One of the most tired talking points one hears about the current U.S. Catholic bishops’ effort against the HHS contraceptive mandate is that the bishops have a lopsided focus, appearing to care more about their sexual teachings than about issues that are ostensibly more important. Here’s one example, a random one among the first hits I found on Google. It comes from the DailyKos comboxes: “Just imagine if the Bishops fought this hard to have the government strengthen the safety net.” The comment right after it is a ditto: “Bishops are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP . . . so you know they’re not going to file 40-plus lawsuits to advocate for poor people.”
Anybody who believes this caricature should read what Sean Cardinal O’Malley of Boston — one of the most important figures in the U.S. Catholic hierarchy — wrote on his blog after last week’s Supreme Court decision:
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this week upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s “mandate” requiring adult Americans to purchase health care. The full range of the Court’s decision requires further study. Central to the decision, however, is the fact that the law will significantly expand health care for over thirty million people. The Catholic Bishops have for decades supported the principle of guaranteed access to health care as a basic human right. Our position has been and remains based in the dignity of the person and the right to health care which requires protection in civil law and public policy.
While supporting this extension of health care, the U.S. Bishops Conference reminded us this week that since the passage of ACA, the Church has encountered significant challenges to its institutional religious freedom. Most notable is the requirement that Catholic health care, social service and educational institutions provide services to their employees which violate Catholic teaching. Among the multiple aspects of ACA that require further deliberation, the protection of religious freedom in institutions that serve the American public must be secured and sustained. Intrinsic to the right of religious freedom in a pluralistic society is the need for adequate and appropriately defined conscience clauses which protect professionals in fulfillment of their duties. The Church will continue to pursue these objectives vigorously.
Finally, the ACA does not adequately address the needs of immigrant communities in our country. Health care as a human right and the need for it among some of the most vulnerable people in our nation is one of the reasons why access to health care should be extended beyond ACA.
People who are experts on Obamacare may find fault with some of his assertions about it. I’m not, so I won’t. What I do want to point out is the order of his priorities: first, taking care of people, and second, defending the particular religious liberties at issue in this case. Can anybody honestly read this as the statement of a contraception-obsessed political instrument of the GOP?