Just posted online:
For a brief moment, Catholics on all sides were united in defense of the freedom of the Catholic Church to define for itself what it means to be Catholic in America. They came together to defend the church’s institutions from morally objectionable potentially crippling burdens imposed by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act. Catholic journalists, like E. J. Dionne and Mark Shields, and politicians of the president’s own party, like Tim Kaine and Robert P. Casey, Jr, joined the U.S. bishops in demanding that the administration grant a broad exemption for religiously affiliated institutions from paying healthcare premiums for contraceptive services. Then, on February 10, President Barack Obama announced a compromise solution in which religious institutions would be exempt from paying the objectionable premiums, yet women would not be denied contraceptive coverage. A confrontation which should never have happened was over. But not for long.
After a cursory nod to the White House’s retreat as “a first step in the right direction,” the USCCB rejected the president’s compromise as insufficient. The statement presented a bill of indictments on the fine points of public policy: It opposed any mandate for contraceptive coverage, expanded the list of claimants for exemption to include self-insured employers and for-profit business owners, and contested the administration’s assertion that under the new exemption religious employers would not pay for contraception. Some of these points, particuarly the needs of self-insured institutions like universities, have merit and should find some remedy. Others, with wonkish precision, seem to press the campaign too far.
The bishops have been most effective in influencing public policy when they have acted as pastors, trying to build consensus in church and society, as they did in their pastorals on nuclear war and the economy. The American public is uncomfortable with an overt exercise of political muscle by the hierarchy. Catholics, too, have proved more responsive to pastoral approaches. They expect church leaders to appeal to gospel values, conscience and right reason. They hope they will accept honorable accomodations and, even when provoked, not stir up hostility. In the continuing dialogue with government, a conciliatory style that keeps Catholics united and cools the national distemper would benefit the whole church.
Read the rest here.