As many of you know, a few weeks ago, President Obama mandated that Catholic hospitals would have to begin providing birth control inclusive health care coverage for their employees.

Opponents of this decision claim that, in making the Catholic church provide birth control-inclusive health coverage to those who work in their hospitals, the federal government is forcing the Catholic church to do something that violates its religious beliefs.  The Catholic Church is being persecuted, they cry.   Catholics should not simply oppose this decision; they should be outraged about it.  Indeed, many Catholics are acting as though this is the worst thing a U.S. President has done in a really, really, really long time.

But, I don’t want to tell these outraged Catholics that they’re wrong; I want only to figure out if they’re making any sense.

Are Catholics who believe this ruling violates their first amendment rights being consistent?   Given everything else U.S. Catholics believe, does it make sense to believe that providing birth control inclusive health insurance to employees of Catholic hospitals makes the Catholic church morally culpable if these employees use their health insurance to buy birth control, and, following from this, that mandating birth control inclusive coverage violates the 1st amendment rights of Catholics and/or the Catholic Church?

I propose the following thought experiment to help us (U.S. Catholics) figure out if what we say we believe about Obama and birth control is coherent. This thought experiment consists of three scenarios and a question.  If we can genuinely and with conviction answer yes to each of the three questions listed below, then we have good reason to think our outrage over President Obama’s ruling makes sense; if we answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, then our outrage does not make sense and we need to reconsider our reaction.

Scenario One:

Imagine that many of this nation’s hospitals and health care facilities were run by an extremely conservative group of Muslims.  Imagine that the leaders of this branch of Islam thought that it was immoral for women to be treated by male doctors.  Imagine that, wishing to obey Allah in all things, they refused to provide their hospital employees with health insurance plans that covered women’s visits to male doctors.  Imagine that this extended even to their non-Muslim employees.  Do you think these hypothetical Muslim hospitals should be allowed to deprive even their non-Muslim employees of this coverage?

What if allowing Muslim hospitals to refuse to pay for these visits would mean that women would receive inferior medical treatment?  Would you still maintain that the 1st amendment granted these Muslim hospitals the right to refuse to cover women’s visits to male doctors?

Scenario Two:

Imagine learning that a devout Catholic business owner provides her employees health insurance, which covers birth control. Do you think that she incurs guilt if any of her employees decide to use their health insurance to buy birth control?

And if it makes a difference, imagine further that this Catholic business owner herself believes that birth control to be evil and she goes out of her way to share with her employees the benefits that natural family planning brought to her marriage.  Her employees know that she thinks birth control is wrong.  Don’t ask yourself whether you think her decision to provide this coverage is right (I argue that this is a slightly different question) but ask yourself whether she incurs guilt for her employees’ deciding to use their health insurance to buy birth control.

Scenario Three:

Think now of the current, actual reality of being a citizen of the United States of America.  Our tax dollars fund many things that violate the church’s teaching. Do you think that paying taxes in the United States of America makes a tax-paying Catholic morally culpable for unjust war, torture, the death penalty, and the enforcement of immigration laws? Do you think that the government is violating the religious freedom of Catholics when it insists that they must pay all state and federal taxes? Or, do you agree with the government that Catholics should not be able to pick and choose where there tax money goes to?

I can only guess how most U.S. Catholics and their bishops would answer the first two, but I have already received their answer to the third.  Catholics are allowed to pay taxes, even though they fund unjust war, torture, the death penalty, and unjust immigration laws.  Even though torture, like birth control, is an intrinsic evil.  Even though the mere fact that something is intrinsically evil does not make it more evil than something that is only circumstantially evil.  The magisterium considers masturbation to be an intrinsic evil while war is only evil in certain circumstances.  Yet no one would think teenaged masturbation a greater evil than unjust war.

I personally am undecided as to whether or not simply by paying taxes I am implicated in the evils my taxes help fund.  My point is simply that I do not see how we can think the federal government making Catholics pay taxes that fund evil is acceptable but its making Catholic hospitals provide health insurance that covers birth control is not.

To summarize, if Muslim hospitals should not be allowed to refuse to pay for their female employees’ visits to male doctors, if we do not think private business owners are necessarily morally responsible for what their employees decide to do with their health insurance, and if we do not think a Catholic is necessarily sinning or being deprived of their 1st amendment rights by having to pay taxes, then I do not see how we can justifiably be this upset about the HHS ruling.

Perhaps we think that this recent HHS ruling is different because the government is forcing the church to do something it thinks is wrong.  If outrage over this ruling is truly motivated by a concern to preserve the moral integrity of the church, then I think we have it entirely backwards.  As Catholics, we should be much more worried about the evil we do willingly than the evil we are forced to do.

Also, if we are going to circumscribe the limits of licit material cooperation in evil so narrowly that providing birth control inclusive health insurance to even non-Catholic employees makes us morally culpable in their sin, then I suggest we need to seriously re-consider many practices the Church considers not just to be morally acceptable but in fact morally good.  For example, I am not really sure how providing birth control inclusive health insurance constitutes illicit material cooperation in evil when having a military chaplaincy does not.  In fact, it seems likely that through the military chaplaincy the church has cooperated in the evil of unjust war not just materially but formally.

How can we be this upset about the HHS ruling when we have so little outrage for so many other things?

89 thoughts

  1. Thank you for this. I like the argument.

    (I am Catholic and I do not think that birth-control is evil. Of your three arguments, I like the first best, because the Catholic bishops do remind me of Muslim imams… Their furor over women’s sexuality comes from a neanderthal need of controlling what scares them.)

    1. Hi Claire,
      Thanks for reading. I would just want to say that we should be careful about seeing religious groups as monolithic. While I’m sure there are some imams who would have very sexist views about women, there are many imams who do not… We should try to critique the leaders of our own tradition without unjustly denigrating and stereotyping the leaders of other religious communities.

    2. We are all called to be chaste. Within marriage that means conjugal chastity. So many Catholics are really very unfamilar with Catholic teaching and with Natural Family Planning, which uses close observation of the signs of fertility that the woman’s body gives, to know when is the best time either to get pregnant, or to avoid pregnancy. Every sex act of the married couple, then, can remain open to its unitive and procreative meaning and purpose, truly open to God’s amazing gifts of life and love, while the couple through their communication, prayer and thought can decide the right way to space pregnancies. This also avoids the health risks of contraceptives, and the tendency to use one another sexually (especially this often means men using women, though it can go either way), and other sexual temptations, that tend to go with contraception, and they grow through the modicum of self discipline to use NFP (through periodic continence they resist the “addict” behavior of contracepting couples), and the good communication between them that is required. NFP couples have amazingly low divorce rates.

      A lot of people also truly don’t know, that birth control pills and implants, and IUDs, can actually abort an already conceived child by preventing implantation in the womb! God sees these lives, and someday in the afterlife we will know all our children, those miscarried, those who in some cases we caused their death. I’m a woman, 33 years old, I think the idea that the moral teaching on birth control has to do with men wanting to control women is a GROSS misunderstanding. Humanae Vitae was incredibly prophetic about the bad effects of these practices, for women and families, if you haven’t actually read it or some commentary that actually seeks to explain faithfully what it has to say, check it out. Pope Paul VI was clearly concerned for you and me and that was part of his motive, and he was simply right in what he aid.

      1. hi. i’m not sure if you read my post, but what you’re saying here has nothing to do with it. this is not the place to debate the morality of birth control. if that’s the conversation you want to have, then please do it elsewhere. thank you.

      2. Hi Katie, as I said in another perfectly good post that you had previously approved and then I think deleted, I was replying to Claire who did not believe contraception is evil and mistakenly associated that with “neanderthal” misogynists; really the biggest opponents of contraception I know though, are lots of young women of my own generation in my own city (Madison, WI!) who have actually listened to the Church and learned, and who “get” Catholic teaching and been touched deeply by its beauty, and strongly want to live the love they have encountered therein. And the faithful young families living that out give a lot of hope and joy.

        The moral status of contraception is a basic premise of this discussion. Its grave immorality is THE reason why the bishops and so many others, including myself, consider this matter of the birth control insurance mandate extremely serious. If the reason you don’t consider it serious is that you consider birth control morally okay, then actually the basic point of divergence is your divergence from the Catholic belief on this moral matter, not just a difference of opinion on how the bishops should react. There is a tremendous need today to form our consciences well, in accord with the Church, and to regularly celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. We are called to holiness.

      3. my post was not about the morality of birth control but about whether outrage over this decision is consistent with other things catholics believe.

        i’m really sorry you cannot understand that (truly, it makes me really sad) and I’m not really sure how to explain it to you in a way that you will understand.

        i guess i would suggest just reading my post again very slowly and then maybe sitting with it for a while?

        i wish you the best of luck.

      4. “Think now of the current, actual reality of being a citizen of the United States of America. Our tax dollars fund many things that violate the church’s teaching. Do you think that paying taxes in the United States of America makes a tax-paying Catholic morally culpable for unjust war, torture, the death penalty, and the enforcement of immigration laws? Do you think that the government is violating the religious freedom of Catholics when it insists that they must pay all state and federal taxes? Or, do you agree with the government that Catholics should not be able to pick and choose where there tax money goes to?”

        This is a poor analogy. For one, we are required by law to pay our taxes, but it is not as if Catholics are thereby condoning the death penalty. A responsible Catholic should agree that in our country there is not a reasonable social benefit for the death penalty. Also, it should be noted, that the Church’s teaching is not that the Death Penalty is always and has in every instance been wrong, but that in our society it is not necessary and we should uphold the dignity of all human life in this instance.

        The important thing is that this is an unfortunate state of affairs that is already in existence. Meaning that our culture began w/ a strong belief in the death penalty and is pushing back from that stance so that the current state of affairs is a general decline in the states which have instituted death penalties. I would assume that the Catholic hierarchy has contributed to the ending of those laws, and I would be surprised to hear otherwise.

