This guest blog comes courtesy of John O'Callaghan, the director of the Jacques Maritain Center at the University of Notre Dame:

On Pentecost Sunday, May 27th, a New York Times editorial accused several Catholic bishops of the United States along with many Catholic institutions like my employer, the University of Notre Dame, of engaging in "a dramatic stunt, full of indignation but built on air." Why? Last week those bishops along with those Catholic institutions filed suit in federal court against the government. They claim an infringement under the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act upon the free exercise of religion caused by the Health and Human Services Mandate that will require all institutions providing health insurance to participate in making available in their employee benefit plans abortifacient drugs, medical sterilizations and contraceptive drugs.

Apparently concerned to make sure that its editorial reflected the government’s narrow definition of what constitutes a church or a church institution for the purposes of exemption from the mandate, the Times made sure not to call those institutions "Catholic" institutions, but, rather, “Catholic-related groups.” Certain Catholic conservatives (or should I say Catholic-related conservatives?) must be enjoying that particular phrase—it seems I do not work for a Catholic university, but a “Catholic-related group," a claim they have been making all along. I might suppose such a journal of opinion as America is not a Catholic magazine but a “Catholic-related magazine.”

No doubt many of my fellow citizens, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, as well as friends who work with me at Notre Dame share the judgment of the Times, and do not understand why these "Catholic-related groups" have responded to the government's mandate in this way. Indeed many probably object to it very strongly. So, why then did the bishops and these institutions do it?

Well, I am writing this on that same Feast of Pentecost. It is the feast when Catholics and Christians throughout the world celebrate that moment, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, when his followers huddled around in fear amongst one another in the "upper room," afraid to give to the world the gift that they had been given, the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ Risen, triumphing over death and making that triumph available to all. Through that resurrection all human beings received a destiny of love of one another in union with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Yet Christ's followers were afraid to give to others that gift, so the Holy Spirit descended upon them strengthening them to go to all nations and give it away freely.

Pentecost reminds us that it is the task of all Christians to leave the rooms in which they huddle in fear of others' thoughts and actions, and despite their failings make manifest the gift that is offered to us all. Today in the United States the freedom to give that gift as the church understands it—a vision of how human life flourishes in caring for the sick, educating the young, feeding the hungry, comforting the dying, and so on—is threatened by those who hold the political and legal power to coerce the lives of citizens and the institutions within which they assemble. The HHS Mandate requires church institutions of any sort, not just Catholic, to act in ways contrary to what they believe is part of that gift they would offer the world. It claims the authority to coerce the lives of Christians precisely as Christians, if they dare to act beyond the walls of their church buildings in concert with and for people who do not share their faith.

It is intellectually lazy to reduce the motives of the bishops and those church institutions to mere partisan politics, as the Times has done, as if the University of Notre Dame, for instance, were stumping for Mitt Romney or could not resist the pressure of a few right- wing prelates. But charity demands more of us than easy bromides about politics and motives. This mandate and the lawsuits that confront it are not about the next election. Nor is the suit brought against it by any stretch of the imagination about “imposing one church’s doctrine on everyone,” as the Times claims. When we consider all those Christian hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, adoption agencies, immigrant aid agencies, retirement communities and legal aid associations that spring from the life of Christ, no non-Christian is coerced to work for them, though many do work, and no one is coerced to be served by the church, though many, many are served.

With this mandate and the narrow exception that goes along with it, the government claims the power and authority to determine for Christians what their Christian service, that gift proclaimed on Pentecost, will look like. No right wing hack, Dorothy Day regularly warned of the intrusive and coercive power of the state to structure the life of the church as it saw fit when it saw fit. The church is no longer to work with the government and civic institutions to help others, to give to as many as possible the gift that Christ Himself gave it to share. Rather, the church is to be made to work for the government on the government's terms. Christians' only alternative is to huddle within the walls of their churches in fear of the powers of the world, speaking the good news only to themselves, living the life of faith only amongst themselves, feeding only themselves, educating only themselves, comforting only themselves.

