Showing posts with label HHS Mandate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label HHS Mandate. Show all posts

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"Birth Control" is not medicine

On October 13, 2017, the federal government issued an interim rule which exempts religious entities from paying for objectionable services as part of their insurance plans. These include:
(FDA)-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures ... [including] certain drugs and devices that may not only prevent conception (fertilization), but may also prevent implantation of an embryo ... that many persons and organizations believe are abortifacient.
See here for several prior TCV blog posts about this issue.

Responding to this interim rule, Hillary Clinton tweeted: "Rolling back no-copay birth control shows a blatant disregard for medicine, science, & every woman's right to make her own health decisions."

Planned Parenthood, which is pacing at about 300,000 abortion victims per year, also responded. Their president, Cecile Richards, issued a statement saying exemptions for "birth control coverage" are an "attack on basic health care."

Many other celebrities and non-celebrities upset by the rule echoed similar sentiments.

But medicine is designed to fix an affliction of the body. Medicine's end goal is a body that functions properly. For example, medical remedies can come in the form of pills that directly fix a bodily problem such as antibiotics that attack or prevent bacterial infections. Medical remedies can come in the form of a surgery to repair a broken limb or remove a cancerous mass—any necessary part of that surgery could be considered medical care.

Birth control is not medicine. In fact, birth control's end goal is to cause a properly functioning body to malfunction.

One might try to argue something like anesthesia is not medicine, since, for example, it temporarily causes the patient the inability to feel—a malfunction of the body. However, this is only done as part of a larger goal of correcting the body. Body malfunction is not the end goal of using anesthesia. Something like an incision is similar. The ultimate goal isn't to scar a patient, but it can be necessary to ultimately treat the affliction. Contrary to these, the end goal of birth control is body malfunction.

In the case of oral contraceptives, an otherwise properly functioning ovulation cycle is stifled. Other oral contraceptives thicken an otherwise fertile uterine wall, preventing implantation of a zygote, thus killing it. Generally speaking, these are all forms of sterilization—which is a field of disease in itself. This is the product we are told must be covered by medical insurance. Forget for a moment any religious beliefs behind objections to the original mandate. Requiring insurance coverage of birth control can be opposed on medical grounds alone—specifically that birth control is not medicine.

In the earliest stages of this birth control/insurance matter, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo wrote on behalf of the U.S. bishops: "[P]regnancy is not a disease." 

In response to this latest rule, Lila Rose, president of Live Action, defended this concept in a tweet:
Abortifacient drugs are the antithesis of "healthcare." Medicine is meant to heal, not kill.
And she is exactly right. Medicine is meant to heal.

As in 2012, objectors immediately pointed out that some contraceptives can be used to regulate cycles or alleviate pains. However, in such cases, the product would not properly be called "birth control" because the drug is not used to prevent birth. Recall in 2012, Bishop Lori, speaking before congress, explained how the same medications typically used for birth control could possibly have other uses:
Blake Farenthold - The Catholic Church does not have a problem with contraceptives for medical purposes. So I would assume from that it wouldn't be morally objectionable to the Church to pay for those for medical purposes. I'm not trying to put you on the spot, I'm just trying to make sure I understand where the Church stands. 
Bishop Lori - That would be my understanding also.
Bishop Lori - I think Catholic moral theology is very nuanced. It recognizes that the same drug can operate in different ways and accomplish different things. If it is used to prevent birth, it is against our teaching.
The Bishop's principle can be seen in action, for example, at the University of Notre Dame's human resources page:
[U]nder the university’s plan, you cannot receive reimbursement for oral contraceptives, contraceptive devices or contraceptive implants, except when specifically requested by a physician based on medical necessity and for purposes other than contraception.
Insurance companies have made similar distinctions with other drugs. For example, Finasteride can be used to treat enlarged prostates but also to treat hair loss. The latter is considered cosmetic and insurance companies are not required to cover the drug in such cases.

Nevertheless, the original HHS Mandate made no distinction regarding coverage of contraceptive products. Contraceptives were required for medicinal as well as anti-medicinal purposes. The Church and other entities object to the anti-medicinal use of contraceptives, i.e. birth control.

You may have seen in reaction to this latest rule cries that requiring coverage for Viagra is hypocritical or misogynistic. For instance, NARAL, a vocal pro-abortion group, tweeted: "In case you were wondering, bosses can’t “opt out” of paying for Viagra." 

But what is the obvious failure of intellect in that statement? Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction, is designed to correct a body malfunction. And, again, birth control, is designed to cause body malfunction. If NARAL and their peers were serious about finding a valid parallel, they would argue that something like OTC skin ointment should be covered since it is designed to fix a bodily affliction or mouthwash which is designed to prevent poor hygiene.

I should note, for the purposes of this blog post, I'm not arguing whether or not any drug/treatment should be "required" in medical insurance policies. Certainly there are reasonable discussions that could be had regarding coverage of only major medical expenses or to give market forces a greater voice in shaping insurance policies. The purpose of this post is focused on birth control and the nature of medicine.

You might have noticed at the beginning that this interim rule was issued on October 13, 2017, the 100th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun. One of the central figures in this contraceptive case was the Little Sisters of the Poor who would have incurred severe fines under the original mandate had they not paid for birth control for someone else. Other religious entities faced similar burdens. Many prayers on this matter have occurred over the past 5 years. Participation in birth control, sterilizations, and chemical abortions are clearly a moral offense in the eyes of the faithful. This is why the matter of conscious rights took a prevalent position in this discussion. We saw in a previous TCV article the amazing rescue of Chilean miners on October 13, 2010. Might Our Lady have interceded for the faithful and little ones, to protect their consciences, lives, and souls?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

3 false mantras intended to silence the Church

In today's entry, I examine 3 mantras or buzz terms extant in today's media and culture, each of which are logically flawed arguments, and each of which are intended to gather support for the censorship of the Church. Sometimes these statements are made by non-Catholics, and sometimes they are made by those who claim to be Catholics in good standing.


This type of argument is perhaps most commonly seen in news story comboxes.

An ABC News commenter writes: "As soon as the Catholic Church cleans their own moral house – they can tell Catholics and Non-Catholics how to live their lives." A Minnesota Minnpost commenter writes: "Until the Catholic Church can clean up there own sins, [they don't] have any right to talk about any law." In another paraphrased echo, a Nov. 2012 CNN blog responder writes: "The catholic church needs to clean up their own pedophile-filled sewer before they try telling anyone else how to think."
Admittedly, comboxes are havens for high emotion and bombast. But this mantra is extraordinarily prevalent and not exclusive to comboxes. I distinctly remember 670 The Score host Mike North, prior to his departure from the station a few years ago, make the exact same argument in response to some public statement from a member of the clergy.

But all of these comments have the same basic demand. The Church must remain silent as long as sin exists within it. The problems with this argument are multifold.

To begin, these arguments, all recent, are founded on the myth that the Church does not address sins within the Church, particularly with regard to the pedophilia scandal of recent years. The folks over at have cataloged a number of statistics on the improvement in Church self-policing in the last 10 years, in addition to stories often overlooked, such as false accusations that have falsely nourished the myth of universal sex abuse or other scandal in the Church. The Church has also permitted third party investigations, including the vast and recent John Jay report last year. The Church has called for seminary screening to include psychological tests in an effort to prevent infiltrators from abusing the priestly office. Early in the exposure of the scandal, the American Church brought in Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent to remedy the situation. The Church's response goes on and on. To argue that the response could be "better" or not is beside the point. Those who argue the Church doesn't address these matters are simply advancing falsehoods.