        The Bishops do not have anywhere near the ability to influence Death Penalty policy decisions as they have in how they run Catholic Hospitals. The only way your analogy would make any sense would be if there were Catholic run Prisons which were being made to do lethal injections.

        I think Elizdelphi has a clear reading on the real issue behind your defense of the HHS mandate above the authority of the Bishops:

        Underneath your rational, I believe, is the belief that the Church is wrong on this issue. As a result, you are inclined to believe that this is not a grave matter.

        Finally, let me pose a few questions to you:

        Is there really an urgent need for women to be provided with birth control through their insurance providers?

        Does such a perceived need outweigh the moral considerations of the Bishops?

        In the end, I guess we will just have to disagree and wait to see how the Supreme Court and the voters resolve this.

      5. my post has nothing to do with the morality of birth control, perceived or actual. i also find it strange that you think you can read the mind of a complete stranger just by reading something on the internet.

        and it is a great analogy, actually. opposition to the HHS ruling was on the basis that the church would be made to cooperate materially in the evil of birth control. material cooperation in evil is distinguished from formal cooperation in evil in that material cooperation is when something one does contributes to or makes possible something evil someone else does but person A does not approve or intend the evil person B does. Formal cooperation is when you not only participate but intend the evil action. So clearly, making the catholic hospitals pay for their employees’ birth control would only be material cooperation in evil.

        similarly, paying taxes is also a question of material cooperation in evil.

        while formal cooperation in evil is never allowed, material cooperation is allowed in certain circumstances. so, the question the first scenario 3 tries to address is why it is illicit to materially cooperate with the evil of birth control by including it in health care coverage but it is licit to materially cooperate with the manifold evils the US governments does by funding them with taxes.

        and as I gestured towards with the military chaplaincy case, it would seem at least likely that the church formally cooperates in the evil of the US military’s torture and unjust war, which, as I said above is never permitted.

        and your point about the death penalty doesn’t apply because the key questions were moral responsibility. the church could say its religious freedom was being violated only because it perceived that paying for birth control would be illicit material cooperation in evil.

        and as to your question: “does a perceived need outweigh the moral considerations of the bishops?” truly, I have no idea what this means. you also probably don’t want to wade in these waters since the magisterium insists that birth control harms women. so you would be better off arguing that allowing women to use birth control actually harms them rather than pitting need against the bishops’ moral beliefs.

    3. I like the three questions, even for people who are not Catholic, they are good questions for them to discern their own response to the bill. But beyond that I want to speak to the ‘birth control is evil’ theology. I am a non-Catholic. Here is my story.

      I was told by several physicians that in all probability I would never be able to see a pregnancy through to completion. It was suggested that I have a hysterectomy due to all my problems and discomfort. I was young and wanted a chance to have children so I held off on the hysterectomy and visited different physcians. All of them told me the same thing – finally one woman doctor told me there was a possiblity that if I used birth control I could create a situation that would fake my body out and I might be able to conceive if I would take the birth control pill for maybe 6 months or so maybe up to one year and then go off it. This would make my uterine lining smooth she said, and then perhaps I would be able to carry a child to full term. My periods had been very irregular and heavy and painful. We followed her advice and I did conceive and carry to completion. I am now a grandparent. Ask me seriously if I believe birth control is evil? Is it evil that I was blessed with a full term pregnancy because I used birth control? I do not believe the Lord Jesus Christ would call that evil.

      1. June, I’m glad to hear that you managed to conceive. However, in some of the above comments, the distinction was discussed between the use of birth control for contraception, and birth control as medication. The Church allows the use of birth control for medical purposes, like those such as what you were dealing with, but does not hold with the use of birth control as contraception. The intention with which the birth control is used is a large part of the argument. The mandate, I believe, did not make the distinction between birth control that could be used for medical purposes and those which are specifically made or used for contraceptive purposes. Nor, as far as I am aware, did it allow for institutions or for insurance policies that reflected this nuance.

  2. This may be the best thing that I have read on this topic and for that I thank you. Whether or not birth control is evil has not been on my mind, I have had (uncharacteristic for me) raised ire (although not outright outrage) over the HHS decision.

    Your questions as posed draw one into the issue of morality and that is where I have been trying to focus. Birth control has not been the issue for me as I said. This has caused some consternation for me with friends, fellow bloggers and other social media associates. On the other hand, I suspect that there are many in my day-to-day Catholic circles who would think I lack the “street cred” to be “Catholic enough.” And yes, I do work for the church and am attending Catholic grad school as well.

    Claire is a dear online friend and we have had some discussion on the topic. I am not a shrinking violet and I am hardly needing to be the Catholic good girl at age 54. However, I (and I will talk to Claire about this more) fail to see as fully the male domination issue. Not that there are not male domination issues in the Church, Holy Mother of God, we know that there are. I am not sure, from where I sit, that I see this issue in that way. I am glad that Claire continues to discuss it and I will continue to discuss it with her and others.

    Thanks again for these questions, that draw us to look at things in a different light.

    1. Hey Fran,
      Thanks for your comments. I unfortunately do not know Claire but I am definitely glad she is helping me think through these issues!

  3. The bishops’ claim that their religious freedom is threatened is bogus. The threat is to the religious freedom of their employees and to the conscientious freedom of the diverse public they serve in their tax-supported institutions.

    Fran, check out Gail Collins article in the NYTimes today. I have long suspected that the Catholic stance on birth control was rooted in some kind of strange misogyny; Gail Collins’ article gets to the heart of that suspicion.

    That being said, the miracle and mystery of human life being what it is, I can sort of understand not putting “barriers” up to conception. But that decision (to not put up barriers) has to come from a deeply contemplative cooperation with God within the marital relationship – and being human, we are both there and not there. Our tolerance for birth control is part of getting there, if you ask me.

    1. Hi Beth, nice to see you here. I did not find Collins’ piece satisfying at all. I do believe that there is always a misogynistic element present, I don’t know that I see her connecting the dots for me personally. That said, I will go reread her column after this, perhaps I missed something.

      And I remain, seemingly not with most of my friends, as seeing this as not about contraception. Certainly I do not see Catholics as persecuted however, when we speak of religious freedom. Persecution – that is more about something truly horrible.

      Anyway, I think that this piece is helping me rethink some of this. As always, I search and pray.

  4. Thanks for this (lurker, mostly.) Finally the argument I’ve been trying to make on the issue. (But I can totally understand why people are angry about it, too, since I vacillate between your stance and being annoyed by both sides.

  5. I can see where you are coming from here. I do think that your questions are a bit leading, though your point is well made and thought provoking. I think that the outrage of the bishops and those who agree with them are based upon 1: the evil done to people who can do something about those injustices (women included) and 2: the evil done to people who are unable to do anything about those injustices (infants, and, if one so thinks, an unborn child or fetus).

    I do understand the huge debate that lies within that last statement, and am still pondering much of it myself. I don’t want to get into a huge discussion about it, as I am still listening and learning about it. I simply wanted to add that into the discussion for nuance.

    War, as you state, is an evil, but a chaplaincy I don’t think is so much a moral issue as a pastoral care issue, and I use those terms disparately, by which I mean that while certain wars may or may not be just (the moral issue), the Church has an obligation to provide pastoral care to those of its members, some of whom commit grave sins and injustices (the pastoral issue). From some of my discussions with Chaplains, I am given to understand that they do not carry weapons, and do not use a weapon that they may procure unless in immediate self-defense. If by your points on this issue you mean that by simply having a certain corps of soldiers set aside by the civilian government to provide a spiritual service to the soldiers the Church is somehow complicit in the injustice of those wars, I understand and even sympathise with your viewpoint, but do not quite agree. In my view, the ruling rather seems like a chaplain being forced to include a bullet with which the family of the soldier may or may not choose to kill him with among the articles he gives to counsel them on the issues of PTSD or even mental or physical infirmities.

    I think your point about taxation is a much better one. It is especially good that you talk about the morality of what the government does with taxpayer money, and that is something that I think needs to be discussed more. But there is an issue with this, and that is the fact that torture is illegal as well as evil. If the government were to use taxpayer money to fund torture, Catholics (well, Catholics who follow their theology, and other Christians and religious people as well) should raise just the same issue. Those who don’t (whether with or without the backing of the establishment) are wrong in not doing so. There are Catholics who try to foment opinion against torture being funded by taxpayer money, and at the same token, are against the same being used to enforce unjust immigration laws. As far as I am aware of, the Church itself (or herself) is against the application of Catholics’ money to those things as well.

    What separates the discussion between the chaplains and immigrants for example against the discussion of abortion is in the first paragraph of my comment, and that is the type of injustice done to a victim that can do nothing to defend himself or herself.

    I apologize for the comment being almost as long as the post itself. If anywhere you think I may have made a statement in error (I have not knowingly included anything false in here), please point it out and correct me.

    1. I completely forgot about your first point which included the imams. This is your strongest point in the article, but I can still see it falling under (not being beaten by, but being answered, likely only in part, with) the argument about those who can defend themselves and those who can’t.

      What it does do, and brilliantly, is cover the main controversial points especially concerning the rights of the woman and the problem of something akin to “separate-but-equal” health-care, and the problems that may come from substandard care if the woman does get unsupported services. Bravo on the articulation of this point.

      1. I too like the first point and can actually take it to a hypothetical next step. What if the Muslim hospital is the closest hospital for neo-natal care, a non-muslim women in late stages of pre-term labor comes in and needs an ob/gyn that specializes in high risk births. The only one on duty is a male. Do you tell this woman that she has to risk her child’s life by going further away to another hospital or waiting for another physician to be contacted and called in? I believe the point does hold in that as long as an entity receives federal funds said entity must follow federal guidelines, period. It goes for public school (both primary, secondary and university), public services etc.

