The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Reporter

The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions | National Catholic Report

This Canadian woman spends too much time musing on American politics, especially when they intersect with the Catholic Church. This week’s news story on the Obama administration’s refusal to allow a religious exemption for health insurance coverage for contraception has me intrigued. I take universal health care for granted. What is available to one, is available to all – regardless of religious affiliation. Each person has the right to accept or refuse a procedure or treatment.

It’s not that Canadian’s don’t struggle balancing religious rights and civil rights. We have learned the hard way that tolerance needs guide-lines. With the passing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, a Pandora’s box was opened to outrageous claims hiding behind the right to freedom of religion and expression. The courts have tried to uphold the basic belief that individual freedoms cannot endanger or infringe on the freedoms and rights of others. It’s not always easy or clear cut.

Abortion is still a hotly debated topic in Canada, usually during election times.  Abortion deserves serious attention and ongoing dialogue whether it has been legalized or not.  Access to contraception, on the other hand, is a non-issue in the public forum. And, it is a non-issue for most Catholics. I can’t recall ever hearing a pastor preach on Humane Vitae from the pulpit. That’s why I’m so fascinated with this American news story. Is this really a case of anti-Catholic behaviour on the part of the government? Are Catholics’ rights really being impeded? Are the bishops in tune with the majority of folks sitting in the pews?

Earlier this week, I mentioned a well written editorial by David DeCosse. He explains the model of conscience used by the bishops compared to the traditional model of conscience espoused by moral theologians. The former focuses on obedience and authority; no questions asked. The latter on personal freedom and the responsibility that comes with it. Now, Jamie L. Manson has added another valuable voice to the dialogue. It’s a worthy read!

Today in church history – John XXIII drops Vatican II bombshell

I was born on January 9, 1959. I am as old as Madonna (the singer, not the Blessed Virgin),Donny Osmond (my teenage crush) and Barbie (the doll). I also consider myself a Vatican II baby. On January 25, a couple of weeks after I was born, Blessed John XXIII announced to a shocked group of Curial Cardinals that he was going to summon an Ecumenical Council. The announcement was made at the grand Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The great Pope describes his inspiration as a great light, well in tune with the scripture readings of this feast day. The reaction of those present was reminiscent of the great saint’s tumble off his horse.

On October 11, 2012, the Church will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. The National Catholic Reporter will be publishing various articles on this great historical event. Today’s essay, Curial horror greeted John XXIII’s announcement of ecumenical council, gives a great description of the announcement made 53 years ago, today.

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pelvic politics, cont’d

The term “pelvic politics” describes the perception of an unbalanced emphasis on sexual issues by some bishops and conservative Catholics. Church teachings on birth control, abortion, gay marriage, co-habitation, celibacy and a male-only priesthood all become a litmus test for identifying a faithful Catholic. Too often, the test becomes a weapon of righteous judgment and condemnation. Sitting on the wrong side of the orthodoxy fence can deny you a church wedding, election support, or employment in church run institutions. Ecclesial promotions for ordained members are dependent on their public support of these teachings. In extreme cases, excommunications have been meted out to those who have publicly questioned or not supported them; usually by extremely-minded bishops.

Yesterday’s post included this quote from David DeCosse,

the bishops’ emphasis on law as the pre-eminent category of conscience means that they leave little room for practical reasoning to help the conscience figure out what to do in the face of complexity.

For me, of all the issues listed here, the one that is most black and white is that of abortion. It is not a form of contraception. It’s the intentional killing of an unborn child. And yet, there are cases that reflect the “face of complexity”; cases that show the moral dilemma that must be faced in the grey in between. Cases that need a wise mind and compassionate heart to discern what is right and wrong in a specific situation.

What about the woman in Phoenix who was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child and suffered heart failure? What about the nine year old girl in Brazil, raped and impregnated by her stepfather? In both cases, an abortion was performed to save the life of the mother. In both cases, excommunications were declared on all those involved (except for the young girl due to her age). Instead of praising the Church’s moral superiority and conviction, these stories showed to the world a Church lacking in compassion and understanding.

It is easy to raise the accusatory banner of hypocrisy at pharisaic church leaders who place heavy burdens on us while sexually abusing or covering up the abuse of others. It is difficult to listen to sermons on the importance of marriage and fidelity when stories appear of bishops having long term relationships and fathering children. Righteous rants on the “intrinsic evil” of homosexuality ring hollow, when the presence of homosexuality in the ranks of the ordained is ignored or denied.

But anger will get us nowhere. We need to stop and take a breath, together, and revisit the gospel call to life. Where should our focus be?

Up here, in the great white north, the words of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau still resound in the psyche of our modern history. In 1967, as a young Justice Minister, he introduced an Omnibus Bill in the House of Commons that included decriminalizing homosexual acts performed in private, telling reporters “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” His intention was good. But, we still need moral guide-lines and laws to support them. In Canada, we have seen the dangers of human rights and freedoms going amuck when pedophiles demand the right to own child pornography. Or white-supremacists hide behind freedom of speech to spread their hatred and pass it on to their children.

The state and the church do have a place in the bedrooms of the nation when those bedrooms hide sexual abuse and rape. We have the moral obligation to denounce and prosecute those who kidnap or buy and sell humans into sexual slavery. We must insist that the possession, itself, of child pornography is wrong; because behind the pictures are real children being exploited.

In this time of global violence and injustice, it’s time for Catholics to stop being the religion of ‘nay’ and begin truly promoting a culture of life that acknowledges the face of complexity of our modern times. Too many issues are being ignored while we continue to count the number of angels dancing on the proverbial pin head.

It’s interesting that while church leaders are still debating the moral use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa, Women Religious around the world are banding together to stop human trafficking.