Catholic Bishops AKA the Emperors with No Clothes

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops appears to lack unity in dealing with the birth control issue with the Obama administration. The basis for this lack of unity appear to be found in their end goal.  Initially the Bishops wanted a broader exemption from the contraception mandate for religious institutes, now the leadership appears to be moving into a political mode by seeking roll back the entire regulation. They are hoping to position themselves for the fall election in which they hope to be able to help the GOP defeat the Obama Administration. This is not a wise course of action for the Church.

In our opinion, the Bishops should stay out of politics, the last time they got involved was the French Revolution and we all know how badly that turned out for the Church. It is time for the leadership of the USCCB to turn their vision to the future, what happens if Obama gets reelected? What type of a relationship will the bishops have with the government than. We are suggesting that the leadership of the USCCB use Catholic Social Justice as their standard, and put the poor ahead of organizational ego in this matter.

The Bishops started this journey out by initially seeking broad conscience protections, but they are losing this debate solely based on the fact that most Catholics are dismissing what they have to say in the political arena because of their insignificance when it comes to political leadership of Catholics.

Their support of the “Taco Bell rule,” this rule allows for individual business owners to be exempt because “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate.”

The major problem is that neither of these ideas will fly with either the White House or Congress.

One of the major issues facing the USCCB is that their organizational operating style only allows for two meetings a year, they also work on the consensus model, and during the rest of the year they supposedly have a Administrative Committee that can run things in between meetings, except the bishops are so suspicious of each other that they have not given this committee the power and authority to work on the bishops behalf. One only has to remember the fiasco of getting the document “Always Our Children” approved. This signaled the end of any real power for the Administrative committee, now it is more about bloated egos than real management authority.

Clearly the bishop’s allies are fragmented in their support. Catholic Social Organizations such as Catholic Hospitals and Universities are not behind the Bishops. The Rev Joe Jenkins president of the University of Notre Dame, described the Obama compromise as a welcome step and his view was echoed by other Catholic Universities. Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association that represents a sprawling network of Catholic hospitals, also hailed the accommodation.

Lacking the Church’s institutional muscle behind the Bishops position the Bishops negotiating position has become much weaker.

Even conservatives in the Church are quickly realizing the Bishops may be losing the debate. “If the bishops reject this deal, they don’t have a lot of options,” Shaw wrote in Crisis Magazine, a conservative Catholic outlet. “Closing down thousands of Catholic institutions and programs isn’t likely. Remedial legislation pending in Congress has little chance of becoming law with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House. As for simply refusing to obey the … rule, it’s a last resort.”

The 900 lb elephant in the room for the Bishops is that the 67 million Catholics do not support their position — whatever it turns out to be. Surveys show that U.S. Catholics — including the most devout — do not heed the bishops’ teachings against artificial birth control, and framing the issue as a threat to religious freedom hasn’t moved Catholics to mass opposition.

What is going to determine the election is the state of the economy, and not birth control or religious liberty no matter how much Cardinal Dolan and his clueless USCCB Administrative Committee want to change the political reality. Are the Bishops ready to jump ship?

Ann Smith
Rainbow Sash Movement

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