Secondly, these comments calling for silence are often addressed to priests or bishops who are by all accounts innocent of any scandal. What justice is there for my local priest, innocent of the crimes of a minute percentage of his peers, to suddenly forfeit the entire purpose of his ministry and refuse to teach morality from the pulpit? The demand is nonsensical on its face.

And third, imagine the following analogy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith have two sons. The elder son is caught taking harmful and illegal drugs. The parents have a talk with the elder son. But soon after, he acquires the drugs again, and is involved in an ongoing drug problem. Meanwhile, Mrs. Smith finds out that Mr. Smith has a certain addiction to visiting strip clubs. This has caused an obvious additional rift in their marriage and in the family. Finally, the youngest son decides to become a petty thief. Mr. and Mrs. Smith have a talk with the younger son, explaining to him that it is wrong to steal. The younger son back-talks to his parents, to those in charge of "shepherding" him. He tells his parents they have enough sin to deal with in their household. The parents admit their problems and their ongoing efforts to solve them, but the younger son ignores the concession. He says "until" they "clean up" their sins, he will go on stealing. The younger son demands the parents' voice be silenced.

At the end of the day, where does the younger son fail? Do the parents have problems in their home? Yes. Do they admit the problem? Yes. Are the parents still the parents? Yes. Does the younger son ever confront the idea that stealing is wrong? No. That is where the younger son, the one who attempts to silence those who love him, fails. Stealing is right or wrong independent of the parents' personal problems. The association made by the youngest son is therefore flawed. And regardless of their ongoing issues, loving parents retain every right and obligation to articulate the immorality of thievery.


Another method to avoid confronting the teachings of the Church is to accuse the Church's positions of being archaic or old-fashioned.

Raymond Gravel, an openly dissident Canadian priest, is quoted: "The leaders of the Catholic Church...have locked themselves up in their archaic and obsolete doctrines...they refuse any re-definition of marriage that would allow homosexual couples to legalize their union." Pamela Haag, appearing in the Huffington Post (whose erroneous, anti-papacy material I addressed previously) writes in defense of abortion and modern "sex": "Without access to affordable, reliable, convenient birth control, heterosexual men's and women's sex lives are effectively rolled back to the pre-Griswald 1930s." Following the Pope's recent utilization of Twitter, an anti-Catholic cartoon caricatured the Pope as saying: "This 21st century technology is great for spreading my 15th century views on gays, women and contraception!"
What is perhaps most peculiar about this line of argumentation is the insinuation that if an idea has an older or ancient pedigree, it must be wrong. Again, the accusation is nonsensical on its face. My eyebrow of suspicion is especially raised at the lack of similar accusations against modern scientists who continue to advance Isaac Newton's 17th century views on gravity and physics. Or where are the opponents of the applicability of Shakespeare's 16th century philosophies on love and other realms? Let's not even mention those professors who keep using Pythagoras' archaic 6th century B.C. mathematics!

The main point, of course, is that this "appeal to modernism" (argumentum ad novitatem) logical fallacy fails to confront the substance at hand. Consider abortion. For example, if the Church teaches abortion is wrong because it kills a person in the womb, then attempting to confront that claim by calling it "archaic" neither defeats the Church's position nor supports the arguer's position. It doesn't tell you anything about the validity of the argument. It instead treats it like a style of clothing. It says, "The Church has been pro-life for 2,000 years––you wouldn't want to support that any more than bell-bottoms, right? You'd be out of fashion!"

Secretly, the "archaic" line of argument defeats itself, for its logic defers to a future postulator that calls it old-fashioned.


Let's cut right to some examples:
Quoted in the UK Telegraph, a dissident group that rejects Church doctrine called the Church "mysoginist," "homophobic," and "intolerant." A gay rights group in England named Cardinal Keith O'Brien "Bigot of the Year," for believing same-sex unions are not "marriages." In May 2012, NY Times opiner Maureen Dowd wrote an article which warned in the headline of "the church's intolerance," and went on to claim that the Church is "intent on loyalty testing, mind control and heresy hunting. Rather than all-embracing, the church hierarchy has become all-constricting."
Let's forget for a moment about the 800-lb gorilla of irony who ghost wrote Ms. Dowd's column, and how her column is a test of the Church's loyalty to Ms. Dowd's views, is an attempt to influence the minds of her readers to her position, is an accusation that the Church has violated Ms. Dowd's defined heresies of "intolerance," and has constricted the Church's option on doctrine to the boundaries Ms. Dowd has set. I don't even know what to make of the "mind control" comment, but I pray I am not writing this with the spiraling eyes of a drone.

But what is the issue here, once again? None of these name-calling monickers confront the Church's actual position. They are strawmen or perhaps, more accurately, non sequiturs. If the Church believes that a sacrament, such as the priesthood, demands terrestrial representation of that which it signifies, and therefore maleness must be characteristic to depict Christ, the incarnate male bridegroom of the Church, then what productivity is there in simply shouting "mysoginists!" as a response? The same would apply to the Church's view of the complimentarity of males and females with regard to marriage, or the Church's view of life, etc...

If one refuses to confront the Church's position on the natural and theological plane and foundation from which it is taught, one can hardly seek refuge in name-calling as an adequate substitute. Instead many of the accusers have set up certain doctrines of their own. And those who do not comply are branded bigots of some sort.


There was a time when anti-Church accusers would prop up the Inquisition as one of a handful of historical events when trying to establish mistrust in the Church. Their view of the Inquisition was that the Church forced people to comply with Church doctrines or face quantifiable persecution. Today, that same activity is taking place and now faces the American courts. Catholic or other religious institutions are threatened under penalty of potentially crippling fines to embrace the state's doctrine of the virtue of funding birth control, abortifacients, and other bodily dysfunctioning sterilization procedures. Those who do not comply are branded as bigots, intolerant, archaic, and told to clean their sins before fines or potential arrests to civil disobedience are administered. What is it but a 21st century "Inquisition"? Have the Church's critics gone so far as to become what they have purported to loathe?

In 1942, C.S. Lewis's book The Screwtape Letters was published. It is a fictional tale utilizing theological perspectives. In it we read letters from a master demon counseling his apprentice as to how to lead a certain man assigned to the apprentice to hell. Page 1 contains the following excerpt:
Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false", but as "academic" or "practical", "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless". Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.
And so when you see various false mantras assigned to the Church in an effort to silence Her, remember to ask yourself, what is the Church's actual position? Can I articulate it in a way the Church would recognize as Her own argument? Is dismissing the Church's position as "archaic" or "intolerant" an adequately reasonable or just response?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: The Broken Path

The Broken Path (2011) by Judie Brown catalogs recent behavior among American Catholic bishops. The title refers to the many instances when bishops have "strayed from the path," so to speak, and acted scandalously or contrary to the teachings of the Church. I give the book 7 out of 10 stars.