      2. In reply to Jennifer’s comment, my first thought when reading it was that a Muslim hospital would be very unlikely to have any male OB/GYNs. 😉 I would assume that they would make sure their staffing needs were covered in a way that was in keeping with their religious principles. 🙂

        This article raises some very interesting questions. I don’t have time to address them all, but it did occur to me that the example given in Scenario 1 didn’t quite seem proportionate with what’s going on with the HHS mandate – contraceptives are already readily available and inexpensive, even for those who don’t have insurance.

        It’s a very good question to raise, though – what rights does a person have to choose not to support or participate in something they believe to be wrong/morally evil? It’s easy if you don’t disagree with a government policy…but what if, in the future, a gov’t mandate approved forced sterilizations for racial minorities, “post birth abortion” of unwanted children up to the age of 2, genetically modified children being created and raised to a certain age, then harvested of all their vital organs for organ transplants, or any number of things that most people today would consider completely unacceptable? At what point does someone have the right, or even the responsibility, to stand up and say, “No, I believe this to be wrong, and I can’t take part in it!” And what recourse do they have if the government, or a majority of their fellow citizens, don’t agree with them?

        This article is months old, so I may be too late to join in the conversation, but I thought you raised some very interesting questions worth pondering, Katie.

      3. Hello Gen,
        You are definitely not too late. These issues are most definitely still relevant and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your response.

        I agree with you completely about the importance of freedom of conscience and the difficulty of knowing how to reconcile social standards with individual conscience. I guess that’s why I wanted to kind of step back and say, “is this even about conscience and religious freedom?” I am still not persuaded that this ruling is truly an infringement of religious freedom or individual conscience. I thought that before the compromise and I think it even more so after.

        As to your questions about how we would react in the face of the slippery slope of forced sterilization and infanticide? I think it is first important to know that our government has ordered forced sterilizations of minorities. In many states, there was some sort of sterilization of minorities taking place. Just recently, the state of North Carolina decided NOT to compensate victims of its forced sterilization program. You can read about it here.

        So, we don’t need to wonder about how we would respond to this. These programs were fairly uncontroversial in their day and we aren’t even willing to compensate those harmed by it. So I don’t think it quite accurate to see forced sterilization as a possible outcome of this decision. Forced sterilization is not the AMerican future; it is the American past.

        Ok: tell me if I’m understanding you correctly. You seem to be thinking that since the government is making Catholic hospitals do something they don’t want to do (indirectly pay for their employees’ contraception), and this “something” is connected to procreation, this could lead to a situation in which the government becomes emboldened to make further use of people’s bodies against their will, right? But I don’t think this is a valid worry in this case. The big difference is that, in this country, people have the right not to use contraception: no one is forced to use it. This would then be extremely different from people being forced to get their tubes tied or forced to give up their internal organs. As for your fear of infanticide, the passage of Roe V. Wade has not lead to increased support for infanticide (in other words, in the minds of the american people, there is no slippery slope between abortion and infanticide…think for example of the rise of safe harbor laws that let women drop off their newborns at hospitals without fear of prosecution…if anything, we as a society have become LESS tolerant of infanticide.)

        Making people pay for contraception and making people take contraception are different issues. The government is not making people do things to their bodies against their will. Instead they are making religously affiliated institutions that receive federal money to help pay for products that other people freely choose to use on their own bodies.

        But you are right that, in this case, the government is making the Catholic church do something it doesn’t want to do. But that on its own is not evidence of injustice. Government, by its nature, is coercive. The government makes people do things they don’t want to do all the time. Now, clearly, the coercive power of the government can be gravely evil. But is it necessarily so? To pick a trivial but hopefully illuminating example: I don’t like driving slow. But when I get caught driving fast, the government punishes me. Knowing this, I end up driving slower than I want to quite frequently. Am I being oppressed?

        So, in my mind, the issue is not: “the government is making the Catholic church do something it doesn’t want to do and the Catholic church is a religion therefore the government is violating the Church’s religious freedom.” But, “IS the government violating the church’s religious freedom?” “What even are the concrete conditions of religious freedom anyways?”

        Let me know if that was helpful or if you have further thoughts.

        Thanks for reading,

      4. And to re-state the argument of this post, in my mind, the catholic church has not sufficiently demonstrated that their religious freedom is being infringed upon.

      5. And as to the Muslim hospital point: I think you are right that a hospital run by fundamentalist Muslims would only have female OBGYNs. The problem would then be if non-Muslim women who happen to work at these hospitals (say a female janitor or secretary) should only be allowed to receive health insurance coverage for visits to FEMALE OBGYNs. See what I mean? And what if she had a gynecological emergency and was unable to see a female doctor for several weeks? And it wouldn’t just be OBGYNs: it would be all doctors. Non-Muslim female employees of fundamentalist hospitals would only be able to visit male oncologists and male podiatrists and male gastroenterologists. What if the best doctor in the area was a male? The question is: do we think fundamentalist Muslims should be able to keep their non-Muslim employees from seeing male doctors.

        I have not conducted a formal survey, but I’m pretty sure most Americans would be outraged if fundamentalist hospitals were allowed to do this.

    2. I think that you (and the Church) are disregarding many who fall into the category of not being able to do anything against the injustice affecting them. In this world, there are many, not just unborn children, who cannot “defend” themselves against the evil being done to them. A person is not really suited to defend themselves against structural sin. A person living in poverty, that is being deprived of not just opportunities but also being deprived of their fundamental human rights, is not necessarily able to defend themselves against this evil. In many states, Ohio for example, state tax dollars do pay for the Death Penalty. Something that the Catholic church is against. Many on death row have had very difficult lives, have been harmed by the injustice of our society.

      1. Thanks for your reply, and for your thought in replying to my comment. You are indeed right about the difficulty of defending oneself against a cultural or structural sin, and if I may add to your statement, structural and/or cultural injustice.

        As far as I am aware, the thinking regarding defense is of how a person may react to injustices done to them. An adult can choose to react to the injustice positively, (offering their suffering and such to God for themselves or someone or everyone else or taking action to end that injustice and so offering the suffering incurred by that as well) or negatively. A child cannot even begin to understand anything more than that an injustice was done, if that, but can still react to their circumstances. An unborn child is completely at the mercy of his or her mother in every circumstance.

        If I may ask (and please to do not mistake me for being a Republican for this), but in one part of your comment you make the implication that poverty also deprives a person of their fundamental human rights. Could you explain that a bit more?

  6. I am just wandering in here, and cannot tell from this page whether the author of the article is Catholic or not. You understand that “the pill” (even moreso the “morning after pill”) causes abortion, right, because part of its function is to prevent implantation of a child already conceived? To pay for that (killing the children of employees) is obviously unconscionable. Sterilization, abortion, contraception, are always gravely immoral, entirely regardless of whether the person doing it is Catholic. We can know that from the natural law, but even moreso any faithful Catholic who gives a religious assent to Catholic teaching as being revealed by God, cannot think these things are okay or that it would be moral to directly or willingly facilitate or pay for others to do them.

    If a Catholic organization is coerced to pay for these immoral things for employees to engage in grave sin, that works to seriously undermine Catholic organizations, their inner integrity, what they signify to others, and even their message and the way they conduct their activities, insofar as they may be carried out by people who are actively rejecting essential moral teaching. A Catholic organization that is thus undermined is hardly a Catholic organization anymore. Are Catholic hospital staff whose employer-sponsored health insurance pays of for them to do these immoral things themselves going to conduct Catholic healthcare in an actually Catholic and moral way? Or Catholic school or university staff, responsible for giving a faithful Catholic education to the young?

    Catholic organizations MUST stand up against mandated sterilization/abortifacient/contraceptive insurance, or increasingly they are going to be Catholic in name only, and eventually simply not Catholic. There are increasing instances of Catholic charities, hospitals, schools secularizing for these and similar kinds of reasons. The process toward this “apostasy” (if I may use that word) of many organizations is already VERY FAR ALONG. However, if this is the moment when people are waking up to the reality of the situation, there’s no better time for Catholics to begin resisting it, caring about our own personal fidelity to Catholic teaching (conversion away from sin and toward virtue and availing ourselves of the Sacraments, educating ourselves according to Catholic teaching, etc), and caring deeply about the fidelity of the Catholic organizations we’re part of. If they’re not really Catholic they’re not going to be anywhere near as effective as they could be for the human and spiritual good of individuals, or for the good of society and the building up of the Church. We offer the very best to the world when we do our service to the poor, caring for the sick, educating the young, etc, in profound fidelity to the Church, and therefore in profound fidelity to Christ, whose body and bride the Church is.

    1. the birth control pill prevents ovulation not implantation. if you are already pregnant when you take the morning after pill, then you will still be pregnant after you take it.

      1. You are mistaken, it is certainly acknowledged by medical sources that many contraceptives prevent implantation by thinning the uterine lining. Their effect is two-fold, they prevent ovulation, but when this occurs anyway and a child is conceived, the child does not find the womb hospitable to implant and continue to grow, and passes out of his or her mom’s body at the next menstruation. The morning after pill is thought not to affect a child already implanted in the womb (this is how many medical experts define pregnancy, as starting at implantation not at conception when the new life actually begins–this discrepency is why you have heard that it doesn’t “terminate a pregnancy”), but it is acknowledged that it certainly does prevent implantation of an already-conceived child! This is why, although there are some other means that could be used by a rape victim to prevent conception, that wouldn’t be morally licit for anyone else, such as use of a spermicide, use of the “morning after pill” in any form currently available, risks causing the death of a child that has actually been conceived. One cannot support the use of the “morning after pill” in any circumstance, and be entirely pro-life. There is noooooo guarantee that the pill will work by preventing conception, rather than after the fact by preventing implantation. It is entirely capable of either effect, and the latter results in the death of the innocent child.

      2. Regarding “proof”, this is one of those things that it is hard to film on camera but overwhelmingly likely that it occurs. These drugs (and IUD) are certainly known to have the effect of thinning the uterine lining which is certainly known to have the effect of making it less likely for a child to implant and the pregnancy successfully continue. They are also certainly known to not be 100% effective in preventing ovulation.