In the Roman empire many Christians living the gift of Pentecost suffered blood martyrdom at the hands of the secular power that ruled over them precisely because they did not huddle within their homes amongst themselves. They went out into the world; and whenever the Romans would flee the sick and dying, the Christians would stay and care for them. One of the great ironies of the HHS mandate is that the secular power of the United States government, finally and rightly trying to address the crisis in health care in our nation, would take it upon itself to tell Christians how to do it, we who have been doing it for 2000 years. In my own city of South Bend, Indiana, the only two hospitals were founded by the church. One is Catholic, St. Joe's, the other is Methodist, Memorial. My son is now receiving intensive medical therapy over the course of a month at St. Mary's, a Catholic hospital in another city. I don't ask whether everyone that hospital employs is Catholic, or whether everyone it serves is Catholic. (They are not.) But it is more than just the crucifixes in the rooms and the chapel in the hospital that make it Catholic--it is that the care given comes from the life of Christ given to the church. This undiscriminating care for the sick, the poor, the downtrodden has been the life of the church from the beginning, since Pentecost. And the early Christians were willing to live out this life of caritas even if it meant exposing themselves to the secular power and death.

Now it would be absurd to think that any Christian will suffer physical martyrdom and death for opposing the HHS Mandate. The government will not be coming to our doors to throw us to the lions. Christians must avoid hyperbole. And yet: "Martyr," as any well-catechized Christian knows, means witness. The early Christians were put to death for their witness to Christ, and so they were called "witnesses." So it is not absurd to suggest that the church's witness to the Gospel, and Christians themselves, will suffer a kind of spiritual death when the power of the state defines for it what that gift of the Holy Spirit will be.

This is no bodily death, sure enough. It is rather the death of the Spirit of Pentecost, when as Christians we are to be forced back into the locked room—locked now from the outside by the force of law—allowed out only on condition that we do not speak of or act on what we have heard and seen, unless we have state approval. Insofar as the life of the church is to present to the world the gift of new life in Christ, let there be no doubt that the HHS Mandate intends the death of the church of Pentecost. And that is why it is so important that the church institutions that have sued the federal government do everything in their power to resist the coercive power of the state in its effort to remake the church in its own image.

John O'Callaghan

Comments

Michael Appleton | 6/1/2012 - 4:47pm
Mr. O'Callaghan urges Christians to "avoid hyperbole," but then proceeds to drown us in the stuff.  So let's just cut to the chase.  The Church wishes to drink deeply at the public trough, but simultaneously wishes to remain exempt from public policy as expressed in duly enacted legislation. All of the rest is mere hyperbole.
Joshua DeCuir | 6/1/2012 - 2:19pm
Vince, if consistency consists of only allowing those who agree with you politically or theologically into the public square, then I'm happy to cop to the charge of inconsistency.  Fortunately, neither the First Amendment nor the self-understanding of the Church is premised on such a consistently narrow-minded view of the common good.

@Rick Fuego: Would you please point to me a relevant jurisprudential precedent wherein the right of free expression is "balanced" against the commerce clause?  I am not familiar with any such analysis.  If so, it strikes me as a curious argument for a progrssive to accept that the right to make money trumps the right of free expression/free exercise under the First Amendment.
Martin Gallagher | 5/31/2012 - 10:20pm

Well put, Josh. 

Vince, good effort, but you're arguing a lost cause.

Obama needs to grant a broad conscience exemption and put all this behind him.



Vince Killoran | 5/31/2012 - 3:10pm
Josh-please, a little consistency: you wrote that "we are called to serve all people" and now argue that we don't need to serve all people-i.e., they can go elsewhere. If you mispoke (mistyped?) in the first instance that's fine but let's me forthright about this.

