Apparent dissonance among Catholic bishops over Obamacare

religion | May 25, 2012 | By Martin Barillas

 This week, 43 Catholic dioceses and other institutions, including Notre Dame University, filed suit in federal courts to challenge the Obama administration's mandate that would require Catholic institutions to provide contraception as part of their health insurance to employees. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has been particularly vocal in denouncing the current administration's edict, having referred to it as a violation of the Constitution. 

Pointing out that there are 195 Catholic dioceses and eparchies in the United States, Grant Gallicho of Commonweal Magazine, which is published by lay Catholics, asked on the magazine's website "Why didn’t more sign on? Where’s Chicago? Boston? Atlanta? Why haven’t any California dioceses joined the suits?"

In addition, E.J. Dionne of Commonweal, who has frequently tried to reconcile Obama's policies with Catholic teachings, wrote "There is a healthy struggle brewing among the nation's Roman Catholic bishops. A previously silent group, upset over conservative colleagues defining the church's public posture and eagerly picking fights with President Barack Obama, has had enough." Dionne continued, "The headlines this week were about lawsuits brought by forty-three Catholic organizations, including thirteen dioceses, to overturn regulations issued by the administration requiring insurance plans to cover contraception under the new health-care law. But the other side of this news was also significant: That the vast majority of the nation's 195 dioceses did not go to court."

Kevin Clarke of America magazine interviewed Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, on the bishops' approach towards the Obama administration and its controversial healthcare reform. Bishop Blaire is the chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

In the interview, Bishop Blaire acknowledged that “there is a concern among some bishops that there ought to have been more of a wider consultation” regarding overall strategy on the religious liberty question. “And I say that with some hesitation,” he added, “because the California bishops very strongly support whatever action has to be taken to promote religious liberty.
“The question is what is our focus as bishops and that we have opportunity to clarify our focus and that we are all in agreement on focus.” He said some bishops appear to be speaking exclusively on the mandate itself “that it is imposed … as a violation of [individual] conscience.”
He said there are other bishops who see the crucial question as the religious liberty of the church itself and its freedom “to exercise her mission through her institutions.” He added, “I think that it’s important at meeting that there be a broader discussion of these issues [at the June U.S. bishops meeting in Atlanta]” so that U.S. bishops can clarify their message “and not allow it to be co-opted.”
Bishop Blaire believes discussions with the Obama administration toward a resolution of the dispute could be fruitful even as alternative remedies are explored. He worried that some groups “very far to the right” are trying to use the conflict as “an anti-Obama campaign.” (read the interview here).

Another party that did not join in the lawsuit is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Sr. Mary Ann Walsh of the bishops' group told Gallicho,  “USCCB concerns are addressed in the lawsuits that were filed,” she told me. “There was no need to pile on.” 



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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