Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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February 7th, 2012

The Government’s Attack on Consciences


Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and President Barack Obama at the White House in 2010. (CNS photo/Reuters)

I voted for President Obama in the 2008 election. Leading up to that election and after it, I’ve fought an uphill battle trying to explain how I could be Catholic and vote for a president that so obviously has pro-choice goals. In my argument, I kept coming back to the USCCB’s statement, “As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support.” There are 7 principles of Catholic Social Teaching. When I weighed how many of the principles McCain stood for and how many Obama stood for, my tally was overwhelmingly in favor of Obama. Just to name a few, Obama is in favor of the DREAM Act and more comprehensive immigration reform. Obama wanted to reform healthcare (an issue I have written about at length). Obama’s economic policies were intended to directly help those at the bottom as opposed to using the trickle-down effect. And on and on. Even though Obama is pro-choice, I couldn’t ignore all those other extremely important issues that I agreed with. And even when it came to FOCAor other pro-choice issues, I guess I just didn’t believe that he would rock the boat too much.

Then a couple weeks ago, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal: “Obama Offends the Catholic Left.” I’ll ignore for a second how I hate the terms liberal Catholic and conservative Catholic. The amount of discord and division between Republican Catholics and Democrat Catholics is disgusting, and the disdain that both groups have for one other is just plain depressing since we’re all on the same team. As Catholics we do not fall perfectly in line with either party. But that’s for another post.

The new Department of Health and Human Services ruling has people reeling over how the President could make a move that would obviously anger lots of people, including the Catholic Church. The rule “will require most health insurance plans to cover preventive services for women including recommended contraceptive services without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or a deductible.” All employers that hire people of different faiths will be required to buy, as part of healthcare coverage for their employees, contraceptive and sterilization services. This means parishes that buy healthcare for their employees wouldn’t have to provide contraceptive services in their insurance plans because most of these employees are all the same faith. However, other Catholic employers like Catholic schools, charities, or hospitals, because they hire people of all religious backgrounds, will be forced to provide these services in their healthcare plans even though it violates one of the church’s basic moral teachings.

I, for one, am not just offended by the recent HHS ruling, but incensed about it. This whole time I’ve constantly had to defend why I support Obama and then he turns around and does this? And it’s not just Catholics that are angry but also non-Catholics who see this ruling as a defiance of conscience protections and an infringement on our Constitutional freedom of religion.

Plenty of people have written about why this ruling is bad and why they disagree (like here and here and here and here and here). That’s not really what I want to talk about. What has upgraded my anger to the level of fuming is how some Catholics have been writing about the decision and the Church.

1. “I am Catholic and I don’t agree with the Church on contraception but I do believe in the principle of conscience protections and I believe in the freedom of religion.”
I get it. Not everyone agrees with everything the Church teaches. But don’t treat the Church like your old Aunt Tilly who you smile at when she is talking to you, but roll your eyes at when you think she’s not looking. The Church is an institution that has wisely guided its flock for thousands of years. It doesn’t just make up its beliefs because a Bishop made a specific decision a long time ago. It uses hundreds of years of thinking, reasoning, and guidance from the Holy Spirit to come to its beliefs. Please don’t dismiss such a central teaching of the Church so easily. And it doesn’t make anyone more apt to agree with the Church about the HHS ruling by being so flippant about it. We don’t need the disclaimer to help get people on our side.

2. “This will not affect the Catholic vote.”
Don’t underestimate Catholics and their ability to get mad. People would have you believe that no one really cares what the Church teaches. If no one cared what the Church taught, then churches would be empty. Catholic schools would all be closed. And there would definitely not be new vocations. My church on Sunday was packed. The school I work at has plenty of students. And in May a new group of seminarians is being ordained to the priesthood. Please don’t be so condescending to presume that Catholics will not mobilize and try to fight this ruling.

3. “Obviously the Bishops don’t trust Catholics to not use the new options that would be added to their healthcare plans.”
This comment is so annoying to me. It is not that the Bishops want to trick people into not using birth control. Some say these Catholic institutions should pay for contraceptive services in their healthcare plan and then just tell their employees not to use it (except in cases of medical necessity). The Bishops getting mad about this is not a sign that they don’t trust people. They don’t want the Church’s money to go toward something that they see as morally wrong. What else could the government require the Church to pay for in their employees’ benefits? Euthanasia? Abortion? The Church knows that people use contraception.  They are not trying to outlaw it; they just don’t want to be a party to it.