        And as a woman, it just isn’t good enough to me to take chances with a drug that could be aborting my child. That’s not right. The fact that the child is extremely small and that I am unaware of his or her presence, does not soothe me one bit. If I engage in intercourse, I know this is the act by which one becomes a parent, this is intrinsically part of its purpose, I know that if I do become a parent, my children have a right to my love, they have a right that I will protect them. Ideally, already, before they are conceived, the married person (man or woman) should set their heart on loving the children God may give, from their first moment of life. It is beautiful the love that couples have, who are really living their marriage in a Catholic way. All too rare, but becoming more common as more people are educating themselves, and a lot of young people increasingly “get it” and are excited by the wonderful challenge to live that love.

      3. go look up the word “proof” in the dictionary. then, go out and find some and then come back and show it to me.

  7. By the way, of course it is also a problem for Catholic business owners. The purpose of a secular business, is not necessarily undermined in its purpose just as much by a birth control insurance mandate, as a specifically Catholic religious organization. There is still the matter of the objective bad effects of sterilization/abortion/contracption and the lost lives of the children. A Catholic business owner who understood it morally would simply not want to pay for that insurance. It is up to the individual decide how exactly to deal with that quandary, and for some the reality is that is going to mean reluctantly buying the insurance, and perhaps giving some information and urging to employees about why NOT to use those things. Far from ideal, but the options are not good. One thing to absolutely avoid would be to pay for immoral things with personal willingness, approval or moral relativism (“well, the employees aren’t Catholic so it’s not as wrong for them” is simply false).

    1. well ok so you would answer yes to the second scenario. what about scenarios one and three? the point of my post was that if we wouldn’t answer yes to all three, then it doesn’t make sense for us to be this outraged about the HHS ruling.

      1. I don’t think the answer to scenario 2 is simple, it does depend on other circumstances. Personally, if I was the business owner, my own conscience would lead me to do whatever was necessary to avoid buying insurance that covered contraceptives, even to the point of having to close the business. It is that serious to me, I do understand these things as being very seriously evil and I am simply unwilling to pay for them in any direct way. However, I can see others reluctantly making a choice to get the insurance and continue the business and the good things the business does and giving employment to people, while hoping people will actually choose not to do immoral things, and I am not able to judge that situation, the alternative is that NO Catholic business owners could buy insurance for employees in my state, Wisconsin, where there is already a rule similar to the HHS rule. The fact is that in human society we are all entangled with one another, and entangled with things that are sinful. If I buy a granola bar, the company that made it may be paying for these things for their employees, the grains or raisins or chocolate may be harvested by laborers that aren’t paid a fair wage or given any adequate health care, etc. You could think of infinite examples. As lay people we can’t just check out of society, and on the other hand we can’t just not care about the morally bad stuff that we’re entangled in because we’re all so interconnected. We can do our best. Having Catholic organizations paying for sterilization or contraceptives in such a direct way, including some that are abortifacient, is outrageous. We do what we can do to oppose these things, to bring about a truer justice, respect for life and human dignity, while continue to engage with society.

      2. again. have you read my post? did you read my response to you? stop talking about scenario 2. talk about all 3 scenarios. and please stop making the same point over and over again.

      3. Hi Katie, Catholics and Catholic organizations must act faithfully regardless of what Muslims or nonreligious people do right? If Muslims open hospitals then it seems to me completely reasonable that they would actually be Muslim hospitals run according to sincere Muslim beliefs. As to whether Catholic should evade paying taxes, the answer is no (this is a part of engaging with the society for the common good), Catholics should be involved in government to make sure the taxes are used in a moral way, for instance not to pay for unjust war, abortion, etc.

        What I am talking about is the basic, and grave, immorality of sterilization, abortion, and contraception, which some here seem confused about. You express confusion about why the bishops are speaking forcefully about this. They have to, or our Catholic institutions are effectively going to no longer be Catholic. You have not really engaged with what I’m saying about that, either. The Church needs us at this time, to understand and live our Faith deeply, at a time when it is being attacked. Some commentary I have seen suggests that the intention is ultimately to push Catholics out of health care and education entirely, others think the Obama administration misguidedly thinks they can side with dissenting Catholics against the Church and that the Church might be pressured to change the requirements of morality. Of course, morality is from God, and the Church cannot change the fact contraception is wrong. Personally I am eternally grateful there is sacramental Confession for those of us who have transgressed!

        (I;m sorry, I would reply directly to the relevent comment below, but it is not giving me an option to reply there!)

      4. and would you extend the principle of people being loyal to their faith to Mormons? They used to teach that polygamy was a central part of being a mormon. But the government prohibits polygamy. There are still some fundamentalist “mormons” (disavowed by mainstream mormons) who practice polygamy. Should we let them?

        and your claim “catholics should be involved in government to make sure the taxes are used in a moral way” does not really address the issue. the issue is not whether paying taxes does more good than bad but whether in paying taxes we bear a share of the guilt for the evil these taxes fund. when my money pays for the death penalty, am I violating my religious beliefs as a Catholic? This is the only question that is relevant.

      5. agrees with the deposit of the faith. He is ceartinly a lot more orthodox than many of our bishops. Can we count on Cardinal Wuerl? He couldn’t even be counted on to obey the rubrics by washing the feet of only men on Holy Thursday. As for his pandering to the high and mighty in Washington, D.C. and to the gay lobby? I’d trust Mike Voris over Cardinal Wuerl any day.

  8. Interesting scenarios, Katie. My somewhat off-the-cuff responses:

    One: Our current legal distinctions handle this case fairly well. Violations of religious freedom in US law are subject to strict scrutiny: they must involve a compelling state interest, be narrowly tailored, and employ the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. If quality health care cannot be provided effectively for these hypothetical women other than by infringing on the rights of the hypothetical Muslims, then infringe away. But forcing employers to fund contraception does not seem to me to address a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored and minimally restrictive way.

    Two and Three: My sense is that funding contraception insurance is in general, but not intrinsically, evil. The question is whether in our (projected) circumstances, it will be a circumstantial evil, forcing Catholics to civil disobedience: so far as I know, the USCCB has made no statement on that (am I wrong?). It seems plausible that at least some Catholics (and others, esp. given that the mandate covers possible abortifacients) will judge it to be so. The bishops need not judge that funding this insurance is a circumstantial evil to protest the mandate as a violation of conscience. They need only say — in the end, they may well say — that it is a matter for individual conscience, while noting that many Catholic consciences will find it evil and so be forced to civil disobedience.

    So three: In the taxation case, the act of taxpaying seems like it has to be distinguished from acts supported by taxes, otherwise government would have to be perfect (and not just legitimate) to justify our support. The DHHS mandate is as if the state were spending the money in ways so inimical to the common good that there was a serious question in Catholic minds about the government’s legitimacy, and so also the rightness of paying it taxes. Only then would levying taxes constitute a violation of conscience.

    And two: For the businesswoman, if she thinks it is an evil to fund contraceptive insurance, then she is guilty of violating her conscience in buying the policy. But I don’t think she incurs further guilt when her employees use it.


    1. Hello, Ross.
      Question about your response to the first scenario: prior to the HHS ruling (and putting aside the ramifications of today’s events for a second) would employees of Catholic hospitals have to pay for birth control out of their own pocket? If so, then, even though the church would disagree, it would seem to be in the state’s interest to ensure that all women have access to birth control regardless of their income level given that in the state’s mind birth control is a part of high quality health care and because there is a good argument to make that it helps establish sexual equality.

      And I agree with you that scenario two is probably the one that the largest number of people would disagree with.

      And I actually agree with what you are saying in your response to scenario three. But I think the situation is a bit different. Like you, I think it at least possible that there are proportionate reasons to pay taxes even though they fund evils, like that they build roads and pay for schools etc. But again, that’s the inconsistency I want to point out. Could we not also say something similar about health insurance? The church does not wish to fund the evil of birth control but recognizes that it is better to provide health care for its employees even if this health care funds evils than to not. So I think the strongest part of scenario three (the one that is most analogous to the present situation) is not the question of whether to pay taxes or not to pay taxes but whether Catholics should be able to pay taxes that fund only the things that their conscience and/or church teaches are licit.

    2. hey again ross.

      just to clarify my final point (i realized i could have articulated it better): I guess what I’m saying is we seem to be undecided as to whether or not people should only have to pay for those things that conform to their religious beliefs. and this belief, that catholics shouldn’t have to pay for things their religion says are wrong, is what seems to be motivating the outrage.

      1. 1. Even assuming that equal access to contraception is a compelling state interest, there are surely less restrictive ways — ways that infringe less on conscience — to achieve that end than forcing institutions to fund the objectionable behavior.

        3. The case of the state is different than insurance because the state is a legitimate authority, i.e. it can make claims upon our obedience that themselves have moral weight. So we do not just balance good against bad uses of our tax dollars: we also have to acknowledge that so long as the state is broadly legitimate, we owe it some loyalty. Insurance companies do not have this sort of authority, and so the question about cooperation in evil is slightly more direct, thought still complicated (e.g. not just balancing good vs bad effects of how our money is spent). David Cloutier has a nice post up at Catholic Moral Theology on how underdeveloped moral theology is on questions of funding and cooperation in evil.

    3. “our current legal distinctions handle this case fairly well. Violations of religious freedom in US law are subject to strict scrutiny: they must involve a compelling state interest, be narrowly tailored, and employ the least restrictive means for achieving that interest. If quality health care cannot be provided effectively for these hypothetical women other than by infringing on the rights of the hypothetical Muslims, then infringe away. But forcing employers to fund contraception does not seem to me to address a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored and minimally restrictive way.”

      That’s my thought exactly. The legal grounds for violating the first amendment have to be really good which means that you not only have to demonstrate that healthcare is SEVERELY diminished by lack of providing free contraception but that women have already been harmed by it in substantial numbers. I haven’t found any evidence proving that female employees of Catholic hospitals suffer from more reproductive issues than women anywhere else. Which means that the state’s case for violating the first amendment here is very weak.

