Show me your conscience; don’t tell me about it


Catholic institutions shouldn’t have to pay for their employees’ contraceptives because it goes against our consciences, and we should have religious freedom not to have to violate our consciences.


Contraception is evil.  It desecrates the marital bond, offends against chastity, and is a menace to public morals.  It is reprehensible to engage in contraceptive acts or to cooperate in them in any way.  This is a matter of natural law; it has nothing to do with religion.  Public bodies should not be promoting or enabling this sin.  Neither Holy Mother Church, nor any other group, religious or secular, nor any individual should be forced by government to divulge funds for such wicked purposes.

The first message, the wrong one, can be translated as follows:

We Catholics have this weird idea that contraception is bad.  We have no reason for this belief.  Don’t look at us, man; it’s the old man in Rome.  He made up this rule and the rest of us are stuck with it.  It’s like the Jews and pork–a ‘religion’ thing.  However, even though poor, poor women (Who cares about men, after all?) are going to, like die, or whatever it is that happens to chicks who don’t get their contraceptive pills, we are selfishly sticking with our arbitrary dislike, and we think we’ve found something in the constitution that forces you to let us.

If you say the second thing, people might think to themselves

Whoa.  They really believe this stuff.  I guess it would be wrong to force them to do something they think is that bad.  Maybe these laws are getting a little pushy.  And maybe it isn’t a ‘religion’ thing; maybe we’ve been running over peoples’ consciences for a long time, and it’s only now that the target was big enough to fight back.

So, what’s actually going to happen?  I think this comment at What’s Wrong with the World sounds most plausible:

I predict the following:
1. Most if not all the bishops will start out sounding strong in solidarity in trying to get this reversed.
2. Some catholic organizations (colleges, hospitals, clinics, etc) will refuse to go along with the bishops, will not follow their lead, and will give in to the demand to provide the insurance.
3. Some bishops (but not all) who have Catholic orgs in their diocese who give in (#2 above) will “enter into” dialogue with them, and this dialogue will become extraordinarily complex to sort out. Aug 2013 will pass without resolution of the dialogue. (Recall the complex discussions Cardinal Law had about a Catholic org entering into contracts with non-Catholic entities for shared space?)
4. Approximately 6 bishops who have orgs in #2 above will timely excommunicate members of the boards. Bruskewitz of Lincoln NE (if he has any boards so foolish as to tempt him) being first, followed quickly by Olmstead of Phoenix, Chaput of Philly, and Loverde of Arlington VA.
5. Several org boards will simply renounce their Catholic ties and become non-affiliated orgs. Then they will buy the insurance. (This has already happened by one group, so it doesn’t take much prescience.) They will hope to avoid excommunication this way.
6. A large number of theologians will announce that giving in to the regulations is not (a) formal cooperation with evil, and (b) is not immediate material cooperation with evil, and therefore is subject to the usual “cooperation with evil” rule, requiring proportionate good.

The practical problem the bishops (as a body) have with making any kind of effective political stand is the combination of 3, 5 and 6 above. The more they hold a hard line with solidarity, the more pressure some board members will feel to sever Catholic association, and use 6 to justify themselves – resulting in a noticeable number of rats leaving the ship, upsetting the ONE LARGE BLOCK UNITED IN OPPOSITION picture. If they were unified and pro-active they would pre-emptively formulate a strategy together to _all_ (a) give a 1-month hard deadline to all orgs trying to go with the HHS regulation for all “discussion”, and (b) publicly punish all orgs and their boards that EITHER sever ties over this or buy the insurance, and (c) formally silence theologian dissent on the issue. I don’t even know if these are readily possible within Canon Law.

18 Responses

  1. Prior to mass on Sunday, our associate pastor read a letter from our bishop on the topic. It was pathetic, very much in the “assault on our consciences and religious liberty” vein. The sort of mealy-mouthed mush that got them into this mess in the first place.