This issue is a deal-breaker for me. I can’t continue to follow Obama down this path. I still support the same immigration reform policies and economic policies and such. I don’t regret voting for him in the first place. But I can’t in good conscience vote for someone who would force the Catholic Church to violate its moral teachings so blatantly. Even with the clarification the government issued about the new HHS rule, it still is clear that they don’t understand why the Church and so many others are mad.

In the end, this is an issue that people need to rally around. Giving the Church the option to violate its own conscience or stop providing healthcare for its employees is unconscionable. And there are a lot of people that agree with the Church, whether by being faithful to Church teachings or just agreeing ideologically with the freedom of religion. If all these people came together, it could make a difference. What upsets me is that people on the Church’s side keep saying things that hurt the Church’s credibility. People have the right to disagree with the Church and to voice it, but when we’re all trying to come together and form a united front against a bad ruling, all these asides only cause further division. They are going to weaken the effect that people can have in getting this ruling changed. There are about 80 million Catholics in the United States. All of us united could make a difference.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Oh, for heaven’s sake, think about it a little bit.
    If it were not the case that civil law trumps religious law, then we’d be burdened with death penalties for drawing pictures of Mohammed, for example. Try to remember that different religions have different laws.

  • Zachary Hubbard

    This policy goes in the face of all religions, not just Christians. Simply read the 1st amendment to the Constitution.

  • Beth Dondero

    Tough issues. Great posts. For me, when I consider the “big picture” and Catholic Social Teaching and what I’m hearing from the Republican candidates regarding the poor, immigrants, tax policies, the wealthy, and “these least brothers of mine” (Mt.25:40), my vote still goes to Obama.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Isn’t it strange how many people resort to quoting one scripture or another when rational thinking and logic won’t support their argument?

  • Chris

    “Few realize that up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching condemning contraception as sinful. At its 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican church, swayed by growing social pressure, announced that contraception would be allowed in some circumstances. Soon the Anglican church completely caved in, allowing contraception across the board. Since then, all other Protestant denominations have followed suit. Today, the Catholic Church alone proclaims the historic Christian position on contraception. ”

    “In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence”

    “In A.D. 195, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2)”

    Lest not forget “Genesis 38:8-10

    New International Version (NIV)

    8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also. ”

    Finally from the 4th chapter of James

    “15 You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin.”

    “God is not a feeling”

  • Salonikbabiniec

    I am Catholic, and that first ptcuire is one of the most, ahem, unfortunate angles the photog could’ve chosen. It also made the cover of “Vermont Catholic” unintentionally hilarious.

  • Chris

    Cancer is a disease- pregnancy is not. It has a 100% cure –abstinence.

    Some might argue that protection against poverty in old age is a valid security concern. But those efforts can all be accomplished by responsible individuals and families who plan for the certainty of old age. No family can plan for or handle the threats of domination by a foreign power. That is why a government was formed in the first place, for mutual protection.

  • Chris

    Let’s not forget how our Catholic hospitals will be affected. This will be a stepping stone to some horrible changes. They are trying to get their foot in the door and destroy morality all together.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    And those who do not become afflicted with cancer have to bear the cost for those who do. That’s part of the deal. We all pay, for the benefit of all.
    I have to pay taxes, some of which have gone to fund stupid wars. I would rather not have paid for that, but it’s part of the package deal. We can’t have everything we want.

  • Chris

    Allow me to explain just how the Affordable Care Act will make health care better for you; I am forced to buy contraception insurance which I do not need nor want, so someone who is currently paying for contraceptives that they do want can now afford to pay for said contraceptives. This “preventive care” is essential to the user. Should the user become afflicted with pregnancy, a result of the preventive care having failed, the afflicted will also have available, with no deductible or no co-payment mind you, a remedy to restore the afflicted to health, which I will also pay for. For those that fail to take advantage of these preventive services and by chance become afflicted with pregnancy, or after taking advantage of the services unexpectedly become afflicted with pregnancy and decide to endure the acute health effects of childbirth, any associated costs will include a deductible and a co-payment, eventually, of course, subject to the discretion of the secretary of Health and Human Services.

    Those that fail to take advantage of the services and by design become afflicted with pregnancy shall have no recourse to bring suit against the government for failing to properly inform them of their right to such service. This proviso excludes those that become afflicted and then chose to take advantage of the services by becoming cured of pregnancy.

    In the end, I still do not need nor do I want to purchase such a policy, but the government requires me to stop my insistence and my resistance and to allow them to do what is best for me.

    Next: Why I do not buy motorcycle insurance.

  • Malinda

    Perhaps Chris Brune you need to be emailing the Supreme Court. They did rule against native Americans a few years back regarding a spiritual ceremony & civil law in the workplace.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    M. Brune — yes, indeedy. And your point?

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