Lon Newman Column: Bishops Selective on Moral Outrage

Wausau Daily Herald
June 19, 2012

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has problems of his own in Milwaukee, is leading a procession of lawsuits opposing a national requirement of health insurance companies to cover contraceptives. The cardinal called it a "totalitarian incursion against religious liberty." His principal argument is that religious institutions should not "be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization," because it "violates their religious beliefs."

On that principle, legislators across the country are working to deny state and federal funding to organizations that provide contraceptive services. These lawmakers and their political allies echo the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' reasoning that it is unjust to force taxpayers, employers or members of the Church to support institutions or their affiliates that are committing acts they decry as "intrinsically evil."

The morality of contraception has been debated for generations. Recent polling shows that 80 percent of American Catholics find contraception morally acceptable and that almost all Catholic women who have had sex have used a method forbidden by the church.

But what if we apply Dolan's reasoning where the question of morality and legality is indisputable?

Protecting sexual predators is neither moral nor legal. At the same time the anti-contraception lawsuits were filed, a Wisconsin court ruled that the Green Bay diocese illegally concealed sexual assaults of children and put other children at risk. If it is the bishops' principle to stop federal and state funding for institutions and affiliates that have acted immorally, we can begin where there is no question of legality or morality. Let us deny funding to institutions like the Green Bay diocese that have been convicted of conspiring to protect child sexual predators.

The bishops have tried and failed to make a credible cost or health argument against contraception even among their parishioners. Family planning saves taxpayer dollars, and insurance premium increases for contraceptive coverage would be nominal. Failing at persuasion, they turn to federal courts. They demand a series of exemptions for employers and institutions in the name of religious freedom:

Exemption from civil rights protections for homosexuals.

Exemption from grant requirements to provide comprehensive medical referral services to victims of sexual assault and sex trafficking.

Exemption from requirements that adoption agencies serve gay couples.

The bishops invoke the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in their insistence on being awarded federal grant funds without anti-discrimination protections for women, sexual assault victims and homosexuals. The demands reveal that Dolan's defense of civil rights begins and ends with imposition of his narrow institutional authoritarianism even on employees or students or women who disagree. This profoundly contradicts the individual liberty protections guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.

The bishops' central argument is that we must enforce a standard of defunding institutions engaged in actions of which they disapprove. Let us call upon Dolan, the USCCB and its political allies to practice what they preach. Eliminating public funds and taxpayer support for organizations criminally convicted of protecting child predators will prove they are standing on principle.


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