Exercise your discriminatory practices all you want.  Just don't demand to have your hand in the public till while you are doing it. 
David Pasinski | 5/31/2012 - 2:23pm
Although I continue to see the mandate as legitmate, I will ponder this homily.
I am not sure that we have the same definition of terms from the beginng of this entire debateand there's the rub. However, I think we all agree that the works of mercy are "mandates" from our faith in Jesus Christ and how the RC Church embodies those mandates in different cultures throughout history is worth our review as we see if there's any common ground on this.

We remember also that most Catholics would probabaly welcome the proposed coverage.
Rick Fueyo | 5/31/2012 - 1:45pm
"There are limits on the right to speak, as anyone remotely familiar with First Amendment law can tell you.  The argument is framed in terms of the theological vocabularly of 'witness', i.e. the use of the word martyr."

Thank you for the condescencion regarding the prameters of First Amendment jurisprudence, of which I am well aware. 

That was not the point.  I was referring to the editorials hyperbolic suggestion that the ACA limits Christian speech, to wit:

This is no bodily death, sure enough. It is rather the death of the Spirit of Pentecost, when as Christians we are to be forced back into the locked room—locked now from the outside by the force of law—allowed out only on condition that we do not speak of or act on what we have heard and seen, unless we have state approval.
Joshua DeCuir | 5/31/2012 - 1:04pm
''Also, there is no limit on the right to speak, and framing the dispute as such is again disingenuous and hyperbolic.''

There are limits on the right to speak, as anyone remotely familiar with First Amendment law can tell you.  The argument is framed in terms of the theological vocabularly of ''witness'', i.e. the use of the word martyr.

As for the impact of the mandate on the Church, Mr. O'Callaghan makes a compelling case: the very narrowly construed meaning in the mandate of ''religious institution'' does violence to the Church's self-understanding born at Pentecost: that we are called not only to serve ''primarily'' Catholics - but all people.  With the availability of contraception from a number of sources, it is disturbing that the Administration would want to set up a barrier to the public square of institutions that have served for centuries, all because the Administration doesn't want to directly subsidize more contraception.  The burden is the Administration, not the institutions.
Thomas Piatak | 5/31/2012 - 12:27pm
An excellent commentary.
C Walter Mattingly | 6/2/2012 - 10:01am
A fine, faith-oriented statement of the Catholic carism, not nearly as castigating perhaps as the PBS tirade against President Obama by his liberal supporter Mark Shields, but one more spiritually centered and from the heart of Catholic spirituality.
And other Catholic-related magazines with liberal bent and typically quite loyal to President Obama augment O'Callaghan's personally articulated viewpoint, with articles such as the National Catholic Register's recent essay entitled, "Notre Dame's swing at Obama is, unfortunately, deserved." 
Yet the most effective response, perhaps, was that of Fr Jenkins. Father Jenkins, who proved he was no tool of the bishops when he invited Obama to receive an honorary degree at Notre Dame at considerable cost to himself, was met with the appreciative words of the president, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square." Subsequently, Father Jenkins learned as the public has not to put too much stock in the words of President Obama, who in this ruling moved in that secularist direction he had previously termed wrong. Having his back shown the door, or perhaps in his mind having felt back-stabbed, Fr Jenkins changed course clearly and effectively when he personally framed the issues involved in the Catholic response he joined.

