America's Catholic bishops are princes of diplomacy, highly educated, erudite, men of tact, propriety. They're asked to shepherd the flock with a long historical timeframe - like, say, eternity. They tend not to have knee-jerk reactions to issues of the moment.
And so, it's not often when a paragon of decorum, namely, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, publishes a letter in his diocesan newspaper with a title like, "To hell with you."
Gee, what could have provoked that? The answer is the Obama administration via its horrendous mandate to Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients - that is, birth-control drugs that induce abortion. The Catholic Church defines these things as "evil." The Church and its members are now being told they must provide them. By fiat, the Obama administration has issued that decree.
It sort of flies in the face of that old freedom of religion thing we've always had in America. And it's certainly of concern not merely to Catholics but all Americans.
Here's what happened:
Last August, the Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidelines for implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as, "Obama-care." The guidelines mandated that by summer 2012 all health-insurance plans - yes, all of them - must cover any and all FDA-approved contraception, sterilization procedures and pharmaceuticals, even those that produce or result in abortion. Every employer and employee must pay for these things, even if they violate the dictates of their conscience. The employers include all Catholic institutions, from colleges to hospitals to nursing homes to social-service agencies to charities ... to whatever else. "All" means "all."
How's that for social justice?
When ex-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a lifetime Roman Catholic, said that we'll learn the details of Obama-care after Congress passes the legislation, this is a perfect illustration. The Devil is truly in the details.
In response to this screaming train-wreck, Catholics sent letters to Kathleen Sebelius, HHS secretary, who happens to be Roman Catholic. When she was governor of Kansas, Sebelius was so terrible on abortion, and so defiant of Church teaching, that her bishop ordered that she be denied Communion. Catholics protested directly to Sebelius.
On January 20, Sebelius and Barack Obama answered Catholics. As Bishop Zubik put it, "On Jan. 20, the Obama administration answered you and me. The response was very simple: 'To hell with you'."
Zubik writes: "This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone .... At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom.... It undermines the whole concept and hope for health care reform by inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats. The mandate would require the Catholic Church as an employer to violate its fundamental beliefs concerning human life and human dignity.... It is really hard to believe that it happened."
All of the bishops are frustrated. Bishop Timothy Dolan of New York said that the Obama administration has basically told American Catholics that they have one year "to figure out how to violate our consciences."
In Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted appeared to urge civil disobedience. In a letter read to every church in his diocese, Olmsted wrote: "Unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law."
Also vowing non-compliance is Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati. LifeNews.com reports that 86 bishops (thus far) have spoken against the mandate.
The Obama administration has forced the bishops' hand. President Obama and Secretary Sebelius are not backing down. They are true believers.
Where are liberals on this issue? We know they support the so-called "right to choose," politically sanctified by Roe v. Wade in January 1973. But the Constitution predates Roe by a good 200 years. The First Amendment that begins the Bill of Rights starts with religious freedom. Are liberals so devoted to "abortion rights" that they will trump the conscience of their fellow Americans?
Apparently so. They've already ensured that my tax dollars fund Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. It was only a matter of time before they forced me to fund abortifacients. The direct funding of actual abortion procedures is no doubt next. It's amazing, when it comes to abortion, pro-choice liberals have everything they want, but it isn't enough. Now they want to force pro-lifers - and our churches - to pay for their choices.
Sadly, all of this was so painfully predictable back in November 2008, when a majority of professing Roman Catholics voted Barack Obama president.
Well, you reap what you sow.
- Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values.