      Furthermore, a lack of of outrage about one thing doesn’t make outrage about another thing wrong. I for one would love for Catholics (perhaps even bishops, imagine that!) to rally in protest against unjust war, torture and the death penalty – all of which are funded by taxes. But the silence on those issues doesn’t make the sound on this one wrong. And even further, religious institutions are given a level of separation from the government for a reason. They don’t typically pay many taxes, they are allowed certain levels of discrimination that other employers aren’t and they are allowed to maintain autonomy as much as the free and healthy running of society allows. Thus, while private citizens enter into a social contract in which we realize that some of our money will be used for bad things, the constitution specifically keeps religious institutions OUT of that social contract as much as possible. So, interestingly, religious institutions don’t fund the death penalty, torture or harsh anti-immigration laws because they don’t pay taxes.

      So I think if we were to judge this based purely on the academic standards of moral theology, we might find a murky case, but as far as the law is concerned I actually think that it’s pretty clear cut. This is a first amendment violation and while civil rights violations ARE allowed under certain circumstances, I haven’t been given the evidence to prove that this specific move is so important that it allows the government to make the violation.

      That being said, the Catholics who say that they don’t want birth control funded AT ALL by the state (and not just Catholic institutions) are actually being hypocritical and wrong. In that case, it DOES matter that they don’t speak up about the death penalty or torture while they do speak up about this. But I think the game changes significantly when you talk about religious institutions.

  9. My take on the three scenarios:

    One: yes, the imaginary Muslim health care chain would have the freedom to practice medicine under those circumstances. There are plenty of other medical clinics and hospitals that can care for people not wanting to use your hypothetical medical system and work for it. Federal and state funding would be naturally constrained (by the markedly reduced number of patients) or perhaps withheld by violating federal funding guidelines, but there is no reason why the chain shouldn’t be allowed to exist. American citizens possess no inherent right to force a specific doctor or medical group to provide treatment, while the First Amendment provides for freedom of religion. And the employees, knowing their employer to be a conservative Muslim group, have no right to free contraceptives from their employer. As Americans, individuals are free to buy their own contraceptives and abortion pills.

    Two: if the Catholic business owner’s conscience condemns her for providing medical insurance with contraception, then yes, she incurs guilt. That’s the basic Catholic 101 definition of sin, the verdict of conscience. As her priest confessor I would recommend her to drop the coverage and give her employees a raise using the money not spent on coverage.

    Three: Jesus already addressed this situation– we pay taxes. That is an entirely different moral argument than paying private medical insurance. Our indirect participation in the evils done in our name by the government is social sin, not personal sin, unless we agree with the evils and vote for the purpose of furthering the evil.

    1. as to your take on scenario one: the people employed by muslim hospitals or the dependents of these employees would not have access to these other medical clinics because the only way they can pay for their health care is through their insurance which the muslim hospitals provide. also, the issue here is not whether catholic hospitals have to prescribe birth control (to my knowledge, they do not) but whether they have to pay for their employees to get it prescribed at a non-catholic hospital. so i think you are missing the point a bit.

      and as to your take on three: you misunderstand social sin. sin is something only human beings can do. individuals are implicated in social sin. so your claim that we are not implicated in social sin is simply untrue. also, some people have interpreted that passage in scripture as you do but many people think otherwise. also, i don’t think you really believe that otherwise you would be against the hyde amendment which prohibits federal tax dollars from being used to fund abortion, right? in other words, if federal tax dollars went to fund abortions, would you still just say “oh well, render to caesar…” and even if you would, the bishops certainly would not. so you really haven’t justified the outrage.

  10. I think there are other scenarios one could bring up.

    1) What if someone decided to follow classical Aztec theology and think there is the need for human sacrifice? I think most people would deny “religious freedom” there.
    2) What if someone was of a Protestant Church which believed Catholicism is of the devil and its moral laws are the rules of the anti-Christ which must be opposed. What if they believe as long as Catholics are allowed to follow their religious beliefs, their own religious beliefs are being opposed — that the only way to resist the anti-Christ is to give no religious liberty to Catholicism. Now we see two different religious liberties in opposition to one another. What then? The value of this one is that in reality, it is not just two, but hundreds of different (and opposing) religious views are found in the US, and not all can be allowed to do as they wish because some of them would, if they were, would oppose and contradict what others want to do.

    I do think you are right in bringing up Muslims. We don’t even have to talk about hospitals here. We can talk about how so many people talking religious liberty (good!) have been rejecting it when speaking about Muslims for quite some time. Many Muslims in America want to live under secondary Sharia laws which do not contradict the US, but if they are allowed to do so, their critics say the courts are supporting Sharia law. Thus, they deny to Muslims the right to Sharia in the US. But for non-Catholics, the Church is seen to be doing just the same thing as Muslims are doing with Sharia. And so it looks like Catholics want more than to follow their ways, but put demands on the ways of others. This of course brings back my second scenario above.

    This is why I think religious liberty, while a good principle and while involved here, is not the end all of the discussion. So many are using it only for a political tool, nothing else. They have shown no interest in wrestling with religious liberty questions before. They have shown every willingness to condemn the president, even if he does the exact same thing as those they support or supported in the past. They also make demands, see the president relents, and still say he is doing bad. I would be more willing to believe they were interested in religious liberty and the issues they brought up if they started to be consistent with these issues elsewhere and didn’t change goalposts when they seem to get what they were demanding!

    (As a side note, I support the Catholic teachings on contraception, if understood properly, but also think those teachings are not always as simple in execution as people believe them to be, as can be seen with the way the Church allows nuns in Africa to use barriers and the like).

  11. Bottom line, I guess you like Obama. I don’t think it is the Catholic church’s or catholic people’s job to fight for Muslim causes if they are persecuted. It is their job to defend their own religious freedom. Obama is pro abortion and he attacked the religious freedom of Catholics. He only relented because he was losing votes. He does not respect the constitution and his “compromise” is worthless. No one needs “insurance” to buy birth control pills. They cost $9 per month at wal mart. Insurance is not for hair cuts. You don’t buy car insurance for oil changes. Insurance is for unknown and high cost events. Obama wants to force his beliefs and values on everyone, birth control and abortion.

    1. Joe

      So it is not our duty to fight for religious liberty? Funny, I thought that was the point. You prove exactly the problem here — the people who are using the bishops have no interest in religious liberty or even compromise. They want only a weapon to use against Obama.

      I didn’t vote for Obama. I won’t vote for him. However, I also dislike false controversies.

      1. I don’t see it as a false controversy. Religious freedom is an important issue.

        Should people be upset or would they be upset if Obama forced Muslim women to see male doctors? Maybe they should, but there would be other issues, such as people not sympathizing with the way Muslim culture views women. Their views are foreign to us (or dated by 100 years).

        I do not view it as sinful to have taxes pay for some sinful things. Certainly you work to avoid the government doing unjust actions like torture. But you still render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. There is a degree of separation in that you pay your taxes but you don’t have full control how they spend it. And who is to say that your pittance goes to the unjust action and not to feed the elderly on social security?

        However, when the government goes so far as to make a Catholic employer directly pay for an activity that they view as morally wrong, then I think controversy is to be expected and there are legitimate first amendment issues. Even Catholic democrats who support Obama gave pause and viewed this as an error and did not support it.

  12. In any event, I think I will also say to Katie’s thought experiments that 1) Yes the hypothetical Muslim owned hospital should be allowed the freedom to do what they want. I do not think such a hospital would prosper in our culture and I would disagree with their gender discrimination but they should have that religious freedom. 2) If you buy insurance you are not culpable with how employees use it. There is a degree of separation (assuming that the fully insured policy offered by the insurance company covers birth control) and you as an employer have no control over what is covered. 3) I already stated that paying taxes is not entirely a moral issue – render unto Caeser.

    The subtle issue is though, state governments do not mandate that hospitals cover birth control. Large employers self insure and are able to write their own policy on what they want to cover. They have an ERISA exemption to avoid state mandates. The HHS is now forcing them to directly pay for BC pills. That is the new rub on the situation. I think this a subtle but important point. When you self insure you don’t give your employee insurance money and then they spend it. They go out and buy something and then you (Catholic hospital) receive the bill and pay for it. I think there is some distinction with an intermediary like government or insurance company as opposed to directly paying for something you find immoral.

  13. Ms. Grimes:

    Regarding your review of my comment–

    Scenario One: There is no civil right in the US Constitution to employer-provided medical care. It is a benefit the employer freely gives, at least until ObamaCare takes effect. In the United States, people are ultimately responsible for their own health care costs. So to use your example, if the Muslim health care system won’t provide contraceptives, the employees will have to pay for them from their own personal funds or do without them.

    Of course, as Catholics, we understand that basic medical care is, in fact, a human right. ObamaCare was an ostensible way to correct “the American way,” but it has been perverted by overweeming government control and addition of evil things such as free contraception, voluntary sterilizations, and at least one abortifacient drug as “basic health care.” In any case, an alleged “right” to free or employer-provided medical care is not enforceable under the US Constitution (you will look in vain to find it written there), unlike the practice of religion, which is protected by the First Amendment.

    As for your second critique of my Scenario One answer, replace “birth control” in your reply with some other odious practice. Let’s say, “Insurance to pay hitmen to murder blacks.” If ObamaCare had that provision, would you say that Catholic medical institutions should be satisfied paying for such a benefit, even if it wasn’t carried out on their premises? It is not I who do not understand the religious argument, it is you. It appears as if your dissent against Humanae Vitae has clouded your ability to comprehend the religious argument.

    I will address Scenario Three later in the day. I don’t see how my response differs from yours regarding social sin– perhaps one of us misread the other?

