By ROBERT L. HALE
(Editor’s Note: Robert L. Hale of North Dakota is founder and director of a nonprofit public-interest law firm. He writes for the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfbooks.com, which provided this essay. All rights reserved.)
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The bureaucracy of the Catholic Church in the United States is trying to be as useless, conflicted, counterproductive, and harmful to lay Catholics as the U.S. Congress is to the American people. America’s bishops are confusing Catholics by using doublespeak, being indecisive, and being politically correct. Their posturing has, and is, causing great harm to the Church in America.
A case in point: In June 2012, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) unanimously stated that the contraception-sterilization-abortifacients regulation of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act was an “unjust and illegal mandate and a violation of personal civil rights.” Following the National Prayer Breakfast in May, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, OFM Cap., the archbishop of Boston and chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, was asked if this regulation violates God’s law. He responded, “The regulation that imposes abortion and sterilization, this is a violation of God’s law.”
So far, so good; here is the rest of the story. In a letter to Congress, the American bishops wrote, “Those who help provide health care, and those who need such care for themselves and their families, should not be forced to choose between preserving their religious and moral integrity and participating in our health-care system.”
However, when Cardinal O’Malley was asked whether American Catholics should obey laws that violate God’s law, he responded, “The question is complicated.” He went on to further confuse the issue: “This is a very complicated issue, and it’s something the Church is struggling with right now, and trying to come up with a moral analysis in order to be able to allow people to form their consciences and to go forward.”
As I Catholic, I do not wish to engage in calumny, particularly involving a cardinal or bishop of the Church I love. I do not believe my comments are such. I believe that the Catholic hierarchy is obligated to be clear and concise when it comes to defining God’s law. I believe that the hierarchy has a duty, as difficult as it may be, to “uncomplicate” the issues that Catholics face when it comes to their faith and how we should live as Catholics in our secular society. Cardinal O’Malley has failed to meet this obligation.
I agree with the cardinal that a moral analysis is in order. The Affordable Care Act regulation mandating that Americans (including Catholics) must fund contraception-sterilization-abortifacients did not appear yesterday. The mandate is now several years old; the implementation is upon us. It is difficult to believe the “moral analysis” to which Cardinal O’Malley refers has not been done. The fact that it has not been done indicates something is terribly wrong with the hierarchy. I submit that what is wrong is a failure of the hierarchy to be decisive on a matter that demands decisiveness. Delay is not a valid option; it is simply an excuse to sustain the status quo and leave the Catholic laity without much-needed direction.
Was this same lack of decisiveness on the part of the hierarchy responsible, at least in part, for the fact that Catholics practice artificial birth control and obtain abortions at the same rate as American society as a whole?
When asked if Catholic members of Congress could vote for a bill that funds contraception-sterilization-abortifacients, the cardinal ducked the question. The answer is that, of course, they can vote for such a mandate. However, he failed to tell the complete truth; that by doing so, those congressmen would be putting their everlasting souls in jeopardy.
Instead, Cardinal O’Malley said, “It’s complicity, but it’s not immediate, obviously. I mean, just as anyone who votes for an individual who votes for, in a very remote way — but, you know, people’s motivation in all of these things can be very complicated, and they can have different reasons for doing things, and sometimes they see what they’re doing is the lesser of two evils. But we’re trying to form consciences so that people will realize how important and how central the Gospel of Life is to the social teaching of the Church.”
What did the cardinal say in the preceding 89 words? Not a thing. No moral analysis. No answer. According to the cardinal, it is complicated — but he is trying to form consciences.
The cardinal’s rhetoric reminds me of two things. The first is Christ’s description of what He would do with the tepid; the second is what St. John Chrysostom said paved the road to Hell.