E.J. Dionne Demands That I Fisk Him

I mean honestly, what am I to do with this?

WASHINGTON — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?

Oh, the scare language! “wage an election-year war!” Horror of horrors!

What should the bishops do when the President makes himself the enemy of said religious autonomy? Depend on Dionne for their defense?

And do the most conservative bishops want to junk the Roman Catholic Church as we have known it, with its deep commitment to both life and social justice, and turn it into the tea party at prayer?

It’s as though someone wants to turn our attention away from the fact that the Church was happily doing both until someone insisted that they jettison one of them.

These are the issues confronting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee when it begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger.

Or they could ponder how shallow and empty that unity really was. Rather like the religious convictions of cultural Catholics.

When the Department of Health and Human Services initially issued rules requiring contraceptive services to be covered under the new health care law, it effectively exempted churches and other houses of worship but declined to do so for religiously affiliated entities such as hospitals, universities and social welfare organizations.

Catholics across the political spectrum — including liberals like me — demanded a broader exemption, on the theory that government should honor the religious character of the educational and social service institutions closely connected to faith traditions.

Dionne was for the defense of religious conviction before he was against it.

Under pressure, Obama announced a compromise on Feb. 10. It still mandated contraception coverage, but religiously affiliated groups would neither have to pay for it nor refer its employees to alternatives. These burdens would be on insurance companies.

In other words, they added an accounting trick to disguise the fact that they changed nothing. Since the money for the health care plans which would cover the costs of contraception would still be coming from the Catholic institutions, it’s an act of pure fallacy to argue that they aren’t paying for contraception. This is an infomercial gimmick, not public policy.

The compromise was quickly endorsed by the Catholic Health Association. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the bishops’ conference, reserved judgment but called Obama’s move “a first step in the right direction.”

Which I take the good Cardinal to mean “was insufficient in and of itself.” In other words, he rejected this compromise in the hope of a better one. He rejected it politely, but he rejected it.

Then, right-wing bishops and allied staff at the bishops’ conference took control. For weeks, Catholics at Sunday Mass were confronted with attacks that, at the most extreme, cast administration officials as communist-style apparatchiks intent on destroying Roman Catholicism.

I think, that by “confronted with attacks,” Dionne meant “had to listen to homilies.” Inasmuch as these might be the first homilies some of them will remember past the parking lot, I fail to see the problem. Surely a church is entitled to its “come to Jesus” moment every now and again?

You think I exaggerate?

With every hysterical, hyperbolic syllable you set to paper, with every thought that caroms through the mushy interior of your mind and off the lithospheric thickness of your skull.

In his diocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, wrote: “The provision of health care should not demand ‘giving up’ religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship — no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long Cold War to defeat that vision of society.” My goodness, does Obama want to bring the Commies back?

Why, this is most unorthodox, sir! An official of an ancient faith, charged through the millenia with maintaining divinely ordained moral truth in spite of the fashions of society and the demands of Caeser, makes an analogy between one historical movement that sought to neuter the power of religion and another, more extreme version. Most unorthodox indeed! I SAY GOOD DAY, SIR!

Cardinal Dolan is more moderate than Cardinal George, but he offered an unfortunate metaphor in a March 3 speech on Long Island. “I suppose we could say there might be some doctor who would say to a man who is suffering some sort of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to start visiting a prostitute to help you, and I will write you a prescription, and I hope the government will pay for it.'”

It’s not that we wish to argue that such a happenstance is remote, or that we wish to discuss the moral teaching that underlines the metaphor, you see. It’s just that the metaphor is “unfortunate” (for whom? We’d rather not say…).

Did Cardinal Dolan really want to suggest to faithfully married Catholic women and men who decide to limit the size of their families that there is any moral equivalence between wanting contraception coverage and visiting a prostitute?

Inasmuch as seeking such contraception is in direct violation of the Church’s long-standing teaching on the subject, then yes. Because the Catholic hierarchy believes that it is uniquely chosen to make binding decisions on the moral life of the faithful.

Presumably not. But then why even reach for such an outlandish comparison?

Perhaps to point out that just because a sin is popular and socially acceptable does not make it less a sin. To illustrate that middle-class couples who keep condoms carefully hidden in the bedside table are not more right with God than the john who procures an illegal assignation with a whore. Both, as far as the Church is concerned, violates the spirit of the Sixth Commandment and what the Church considers morally licit. If we find the comparison uncomfortable, it is because we are meant to do so.

Opposition in the church to extreme rhetoric is growing. Moderate and progressive bishops are alarmed that Catholicism’s deep commitment to social justice is being shunted aside in this single-minded and exceptionally narrow focus on the health care exemption.

I’d dearly love to have Dionne explain what any of this has to do with “social justice.” The President has made an unconstitutional demand upon the Church, the nature of which Dionne himself at least nominally disagrees with. The Church is refusing to comply with this edict. Where does “social justice” enter the equation? Is Dionne attempting to argue that providing women contraception is “social justice”? If not, what is he saying?

A wise priest of my acquaintance offered the bishops some excellent questions about the church.

The Most Reverend Father D.I. O’nne, B.S.

“Is it abandoning its historical style of being a leaven in society to become a strident critic of government?” he asked.

Right. Because never in the long history of the  Catholic Church have bishops EVER criticized the government to which they were legally subject. The bishops have NEVER EVER put themselves at odds with the state when said state claims authority over church institutions. Nope. Never happened.

That business with Henry II and Thomas Beckett? Totally about a chick.

“Have the bishops given up on their conviction that there can be disagreement among Catholics on the application of principle to policy? Do they now believe that there must be unanimity even on political strategy?

Yeah, I don’t know what the hell is going on with this. Since when is the authority to treat with the government not the bishops’ area? Does Fr. O’Nne object to the bishops not accepting the President’s phony “compromise”? Or just the “unfortunate” tone they seem to be adopting about it. Even for Dionne, this is a muddy argument.

The bishops have legitimate concerns about the Obama compromise, including how to deal with self-insured entities and whether the wording of the HHS rule still fails to recognize the religious character of the church’s charitable work.

A spoonful of cover makes the argument go down, the argument go do-own, the argument go down…

But before the bishops accuse Obama of being an enemy of the faith, they might look for a settlement that’s within reach – one that would give the church the accommodations it needs while offering women the health coverage they need.

And if they call with a credit card in the next 30 minutes, they can get another can of Instant Spray-On Social Justice in a Can for free! That’s right, a full can of Spray-On Social Justice, absolutely free, if the Catholic Church calls right now! Anglicans and Methodists may call tomorrow.

I don’t see any communist plots in this.

Pally, you wouldn’t see a communist plot in a meeting of the KGB First Chief Directorate in the bowels of the Lubyanka. And even if that bit of rhetorical hyperbole won’t stand, the unconstitutional, indeed, tyrannical nature of the Obama mandate is one you’ve already conceded. So this editorial resembles nothing so much as the fearful whine of the Vichyite, fretting about the heavy-handedness of the Allemands while fussing about how provocative all this Resistance business is.

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