This past week, the Senate held a floor vote on a proposal to allow employers to decline to provide health benefits which conflict with their religious beliefs. With a twitch of their collective noses, Catholic bishops – each one appointed by the head of a foreign nation – have generated two Congressional hearings, legislation introduced in the House with 190 cosponsors and the Senate with 29, a lawsuit by seven state attorneys general and the support of the three leading GOP presidential candidates over something as innocuous and non-controversial as health insurance coverage for birth control. After losing Thursday’s vote by only a 51 to 48 margin, House Speaker Boehner vowed to continue the fight. “It’s important for us to win this issue,” Boehner said.
A similar mandate is already required by 28 states with nary a peep from any religious leader because (like the federal mandate) no one is being forced to buy, use, prescribe or administer a contraceptive. So this is neither about birth control nor religious freedom. As Catholic Congressman Bart Stupak noted after arduous negotiations with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to get their support for the health care reform act in 2010: “Ultimately, what stings the most… is that people tried to use abortion as a tool to stop health-care reform, even after protections were added.”
Actually, it’s about a foreign government with global financial interests flexing its muscle to elect a pro-business government. Prelate of Wall Street and president of the USCCB, Timothy Dolan, just returned from Rome after being elevated to prince of the Holy Roman Church.
Our last corporatist president, George W. Bush, went to Rome five times to meet with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also made several visits. On one trip, Rice was asked by the Vatican’s secretary of state to intervene in a U.S. lawsuit naming the Holy See as the defendant in a sex abuse case. “It’s obvious and reasonable that the Holy See would present its positions as a sovereign entity to the American State Department, and recall the immunity for its acts that international law anticipates,” a Vatican official explained.
When Benedict arrived in the U.S. during the last presidential election year, Bush went out to Andrews AFB to greet him, an honor accorded to no other head of a foreign government before or since. After all, it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger himself who had given the order to deny communion to the Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, in 2004, thereby assuring the Catholic – and deciding vote – for Bush’s reelection.
Evangelicals and Tea Partiers seem incapable of acknowledging that Catholic bishops are not elected by their congregations or chosen by any group of Americans but they should know what to expect when they vote a Republican into office.
But Dolan is getting wise. “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over,” he admitted yesterday in a speech delivered to a diocesan convocation on public policy. Dolan said that the prelates might not be the Church’s “most persuasive advocates.” He related how bishops’ hiring an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to speak against abortion was “the best thing we ever did,” as a way to persuade other non-clerics to “be very active, very informed and very involved in politics.” There was a catch of course. He added: “If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops.”
(Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009))
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