Conscience or Contraception?

One of the wonderful things that I learned upon rediscovering my faith and re-entering the Catholic Church is that Catholic Christianity tends be more “both and” instead of “either or.” Obviously, there are moral issues that are quite black and white, such as the first commandment, but others like salvation through faith or salvation through works the Church advocates a “both and” approach (which is Biblically based). So I find it quite interesting that in the biggest religious conflict that has occurred in the past 100 years in the U.S., the Catholic Church must deal with the issues of contraception and conscience in a “both and” approach. Here’s what I mean – the popular media (who are not very friendly to religion) are trying to paint the issue as a contraception problem, while those opposed to this mandate explain, quite correctly, that the problem is much wider and rises to a level of freedom of conscience.
From a moral standpoint both positions are correct – contraception is damaging, is prohibited in the Bible, and was not allowed for 1,930 years of Christian teaching; additionally, the wider problem with this mandate is that the U.S. Constitution clearly allows for the freedom of individuals to “exercise” their religious beliefs. In this post, I am going to deal with the latter (saving the former for the next installment).

The media has attempted to portray this mandate as a contraception issue for obvious reasons – a huge number of individuals, unfortunately many Catholics too, are actively contracepting – they are attempting to paint this as an issue with the Church being out of step with society. However, the bishops and other Christian leaders have correctly identified the wider problem that this mandate creates. By creating an extremely narrow conscience protection (only parish and diocesan employees) the government is now telling our churches what a valid religious ministry is! The upshot of this is that the Obama administration’s definition of a “religious organization” does not include entities that care for the sick, or homeless, or hungry, or imprisoned – which is exactly what Jesus commanded His followers to do! In fact Jesus more than commanded it, He said that by caring for those less fortunate we were actually caring for God Himself (Matt 25:40).

The first amendment to the US Constitution protects “the free exercise” of religion. The verb exercise definitely indicates a real, physical action; so, we can deduce that the writers of this document indeed referred to people of faith doing something active in society precisely because of their religious beliefs and that the government may make no law prohibiting that ability to exercise their faith. This is not some wishy-washy “freedom to worship” as our President has been quoted as supporting, but a strong limitation upon our government to stay out of the internal governance of religious organizations and their associated ministries. What the people in this administration fail to realize is that without our faith leading us to want to help there would be no Catholic hospitals, or charities, or universities. The whole reason these systems exist is to provide outreach to others in our society and help out those who are less fortunate as a visible sign of our faith in Christ. Since these entities are created under the auspices of the Church, they MUST abide by Catholic teaching and morality in their dealings with their customers, employees, and vendors – anything else is simply unacceptable.

Could this administration craft an exemption that would satisfy the needs of the faithful? Perhaps there could be something that would, on the surface, deflect this issue. However, the problem with having an exemption granted is that the Church, and the faithful from all other religions, would have to agree that the government has the power to determine what churches may do and this is again unacceptable. The moral teachings that we learn in religious education, from the pulpit, and from the writings of many holy women and men determine what our standards and outreach activities will be. There is no government that can tell the Church what to believe and in return the Catholic Church doesn’t tell any government how to govern (although it must work to form the consciences of those officials who are members of the faith).

Do I believe that this mandate will survive the US Supreme Court? In a word – no. However, we cannot sit idly by and let this happen. Each and every Catholic citizen must EXERCISE his or her faith –

Stayed tuned for the next post!

May the peace of Christ be with you.