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.

Click this banner to see the entire section.

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.
See more articles by (104).
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.
  • Chris Brune

    Ms. Hagan Bloch –

    1. The only law here is the First Amendment. The Church has a moral teaching, but it is not a law, like a provision of Canon Law.

    2. One of the bedrock principals of our system is that even the government must obey the law.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    In the United States, civil law takes precedence over religious law. There are many religions in this country, and among them are mutually contradictory rules. So you are allowed to follow whatever religious rules you like, as long as it does not conflict with civil law.

  • Chris Brune

    Dear Friends:

    Vanessa is right and those who disagree with her are flat-out wrong.

    The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    What is at stake here is the “free exercise thereof.” In essence, the government is telling Catholics that it is OK to believe whatever you want, but you better not act on it. Requiring the Church to foot the bill for services they regard as immoral tramples on the Church’s First Amendment rights. (Yep, even we Catholics have rights.)

    What is more, the “contraceptive” lingo is a smoke screen. In fact, under this regulation, the Catholic Church, one of the staunchest and most vigorous Pro-Life organizations in the world, could end up shelling out for abortions. People can quibble over birth control, but on abortion the evidence is clear: in every abortion, a human being is killed.

    When there was a draft, Amish and Quaker youth were accommodated due to religious objection. Under the precedent set by this rule, that would not be allowed. “Sorry kid, here’s your M-16, there’s the enemy. Get to work.”

    Everyone who cares about the Constitution and the legitimate rights of Americans should be protesting this rule.

    I urge the Bishops, if we are not accommodated, refuse to offer the insurance. If we are fined, refuse to pay the fines. Remember the example of St. Thomas More and the other great saints who paid the ultimate price for resisting evil even when sponsored by governmental power.


  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Mark, I’m sure you are doing the best you know how to do, but please try very hard to stick to the issues. If you have a logical argument, by all means, state it. Otherwise, let it go. It does nobody any good to add patronizing comments.

  • jim

    Just as a point of fact-both parties are pro-choice on abortion. The Democrats are more open and straightforward about it. Press a Republican-like John McCain, Herm cain, et al., and they will say something like it’s ultimately up to the woman and her family and conscience.

  • jim

    Hey Vanessa-
    Take a deep breath. You are adding to the division between Republicans who happen to be catholics, and catholics who happen to be Democrats. The Republicans are praising your post, the catholics are raising issues with it.
    Take time to load your brain before you shoot your mouth off-the reputation you save could be your own.

  • Jan Driscoll

    Way to go, Vanessa! Well written and an important thought for those who voted for Obama. Remember, this requires the church to pay the copays for birth control, that is provide it free to those who want to use birth control. This is unlike almost all prescriptions for noncontroversial medicines which actually promote health and healing, such as an antibiotic which almost everyone pays at least a copay for.

  • Elizabeth Frederick

    As an EMPLOYER, the Church must abide to the law governing ALL employers, period, such as OSHA and workmen’s comp. And this is a matter that has been law for 12 YEARS! And interestingly, in December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex.”

    That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the following month, is still IN EFFECT TODAY.

  • Rev. Dr. David Moffett-Moore

    Where was their outrage with the pedophilia by their priests? Do the bishops require that all employees of their secular institutions practice Catholicism (i.e., Jews must be baptized)? The law only applies to secular, church related institutions, not congregations. Must all employees of Catholic-related colleges be bound by church doctrine, even if they are not Catholic?

  • Barbara Bray

    I am in a quandry as to who to vote for —
    if at all — I had six beautiful, healthy children using the rhythm method — it is hard, but life is hard — I trusted God and my husband, and we were very blessed. Unfortunately, now our children have joined the ranks of the unbelievers, and think the mandate is a good thing. I appreciate your article and all the good comments. We will just have to pray and hang in there. Love

  • Linda Moore

    Wonderful piece. Thank-you.

  • Malinda

    Jeff, there are numerous examples in the history of the Catholic Church where the Church has been wrong. And, what I love about the Church is we are able to disagree and have discussions around these issues. It worries me when people stop questioning. We are a Living Church.

  • Kate B

    Does the current insurance have a prescription plan? I don’t know. Does it cover sildenafil, better known as Viagra? I’ll betcha! The church can be a church or a business but it can not be both. If you have people working for the church itself fine. But if we’re talking about hospitals and schools then they need to join us here in this century.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    I think that people are forgetting one essential point: the church has a right to handle questions of its conscience in institutions that are religious, such as monasteries and convents and whatnot. It does NOT have a right to impose ecclesiastical strictures on institutions that are not exclusively religious, particularly if those institutions also serve people outside of that religion.
    A hospital is a medical institution, and as such, medicine should be the primary focus. If it is not, then something is seriously wrong.
    Unless the hospital is within a closed religious community, exclusively for religious such as monks or nuns (and even then it’s a matter of debate, however it isn’t one I’m going in to), it has no right to impose its prejudices on anyone else. Do non-catholics go to the hospitals? Are non-catholics employed there? If so, I seriously doubt that they go there for any reason other than medical care.
    Thank all the powers that be, this is not a theocracy. So please stop trying to pretend that any religious institution has the right to behave as though it were.

  • Jeff

    Lots of great discussion!! More of this needs to take place in Catholic circles. Thank you Vanessa for your honest article which prompted the discussion.

    I would like to add one item that I know will not be popular…
    The Church is not “run” by a few elected old white men in Rome. Ultimately my faith requires me to believe that the Church is inspired by the Holy Spirit with Christ as Her head. The lay people, the Bishops, a council committee, can not determine what is moral or immoral. The Church can not change it’s stance on birth control because it is not up to us. Whether we like it or not, God made us in his image to love. Birth control can lead to use, which is the opposite of every human’s purpose – love.

    God bless you all! May we all (including me) always strive to know and love Truth.

  • Gage Blackwood

    Here’s an editorial from the National Catholic Reporter on this issue.

  • Malinda

    Interesting comment just heard by someone from American Conservatives. He says the way the Church gets around it in other countries is the single payer system, like in Britian & Canada.

  • Gage Blackwood

    I think other medical uses should be discussed. It is a very valid point. I know there are some (extremely few) doctors that use alternative treatments from birth control for those conditions, but that is not the norm and hard to find.

    I would be interested in hearing more about what the philosophical view of “preventative medicine” that HHS is taking.

    Charlie– Respectfully, the exemption being requested by the church isn’t impacting everyone. It would impact those who are employed by a religious sect and only those sects with moral opposition to birth control.

    I’m unsure of your point regarding the priesthood qualification issue. Is your point that if Notre Dame requires the priesthood qualification for their president, they could not be cited for discrimination? Even though the priesthood is only male? Or is your point that Notre Dame can change their qualifications to allow a non-clergy president?

  • Elizabeth Frederick

    Exactly Eliana. I was on “The Pill” for years due to severe Endometriosis. But it seems the Church has made no exception for these instances.

  • Malinda

    Eliana, good points. I think it’s important to remember to many people this is a women’s health issue.

powered by the Paulists