Revolt in the Catholic Pews Over the HHS Mandate

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Catholic Church’s position on the HHS Mandate requiring Catholic institutions (other than churches) to include contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees:

LOPEZ: “What about the fact that so many Catholics — however many — use contraception and are advocates of legal abortion in their political lives?”

CHAPUT: “That’s the wrong question. Plenty of self-described Catholics also commit adultery and cheat on their taxes. That doesn’t make them right, and it doesn’t make their behaviors ‘Catholic.’ The central issue in the HHS-mandate debate isn’t contraception. Casting the struggle as a birth-control fight is just a shrewd form of dishonesty. The central issue in the HHS debate is religious liberty. The government doesn’t have the right to force religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions. But that’s exactly what the White House is doing.”

Catholics who advocate contraception and legal abortion shouldn’t be compared to Catholics who commit adultery and dodge taxes. The former affirm a moral position held by many fellow Catholics and the latter violate a moral position held by virtually all Catholics. Pro-choice Catholics are not doing anything unethical, but the adulterers and tax-dodgers are. Catholics who advocate family planning will vote their consciences and try to persuade other Catholics to join them. They are a force to be reckoned with, while the adulterers and tax-dodgers will never unite to advocate cheating, and so they are powerless.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

These are critical differences. What the U.S. Catholic bishops are facing is a revolt from the pews, and they know it. Timothy Cardinal Dolan admitted as much in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last month:

It’s a tough battle because of [the fact that most Catholics reject the Church’s teachings against contraception] and our opponents are very shrewd because they’ve chosen an issue that they know we don’t — we’re not very popular on.” “[E]ven our — even — even very faithful Catholics, Bill, don’t like their bishops or priests telling them how to vote, a person or even on a particular issue.

Furthermore, Archbishop Chaput is mistaken in thinking the government “doesn’t have the right to religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions.” It does so all the time, and the legal precedents for doing so go back to the mid-nineteenth century and are very robust. Even Antonin Scalia has supported this principle.

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