This book is not an easy one for faithful Catholics to digest. Reading it made me uncomfortable at times. One is forced to confront the idea that bishops do not always act in defense of life, moral doctrine, or other teachings of the Church. I think recognizing the value of this book demands a certain level of maturity, to be able to admit one's own failings and the failings that take place at high levels in his Church. It also takes a certain degree of catechesis to understand that such failings do not mar the unblemished doctrines of faith and morals within the Church. Sometimes the ignorant or anti-Catholics advance the idea that a failure in individual Church leaders' behaviors is a good apologetic against the Catholic idea of infallibility, but such is not the case. Even the very idea of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not an "infallible" body. Brown quotes Pope Benedict XVI stating: "episcopal conferences have no theological basis; they do not belong to the structure of the Church as willed by Christ..." (p 64)

Brown details several programs supported by the USCCB, for instance, Catholic Charities or the Catholic Health Association, which often advance anti-Church causes like the Obama Administration's health care plan and all it entails, including funding for abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Other groups mentioned throughout this book have influences within the Church that are opposed to Church teaching. Many of these arrangements have gone without much historical protest from bishops. Groups include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider; the USCCB's "Safe Environment" office which has been met with opposition for reducing parental influence in their children's sexual understanding; and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, a group headed by supporters of abortion, same-sex "marriage," and contraception in schools; to name a few. Brown devotes a number of pages to these and other organization bringing scandal and dissent to the Church.

When some bishops work in tandem with or act passively in the face of such organizations, Catholics are sent a confusing or contradictory message. A good summary of such problems is in Brown's words is: "lack of consistency sends a mixed message to Catholics." (p 156)

One example she gives of the USCCB's confusing action occurred in 2004. Catholic Answers produced a voters guide identifying five "non-negotiables." Brown writes:
The lawyers for the bishops rejected the voting guide, claiming that it was confusing to people and that only its officially approved material should be used. This is strange, indeed, since the Catholic Answers publication agrees 100 percent with Catholic teaching that identifies five 'non-negotiable' subjects by which a politician is to be evaluated: abortion, euthanasia, human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and homosexual marriage. (p 100)
If one researches the background of this matter, it seems the USCCB's lawyers discouraged use of the guide because it could appear to favor a political candidate and thus jeopardize non-profit status. However, it seems there is a difference in actively discouraging something's use versus not legally claiming ownership of it. At the least, the USCCB lawyers' actions and subsequent refusal to clarify causes confusion and scandal in the Church.

One of the problems Brown cites is a culture of "Americanism." By this term, Brown refers to a sentiment prevalent in the United States that "any group, or individual, could 'correct the pope' with impunity..." (p 19) It is "an amalgamation of pluralism, modernism, atheism, Gnosticism, and Arianism." (p 32) The Arian heresy was a 4th century doctrinal scandal in the Church in which the priest Arius sought to correct doctrine taught by the Magisterium. Such attitudes depart from the chain of Apostolic succession through which Christ promised truth would be taught by the Holy Spirit. Individuals and even individual bishops who thus depart from the consistent teaching of the Church cause error, scandal, and confusion.

Brown details a variety of quotations and actions/inactions by individual American bishops in recent years, bringing what is a significant problem in the American Church to the attention of the faithful. For example, she describes the of silence from some bishops who remain idle on the sidelines while openly pro-choice politicians continue to receive Holy Communion while supporting the so-called "right" to terminate an infant in the womb. In chapter 8 of the book, Brown reviews Canon 915 on providing the Eucharist and scandals within the Church violating that Canon.

Another specific example includes a letter written by Bobby Schindler to his bishop, Robert Lynch, in 2007. Schindler was critical of the bishop's lack of voice when his sister Terri Schiavo was publicly starved to death in Florida in 2005 in an act of euthanasia. (p 157ff)

Brown's book is fraught with footnotes linking to various articles and publications. It would be daunting to cross-reference them all, and the ones I perused were sound references. There was one long story she relayed, of which I was familiar, that I found wanting for detail. (p 124ff) In 2010, Phoenix archbishop Thomas Olmsted renounced St. Joseph Hospital's Catholic status and notified an involved nun that she had incurred excommunication. A woman received an abortion at the hospital. Brown did point out that Church teaching forbids surgical abortion, but the story did involve complexities that I thought warranted further explanation. The hospital justified the abortion in the following words:
Tests revealed that [the mother] now had life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. The chart notes that she had been informed that her risk of mortality was close to 100 percent if she continued the pregnancy. The medical team contacted the Ethics Consult team for review. The consultation team talked to several physicians and nurses as well as reviewed the patient’s record. The patient and her family, her doctors and the Ethics Consult team agreed that the pregnancy could be terminated, and that it was appropriate since the goal was not to end the pregnancy but save the mother’s life. (quoted in National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 22, 2010)
Brown's focus in this story was to demonstrate the scandal of nuns involved with the hospital complicit in the abortion against the bishop's position. However, I would liked to have seen Brown provide more information on why the bishop's position was what it was. Bishop Omsted wrote of his decision:
[E]arlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).
In other words, the goal of the procedure was to kill the baby. It was an abortion. The baby was a healthy human being. The baby was not given due consideration as a person. They were not treating the mother's cancer that resulted in the death of the baby. This perspective, though a difficult one, is why the bishop stood his ground.

Another nitpick I had in the book was with this statement: "Magisterial teaching refers to doctrinal pronouncements from the pope on matters of faith and morals." (p 5) That statement is not quite accurate and may give the impression that only the pope ever formulates dogma. From the catechism:
CCC#100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.
CCC#892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent" which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
The Pope, though he has a special role, is not on an island. There is a real unity there that includes not only the Pope but the other apostolic successors. Though that was just a small snippet of Brown's book, I know, as one who delves in the world of Catholic apologetics, someone might find themselves confused by, or an anti-Catholic might consider it opportune to utilize Brown's sentence as it is worded.

Brown has a significant amount on President Barack Obama and those who influence the Church. Obama is certainly well-known as perhaps the greatest opponent to Catholic teaching in the history of the United States executive office. The current HHS mandate is a violation of the very rights of religious persons in the U.S. I thought that section tended to carry on lengthily as Brown gave detail after detail of Obama's political appointments, health care, and other actions.

Although many of the politically-intertwined scandals in the Church involve Democrat politicians, Brown does not limit her criticism only to one party. For instance, she praises Bishop John Smith of New Jersey for writing a critical letter to a school for inviting Republican and pro-choice politician Christine Todd Whitman to speak. (p 84) The problem is not one limited to political lines. And as some good writers have pointed out, the Church is neither Republican or Democrat. The Church advances the truth of Christ.

Along with the likes of Bishop Smith, Brown is sure to include a number of uplifting stories throughout the book of brave bishops who have stood up to politicians or other Church dissenters, upholding the teaching of the Church despite the criticism they knew they would receive. So even though the main purpose of the book is to show what is the problem, Brown includes a balance of positive stories for the faithful, offering hope that our bishops often do what they are, as shepherds, called to do.

And even after the writing of this book, perhaps there are more signs of faithful shepherds in the U.S. At one point, Brown writes: "What is it about birth control that scares bishops into silence." And yet in February 2012, after the publication of The Broken Path, 100% of all 181 diocesan U.S. Catholic bishops publicly condemned the HHS mandate, which demanded even religious bodies fund birth control. Perhaps voices like Brown's have helped remind the U.S. Bishops to all stand for the teaching of the Church as many of their peers have done in the past. Her last chapter is called: "Holy Priests are the Cure" which includes sections on several heroic bishops.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Parallels between the HHS Mandate, Constitutions, and Honduras

The Obama Administration's recent ultimatum to religious organizations included a potential penalty of up to $2,000 per employee to every organization that did not comply with the HHS mandate to provide, without a co-pay, contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients as part of their insurance policies.

While the bishops of the United States and their allies combat this mandate as an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty, it is worth recalling another constitutional issue early in Obama's term.

In May 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempted to alter Honduran law and manipulate the parameters of term limits. The matter escalated in the Honduran government in the following weeks. The attorney general ordered Zelaya's arrest on June 28 on grounds of violating Honduran law.

