courts, where, there is good reason to believe, the administration will lose, badly. The interesting political question to be posed to those who falsely accuse the bishops of “politicizing” the mandate issue is, What else will they lose along the way?
— George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.