The Corner

Jenkins’s Ear—Do We Have It?

First off, there is a very worthwhile editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal — “ObamaCare’s Great Awakening: HHS tells religious believers to go to hell. The public notices.” Great title. A taste:

The Affordable Care Act itself is ambiguous about what counts as a religious organization that deserves conscience protection. Like so much else in the rushed bill, this was left to administrative discretion. What the law does cement is the principle that the government will decide for everyone what “health care” must mean. The entire thrust of ObamaCare is to standardize benefits and how they must be paid for and provided, regardless of individual choices or ethical convictions.

To take a small example: The HHS rule prohibits out-of-pocket costs for birth control, simply because Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s regulators believe no woman should have to pay anything for it. To take a larger example: The Obama Administration’s legal defense of the mandate to buy insurance or else pay a penalty is that the mere fact of being alive gives the government the right to regulate all Americans at every point in their lives.

Practicing this kind of compulsion is routine and noncontroversial within Ms. Sebelius’s ministry. That may explain why her staff didn’t notice that the birth-control rule abridges the First Amendment’s protections for religious freedom. Then again, maybe HHS thought the public had become inured to such edicts, which have arrived every few weeks since the Affordable Care Act passed.

Bad call. The decision has roused the Catholic bishops from their health-care naivete, but they’ve been joined by people of all faiths and even no faith, as it becomes clear that their own deepest moral beliefs may be thrown over eventually. Contraception is the single most prescribed medicine for women between 18 and 44 years old, and nine of 10 insurers and employers already cover it. Yet HHS still decided to rub it in the face of religious hospitals.

On the downside: The editorial takes a dig at Mitt Romney, saying his op-ed last Friday slamming President Obama for attacking religious liberty and the Church fell short because it did not address the larger health-care issue. It didn’t cure the common cold either. Romney deserved praise for sticking up for those faiths under attack from big government (which, by the way, is something he did as governor of Massachusetts).

Back on the upside: The editorial zings Catholic lefties who fawned over the president and blessed his health-care takeover, which is now (surprise surprise) directly assaulting Catholic institutions:

Mr. Obama’s allies among Catholic liberals are also professing shock—even the Catholic Health Association’s Sister Carol Keehan, who lobbied for ObamaCare, and Notre Dame’s Father John Jenkins, who invited Mr. Obama to speak on campus in 2009. But if they now claim they were taken for a ride by the secular left, the truth is that they wanted to be deceived in the name of their grander goal of government-enforced equity. The Catholic left was one of ObamaCare’s great enablers.

So about the Notre Dame president: Hey Father Jenkins, it’s Act Two, and this is your cue. Center stage and the spotlight awaits. Time for your soliloquy, where you admit that the Obama directive is a bald-faced betrayal of the respect for religious belief and the search for “common ground” he promised — and you lauded — in his celebrated Notre Dame commencement address.

Will Jenkins do it? A number of embarrassed, fellow-traveling Catholic liberals — from E. J. Dionne and Michael Sean Winters to the Jesuit America magazine and Doug (ugh!) Kmiec and Sr. Carol Keenan of the Catholic Health Association — have all called the president to task for this betrayal. Too little and too late, Kathy Dahlkemper, one of the pro-life Democrats in Congress who ended up providing one of the critical votes for Obamacare (and lost her seat as a result), now says she never would have voted for the bill if she knew this would happen.

Not for schadenfreude’s sake: That’s all very encouraging. But it’s just a start. They owe us more, and so, especially, does Fr. Jenkins. Despite Ms. Dahlkemper’s spin, none of these people were sold a bill of goods. Indeed, they’re the very ones who helped sell us a bill of goods — that Barack Obama was a new kind of Democrat who had respect for people of faith. They owe us more than regret about the embarrassment he has now caused them.

Father Jenkins bears a particular burden. It wasn’t enough for him to give President Obama perhaps the most visible Catholic platform in America when he invited him to be the university’s commencement speaker in 2009. He also bestowed on President Obama an honorary doctorate of law — all while flipping the bird to the dozens of bishops who asked him not to so honor a man whose commitment to the culture of death included fighting any limit on partial-birth abortion. Indeed, in his introduction of the president, Father Jenkins assured the nation that talking to those of different views to find common ground was a “principle we share.”

The priest and his fabled college have a special responsibility now that the president has proved those words so hollow. For Notre Dame does not present itself as just another Catholic university. To the contrary, it prides itself on being a leader in Catholicism — in the institution’s favorite phrase, “the place where it does its thinking.”

Prove it padre. Simply issuing a statement expressing disappointment is ducking for cover. Take the lead. You were so willing to strongly take a stand against your own bishop (and many bishops in fact) in 2009. They have been proven right. Now it’s time for you to take a strong stand against a liberal Democratic president whose policy is an assault on religious liberty, on Catholic institutions, and the millions of people they serve. This entire affair is about many things. But it is also . . . Father Jenkins’s moment.


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