Much has to do with what we as Catholic Christians see as our carism: are we limited in our sphere of activity to only Catholics, or do we serve the wider sphere? Should we strive to serve all our brothers, as the parable of the Samaratin suggests, or should we remain separated, or perhaps walled off is the better term to use, from the rest of the community? The question has come up here before concerning the sexual abuse of children within the Church and the far larger issue of such sexual abuse within our public school system. Some believe in a Catholic  magazine such as America those abuses outside the Church are not properly our concern. Yet as Mark Shields said, the carism of the Church is to succor all the sick, not just the Catholic sick; to assist all the poor, not just the Catholic poor.
Yet even here there are limitations to that "all." For instance, as Christians we are limited by the words of Christ in the Gospels. Clearly, we are told not once but twice, Jesus did not approve of divorce. Those words cause much grief then and now. Clearly, Jesus defined a marriage as existing between a man and a woman. It is a bold Christian who would flatly contradict the clear and explicit words of Christ. But while a Christian cannot assent to everything for everyone, the Catholic carism can, and has, reached out a great distance.
David Pasinski | 6/1/2012 - 4:49pm
Today's Washington Post has a very troubling story with photos of a West Virginia pastor of theh "Signs Following" tradition of snake-handlers who died of a rattlesnake bite rather than seek treatment. It estimates that 80 to 100 snake handlers have died in these last 100 years that it now banned as an element of worship in all states (I think) but Wsest Virginia.

It got me thiking abiout the state government banning a religious practice - albeit a potentially fatal one- and yet its being permitted in another state.

I wonder about the history and if there was any outcry by either members of this tradition or any others that this was a restriction on thior religiuos practice. I would guess that there are judicial principles with the inherent risk involved that would have been invoked to enact those laws, but it just makes me curious about how such a traditoin could be illegal in one state and not in another if it is seen as a protected relgious expression.

I won't go into how this may affect the argument of the bishops around "religious liberty" in this mandate be cause it would take too long and I'm not sure it's valid argument, but I am curious...
Vince Killoran | 6/1/2012 - 3:06pm
Josh-I don't want you to agree with me. . . I just want you to agree with yourself (!) about your position, i.e., if you began by writing that Catholic institutions are called to serve many but not all (e.g., gays and lesbians), then fine-but you didn't. To then argue that, well, they can go elsewhere, and then pivot and claim that Catholic institutions serve gays & lesbians but "but in a way consistent with my beliefs and identity" fuzzies up your argument even further.  It has nothing to do with your self-proclaimed "integrity."

BTW, I think you misread Rick's comment but I'm sure he'll weigh in with his welcomed clarity.

Have a nice weekend.
Beth Cioffoletti | 6/1/2012 - 12:36pm
"No right wing hack, Dorothy Day regularly warned of the intrusive and coercive power of the state to structure the life of the church as it saw fit when it saw fit."

No, but Dorothy Day was politically non-involved.  She did not vote or follow politics.  It doesn't appear that she thought that the Church should intrude upon the legitimate rights of government either.
Vince Killoran | 5/31/2012 - 7:22pm
Early afternoon Josh: "[W]e are called not only to serve 'primarily' Catholics - but all people."

Mid-afternoon Josh: "No one prevents gay and lesbian couples from adopting children from any number of adoption agencies."

Evening Josh: "Serving all people does not require us to sacrifice our identity in doing so.  I am called to serve all, but in a way consistent with my beliefs and identity - that's call integrity. "

As they say in the news business, the situation remains fluid.

One final note:  I was referring to public monies and Catholic adoption agencies, not the HHS policy.
Beth Cioffoletti | 5/31/2012 - 6:01pm
"With this mandate and the narrow exception that goes along with it, the government claims the power and authority to determine for Christians what their Christian service, that gift proclaimed on Pentecost, will look like."

As I was reading along, it was this sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I attended Pentecost Mass with the monks at the Abby of Gethsemani.  The radical insight of Pentecost, as I understood it from the homily and prayers of those monks, was Forgiveness.  This was the transformative gift that we were to bring to ourselves, each other, the world. 

I can see how this Pentecostal insight would take many forms - from the hospitals to the homeless shelters to prison ministry and care for mothers and their children.  In fact, I see it as the essential Catholic message that was brought to this country by so many of our ancestors.  All life is good.  Worthy.  We honor life, each other.   But I'm at a loss to see how the HHS mandate would interfere with this gift of forgiveness. 

