Contraception Furor v. Catholic Realities

Religion Dispatches

By Mary E. Hunt

Anyone who thinks that the much-discussed compromise offered by the Obama administration will end the US Catholic Bishops’ efforts to eradicate contraception and otherwise truncate women’s rights is sadly mistaken. Their show of ecclesial muscle, noticed big time by the White House in an election year, only serves to reinforce and reinscribe a moral authority that many Catholics no longer grant to the hierarchy. We understand ourselves in far more mature, differentiated, and autonomous fashions that vary widely among us. We vote accordingly.

The furor over the provision of contraceptive services focuses attention on the Catholic community, a quarter of the US population. Generalizations are hazardous, and the obvious is not usually what it appears to be. There are not two teams (the bishops and the rest of us), nor are there just conservatives and progressives. As that quarter of the population, we range from Opus Dei to Catholics for Choice, from parish members to base community adherents, from students to seniors, and everyone in the middle.

We do not speak in one voice, and no one speaks for all of us. We each have one vote. Not even the seemingly middle-of-the-road folks, like some media members and lobbyists who claim to be the voice of Catholic reason, represent anyone but themselves. This is the contemporary Catholic situation, and anyone who tries to persuade otherwise has a bridge to sell in Brooklyn.

Nonetheless, the current flap over health care reveals three Catholic realities: it is about birth control, it is not about religious liberty, and it is not over. …

The institutional Roman Catholic Church squandered the political clout it once enjoyed. Clergy sexual abuse cases and their cover-up by bishops are unspeakable crimes that cost more than just the billions of dollars spent to adjudicate cases and compensate victims. They cost credibility. The result is that the institutional Church increasingly relies on very personal issues, like contraception, to feather its nest having relinquished any claim on the death penalty, wars, the economy, and the environment where its moral weight could be so helpful. No one cares what it teaches. This is lamentable, but it opens up space for many Catholic points of view to emerge in the polls. And emerge they have, and emerge they should.

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