  14. One more and then I think I will have stated my peace, I agree with FrMichael and Ross above with their eloquent postings. Aside from the moral and theological considerations of this issue there is also a political one. If the government finds a compelling argument for offering “free” birth control then pass a law and fund it. Instead they pass a controversial health care reform bill, an aspect of which is to include free preventive care. Then two years later, the HHS administration rules that birth control is preventive care and all employers must pay for it. Seems to me that government process should be more transparent rather than practically dictatorial by advancing their agenda through back door agency rulings and then finding a “compromise” by deciding that insurance companies instead of catholic hospitals will pay for this benefit. Is presidential power really so unlimited that Obama can simply decide a) birth control is a mandated benefit although not explicitly contained in health care reform b) given that he wants this benefit covered he can rule by fiat that an insurance company must pay for it? I thought we were a nation of laws and due process and not a nation of men and unlimited power. Naturally I am not a fan of Obama and his pro abortion policies.

  15. Ms. Grimes:

    I’ve looked at your original argument regarding Scenario Three and your response to my comment again. I still can’t figure out the difference, but I will try to explain what I think two of our differences are.

    My first point is that “Social sin” is not imputable as personal sin (venial or mortal) without direct personal formal or immediate material participation in the action that is the “Social sin.” Yes, my taxes in the State of California go to kill the unborn through the MediCal program. I abhor that, but I am not guilty of murder, since I hate the activity and actively work non-violently against it, support pro-life clinics, preach against it, etc.

    Medical insurance premiums are not taxes to the government. They are private payments from one private party to another private party, the insurance company. As Christians, we are obligated to support Caesar because the government has a God-given authority over our lives in the secular realm. Insurance companies do not. We have no obligation to pay them if they are using our premiums for evil acts.

    1. you hold a political theology that the vast majority of human beings reject. If you lived in Nazi Germany would you think Hitler had a God-given authority over our lives in the secular realm? What about the apartheid government of South Africa? What about King Leopold of Belgium? And even if governmental leaders are God-appointed, how can that possibly mean that GOd approves of everything they do? Should Rosa Parks have moved to the back of the bus when asked? Was she going against God by going against the law?

      And I don’t see why whether our money is going to fund an evil committed by a private party or by a government makes the evil less evil.

      And I agree with you about social sin. But my point is paying for something evil a government does would seem to be at least as imputable as personal sin as paying for something evil an individual does.

  16. Great outlay of the issue! I love the thought experiment not only for the points it makes but also because I feel like it’s good to stop and think sometimes.

    I guess I am a bit confused at times by this though. At present, 28 states already mandate that major institutions, including Catholic-run universities, hospitals, and charities must provide contraceptive services as part of their health care coverage. Eight of those states even go further than the HHS mandate and require that even churches must provide it. Right now, 77% of Catholic Law schools provide contraceptive services for their students.

    At some point, someone must have theorized a defense for this. How was guilt mollified until now?

    It seems like a good defense of this would rest in religious liberty for moral actors as individuals vs. institutions and which one has legal priority. As in, if the two liberties conflict, who has legal (and maybe even moral – looking at theology) priority as the first moral actor? The situation outlined in the above stats seem to suggest that this question might have already been answered, especially if any of those law schools are not in the mandated coverage area.

    Again, great article. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    1. you make great points here. and yes, I’m not sure what to think about it, but I think you are right to isolate the institutions versus individuals aspect as playing a major role here.

  17. Alright Katie, I understand the thrust of your argument, but please allow me to explain why none of your scenarios make a strong case.

    Scenario One:
    First of all, in your first scenario your analogy would be stronger if you specified by saying something like, “A woman has brain cancer, and there’s only one doctor in the whole country who can do the surgery, but unfortunately he’s male and works at a Muslim hospital. Is it right that she be denied treatment?” Your scenario as worded overlooks the fact that if such a scenario were actually the case, then there would be plenty of female doctors to compensate for this… peculiar cultural situation. Now I know you’re not inferring that female doctors provide “inferior” treatment to their male counterparts, so I go back to my recommended analogy: If a woman was suffering in such a cultural climate and only a male could provide adequate services, would it be right that she is denied them?

    No, of course not. But this has little to nothing in common with what is happening with the HHS mandate. First of all, birth control is not a matter of life and death; it is scarcely a matter of health qua health – it is drug that keeps women from conceiving. The Pill is not used to cure a disease that kills the human organism, actually quite the opposite: it is a device used to keep the human organism from growing in the first place (forgive my Chestertonianism). The fact that The Pill has been lumped in with the notion of “health” is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

    The crux of your first scenario relies upon the “fact” that The Pill is an essential component of “female health”. I call bullshit on that one, and so do millions of other Americans (Catholic and otherwise).

    You weirdly conflate medical attention given by doctors (who perform an incalculable amount of services) with a set of products that pertain to human reproduction. And let’s not forget that free condoms are basically raining down from the sky – it’s not like women who want free contraceptives don’t know where to go. In no way is withholding “free” (we do, after all, have to pay a tax for this “service” – we’ll look at this more in scenario three) access to The Pill equivalent to withholding access to a medical physician.

    Scenario Two:

    I mean, come on. You explicitly side-step the primary issue by asking us not to ask whether we think it’s right to provide coverage in the first place. A “devout Catholic”, for our purposes, wouldn’t subscribe to such an insurance plan. But OK, let’s grant that this is just the case. Let’s make it even more interesting and suppose that this Catholic business owner was forced to purchase this plan because it was the only one she could afford (and to her dismay it included access to birth control). I’d say her guilt is actually incurred upon the purchase of the plan – she is morally torn between offering her employees care for when they are sick and a violence against their spirit. She caves (hoping through prayer and influence her employees don’t take the birth control) and decides to buy the insurance plan, just in case one of her employees gets sick.

    I’d say the fact that she was forced into buying such a plan is actually an injustice that we need to fight against. The fact that she wasn’t wealthy enough to purchase a plan that didn’t offend her conscience actually points to the fact that the health industry needs reform. Yes, she absolutely incurs guilt at the purchase of such a plan, and I pity her for it.

    Scenario two actually makes for a completely opposite case than what you had intended: It reveals that she had been pushed into a corner by limited insurance options… this calls for reform in the health industry, not reform in Catholicism.

    Scenario Three:

    This is a strong argument at first glance, but you make a fundamental error in equating our tax dollars going to federally funded programs which the government executes via secular branches and tax dollars going to federally funded programs executed through private, Catholic institutions.

    Here’s the deal: Catholics don’t like the fact that our government supports the death penalty. They abhor torture. They morally disagree with “unjust war” (if they’re so fortunate enough to actually come to a consensus on the matter… but that’s another topic). But Katie, look, we don’t live in a “Catholic” country. The government isn’t a Catholic institution. The government is not forcing priests to execute people. The government does not send monks out to Iraq. The government does not force Catholic moms to torture terrorists.

    But the government is now forcing Catholic institutions to do their bidding? Completely out of line. If the government decides that free access to The Pill is a priority, it needs to disseminate such services through secular institutions, preferably federal ones.

    Now I hear you at this point say, “But this goes back to scenario one! Many of the hospitals in the United States are Catholic, how is our poor government going to execute its new mandate without the help of Catholic hospitals?”

    We come full circle: I’ve already voiced by objections to scenario one. “Health” is not a ubiquitously agreed upon term. Furthermore, if the HHS can’t figure out how to execute it’s mandate without exploiting and forcing the private sector to do it’s bidding it needs to seriously reconsider itself in relation to the Third Reich. I’m really not trying to be melodramatic when I say that such behavior is essentially totalitarian.

    1. Nes, while you may not want to identify pregnancy as a disease (and thus do not see birth control as preventative care to female health), that is actually an inaccurate description. There are medical reasons that a woman may want, or even NEED, to take birth control such as to treat Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (both of which can be quite serious), as well as severe PMS (which can also be fairly serious), and there are studies that show that over an extended period of time, the pill can lower the risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer. All of these are reasons a woman (even a celibate woman!) may want to take birth control for non-contraceptive purposes. To fail to acknowledge these cases in this debate is dishonest and fails to get at the heart of what is at stake for women’s health.

      1. Megan, I think this is understood pretty much across the board – even the Catholic Church recognizes that if The Pill is deemed necessary for an extraneous health reason (and another medication can’t “do the trick”) it can and should be taken. It takes no stance over whether or not it is “moral” to have sex while on BC under such circumstances. But here’s the kicker: if a doctor has prescribed The Pill for a patient, basic health plans cover access to it is in this scenario as The Pill is performing the role of medication, not contraception.

        On a side note – all three of your examples, (Endometriosis, POS and, weirdly, PMS) can be treated with a plethora of different medical treatments – (something serious like Endometriosis actually may actually require surgery) and most medical practitioners would prefer to prescribe something like “exercise” before The Pill in many these cases.

      2. I am well aware that the Church allows for birth control to be used for medical purposes (and to clarify, the Church does take a stance on the moral status of sex while using birth control for medical purposes: it is allowed); however, you are simply wrong that all cases that would be treated with birth control as medication are covered by insurance. The point remains that there are medical reasons that the Church allows for birth control to be used that remain uncovered by insurance plans. Further, to refer to severe PMS which can have symptoms of SEVERE depression as “weird,” and confidence that “exercise” can be sufficient treatment indicates a failure to take seriously these conditions. These cases deserve to be kept on the table by Catholics opposing the HHS mandate and the recent accommodation.

    2. scenario 1: it’s not that women doctors provide inferior care but that limiting women to only half (or fewer) of available doctors actually limits their real access to healthcare. Imagine if women were not allowed to drive on half the streets in a given town. you can see how it would be hard to get places.

      scenario 2: it’s not about being “forced” the question i’m zeroing in on this example is the question of morally culpability. so you are focusing on the wrong aspect.

      scenario 3: you have misunderstood. again, it’s not about making the US conform to catholic teaching, it’s about whether having to pay taxes that fund evil makes catholics morally complicit in these evils and if they should be exempt from paying them based upon religious freedom.

      and it doesn’t matter whether tax paying catholics promote the death penalty, because in the case of catholic hospitals clearly they don’t agree with birth control. it’s simply about material cooperation.