The Honduran Congress voted to remove Zelaya from office by a tally of 122-6 for attempting to alter term limits. The Honduran Supreme Court voted to remove Zelaya from office by a vote of 15-0. This decision was not a coup, even though various media outlets will only describe Zelaya's actual removal by military personnel as such. It was a democratic vote, overwhelmingly in favor of removing Zelaya.

The following day, U.S. President Obama remarked on Zelaya's arrest: "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there. In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States." Zelaya is well-known as a political leftist and ally of Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez.

Washington Lawyer Miguel Estrada shed light on the legal dimension of altering term limits under the Honduran Constitution. In a July 10 Los Angeles Times article, Estrada wrote: "Article 239 [of the Honduran Constitution] specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection 'shall cease forthwith' in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any 'infraction' of the succession rules constitutes treason."

On July 8, the Obama Administration protested the removal of Zelaya by cutting $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras. Soon after, the Administration revoked four diplomatic visas for four members of the acting Honduran president's administration.

Over the next months, negotiations persisted as Zelaya fought to be reinstated with the full support of the Obama Administration. On August 25, the Administration remained dissatisfied with the progress and imposed additional sanctions on Honduras by denying all non-emergency visas to Honduran citizens desiring to enter the United States.

Pope John XXIII wrote in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, "Relations between nations are to be further regulated by justice. This implies, over and above recognition of their mutual rights, the fulfillment of their respective duties." That the American government did not give due respect for the rights and judicial providence of the Honduran congressional and supreme court votes is worth fair consideration.

Why was there such an aggressive response in this incident from the Obama administration? Is it possible Obama has an affinity for those who seek to end term limits? Chavez removed term limits in February 2009. The Nicaraguan president Ortega, to whom Zelaya fled after his ousting, also governs in the absence of term limits. Colombia, who Obama specifically mentioned as his ally in his above quote, also sought in 2009 to get rid of term limits. Could we see Obama seek to alter term limits if he is re-elected? Are these recent term limit incidents in Central and South America indicative of a global pattern?

Violence has since ensued between Zelaya supporters and the incumbent government. But what is the real moral of the story? The Obama Administration supported an unconstitutional position. For those who did not submit to their position, penalties were inflicted.

Sound familiar? See the beginning of this article if it doesn't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Myths about Church teaching on contraception and the religious liberty at stake

I thought it worthwhile to transcribe portions of the February 16, 2012 appearance of Bishop William Lori before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (View the entire hearing here.) I also included a quote from Rabbi Soloveichik. I'm sure all too few citizens watched the panel, so this may help dispel some of the ignorant comments out there about the Church. I'll throw in my own comments here and there, and bold emphasis is my own.

Blake Farenthold (to Bishop Lori) - The Catholic Church does not have a problem with contraceptives for medical purposes. So I would assume from that it wouldn't be morally objectionable to the Church to pay for those for medical purposes. I'm not trying to put you on the spot, I'm just trying to make sure I understand where the Church stands.

Bishop Lori - That would be my understanding also.
Notice in this first part something many people probably do not know––the Church is not opposed to contraceptive drugs, per se. The Church is opposed to using contraceptive medicine to deliberately compromise the sacredness of fertility in the marital act or to induce post-fertilization abortions, which the Church would consider the killing of a human person.1
Farenthold - And there are numerous organizations, both federally and private funding that make available free or low cost contraceptives throughout the country. I'm sure you're aware of that.

Bishop Lori - Yes, that's also my understanding.

Farenthold - So we've got a mandate here that really is a lot of much ado about nothing. If it were carefully crafted, the chances of somebody not able to get the care, or for that matter the optional contraceptives that they desire, is, for all practical purposes, nil.

Bishop Lori - Those services are very, very widely available and what we are talking about is a very narrow band. It is clearly a minority opinion, or a minority view. But we think it's one that ought to be protected.
The government's health care plan is by no means limited to contraceptive drugs for medical use alone. Medicinal use of otherwise contraceptive drugs, said the Bishop, is not against Catholic moral teaching.
Bruce Braley - A significant portion of women, 1.5 million, use the Pill exclusively for medical purposes other than contraception. They use contraceptives to treat severe menstrual pain, migranes, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis. Oral contraceptives also help prevent ovarian cancer. ... Do your religious teachings prohibit the use of contraception for health-related purposes, such as treating ovarian cancer?

Bishop Lori - I think Catholic moral theology is very nuanced. It recognizes that the same drug can operate in different ways and accomplish different things. If it is used to prevent birth, it is against our teaching. And so we have operated with a considerable–– with a lot more nuance than we're usually given credit for. Also observe, by the way, that 90% of all private health care plans give access to contraception. We're talking about a very narrow band, and for very specific purposes here.
Later, congresswoman Rosa DeLauro asked a version of the exact same challenge again.
Rosa DeLauro - There are so many studies, I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist, but there are medical studies today that show––and we can give you other citations––that women who do take the pill have a much lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. ... I have to ask each of you, are you morally opposed to allowing women who work in your facilities, many of whom are non-religious, non-whatever the denomination, that were not hired for a religious purpose, are you opposed to allowing them to take a pill or to get an IUD in cases where their lives depend on it? When we know that it could lower the risk of ovarian cancer?

Bishop Lori - [O]ur Catholic moral theology, as I've indicated, recognizes that the same drug can be used for different purposes with different effects, and our plans reflect that. So we should be given credit for the nuance and the understanding that we have already brought to the table. All the more reason for the government not to move in and try to force our hand now.
Here, again, Bishop Lori dispels the myth that Catholic teaching says these drugs should not even be used for medical purposes. I found it telling that different challengers asked basically the same question to the Bishop––won't the Church even let women use these medications for medical, non-contraceptive purposes? Bishop Lori did well to stay on point. While the Church is opposed to the barrier of contraception into the marital, sacramental representation of Christ and His bride the Church, medicinal use of certain drugs may be accepted.

It may also be worthwhile here to point out one of the comments of Pope Paul VI in his famous encyclical:

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 15)
So for example, if a life-threatening operation had the unintended consequence of sterilizing a woman or a man, such could not be considered immoral. Fr. Francis Hoffman from Relevant Radio also pointed out the prudence of avoiding sexual relations during times when one is using contraceptives for medicinal purposes.

If a person is taking the birth control pill for other reasons, then during the time they're taking the pill they must refrain from marital relations. Because there are no proportionate reasons to put a conceived human embryo in danger of dying. So can you use it as a medicine for other reasons? Yes, but you must refrain from relations during that period. (Fr. Francis Hoffman, Relevant Radio, Feb. 28, 2012, MP3 archive)
(EDIT 8/17/14 TO ADD: Fr. Grondin at Catholic Answers has a detailed answer regarding proportionate reasons in which he states: "the Church does permit the use of the birth control pill to treat medical/health issues provided that contraception is neither the intention nor means by which the good effect is achieved." Read more.)

See evidence for the abortive potential of oral contraceptives below. Other Church statements related to Humanae Vitae's #15 include:

Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available. (USCCB, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 53)
An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother's exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver. (CCC#1737)

The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (CCC#1754)
I won't delve into specific case examples. Suffice it to say, I think this teaching surprised a number of the congressional interrogators, and probably would surprise many readers who think the Church perversely desires to deny women drugs even for medical purposes.

