Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput seemed to speak for a diverse and rapidly growing chorus of religious and political voices this past week as he described, from a Catholic perspective, the attack on religious liberty embodied in the Obama Administration’s health care mandate:
“This is not just another important issue among the many we need to be concerned about. This ruling is different. This ruling interferes with the basic right of Catholic citizens to organize and work for the common good as Catholics in the public square.”
The Administration responded with a blatant yet clumsy attempt to divide and conquer Catholics by manipulation of the issue … all orchestrated by a President who promised to end divisiveness and become the President of all Americans. And it all played out on White House stationery. Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s Director of the Domestic Policy Council, launched a missive ridiculing Catholic belief in contraception, using Obama’s own words:
“Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent….”
In the course of doing so, Muñoz made sure to say that she is a “Christian” and, as if to justify her right to spew anti-Catholic bigotry, said she got her first job working “with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church.”
This was a frontal attack on fundamental Catholic beliefs and the response was strong, clear and unequivocal.
Archbishop Chaput called the White House actions “insulting” and “belligerent, unnecessary and deeply offensive to the content of Catholic belief.” After pointing out that many Catholics had supported Obama’s election and, subsequent to the passage of Obamacare, had made repeated efforts to resolve differences with the President, Chaput then noted that these efforts were met with unmet promises. He concluded, pointedly:
“We cannot afford to be fooled – yet again – by evasive and misleading allusions to the administration’s alleged ‘flexibility’ on such issues. The HHS mandate needs to be rescinded.”
Altogether, about 200 Catholic bishops have written letters to be read at parish Masses, denouncing the attack on religious liberty in the Obama mandate. The protestors have even included the decidedly left-leaning Cardinal Emeritus Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Bishop Robert Nugent Lynch of Saint Petersburg and Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester. And strong denunciations of the mandate have even been made by
Obama’s 2008 Catholic apologist and recent Ambassador to Malta Douglas Kmiec and by columnists for liberal (some say, dissident) Catholic periodicals.
Nor has the Administration been able to confine the uproar within the boundaries of Catholicism. Protestant evangelical Pastor Rick Warren,
who was chosen to give the prayer invocation at Obama’s 2009 inauguration, tweeted a series of alarms:
“I’d go to jail rather than cave in to a government mandate that violates what God commands us to do. Would you?”, said the first. A second quoted from Acts 5:29 that when government tried to coerce them by saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name”, the apostles replied “We must obey God rather than men!” And Pastor Warren’s third tweet was equally clear: “I’m not a Catholic but I stand in 100% solidarity with my brothers & sisters to practice their belief against govt pressure.”
Nor is the discontent limited to faith communities. Criticisms have been voiced by scores of Democrats in both the Senate and the House, probably fearing political repercussions in the upcoming elections.
Irony abounds here. Obama is doing more to unify Catholics than any Church undertaking possibly could. And he may be doing more to unite peoples of all religion on this issue than a thousand ecumenical services could achieve.