Man, this guy has just passed E.J. Dionne to be my favorite liberal Catholic polemicist. Excerpts from his latest excoriation of the Obama administration for its HHS mandate:
Mr. Obama and his advisors decided to walk out on this limb, I didn’t. They chose to punch us Catholics in the nose. If they are now feeling the heat of a backlash they were warned about, that’s how politics works. Their political predicament was foreseeable and they made their choice. I do not want to sit down to negotiations with them unless and until there is a little blood coming from their nose too. Negotiations are more honest when both sides have some essential parity in the bloody nose category. And, if the White House and Mr. Axelrod think the heat is too much for them, they should reverse this decision, not seek negotiations. It is never fun to admit one was wrong. Certainly, as the Komen Foundation brouhaha showed, there will be hell to pay on the other side if the administration reverses course. This is not an issue on which there is an obvious consensus everyone can live with, and because the issues raised entail first principles, there are limits to what any negotiators can achieve.
The editors of Commonweal admirably recognized that such very fundamental issues are at stake when they wrote: “The HHS decision comes perilously close to insisting that the government should determine what is or isn’t a religious organization or ministry. The reasoning behind restricting the exemption to institutions that primarily employ and serve coreligionists appear to be based on an essentially sectarian, and historically Protestant, understanding of ‘religion.’ The Catholic Church, which understands its public presence to be vital to its identity and mission, should not be forced to abide by such restricts.” Amen to that. Religion is not something we only do on Sunday morning and do amongst ourselves. And those who have been castigating the big, bad, bishops on this score need to be reminded of the scores of decisions made by scores of bishops to keep inner city schools open even when the Catholics they were built to serve had fled for the suburbs because, as Catholics, we believe helping the poor is part of our religious mission. Those who fret about Catholic hospitals operating in a pluralistic society should ask themselves why NARAL and Emily’s List have not opened any hospitals. The administration’s logic seems to be that when a poor person comes to a Catholic soup kitchen, we should not ask if he is hungry, we should ask if he is Catholic. Sorry, but that is not how we conceive of our Catholic mission and social justice Catholics should be the first to recognize this instead of shamefully making apologies for the administration or bashing the bishops or shifting the conversation away from these first principles into a defense of contraception.
Make no mistake about it – those who support denying Catholic institutions a more robust exemption have placed their commitment to pro-choice orthodoxy above their commitment to health care reform. Is that progressive? Is that something progressive Catholics, who fought so hard to pass the ACA, want to defend? It is time for so-called progressive Catholics to stop serving as chaplains to the political status quo and recognize a first principle when they see one. It is time for Catholics to insist that a conscience exemption that only applies to religion on Sunday and no help for the poor unless they are also Catholic is no conscience exemption at all. And, if the White House doesn’t see it that way, let them pay the political price for it.
Run over to the National Catholic Reporter and read the whole thing. Reminds me of a progressive version of the orthodox Catholic blogger Mark Shea ripping into his conservative Catholics for supporting the Bush administration on torture.