Health care reform and the US Catholic Church: A colossal moral failure

I note with disgust that numerous Catholic organizations have launched lawsuits against the Obama administration’s health care policies, alleging that the latter violate the former’s First Amendment rights.

This is one of the most egregiously hypocritical acts I’ve ever seen from the US Catholic Church, and it makes me very angry.

Consider the following facts:

Perhaps the most insightful commentary on this whole imbroglio comes from Paul A. Rahe, who titles his article ‘American Catholicism’s Pact With the Devil‘.  It’s so good that I’m going to quote from it at length.

At the prospect that institutions associated with the Catholic Church would be required to offer to their employees health insurance covering contraception and abortifacients, the bishops, priests, and nuns scream bloody murder. But they raise no objection at all to the fact that Catholic employers and corporations, large and small, owned wholly or partially by Roman Catholics will be required to do the same. The freedom of the church as an institution to distance itself from that which its doctrines decry as morally wrong is considered sacrosanct. The liberty of its members – not to mention the liberty belonging to the adherents of other Christian sects, to Jews, Muslims, and non-believers – to do the same they are perfectly willing to sacrifice.

. . .

In the 1930s, the majority of the  bishops, priests, and nuns sold their souls to the devil, and they did so with the best of intentions. In their concern for the suffering of those out of work and destitute, they wholeheartedly embraced the New Deal. They gloried in the fact that Franklin Delano Roosevelt made Frances Perkins – a devout Anglo-Catholic laywoman who belonged to the Episcopalian Church but retreated on occasion to a Catholic convent – Secretary of Labor and the first member of her sex to be awarded a cabinet post. And they welcomed Social Security – which was her handiwork. They did not stop to ponder whether public provision in this regard would subvert the moral principle that children are responsible for the well-being of their parents. They did not stop to consider whether this measure would reduce the incentives for procreation and nourish the temptation to think of sexual intercourse as an indoor sport. They did not stop to think.

In the process, the leaders of the American Catholic Church fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity – and so they fostered state paternalism and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern liberalism – the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.

At every turn in American politics since that time, you will find the hierarchy assisting the Democratic Party and promoting the growth of the administrative entitlements state. At no point have its members evidenced any concern for sustaining limited government and protecting the rights of individuals. It did not cross the minds of these prelates that the liberty of conscience which they had grown to cherish is part of a larger package – that the paternalistic state, which recognizes no legitimate limits on its power and scope, that they had embraced would someday turn on the Church and seek to dictate whom it chose to teach its doctrines and how, more generally, it would conduct its affairs.

I would submit that the bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they asked for. The weapon that Barack Obama has directed at the Church was fashioned to a considerable degree by Catholic churchmen. They welcomed Obamacare. They encouraged Senators and Congressmen who professed to be Catholics to vote for it.

. . .

In my lifetime, to my increasing regret, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has lost much of its moral authority. It has done so largely because it has subordinated its teaching of Catholic moral doctrine to its ambitions regarding an expansion of the administrative entitlements state.

. . .

Those who seek to create heaven on earth and who, to this end, subvert the liberty of others and embrace the administrative entitlements state will sooner or later become its victims.

. . .

Perhaps, however, Barack Obama has shaken some members of the hierarchy from their dogmatic slumber. Perhaps, a few of them – or among younger priests some of their likely successors – have begun to recognize the logic inherent in the development of the administrative entitlements state. The proponents of Obamacare, with some consistency, pointed to Canada and to France as models. As anyone who has attended mass in Montreal or Paris can testify, the Church in both of these places is filled with empty pews. There is, in fact, not a single country in the social democratic sphere where either the Catholic Church or a Protestant Church is anything but moribund. This is by no means fortuitous. When entitlements stand in for charity and the Social Gospel is preached in place of the Word of God, heaven on earth becomes the end, and Christianity goes by the boards.

It took a terrible scandal and a host of lawsuits to get the American Church to rid itself of the pederast priests and clean up its seminaries. Perhaps the tyrannical ambitions of Barack Obama will occasion a rethinking of the social-justice agenda.

There’s much more at the link.  I endorse Mr. Rahe’s views, and recommend his article very highly indeed.

Catholic lawsuits against Obamacare on First Amendment grounds are therefore, as I said earlier, hypocritical in the extreme.  I lost faith in US Catholic bishops some years ago over their abysmally incompetent, mendacious and duplicitous handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal, as regular readers of this blog will know (see the sidebar for my articles on that subject).  This latest development merely confirms my earlier opinion.  There are undoubtedly at least some good (even, perhaps, saintly) individual Bishops;  but I cannot do otherwise but conclude that collectively, US Catholic bishops are no longer worthy of either trust or respect.



  1. I had the same initial reaction that you did. But, upon further reflection, they appear to be trying to right their ship. Their law suits are a service to the country.

  2. @Anonymous at 7.14 a.m.: I wish I could agree with you – but the lawsuits are a cop-out. If the bishops are serious about dealing with this issue, let them start by getting their own house in order, and reining in those Catholic organizations and individuals who are still actively supporting Obamacare. Unless and until they do that, their lawsuits are nothing more than pious window-dressing.

  3. Anonymous: They aren't trying to right their ship, they're trying to hammer together a very tiny lifeboat from the wreckage, and just for themselves.

  4. On the plus side, though, maybe this is the wake-up call that they needed to realize that when you play with fire, you will get burned. And they certainly did.

  5. I do not care how they manage to do it, for whatever reason, I only want to see ObamaCare defeated, and the First Amendment left intact. The Catholic Church is the largest denomination, next to LDS. Once Obama and Kagan and SotoMayor get their dirty hands on them and begin to undermine our right to practice our religion, whatever it might be, and they cave, we are in deep trouble.
    I understand the tragedy and the hypocrisy of what has happened, but in the end, ObamaCare needs to be gone, with our Constitutional rights intact.
    Thank you for this post. It is a humdinger.

  6. Peter:

    Re: let them start by getting their own house in order & pious window-dressing

    Are you suggesting that until anyone or any organization is perfect, they have no right to speak out against a wrong they see? That is an untenable position.

    I've gone beyond the reports in the popular press to investigate what they've been doing internally to take responsibility and make amends. They are making gargantuan efforts.

    If you think the law suits help only Catholics, you're very very wrong.

  7. @Anonymous at 1.01 p.m.: I've never claimed 'the law suits help only Catholics' – that's a 'straw man' argument. Sorry, it won't work.

    Right now, as we speak, the CHAUSA is actively promoting Obamacare, despite these lawsuits. The Catholic Church's position is therefore schizophrenic, to say the least! The Bishops have not exerted their authority over Catholic organizations in order to to present a united front. They probably dare not do so, for fear of alienating the liberal/progressive forces in the US Catholic Church.

    Precisely the same thing happened in connection with the clergy sex abuse scandals. There was overwhelming evidence that the problem was linked to homosexuality, but to acknowledge this would have alienated the 'gay rights' lobby: so it was swept under the rug, up to and including changing the classic definition of 'ephebophile' in an attempt to disguise its homosexual roots.

    I remain profoundly sceptical of the trustworthiness of the USCCB, and angry at its hypocrisy in launching these lawsuits when it was, as a body, complicit in the passing of Obamacare in the first place.

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