Also, notice DeLauro's appeal to certain contraceptives and their benefits to ovarian cancer. This amplifies the point I made yesterday (see U.S. government candidly admits oral contraception increases risk of cancer in women) about how the HHS' own scientific sources claim oral contraceptives reduce ovarian cancer risk, but increase breast, cervical, and liver cancer risk. Other studies warn of other medical risks to contraceptives. In December, Health Canada revealed a study that suggested that oral contraceptives containing drospirenone could greatly increase a woman's chance to develop a blood clot. Last year, doctors at the University of California claimed in their study that hormone-altering contraceptives contributed to memory loss. Last November, a study showed that persons in geographic regions using the Pill more often have a higher rate of prostate cancer, that men may possibly be exposed to the excess estrogen inducing the cancer. There are many, many articles and studies searchable online detailing severe negative side effects, short and long term, of using hormonal contraceptives. Regardless, even assuming the Pill was hypothetically totally safe, the Church could only condone its medicinal use, not its contraceptive use.

Patrick McHenry - Is this ruling by HHS, do you view this as an issue of contraception and abortifacients, or an issue of religious freedom and conscience protections?

Bishop Lori - We view it as an issue of religious liberty. We view it first of all and primarily at the level of principle. It is a question of government reaching into the internal governance of religious bodies and making a requirement contrary to Church teaching.
Some have tried to make this a "contraceptive" issue, but such cannot be reasonably argued. As Bishop Lori also pointed out in his opening statement, the principle of religious liberty would still apply even if this was, for example, the government trying to force Jewish institutions to serve ham against their religious beliefs.
Edolphus Towns - I'm trying to understand exactly what problems the Bishop has with the Administration's policy. That's what I'm really trying to understand. It's not clear to me.

Bishop Lori - Yes, well, the problems are at the level of principle and at the level of practicality. The principle is the government's reaching in and forcing us to do something. We might disagree inside of the Church. We might have our problems inside of the Church. But it's not for the government to weigh in and be the arbiter of those things. And secondly, many Church entities, such as the diocese of Bridgeport, which I can certainly speak about, they're self-insured. And so as a result, I am not only am I the employer, but also the insurer. And so certainly at the level of practicality, the new rule does nothing to help. And also there are religious insurers, there are individuals who have conscientious objections, and the rules do nothing for them. So we have problems on all those levels.
Towns then asked if purchasing insurance that covered contraception or abortifacients would be against Church teaching. Bishop Lori said yes. And then the Rabbi added this:

Rabbi Soloveichik - My concern here, congressman, is not what one particular Jewish organization might say about a particular prescription or procedure or whether their tenets are violated when they're forced to provide that. My concern is when Congress, or the Administration, comes in and says well, I see that there are some members of one faith who say this, some members of the other faith who say this, so we're going to unilaterally side with these people and force everyone, even over their objections, to violate their conscience. In general, a religious organization or a religious community should be free to define what the tenets of their faith are, and they should be listened to when they are told that a particular demand or mandate by the federal government violates those liberties.
Congressman Elijah Cummings attempted an ad populum argument.
Elija Cummings (to Bishop Lori) - If there's a woman who's, say, working for the Catholic entity, and she comes to you and she says, I want contraception, and it's something that I want. I've read surveys that said 98% of Catholic women use contraception. I'm just curious, what do you say to her?

Bishop Lori - When somebody comes aboard to work for the Church to begin with, the teaching is clear, the mission is clear. The teaching of the Church and all of its nuance is set forth and the terms of the plan are clear. Let's be clear that contraception is available in many different ways. Sometimes a couple in that condition, in that situation, might access it through a spouses plan. But 90% of all health insurance plans include it, plus there's Title 10, plus there are clinics. It can hardly be said that this is unavailable. It is available very, very widely. The issue here is forcing the Church to provide it directly or indirectly in contravention with the Church's teaching. And that's what we don't want to do. It's one thing when tax dollars pay for it. It's another thing when Church dollars pay for it.
First, in case you didn't know, the "98% of Catholic women" figure cited by Cummings has been proven a false statement (link fixed 4/6/13) based on the study in question's own figures. Second, Bishop Lori dispels the suggestion that if religious institutions in particular don't offer contraceptives for any reason in their insurance plans, that will somehow prevent availability to contraceptives. Of course, the idea is nonsensical. Cummings also attempted to appeal to "Catholics" who might agree with his side as a tool to justify forcing opposed institutions to submit to the government's demand. He presented a list of "Catholic" colleges that offer contraception in their insurance plans. The problem with his reasoning was twofold: 1) Many of the colleges he cited either had been forced by local governments to do so or only offered contraception for the aforementioned medical reasons. He failed to grasp that contraception is the act of sterilizing the marital act, not taking a "contraceptive pill," per se. And 2) Rabbi Soloveichik had already pointed out the flaw in Cummings premise––the government can't intrude into religious internal affairs, pick a side, and force the other side to comply. The idea, as is the HHS mandate, a violation of the first amendment to freedom from the government's establish of and freedom of the people's free exercise of religion.
Mike Quigley (to Bishop Lori) - Do you support this same policy that you have as it relates to the private sector? In other words, do you think that a fast food restaurant person, because of his moral objection, say to his employees, I'm not gonna provide birth control as well, or a larger corporation?

Bishop Lori - You know, if there is real religious liberty in our country, then churches, even if there is disagreement within those churches, have the God-given right to run their own institutions and their own internal affairs according to their teachings. And if there should be discussion within that church, or even dissent within that church, it is not for the government to reach in, and to decide or weigh in for one side or the other. ... The fact of the matter is, a lot of people like to work for the Catholic Church, it's one I can speak for, and because they like to work for mission. And because they understand that when they sign up to work for a diocese or a Catholic school or for Catholic charities, what the teaching is. We have an organized Magisterium with the Pope and the bishops. And sometimes people agree with it, sometimes they don't, but they love the mission, and they come and work. We have no trouble retaining and attracting people to work for us. We provide great healthcare plans. But you know under these rules, we might have the best healthcare plan in the world, but if even one of these so-called preventive services were not in our plan, we'd be fined $2,000 per employee.

Quigley - Bishop, getting to the question, do you believe that a private sector company, if the owner or the board have moral objections, the same moral objections you do, which I respect, do you think they have the right to deny offering contraceptive services?

Bishop Lori - I think that that freedom obtains right now. It already obtains. They can already do that.

Quigley - We're talking about legislation, Bishop. There's legislation right now [presumably the Blunt amendment that since lost a 51-48 vote in the Senate] proposed right now that would extend this to the private sector.
[If I understand correctly, it would actually not extend the right to the private sector to not offer contraceptions in their health care plans but preserve that right already extant in the private sector]

Bishop Lori - We're saying that this legislation should not do so [i.e. I think he means take away that right]. We've been able to have that freedom now and the world has not fallen in upon itself.
Here, I'd just like to point out Quigley's concern does not even begin to address the concerns of religious liberty brought by the panel. The Church's teaching on birth control long antedates even the existence of the United States. To argue that basic, First Amendment freedom, should be taken away on the basis that a non-religious institution may follow suit failed to grasp the issue of freedom altogether. Quigley's premise is that all contraceptives are "medical" products necessary in all insurance plans, but he did not substantiate that premise.
Ann Marie Buerkle - So let's establish that for the record, despite this accommodation [she raises quoted fingers here], the rule hasn't been changed. And it was a verbal as you mentioned. Nothing was put in writing which is always of concern. But I want to now ask each one of you, how would you see this rule, that has not been changed, that violates conscience rights, how do you see that affecting the missions of each on of your churches?

