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On Contraceptive Coverage, It's Not Up to Obama to Decide What is More "Catholic"

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Written by Frances Kissling for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.

This article was amended at 2:22 pm Friday, November 25th to add a missing paragraph and missing words in three sentences.

When it comes to contraception Catholics have stopped listening to popes, bishops and other institutional leaders.  It seems the only person left listening is President Obama. Obama however lacks the theological training --and it would seem the scholarly advice --needed to figuring out if the bishops and various hospitals, universities and social service agencies clamoring for a “religious exemption” from new federal regulations really need them in order to be good Catholics. The regulations require insurance plans offered by employers to cover contraception without a co-pay, although they exempt churches and other specifically religious institutions from the requirement.

The President seems unaware of the fact that Catholic disagreement with the ban on birth control goes far beyond the average Catholic lay-person. Some bishops, many priests, religious orders, theologians and church-related groups have publicly and privately disagreed with blanket prohibition of contraception. All of them, individuals and institutions, are free to follow their conscience on contraception and there is ample evidence that many of the very groups asking for an exemption from the new federal regulations have not followed church regulations religiously. Some within the organizations may agree with the ban, but not all, and none are required to do so.

Of course, it would take courage for organizations such as the Catholic Health Association (which is now siding with the Bishops publicly in their fight to broaden exemptions) or Catholic Charities to publicly buck the U.S. bishops and just follow the law and give their employees health insurance that makes it possible to avoid pregnancies they cannot afford or do not want; but after all, being a Catholic is all about courage and helping the poor and marginalized. A fair number of employees of Catholic institutions are low-income workers, struggling to get by on a minimum wage. We Catholics are taught to follow our conscience rather than the positions of the Catholic church, even if it means getting kicked out of the church.  If Obama’s current religious advisors don’t know that, all he has to do is call one of the most trusted of Catholic theologians, Fr. Richard McBrien of  Notre Dame. McBrien will repeat what he has said in his widely used text Catholicism:

If, after appropriate study, reflection and prayer, a person is convinced that his or her conscience is correct, in spite of a conflict with the moral teachings of the church, they not only may but must follow the dictates of their conscience rather than the teachings of the church.”

Centuries earlier Thomas Aquinas said the same thing.  Yet, the Catholic-affiliated institutions asking for a religious exemption insist that corporations, like persons have a conscience.

There is every indication that the conscience of these institutions tells them the church prohibition on contraception is wrong.

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