  18. And Thomas, you’re kind of waving around an obvious red herring with the whole “77% of Catholic Law schools…” thing. This whole debate only cropped up because the government is actually forcing certain Catholic institutions to do something.

    Look, I have no problem in stating that the Catholic community is confused, contentious and may in general not be very good Catholics. Many Catholics employ their state-given freedom against their (God-given?) dogma – but this doesn’t change the fact that Catholics (up until now) have at least been free to violate the consciences.

    The issue here is not whether Catholics (as people) are saints. The issue is whether the State will legally allow them to be saints.

    1. Nes, a few points:

      1) The teachings of Humanae Vitae are not properly considered “dogma,” but “doctrine.” Also, dogmas are not “God-given” but are formulations of the Church used to define and point to what is properly considered divine revelation, which the Church understands as God’s self-communication. So particular formulae or rules to follow cannot be equated with revelation.

      2) The framing of this issues as “whether the state will legally allow [Catholics] to be saints” is a bit dishonest in that it’s an overstatement of what is at stake on the Catholic side. What is considered “intrinsically evil” by the statements of Humanae Vitae is using birth control as birth control. So this issue is properly framed as one relating to issues of material cooperation.

      1. Megan, first, I appreciate you wanting to clarify dogma and doctrine. However, I understand the distinction between revelation and a set of rules attempting to elucidate proper praxis given previously established revelation. But to the point:

        I’m not at all belittling very serious hormonal conditions, especially considering that yes, they can lead to severe depression/suffering/suicide. It’s just simply not the case however that PMS normally manifests itself as such (PMDD may, however) and so it’s a little unfair of you to accuse me of insensitivity here.

        Finally, I’m not sure what stance you’re taking here. What I can’t understand about your position is that you acknowledge that the Catholic Church is not against birth control as a medication for hormonal imbalance, pain etc. and yet you claim that a Catholic institution won’t provide BC if a woman needs it for medication? What? What are you saying here?

        Look, as I mentioned in my rebuttal against scenario three, if the government deems it a priority to disseminate birth control to all women, they are free to do so through the many secular/federal institutions that exist. I still can’t understand why you think it’s justifiable to force Catholics to provide BC without being able to examine a doctor’s prescription.

      2. Nes,

        My understanding is that PMDD is a severe form of PMS, which is what I was referencing– so I think we’re getting at a semantic difference there.

        My stance is exactly what you’re pinpointing but seem to find confusing (which I would say because the situation itself is confusing!). Yes, while the official Catholic position does allow for birth control to be used for various medical purposes, it is not the case that it is insured and available at all Catholic institutions. I’m not sure why this is the case, perhaps it seems easier to always say no to prevent people from lying why they need it, or perhaps it is a simple lacuna.

        In response to your last comment- I actually didn’t ever say anything about whether or not either the original HHS mandate or the compromise position were justifiable.

  19. A) Ms. Grimes, your quote “You hold a political theology that the vast majority of human beings reject,” is way out of line. I suggest you read Romans 13:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 as cited by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as relevant to our discussion. Actually, the Catechism’s treatment of secular authority in nn. 1897-1927 is outstanding, summarizing theological trains of thought that I recognize as including St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Thomas More, Popes Leo XIII and Bl. John XXIII, Vatican II, Bl. John Henry Newman, and John Courtney Murray– and I’m not even a theological specialist in the subject.

    The Cliff’s Notes version is as follows: governments hold a real authority from God, albeit not unlimited, and a certain measure of autonomy from the Church to promote the common good in its society. A huge simplification but it should defend me from your strongly implied accusation that I am a totalitarian sympathizer. That is far from my point of view. The fact that Nazi Germany enforced traffic laws, punished thieves, and pursued other legitimate ends of government did not give it carte blanche to murder millions and start a world war. It had God-given authority in promoting the common good in German civil society at the same time that it provoked divine condemnation and retribution for murdering the Chosen People and millions of others, warmongering, oppressing the Church, etc. More to the situation of the present: the fact that the American Federal Government provides for the defense of the nation, prevents human trafficking, and cracks down on financial crime doesn’t give it the right to impose evil on the Church and American citizens. It has God-given authority over Americans and abuses that same authority simultaneously.

    B) Nor do I believe that governments are God-appointed. In full agreement with Gaudium et spes, I believe governments should be constructed in accord with the form freely agreed to by its citizens.

    C) In any case, a medical insurance company is a private business. It has no unique moral status as governments do in Divine Revelation. Such companies, however, need to follow the requirements of the natural moral law. And of course, I’m hoping that you are familiar with the Catholic understanding that a civil law in opposition to the natural moral law is not a truly a law but an act of violence and has no binding moral force. Indeed, in some cases (such as the present) such acts of violence by the government must be actively opposed.

    D) Your quote, “And I don’t see why whether our money is going to fund an evil committed by a private party or by a government makes the evil less evil.”

    In the objective sense of the evil being done, you are right. A direct abortion funded by the government is as objectively evil an act as one funded by a private insurance company. The difference lies in the subjective realm of degree of imputability of personal sin upon the Catholic citizen. Catholics are to pay taxes as the government has legitimate ends to achieve for which it has the right to demand taxes from its citizens. Individual taxpaying Catholics avoid personal sin by not agreeing wholesale to all the different ends, legitimate and illigitimate, of the government. And, as possible, by trying to eliminate the government’s pursuit of evil ends. Private medical insurance agencies have no moral claim on an individual human being. It is a service we can do without. We have no obligation to pay them anything. Catholics should diligently seek out insurance companies and policies that don’t provide and profit from contraception, voluntary sterilizations, and abortions.

  20. Thomas, the answer to your question about the “28 states” claim can be found at Honestly, the USCCB has put up outstanding material on this issue, which I am passing along to my parishioners to circumvent the moral fog issuing from the Administration and lackey brain-dead Press.

    Short version: There is this little thing called ERISA…

    One uncomfortable reality that has arisen is how many Catholic institutions have not taken advantage of ERISA and blithely fund contraception, abortions, etc. Once we beat back this assault on religious liberties, there needs to be an in-house cleaning of the Augean stables of Catholic Charities, Catholic universities, and other havens of dissenting “professional Catholics” that have been quietly funding these evils for years.

    1. you said that the fact that government can be legitimate in God’s eyes somehow made it ok to pay taxes that funded evil but not ok to fund insurance that funds evil.

      my point is that i don’t see why paying for insurance that another person uses immorally is any worse that paying for taxes that a government uses immorally.

      if you don’t want to pay for someone else’s birth control, how can you be ok paying for your own country’s unjust war or torture, or your own state’s deployment of the death penalty? that is the only question i am asking.

      and thank you, i am very familiar with the positions of the authors you cited but they are not really relevant to this discussion in the way you are using them.

      1. i mean, surely you wouldn’t think that a german person’s paying taxes which funded genocide is better than their paying money to fund private insurance that funds birth control simply because governments can be legitimate?

        because that would be the implication of the distinction you seem to be making: the fact that the Nazi did do some legitimate things like punish thieves meant that somehow people are excused from the evil done by the Nazis with their money? I really don’t follow.

        I still am not sure why Catholics do not demand that their tax money be exempt from paying for evils such as unjust war and torture like they demand that their tax money not be used to fund abortions.

    2. oh yes, i think that endeavor will definitely be successful. *extreme sarcasm.

      i’m also not sure how you can believe all the of the following: “governments have real authority from God,” “governments should be constructed in accord with the form freely agreed to by its citizens,” and the bishops should somehow prevent all catholics from doing something that well over 90% of them think is morally acceptable.

      you realize that these do not fit together right?

  21. I’ll try again with the tax vs. insurance premium later.

    For now, let’s look at the “government has authority from God” issue that so vexes you.

    What I’m saying, and what I believe the Catholic Tradition passes to us (thus the reference to my sources, most notably the CCC), is that when a human society creates a government, that government has a “job” from God to govern in a way to promote the common good among its citizens and other residents. Catholics are required to obey the government doing its God-given “job.” However, governments being human institutions, they are organizations shot through with social sin and staffed by 100% sinners, so governments do not function perfectly by always promoting the common good. Those dictates and laws of the government contrary to the natural moral law are not really laws at all but acts of force or violence. Catholics are free to disregard those perverse acts of the government, while still under the obligation to obey the government in those functions proper to it doing its God-given “job.”

    I think the word “authority” is throwing you off in my line of argument, so I have replaced it with the word “job.” I hope that helps.

    1. i’m really not sure what else you want me to say in response to you. i’m not meaning to impugn your character or intellect, but you are not understanding me (or perhaps I am not explaining myself adequately.)

      perhaps i should phrase the problem this way: if we must refuse to obey an unjust law (as aquinas said: “an unjust law is no law at all”) then mustn’t we also refuse to pay unjust taxes?

      it doesn’t matter whether government can be morally legitimate. that really is not the issue, i promise you.

      and i guess i would say that the very fact that governments are shot through with social sin means that we should sometimes disobey them, yes? I don’t see why this shouldn’t also apply to taxes.

      also, the other issue i’m trying to zero on with this analogy is the issue of moral culpability: if paying for their employees’ birth control makes the catholic church morally responsible for this sin such that the government should exempt them from having to do, I don’t see why paying taxes which fund evils doesn’t also make us morally responsible for them such that the government should exempt them us from having our tax dollars support those particular evils.

      if you want to argue that the HHS ruling (which was tweaked) is a greater outrage than the other things in my post, you are going to have to prove at least one of the following: catholics are not morally responsible for the evils their tax dollars fund (which would then seem to mean that you would be ok with federal tax dollars going to pay for abortions and that you seek the overturning of the Hyde Amendment), or that somehow birth control is a great evil than unjust war or torture.