Bishop Lori - First of all, it [i.e. the "accommodation"] does not remove the mandate and as a result it's still a great intrusion to the freedom of our churches. And besides that, we think it violates The Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it substantially burdens our religious freedom by forcing us indirectly, but nonetheless forcing us to provide the so-called preventive services in violation of our teaching and it also is simply unworkable because many religious entities are self-insured, and as a result, we are not only the employer but the insurer, and so then it directly involves us in providing the prescribed services.
1For example, the FDA information sheet on the oral contraceptive Ella (ulipristal acetate) describes its mechanism of action this way: "When taken immediately before ovulation is to occur, ella postpones follicular rupture. The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy." Essentially, that means one of the effective mechanisms of the drug is to alter the uterine wall such that the fertilized embryo, which the Church considers a human life, cannot implant into the uterine wall, thus killing it and expelling it from the body.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

U.S. government candidly admits oral contraception increases risk of cancer in women

The National Cancer Institute has an informational web page called Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk: Questions and Answers. On that page is the startling summary*:

Because medical research suggests that some cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth, scientists have been investigating a possible link between OC use and cancer risk. Researchers have focused a great deal of attention on OC users over the past 40 years. This scrutiny has produced a wealth of data on OC use and the development of certain cancers, although results of these studies have not always been consistent. The risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers is reduced with the use of OCs, while the risk of breast and cervical cancers is increased.
And to top it off, the article later goes on to say oral contraceptives also increase the risk for liver cancer in women otherwise considered low risk.

We are all well aware now of the federal government's controversial demand to force religious and other entities to pay henceforth for all FDA-approved contraceptives desired by their insured employees, even if such action violates the consciences, the right of religious liberty, of those entities. What's more, the National Cancer Institute that made the statements above is part of the larger group of the National Institutes of Health––which in turn is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

That's right. It seems the same HHS trying to force religious and other entities to pay for universal contraception in the name of "women's rights" also claims that hormonal oral contraceptives increase the risk of several forms of cancer in women.

I know I heard repeated statements during the February 16 House Committee on Oversight hearing by supporters of the current HHS mandate that oral contraceptives help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer according to medical studies. They did not mention the HHS' medical studies regarding the increased risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer in women linked with use of oral contraceptives.

Are supporters of so-called "free" contraception so politically or socially eager to push this HHS mandate that they will ignore or bury the same HHS' claim that numerous studies link oral contraception to cancer in women? And that's just the scientific side of contraception, not the moral. (The HHS mandate itself is an issue of religious freedom.)

Have we been sold OC's medical benefits to ovarian cancer while being turned away from the detrimental effects of other cancers? It seems the people have been told, "Come into my fire, I promise you won't freeze."

*[Update Oct. 11, 2012] On March 21, 2012, it seems the NCI updated the page I quoted and removed the quote as it was worded. This blog post was originally made March 6. The current version at NCI still includes similar language to that which I quoted. It now reads: "Overall, however, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer appear to be increased." To see an archived version of the NCI page with my original quote, visit this filing of the NCI page from July 2011.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Who speaks for Church teaching?

First, I want to point out that this article focuses on comparing dissenting Catholics and the hierarchical Church. This post is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment on the immorality of contraception. In the current public attempt the HHS is making against the Church's conscience, religious liberty is the issue. As Bishop Lori so eloquently put before Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in his "Parable of the Kosher Deli," it could have just as well been an ultimatum forcing Jews to serve pork.

And now, for the rest of the post.

So who speaks for authentic Church teaching? The bishops? Or people who call themselves Catholics who disagree with the bishops?

The correct answer is: bishops.

And those of you with short attention spans can probably stop reading at this point. :) For the rest, consider this from the official Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC#85 The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
Unfortunately, this HHS contraception/abortifacient ultimatum has stirred up a variety of lay people identifying themselves as Catholics and decrying their own bishops. For example, Maura Casey, writing an editorial for the Hartford Courant wrote this week:
Like me, many would consider themselves irresponsible mothers if they did not tell their children to ignore the church's teaching on birth control.
Her basis for saying this is not the main point of this post––although she is wrong to have blanketly asserted contraception equals less abortions when the FDA approves drugs that cause abortions as well as other contraceptives (cf., Witherspoon Institute)––not to mention there have been studies, such as this one published in Contraception magazine (also quoted in PDF here at USCCB) that showed, over 10 years an increase of contraceptive use and elective abortions. She also ignores the moral dimension of contraception in itself, justifying its use earlier in her commentary on the basis that her mother once said she lived a sickly life "in hell" without it. It was not a good presentation of moral theology, but I digress.

Casey rooted her argument in the title of her piece, "Catholic women must speak out". Forget for one moment that women are speaking out quite frequently against the bishops, including Sr. Carol Keehan, as mentioned in my previous post. Casey argues that women should defend government mandated "free"1 contraception, because otherwise:

priests, bishops...and scores of male commentators will get away with the pretense that they are speaking for us.
Forget again the scores of female commentators and religious that oppose contraception.2 Search any pro-life or Catholic news site like, or even your local parish for scads of women who agree with the bishops. Forget for another moment the anti-male bigotry underlying her comment, insinuating if bishops are male, they can't correctly teach the God-revealed truth on this matter.

But in one sense, I agree with her on this point:

The bishops don't speak for her.

They speak for what the Catholic Church teaches. If she chooses to "ignore" that teaching and teach her children to "ignore" that teaching, then no, the Church does not speak for her. If she wants to reject Church teaching under the guise that her medical decisions automatically equate to good morality, then no, the Church does not speak for her.

Her implication is that she, and other "Catholic" women (and men, too, I suppose, though she allies herself with none in this article), who "ignore" Church teaching are the true teachers of what is right.

That brings us to a catechetical moment. The sin of contraception3 is a plain, well-known teaching of the Church.

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity. (Vademecum for Confessors, 2.4)
CCC#2370 [E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil.

Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (Gaudium et Spes, 52)

In his catechesis on Theology of the Body, Pope John Paul II, echoed Paul VI's condemnation of contraception, and later stated: "contraception is not morally correct."

See here ( or Fr. Mitch Pacwa ( for examples of the consistent teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium going back to ancient times.
The list goes on and on. It is no secret that the Church has long taught contraception is sinful. And the faithful are to hold to infallible teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium. That is Catholic doctrine. Even Casey in her article admits she rejects "the church's teaching on birth control."

That being said, I want to finish with a look at canon law and the status of a person who rejects the Church's teaching on this or that matter of the faith. The Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law reads:
Can. 1364 An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.
"Latae sententiae" literally means "automatic." An apostate, heretic, or schismatic is automatically excommunicated from the Church without the need for some formal declaration. So what is an apostate, heretic, or schismatic?

Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or doubt, after baptism, of a truth which must be believed by divine and catholic faith. Apostasy is the total repudiation of the christian faith. Schism is the withdrawal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or from communion with the members of the Church subject to him.
Now, I'm not going to speak to Casey specifically. Maybe there are factors, misunderstandings, personal struggles, etc., that may extenuate her culpability in publicly denouncing Catholic teaching. Maybe or maybe not. She is unfortunately the writer of an article that I found useful as an example on this issue. She is not specifically the issue here.

The point is, a Catholic who obstinately denies a truth of the faith is a heretic and thus incurs an automatic excommunication. Likewise, a Catholic who refuses to accept the teaching of those under the Pope, i.e. the bishops, is a schismatic, and also incurs automatic excommunication.

No doubt some who still call themselves Catholic (and even some openly ex-Catholics) have no problem rejecting Catholic teaching. But the point is, such a person, by definition, cannot be representative of Catholic teaching. Such a person's Catholic identity itself is broken. At best, the truly excommunicated could only call him/herself a representative of excommunicated Catholics.

