News Release

Bishops: “Obsessed with What’s Below the Waist”


COLMAN McCARTHY, cmccarthy at
A former Washington Post columnist, McCarthy is founder and director of the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C., and the author of the book “I’d Rather Teach Peace.” He said today: “On public policy issues, the Catholic hierarchy tends to be obsessed with what’s below the waist, not above. Bishops and archbishops are opposed to federal funding for artificial contraception and abortion. They see abortion as a form of violence. I agree with that, but it’s regrettable that church leaders are selective in what kinds of violence they oppose. They support military violence. Modern popes routinely condemn war, yet none has ever forbidden Catholics to join the military to wage the condemned wars. No pope has ever forbidden Catholics to pay taxes that go to waging the condemned wars. In the U.S., Catholic colleges host ROTC programs. Catholic priests serve as military chaplains. Catholicism is not a pacifist religion, as are the Quakers, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Bruderhoffs. Church leaders uphold the ‘Just War’ doctrine. Is there a similar ‘Just Abortion’ doctrine? If even a portion of the massive energy that the leaders were expending on opposing abortion all these recent years had been directed at stopping priests from abusing children, a lot of misery would have been avoided. And tens of millions of dollars saved in payments to the victims.”

FRANCES KISSLING, fkissling at
A visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Kissling said today: “In characterizing the Obama administration’s decision to limit the religious exemption from providing health insurance for contraception to those religious entities that have as their primary purpose serving the public good as an attack on religious freedom, the bishops have opened the door to a totally appropriate and critical discussion of how poorly constructed the mechanisms for state determination of a legitimate claim for an exemption from the public health and other public policies are.

“Unfortunately, that conversation is not occurring. Usually sensible columnists like E.J. Dionne simply repeat the bishops’ claim that their religious liberty is being violated and worry that anti-abortion Catholics who supported Obama will feel betrayed. But the question of what counts as a legitimate request for an exemption from law or regulation goes unanswered. To successfully and seriously adjudicate these question, good faith is needed on all sides. In this case both the bishops and the universities and hospitals requesting the exemption are acting in bad faith. There is nothing in Catholic teaching that forbids insuring for contraception. In fact, many bishops have explicitly told Catholics in their dioceses that the use of contraception is a matter of personal conscience. Moreover, a number of Catholic colleges and hospitals voluntarily provide insurance coverage for contraception. The claim that they would have to close is false. Thus, it is these institutions that have created a crisis in church/state relations, by asking for an exemption they do not need and insisting that whatever they ask for or claim is needed by the religion be granted without review or evaluation. In abusing the claim of religious freedom, they force the state — the Obama administration — to do precisely what it does not wish to do — get involved in what is a genuine religious teaching. Obama chose a wise middle course: do not second guess the church itself; but in institutions that serve the public good — health, education and welfare — require adherence to mandates in the public interest.

“If, in the face of the misuse of conscientious objection, we were to grant religions an absolute and unexamined right to bow out of public policies others must follow, which is what they want, what will be next? Will they refuse to provide insurance for pregnancy and child birth costs for unmarried or divorced and remarried women or for condoms to prevent AIDS (which they often do)? No right is absolute. A request to be exempt from public policy is rightfully subject to state review — whether it is conscientious objection to participating in war or not meeting the insurance needs of women.” Kissling is past president of Catholics for Choice.

Note: At the end of a Democracy Now interview yesterday, Michael Dougherty of the American Conservative, when debating a representative of Catholics for Choice, stated: “And most of the people who want to enforce this rule would prefer a single-payer system of healthcare anyway, where you’re not actually forcing employers to violate their conscience in buying this.” When asked: “So you’re saying a single-payer system would solve the problem.” Dougherty responded: “Well, I’m saying it would solve this particular problem of conscience, as it has in Europe. The bishops don’t — they do not like that the government subsidizes abortion or contraception, but they are not in full mode of fury, because they are not being asked to formally cooperate with things they view as sinful. And the Church will not cooperate with this and will resort to civil disobedience to avoid it.”

The Guardian in “Rick Santorum thinks pregnancy through rape is God’s gift? Seriously?” notes that Santorum stated about a pregnancy caused by rape: “I believe and I think that the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless, in a very broken way, a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you.”