      So far, you haven’t done that because you keep trying to explain to me why governments can be legitimate and why anarchy is incompatible with catholic teaching, which, is not at all the crux of the matter.

      if you can craft an argument proving either of these aforementioned things, then let’s keep talking; otherwise, I”m not sure what good will come of further engagement.

  22. Hi Katie, I’m almost positive you didn’t actually/carefully my post:

    scenario 1: I understand very well that disallowing women to go to male doctors would limit their options; my primary emphasis was that it’s absurd to equate access to The Pill with access to a medical physician. My discourse concerning The Pill as medicine vs. birth control addresses why.

    scenario 2: I confront quite clearly your emphasis on “moral culpability”: Yes, of course she incurs guilt, and quite rightly. I’m simply going a step further than you and demanding that because the state has created conditions in which such guilt has been incurred, health reform would be not only preferable but just.

    scenario 3: You must have completely skipped over this part, please re-read it. In sum: No, it’s not evil that catholics pay taxes to fund federally-implimented programs. No single citizen, or even group of citizens can control how the government spends its money (though we’d like to think that’s the case) – this is due to the fact that we live in a “democracy” where within there is conflict concerning how funds should be spent (not to mention government corruption that so often reminds us of the illusion of pure democracy). Paying tax therefore is always seen as a morally neutral (though often times highly disagreeable) act. One does not incur guilt by paying a tax that is forced, though one may indeed incur grief. This of course is in line with Christ’s, “Give unto Caesar”…

    The reason for this is blatantly obvious. Though there may be federal programs citizens don’t agree with, there are far more federal programs citizens do agree with; if citizens stopped paying taxes there may be no more capital punishment, but there also would be no more roads, schools, welfare, etc etc etc ad infititum.

    But look, even if you come up with some crazy way of convincing me that “we shouldn’t pay taxes if we disagree with stuff our government is doing” you’re still missing the point:

    What is evil here is that the federal government is hi-jacking Catholic institutions (hospitals, in this case) to implement a federal program. As I mentioned, it’s not the Catholics who are torturing people, it is government-paid employees. It’s not monks who go to war, it is federally funded militia. The HHS mandate crosses the line that separates the federal and private sphere; this is also known as “totalitarianism.”

    1. scenario 1: my point was not to equate physician access to the pill. As I’m sure you know, an analogy doesn’t compare two things that are identical in every way (otherwise, they’d be the same thing) but instead compares two things that are similar in relevant ways. So what matters in this analogy is not the similarities between birth control and physician access but similarities between application of the 1st amendment. (although you might be a bit callous/glib in dismissing how important the pill is to women’s health–mental and physical. you should probably check out this post as well as the very moving testimonies shared in the comments section to get a better grip on the reality of this )

      A similar but not quite as good analogy would be the case of Mormonism and polygamy. Again, this is no where near as good of a comparison but it might help you see what I was trying to isolate with the muslim doctor analogy. Do you think the government had the right to tell Mormon men that they could not marry more than one wife? Or do you think Mormons should have been allowed a “polygamy exemption” because this practice was seen as being central to their religious beliefs?

      If you think it was ok that the government banned polygamy, then it seems that you do not think that religious communities should get to do whatever you want. You will have to prove why this is different from that.

      as for scenario 3, i suggest reading over my conversation with fr michael because we have touched on these same issues.

      but again, you are missing my point: a part of my post was calling into question whether in providing birth control inclusive heatlh insurance the church will actually be DOING something that violates its religious beliefs. That’s what I was questioning. I am not at all convinced that it would have constituted a case of illicit material cooperation. See what I’m saying?

      If the church is not illicitly materially cooperating in the evil of birth control, then it can’t be said to be being forced to violate its religious beliefs, right? That’s the question I’m asking us to consider.

  23. Individual Catholics are not morally responsible for their government’s misdeeds as long as they do not share formal (and perhaps immediate material) cooperation with the evil works of the government and work as possible to limit their government’s participation in or sponsoring of evil. So the Hyde Amendment is a perfect example of this: a legislative block to the Federal Government funding the grave evil of direct abortions. Far from seeking the overturn of the Hyde Amendment, Catholics should take great comfort that one terrible misuse of governmental authority has been legislatively thwarted.

    If the government uses my taxes for an evil end I am not morally culpible because I didn’t pay my taxes to fulfill the evil end, I paid taxes because God obliges me to pay taxes. Only if I agree with the evil end or serve as a willing agent in carrying it out do I incur moral guilt. If a medical insurance company sells me a policy that includes the “services” of contraception, abortions, and sterilizations, my ability to be free of moral taint is much reduced because I am under no divine obligation to pay another private party anything.

    1. ok then the issue is simply that we disagree. If it is ok to pay taxes as long as we don’t intend the evil end, then I would say it is also ok to pay into an insurance plan that allows other people to use the insurance in evil ways as long as we don’t intend or want them to use it this way.

      so i guess where i disagree with you is your belief that God’s commanding us to pay taxes makes it ok. I am not at all sure that we are obliged to pay taxes that fund evil. In fact, following the lead of Dorothy Day and others, I think there is a really great argument to be made that God sometimes obliges us to REFUSE to pay taxes.

      So, ok, we are not misunderstanding each other, we simply disagree.

      And I would still push you on your Hyde Amendment Point: if it is better that tax dollars not go to fund abortion, wouldn’t it also be better that they not go to fund other evils?

      The fact that the Hyde Amendment exists would actually seem to prove that we actually do think that we are somehow morally responsible when our tax dollars fund evils, even if we do not agree with these evils. I guess I’m saying, couldn’t one say “if the government uses my taxes for abortion I am not morally culpable because I didn’t pay my taxes to fulfill the evil end, I paid my taxes because God obliges me to pay taxes?”

      So my question is: if GOd obliges us to pay taxes even when they fund unjust wars and torture, doesn’t God also oblige us to pay taxes when they fund abortions? So, imagine the Hyde Amendment gets repealed: would you advocate for its reinstatement? If you would, why aren’t you seeking this same exemption for taxes that fund torture, the death penalty, etc.

      Does that make sense?

    2. Fr. Michael,
      You are probably already familiar with this, but just in case you’re not, here’s a bit of info on catholic thinking/practice of tax protesting.

      so, even within the tradition of catholic social thought, there is disagreement about whether God commands us to pay taxes.

    3. (I am not saying that necessarily delegitimizes your argument, just trying to point out that it is far from settled in the tradition that taxes are something God commands us to pay in all circumstances…)

  24. Ms. Grimes:

    I do think we understand each other now.

    I will add that paying taxes does not relieve Catholics of all moral oversight over the use of their taxes. If Catholics have enough political weight to prevent the government from committing specific moral evils (e.g. the Hyde Amendment), they would be at risk of committing a sin by omission– most particularly Catholic legislators– if they do not use their political power to eliminate or reduce the occurrence of the evil. Of course, in many countries Catholics have no political weight, so individual moral culpability is slight to non-existent, assuming those Catholics avoid formal or immediate material cooperation with the evils. In this schema, I would label paying taxes as “remote material cooperation.”

    Should the Hyde Amendment be repealed, I would still pay my taxes and suggest my parishioners do the same, while pressuring my Congressman and Senators to pass a new Hyde Amendment.

    As I read Dorothy Day’s articles (thanks for both links!) I don’t see how she was far from my thought. Her belief seems to have been that the Federal Government of her time was illigitimate, as borne out by the Vietnam War, censoring, and impersonal bureaucratic welfare state. At this level of corruption the government completely loses its authority and becomes a tyranny. Along with St. Thomas, I agree that tyrannies should be opposed by all licit means available. I happen to disagree with Dorothy Day– I don’t see the contemporary Federal Government to have degenerated that low– but after the last three presidents (including President Obama) I don’t believe we are far from that point. The HHS decision is another step in the descent into tyranny.

    1. awesome. then perhaps our point of agreement would be that catholics need to be outraged about these other issues as well?

  25. This is so cogent, and so outlines the REAL dangers of this issue. I’ve been trying to tell people that it is a Pandora’s box, that it will open up a whole bevy of various religious groups trying to seek exemptions to laws or mandates they find morally offensive. Can’t morality, and decisions about birth control, please, please be left to the individual?

  26. Well, if you were at my parish you would hear about these other issues in the homily. Perhaps your mileage varies back in the East.

    But what is unique about the current controversy is the payment from one private party to another. If the Catholic Church was directly paying the contractors directly for the rendition fights or the Romanian secret police to torture suspects I, for one, would be similarly outraged as I am over this HHS decision.

    1. that is very good to hear about your parish but i think we will have to continue disagreeing as to whether this is similar to the examples you cite.

  27. Hi Katie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post about this issue. I agree with your position… It seems unjust for catholic employers to be able to reject certain healthcare benefits for their employees because they do not align with that employers beliefs about the world. I know so many catholics who would say contraceptives are objectively wrong, therefore in no circumstance should we ever support their usage, even amongst non-Catholics. The current pope has taken a stance otherwise, prioritizing human dignity, by consenting to the use of contraceptives in the stopping of aids/HIV in Africa. Would we not be denigrating the human dignity of the employees of catholic employers, by refusing them the ability to choose birth control or not?

    Also, obama’s revision to his wording of how catholic employers actually have to provide contraceptive health services should relieve catholic guilt over this issue anyways. While at first Obama said that religious employers would have to pay for these services, he revised his statement to say insurance companies would be responsible for making such services available, not the employers. If one is truly concerned about personal culpability, this should be a huge deal. Does the catholic church really think its just to deny human beings access to birth control? Where would reproductive control stop? By rephrasing his bill, Obama is not saying that catholic employers will have to offer birth control, which I hope the Vatican realizes is one of the better solutions for certain medical issues beyond contraception. The services will be available, which may still be a point of objection, but they are not being offered by the employer

    And anyways, how many actual catholic employers have objected? All the fus I’ve heard about has been from bishops and individuals under vows of celibacy.

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