Bottom line––keep it simple. When you want to know what is authentic Catholic teaching, go to the "teaching" authority of the Church, that is, the bishops in union with the Pope. Even when I read a lay person's or theologian's works, I always look for Magisterial backup for their work if they propose something that is Catholic teaching.

EDIT TO ADD: A commentator messaged me that appealing to documents by the bishops to defend the bishops' authority is a catch-22. If that was all there was to it, that would be correct. But if I had to explain the inspiration of Scripture and the basis for Church authority in every post I made, my posts would probably double in size. But I thought it worth mentioning a very brief rationale as to why the Church's claim to authority is not self-validating. The argument is similar as to why we accept the Scriptural quality of some books of Scripture in part because they are validated by other books of Scripture. Authority belongs properly to God. We believe that the historical Jesus Christ, the One who died and rose from the dead, was God Incarnate who gave that authority to those apostles and their successors. Scoffers render it impossible for God to have given authority to a successive hierarchical body on the basis that that body cannot claim to have authority. But the early Church testifies to such authority, the subsequent historical Church sustains that heritage, and the Scriptural texts produced by that Apostolic Tradition speaks to this reality. The first Christians consistently looked to the teaching of the bishops as a matter of historical record. Our faith holds that the Church's authority is backed by God. We believe in the authority of the bishops because they trace their appointment to Jesus Christ. It is not a "self-validating" enterprise. But like I said, that is the super-short version without getting into specifics.

See tract on Apostolic succession for another brief article.

1As another aside, this business of justifying contraceptives under the guise that it will be free is absurd on its face. Someone, of course, will pay to provide these products, whether through higher premiums, fees, or directly. Proponents also argue that fewer health problems will result and pay for itself. However, as I stated in my first blog post on this HHS issue, why not hand out free shoes. Or as others have suggested, free toiletries or hygiene products. Furthermore, it remains debatable whether fostering even more sexual activity in this country is going to reduce health issues. Oral contraceptives do not prevent STDs, for instance. And finally, since when would a "cost savings" make something moral anyway? If we murdered 1000 random sickly people per day, we could save a lot of money. Saving money does not make something right.
2Recently, "free contraception" supporters parroted the idea that 98% of Catholic women used birth control. That myth was subsequently debunked. See here (, for example.
3In this, I am not referring to medicinal use of contraceptives where birth control is not the intent (see Humanae Vitae under the subhead "Lawful Therapeutic means").

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Catholic Health Association does not represent Catholic beliefs

On Sunday, the White House Chief of Staff made his rounds on the Sunday morning shows. Jack Lew, attempting to defend the Obama Administration's recent "accommodation" on the Contraception/Sterilization/Abortifacient Mandate.

This comment stood out, especially since he mentioned CHA more than once in different appearances.

[O]n Friday we had a broad range of groups endorse where the president's policy is. We had the Catholic Health Association, which understands health care extremely well and is true to Catholic beliefs.
The President of the Catholic Health Association is Sr. Carol Keehan. [Edit 2/15/12 to add] Her position in support of the "accommodation" conflicts with the teaching of the official teaching body of the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who disapproved of the so-called "accommodation" on Feb. 10.

So who is Sr. Keehan? In case you did not know:

Before the "accommodation" was publicly made, it was learned that the Sr. Keehan had been made privy before it became public. She had already emailed support to the Administration before the "accommodation" was announced. Her comments were then emailed to Obama supporters, including many of his Catholic supporters.

In March 2010, Sr. Keehan was given an honorary "presidential pen" given to political supporters when Obama signed the original bill.

On Monday, a donor emailed Sr. Keehan the following:

On behalf of all the women and men of Riverside for Choice I would like to thank you for protecting the rights of all women to have free access to essential health services including the contraceptives that allow us to control our own health and bodies. You have been a hero for choice in your Partnership with President Obama.
The emailer offered to send a donation to CHA, to which Sr. Keehan replied to this praise with" Thanks so much" and asked the donor to give to a poor woman in California.

In 2008, Sr. Keehan applauded then-Obama's appointment of pro-abortion Tom Daschle as secretary of HHS. See also in the previous link the Bishops' concern, now prophetic, that Catholic hospitals could be forced out of business.

Sr. Keehan received a standing ovation from a number of pro-abortion politicians last year in support of the initial Obama Health Care bill.

In June 2010, then president of the USCCB Cardinal Francis George called CHA a "so-called Catholic group." At the time Sr. Keehan insisted (despite the contrary in the bill) that Obama's health care plan wouldn't fund abortion. Of that, the Cardinal said, "Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation." And he added, again, prophetically,
[T]he dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle 'about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops' – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?
[EDIT 2/15/12 to add] Dr. Anne Hendershott at Kings College in New York argued how the Obama Administration in June 2010 was already using Sr. Keehan as a "propaganda czar."

Sr. Keehan's consistent support for pro-abortion politicians is essentially no secret. So when on the Sunday morning talk shows, Chief of Staff Lew cited Keehan's organization as an example of "Catholic" support, one must understand that Keehan's organization is consistently on the side of whoever supports abortion and/or contraception. [EDIT 2/15/12 to add] And as mentioned earlier, she contradicts the very teaching body of her own Church on the matter.

Needless to say, neither Sr. Keehan, nor CHA, is representative of the Church's beliefs.

For further reading, see
EDIT 3/2/12 to add: Biography of Sr. Keehan at National Catholic Register.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When state violates Church

The first amendment to the Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Here's a list of recent examples of the government directly interfering with or penalizing religious institutions based on their beliefs, even though they had previously been successful in serving a societal need. Example stories follow each in parentheses, although you can find these stories in many news sites.
  • Aug. 2011 - The State of Illinois defunded Catholic Charities for not placing foster children in the homes of gay couples, despite the fact that Catholic Charities deferred such couples to other charities that did provide the service. (see Chicago Tribune)
  • Oct. 2011 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of HHS defunded the Migration and Refugee Services organization run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The MRS rescued victims of human and sex trafficking, mostly women and children, but would not provide contraception and abortions. (see Catholic News Agency)
  • Jan. 2012 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of EEOC attempted to argue in front of the Supreme Court that the state could tell churches what religious ministers they must hire. The Court struck down their position 9-0. (see
  • Jan. 2012 - The Obama Administration's Dept. of HHS gave Catholic and other religious organizations a legal ultimatum to offer abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives in their insurance plans against their beliefs. (see previous coverage here at The Catholic Voyager)
  • Jan. 2012 - The State of Washington continues to try to force pharmacies to offer potentially abortifacient drugs against their beliefs. (see National Catholic Register)
  • (EDIT 4/2/2012) 2010 - The U.S. Supreme Court supported a California law school that denied a religious group normal campus group privileges because it did not condone its own group leaders to support homosexual lifestyles. The court departed from several related precedent cases, including one in 1984 in which Justice William Brennan said: "There can be no clearer example of an intrusion into the internal structure or affairs of an association than a regulation that forces the group to accept members it does not desire." (see USA Today)
Other stories of note:
  • Feb. 2012 - It seems an Obama-appointed official within the Army attempted to prevent a Bishop's letter to be read by Catholic chaplains regarding the HHS ultimatum. (see
  • EDIT (3/12/12) - Mar. 2012 - The Obama Administration revoked Texas' federal funding for women's health because Texas recently excluded Planned Parenthood funding at the state level due to the numerous abortions it provides. (see Kaiser Health News for several article summaries)
  • EDIT (5/3/12) - May 2012 - In SB 1172, the state of California seeks to regulate reparative therapy for persons with homosexual attraction who willingly desire to receive therapy. As part of the regulation, patients who seek such treatment would be forced to sign a statement, assenting to a number of the state's claims, including, "There is no scientific evidence that any types of therapies are effective in changing a person's sexual orientation." Minors would be forbidden to receive reparative therapy regardless of their desire to receive it, and regardless of their parents' desire. (see California Catholic Daily) For a radio discussion and interview of licensed therapist David Pickup who shared success stories and scientific studies to the contrary, download this hour MP3 from Kresta in the Afternoon radio show on 5/1/12).
  • EDIT (5/4/12) - May 2012 - A Texas court overturned the state's effort to exclude Planned Parenthood from the state's "Women's Health Program." According to the court, the state cannot exclude the abortion organization from the program. (see LifeNews)
  • EDIT (9/24/12) - April 2012 - In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the EEOC ruled that a Catholic diocese discriminated against a teacher who embraced a form of in vitro fertilization, a medical procedure considered intrinsically sinful by the Church for its separation of procreation with conjugal love. (see CBS News)
The articles about "defunding" one may argue are legal maneuvers by the government since they are not legally bound to fund any private organization. But when coupled with the same federal government's defense of Planned Parenthood, and the pattern of opposition to the Church at seemingly every opportunity, and the fact that those defunded organizations condemned on religious grounds the same government's advancement of contraception, sterilization, abortion, and abortifacients, it is by no means unreasonable to argue that the defunded organizations were defunded based on their religious beliefs, and therefore persecuted.