  2. Incidentally, that quoted comment from W4 compelled me to look up Bishop Bruskewitz on Wikipedia. Here’s a great laugh line:

    “Bruskewitz is considered one of the most conservative bishops in the Church,[5] having described homosexual acts as “intrinsically disordered” and as not coming “from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity”.[6]”

    In other words, all you have to do to be “one of the most conservative bishops in the Church” is to literally quote the Catechism — the supreme, inerrant, nonnegotiable teachings of the Church — word for word.

  3. I would like nothing more than to live in a confessional state that publicly recognizes the truth of Catholicism. But the fact of the matter is, we live in a country founded by anticlerical deists who were perfectly willing to leave religion alone provided it didn’t bother anyone. Isn’t the religious liberty argument what we’re stuck with? It accords with our constitutional tradition and it’s the only argument that will stand in court.

  4. Hi vitabenedicta,

    It’s true that religious liberty is best we can hope for, but I think we’re more likely to get it if we push the line “this is wrong” and let other people make the argument “we shouldn’t force people to do what they think is wrong” for us, instead of going straight to “please don’t coerce our consciences”. If we could throw out the idea that maybe Catholic morality is actually true, then the argument that people holding Catholic morality shouldn’t have their consciences grossly violated will look like a reasonable middle ground.

  5. ” . . . and let other people make the argument . . . ”

    Just who is going to make this argument on our behalf? Liberals are fond of quoting Voltaire to show their willingness to defend even ideas they find abhorrent–but in practice, their much-vaunted tolerance eventually becomes persecution of anyone who stands in the way of “public reason.” I don’t think we can expect any help from the ACLU or Amnesty International on this one.

  6. Exactly!

  7. “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” –C.S. Lewis

  8. I was hoping that this is how it would play out in the minds of Protestants. They tend to see themselves as moderates between Catholics and secularists, so we should shoot to the right of where we hope for them to end up.

  9. Coming from the perspective of a non-Christian who finds Christian attitudes towards sexuality counter-intuitive, unhealthy, and predicated on an extremely idealized view of human relationships, I think the first argument (the “Wrong” one) sounds much more reasonable. But I’m not a liberal or leftist either, so I cannot claim to speak for them.

  10. In other news, I stumbled upon this amusing piece in the NY Times:

    “What we need to keep in mind is that for us the basic issues of the French Revolution have been resolved”

    “We live in a post-revolutionary society, where liberals are not radicals and conservatives are not reactionaries. Our political debates — important as they often are — are about optimizing the distribution of power within a non-radical (that is, not completely egalitarian) democracy.”

    “In any case we need to stop fighting the French Revolution and focus on the hard work of governing ourselves with the democratic system we have so successfully built.”

    Oh, if only he knew!

  11. Coming from the perspective of a non-Christian who finds Christian attitudes towards sexuality counter-intuitive, unhealthy, and predicated on an extremely idealized view of human relationships</i.

    I suggest you read Robert Wright's The Moral Animal, as well as the essays of F. Roger Devlin. Roissy/Heartiste wouldn't be a bad place to start either: sexuality without social restraints degenerates into a war of all against all.

  12. […] Chik-fil-A fiasco reminds us all exactly how not to fight the culture wars (a topic previously touched on by Bonald). Here’s a telling example of the kind of limp-wristed apologies being coughed up in support […]

  13. […] alert Cardinal Dolan before he gets any more bright ideas. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  14. […] and the war over the HHS mandate is to treat it  as a matter of religious freedom.   See here and here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  15. […] be framed in liberal terms. The good, the true, and the beautiful are fine as long as they are packaged, shelved and inventoried for modern man to choose or not choose as he sees […]

  16. […] don’t convince the majority, or at least the rulers, that your beliefs are worthy of respect, they won’t be tolerated.  The Soviet Union legally had religious freedom, but this abstract assurance did nothing for […]

  17. […] freedom is doctrinally erroneous or how anti-contraception arguments based on religious freedom are losing arguments, but instead, I’ll just consider how ridiculously sad this is. It’s basically saying, […]

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