On religious liberty and a confused media
June 6th, 2012
By George Wesolek
Is it that the media doesn’t understand the issue of religious liberty and the Catholic Church, or do they refuse to report it for reasons of their own?
When the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate was promulgated by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius early this year, it forced Catholic institutions – in social services, health care and education – to offer all employees, free of charge, contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. These services are considered immoral by the church and so, naturally, the U.S. bishops objected and asked for a conscience exemption. Conscience objections have been given over the years in the interplay between state and church over a variety of issues and were considered commonplace.
But this case was different. Hidden away in the multitude of regulations accompanying the mandate was a new definition of what was to be considered “religious activity.” This new definition limited “religious activity” to houses of worship and its congregants. An exemption, therefore, would be given only to a religious entity that serves and teaches its own faithful. Serving others not of our faith, as do our social services, health care and education, does not qualify as a “religious activity.”
In essence, this new definition redefines what it is to be Catholic.
All Catholics and many non-Catholics realize and know full well that central to the Catholic faith (and many other faiths as well) is loving and serving all people who are poor, vulnerable, in prison, alone, sick, homeless and hungry. Our faith mandate does not allow us to determine if they are Catholic or not. We serve them because Christ commanded us to love them. Staying inside the walls of our churches praying for these people does not cut it. We must go out to them; otherwise our faith is a travesty of Jesus’ words and intent and 2,000 years of church history.
But now we are told by our government, by regulation in a health care mandate, that Catholics cannot practice their faith in this way.
You wonder why the bishops and other Catholics are upset? News release after news release, statement after statement has pointed out this egregious and unprecedented attack on our ability to practice our faith, and yet we see in the media, “Bishops denounce birth control mandate.” This quickly spins into the bishops’ “war on women.” Very little or nothing is said about the attack on our freedom of religion.
It is obvious that the media wants this to be about contraception and not religious liberty. Groups like NARAL, NOW and Planned Parenthood continue to pressure the administration to continue this course. With this new definition, other “reproductive rights” can be mandated to Catholic institutions. They are most eager to have abortion provided in Catholic hospitals and our social service and educational institutions referring for abortions. The new definition in the regulations opens a very wide door for them.
It is also clear that the media will not report the facts and the truth of this story: another reason to look to your Catholic media.
Catholics of all political parties need to take this very seriously. If Catholics do not object strenuously, especially Catholic members of President Obama’s party, then we will be looking at a very different Catholic Church in the future – one that may well lose most of its institutions to a secular model and one that is eviscerated of its moral voice in the public square.
Wesolek is communications director for the Archdiocese of San Francisico.
From June 8, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.