One comment I see in reaction to the Bishops' and other citizens' opposition to things like the HHS ultimatum are that it is an "attack against women" or some such. Yet in incidents like the defunding of MRS, which rescued women and children from sex trafficking, I did not see the same cries of anti-woman directed toward the government that impaired that effort, leading credence to the conclusion that cries of anti-woman directed against the Church are politically charged.

The clearest violations of religious freedom remain the federal government's (and similar story in the state of Washington) ultimatum via the HHS for Church and religious organizations to provide abortifacients, contraceptives, and sterilization insurance against their moral beliefs. The federal government's attempt to interfere with what ministers a religious body must hire also was a clear violation of religious freedom, as even the Supreme Court agreed unanimously, 9-0.

UPDATE: 2/22/12 The Supreme Court of the State of Washington voted against the state trying to force pharmacies to offer drugs against their beliefs.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The latest ultimatum by the federal government vs. the Catholic Church

Amidst much protest from Catholics, the University of Notre Dame in 2009 invited Barack Obama to give the commencement address. Those protestors considered him too supportive of abortion to speak at a Catholic University that is morally opposed to what it considers a grave sin. The University President, a priest, still had Obama deliver the address, and Obama obliged. During that speech, Obama stated:
Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.
The department of Health and Human Services recently advanced an ultimatum that bears little to no resemblance to that statement. In a January 20, 2012 press release, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated:
Today the department is announcing that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of the Institute of Medicine’s recommended preventive services, including all FDA -approved forms of contraception. ... [W]e have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. ... This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule.

Second, it is worth noting the delusion Sebelius exhibits when she says she's giving religious bodies time to "adapt" to this demand. There's nothing to "adapt" to. There is no choice for a faithful Catholic or other religious citizen who considers abortion and contraception sinful. The soul for compliance is no trade. It is an entirely alien idea to Sebelius that someone could consider abortion and contraception objective sins. And this is the case regardless that she is a so-called "Catholic" herself.

Even though this law would demand that citizens commit what they believe are objectively grave sins, Sebelius actually considers this ultimatum to be a compromise. Amazingly, she stated:
I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.
You are not in the Twilight Zone. That is what the press release states. Of course, there is no "balance" in "respecting religious freedom" in this ultimatum. This is like telling a death row inmate, "There are people who believe you are guilty and people who believe you are innocent. As a compromise, we've decided to postpone your execution and let you live a few more days." But there is no compromise or "balance" regardless of the serpentine language claiming otherwise.

Sebelius offered the following justification to order religious bodies to violate their consciences:
Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women.
Even if one completely agrees with that description, since when does the government demand insurance companies to provide payment for anything that has "health benefits," "reduces costs," and is "commonly taken." I can think of hundreds of such things, yet the government mandates none of them as part of insurance. Why do they not insist water be paid for? Why do they not insist blankets be paid for? Why not shoes? Are these not more vital than having sex? Shoes prevent chaffing, cuts, injury, and the accumulation of filth which can lead to infection. And I guarantee even more people in the United States wear shoes than take birth control. Yet, nowhere are shoes discussed in this plan.

Might it not be fair to consider there might be other motives to include anti-Church demands in this so-called "health care" mandate?

In October 2011, Sebelius spoke to NARAL, a pro-abortion organization. Defending the Administration's health care ambitions, she said:
In other words, they don’t just want to go after the last 18 months, they want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America. We’ve come a long way in women’s health over the last few decades, but we are in a war.
And lest we forget, the Obama Administration threatened the State of Indiana last year unless it funded the leading abortion organization in the U.S., Planned Parenthood.

Might we not acknowledge that this is a war with the pro-life movement? What bigger pro-life ally is there than the Catholic Church? Might we not realize that this is not about women's health but about opposing the Church? The term "women's health" in this case is just as inappropriate as "preventive care" is to forcing non-profit religious groups to pay for birth control.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard the Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC case. At issue was a Michigan Lutheran school teacher who claimed her dismissal was discriminatory. However, the school had hired her on the grounds that she was a commissioned minister.

The Supreme Court ruled against the federal agency by a vote of 9-0. Chief Justice Roberts stated in the unanimous ruling:
“The right to freedom of association is a right enjoyed by religious and secular groups alike,” writes the Chief Justice. “It follows under the EEOC's and Perich's view that the First Amendment analysis should be the same, whether the association in question is the Lutheran Church, a labor union, or a social club. See Perich Brief 31; Tr. of Oral Arg. 28. That result is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization's freedom to select its own ministers.”
In other words, it is not the business of the federal government to tell religious bodies who they must and must not employ as ministers based on their own beliefs and authorities. Even more relative to the current matter of the HHS vs. the Church were concurring comments by Justices Alito and Kegan:
“Throughout our Nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have ‘act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.’ Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us—where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy—it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we have long recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to govern themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies ‘independence from secular control or manipulation—in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.’ Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952).”
Let me reiterate, in the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the federal government's position against religious bodies was condemned by a vote of 9-0. Not to say the Court is infallible, but that might be indicative for how bad the fed position was.

Regardless of the defeat, the federal government cavalierly advanced this legally suspect ultimatum which has induced at least two lawsuits already (see bottom of post).

The Bishops' and other Church leaders' response to the HHS ultimatum can be read in press releases Bishops Decry HHS Rule and U.S. Bishops Vow to Fight HHS Edict. Here is a sampling following the Jan. 20 HHS ultimatum:
Never before in our US History has the Federal Government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here as our President of the Conference stated it this past Friday, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty. (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston)

In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,. To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. ... The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand. The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision. ( Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York)

This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights. (Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals.)
Catholic radio host Al Kresta interviewed Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron today in the first hour of the show (download MP3 archive here).
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed two lawsuits against this government ultimatum.
The Thomas More Law Center has filed cases against the ongoing health care issue.
Church teaching on abortion and contraception from Theology of the Body, Humana Vitae, and you can keyword search the Catechism here.