One upon a time I made my living by talking to people--largely to convince them of the inescapable wisdom of my approach to things. Sometimes the issue was important, like lobbying Washington pols about critical health care legislation. Sometimes it was frivolous, like the time I gave 8 hours of lectures on the subject of chocolate.
One thing I got used to pretty quickly, especially when in the legislative arena and the subject was contentious, was the canned question and the hostile agenda. Discourse, especially in the politics, is no longer an exchange of ideas in an effort to find common ground. It’s an exercise in bluster and intimidation.
I learned early on that he who controls the definition controls the conversation and dictates the outcome. And I learned, in the sometimes pugilistic atmosphere of medical and health care politics that a great deal of effort went into spinning the topic in the ways most unfavorable to the opponent. It only takes a couple of times being confronted with Have you stopped beating your wife--yes or no? to develop a cynical aptitude at responding to questions designed more for heat than light.
It’s not unexpected, then, that the secular media is being primed with questions on the HHS mandate designed to make the Bishops and the Church look, alternatively, foolish, callous and antiquated. Nobody’s going to ask me these questions, but I’m going to answer them anyway You never know when the cheese-knife I call a tongue might get pressed into service again. So here’s my imaginary interview with Diana Smarmy, one of the running-dog lackeys of the secular press on the subject of the Fortnight of Freedom.
DS: Are you willing to sacrifice Catholic charities, colleges and hospitals if you don’t get your way on the contraceptive mandate?
BHG: The question really is this: are you willing to close down Catholic charities, colleges and hospitals by forcing them to provide--against their consciences, something they know to be inherently immoral? We were minding our own business and taking care of people when the Obama administration came along and decided to force this issue.
DS: Let’s be practical. Covering contraception doesn’t cost the Church much, if anything, given the overall cost of health insurance. And the compromise makes insurers provide it for free. What’s the big deal?
BHG: The big deal is that we believe that is is inescapably wrong to do so and that doing something wrong has eternal consequences. Your saying it isn’t wrong doesn't make it so and we simply won’t do it.
Let’s you be practical for change. Is it really so important to you that every single soul in America accept your opinion that contraception and sterilization are not only a “right” but essentially good that you will close Catholic schools, hospitals and charities if we don’t agree? The cost to society if the Catholic Church--the greatest single charitable institution in American--drops from the scene is a lot greater than the cost of finding an alternative that doesn’t offend our faith. To me that proves this isn’t about health care at all, but about forcing conformity of viewpoints, and the Catholic viewpoint just isn’t welcome.
DS: Oh, come on. Surely you aren’t going to try to sell that fiction that there’s a war on the Catholic Church.
BHG: Oh, there’s always been a war on the Catholic Church, from Pentecost on down to this very moment. We’re used to wars. That’s why we’re called the Church Militant. We’d just rather that our own elected government didn’t choose to take sides with the Enemy.
DS: Catholic institutions have received more funding under this administration than ever before. Doesn’t that undercut your claims of this “war” on the church?
BHG: No. I think of it as an especially clever undercover operation. It’s always hard to walk away from a source of funding that makes good things easier to accomplish. But if government money comes at the cost of our consciences, we’ll have to turn it down. In the past, we’ve had a partnership with government that permitted us, to continue to work together and still maintain our faith. That’s changing because of this power-play by the federal government. That’s too bad, because as always, when the government decides to flex its muscles just for the sake of control, it’s the least of us who are hurt.
DS: You mean like the Catholic Church? That’s hardly “the least.” The Catholic Church is pretty well heeled and pretty powerful itself.
BHG: No, I mean the truly least, the forgotten and unwanted: the special needs children in Massachusetts who languish in foster homes because Catholic adoptions agencies who specialized in placing them no longer operate there because they cannot place children with same-sex or cohabiting couples; the women victims of human trafficking who are denied the services of Catholic charities--which the rest of the world recognizes as the very best in the business--because they cannot in good conscience provide contraception or abortion. These children and these women are left with second-best services because of an ideology--the notion that everyone must publicly embrace politically correct views--that trumps real and beneficial service to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
DS: But Churches have always been exempt from providing this coverage, haven’t they? That hasn’t changed.
BHG: The big deal is that now the federal government has decided it has the authority to define what a church is. That’s over-reaching and should offend every American of good conscience.
Many of our churches and our dioceses are self-insured, so they are the insurer--the fiction of foisting this off on someone else doesn’t hold. Most importantly, much of what we do as Church will not fall under the definition of religious institutions contained in the mandate so as to permit the exemption because we hire non-Catholics to work for us (we have to or face discrimination suits), and we serve anyone regardless of creed in a our schools, hospitals and charities. That alone puts us outside the proposed exemption. The reality is the exemption is so narrow as to be virtually non existent.
DS: If the Catholic church wants to runs schools and hospital and social service agencies, why shouldn’t they have to play by the same rules as everyone else?
BHG: Because of a little item called the First Amendment which guarantees free exercise of religion. The exercise of our faith--the fullest practice of it--means that we engage in these activities. We are guaranteed the right to do so. Period.
DS: Studies show that 98% of Catholic women use contraception. Isn’t it hypocritical to claim that this is morally wrong when so many Catholics do it? What do you say to prominent Catholics who support the mandate because it will improve health care for women?
BHG: I say, "Balderdash!" Even if that statistic were correct--and it isn’t--morality isn’t determined by popular vote. Foreign concept, I know, but it isn’t. Was slavery moral when it was a generally accepted practice in this country? And just for the record: pregnancy isn’t a disease and abortion isn’t health care.
DS: Why should the Catholic Church define what kind of health care choices a woman has access to? What about needing reliable contraception--or an abortion--when the mother’s life is at stake?
BHG: The baby’s life is always at stake. When contraception and abortion in this country are limited to situations in which there is a legitimate and serious health risks to the mother, we’ll talk. Artificial contraception is almost always for convenience in this country and so is abortion.
It’s a fallacy that a woman working for a Catholic institution can’t get or afford contraception from other sources. Its still morally wrong to do so, but she can do it. An employer’s refusal to provide these drugs and procedures is in no way preventing her free choice. And she always has the free choice to work for an employer that provides those coverages when a Catholic one does not.
DS: Isn’t this really just a political football? Isn’t it just a way to attack President Obama in an election year?
BHG: If it is, he organized the game. Bad move on his part, wouldn’t you say?
Which goes a long way toward explaining why no one (on either side) is going to give me a call anytime soon.....