The language that John O'Callaghan uses in his last couple of paragraphs - "the death of the church of the Pentecost" - makes no sense at all to me.  I mean, just because health insurance providers must offer contraceptive covereage, which Catholics can freely refuse??  Is he serious?
Rick Fueyo | 5/31/2012 - 5:33pm
'' The Administration is saying to Catholic institutions, if you want to participate in the public square, you must do so in this way.  This is an unprecedented step.''  


No they are not. Not even close.
 
That statement is not correct as a function of First Amendment free expression jurisprudence, as it has nothing to do with expressive conduct, but with regulation of commerce, balanced against the Free Exercise clause. There is absolutely no aspect of freedom of speech involved.
 
And you are misusing the concept of the ''naked public Square'', the favored construction of the late Fr. Neuhaus, in his quest to make the dominant class the excluded victim.  That referred to public policy. In no sense is any Church institution being sanctioned or affected for its input in public policy.   
 
The statement is wholly without merit.
Joshua DeCuir | 5/31/2012 - 5:20pm
"Josh-please, a little consistency: you wrote that "we are called to serve all people" and now argue that we don't need to serve all people-i.e., they can go elsewhere. If you mispoke (mistyped?) in the first instance that's fine but let's me forthright about this."

Serving all people does not require us to sacrifice our identity in doing so.  I am called to serve all, but in a way consistent with my beliefs and identity - that's call integrity.  There is no contradiction between the two.  A pacifist may serve the country without picking up arms, etc.  You are the one finding inconsistency where there is none.  I believe the public square is enriched by a diversity of actors; that is what the free exercise clause is meant to protect it seems to me.

"Exercise your discriminatory practices all you want.  Just don't demand to have your hand in the public till while you are doing it. "

You continue to persist in the mistaken belief that the mandate applies BECAUSE you accept federal funds.  I urge you, as I have before when you have made this comment, to READ the mandate - it applies regardless of whether or not the institution accepts federal funds.  Your ignorance on this fundamental matter weakens your arguments, and you have continually stated this incorrect, but very basic, fact.
Joshua DeCuir | 5/31/2012 - 2:58pm
"Well, execept gay and lesbian couples who seek to adopt children. . ."

No one prevents gay and lesbian couples from adopting children from any number of adoption agencies.  No one should expect a religious institution to act contrary to its own teachings in the public square: that is the essence of "free exercise", no?

Mr. Fuego: that statement isn't hyperbolic.  The Administration is saying to Catholic institutions, if you want to participate in the public square, you must do so in this way.  This is an unprecedented step. 
Vince Killoran | 5/31/2012 - 1:37pm
"[W]e are called not only to serve 'primarily' Catholics - but all people" writes Josh.

Well, execept gay and lesbian couples who seek to adopt children. . .
ed gleason | 5/31/2012 - 1:11pm
Rick rightly says "The fact that it is necessary to exaggerate the stakes "
O'Callahan's   call to the barricades is the mistake the bishops ought not do. Looking silly is not a good step to any new evangelization.
Rick Fueyo | 5/31/2012 - 12:49pm
The use of the term "martyr" remains disingenuous and hyperbolic, despite its etymology. 

Also, there is no limit on the right to speak, and framing the dispute as such is again disingenuous and hyperbolic.

The fact that it is necesary to exaggerate the stakes to try to impact opinion is telling as to how modest the stakes are  
Vince Killoran | 5/31/2012 - 11:18am
"[A]s Christians we are to be forced back into the locked room—locked now from the outside by the force of law—allowed out only on condition that we do not speak of or act on what we have heard and seen, unless we have state approval."

Talk about "intellectually lazy" thinking.  John O'Callaghan does not explain how the HHS policy would require "church institutions of any sort. . . to act in ways contrary to what they believe is part of that gift they would offer the world." He warns readers to "avoid hyperbole" but argues that the new insurance guidelines wil result in nothing less than a kind of "spiritual death." At this stage in the debate opponents should be offering more than grand statements.  I would love to read a detailed anaylsis that took both the way the policy will actually work as well as an historical and legal understanding of church-state relations in the U.S.