Should Catholic nuns be forced to include contraceptives in their health insurance plans? The government thinks so and has spent the better part of the past two years trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to do just that. For over 175 years, the Little Sisters, an international congregation of Roman Catholic religious women, has served the nation’s elderly poor with love and dignity. The order operates group nursing homes dedicated to the physical, emotional, and spiritual care of the elderly poor in 18 U.S. cities, including Somerville, Massachusetts. Although the nuns don’t use birth control and have sincere religious objections to providing birth control for their employees, for the past two years the government has attempted to force the nuns to provide the objectionable contraceptives to their employees or else face millions of dollars in fines. This Hobson’s choice — between providing, and thus endorsing, methods of birth control to which they object to on religious grounds, or paying millions in fines — requires the Little Sisters to choose between their faith and their ministry. That’s why last month, with the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Little Sisters for the second time asked the United States Supreme Court for protection from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that violate their religious freedom. The thought that the federal government would even consider forcing an order of Catholic nuns to provide birth control would be comical, if it weren’t so wildly inappropriate. Although the government has granted an exemption from the contraception mandate to the Catholic Bishops, remarkably, Administration officials assert that the Little Sisters are not religious enough to receive the same exemption. And yet, the government has completely exempted thousands of businesses employing millions of Americans, including big businesses like Exxon and Pepsi Bottling. The government argues that it does not need to treat the nuns the same as the Bishops or big business because it provided them with a sufficient “accommodation.” Under the proposed accommodation, the Little Sisters would not be required to pay for the objectionable birth control, but would, nevertheless, have to sign a form authorizing the government to use the nuns’ health-care plan to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices that are against Catholic religious beliefs. But the “accommodation” is no solution at all. It is merely another way of strong-arming the Little Sisters into providing the exact same drugs and devices to which they have sincerely held religious objections. The government further argues that the accommodation won’t burden the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs, since providing “authorization” is as easy as registering to vote. But in a free society, the government doesn’t get to tell people what violates their faith. And just because an action is physically easy to perform doesn’t mean it’s religiously easy. It may be simple to cut hair or shave a beard, but for some Native Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs, those acts are forbidden, despite their simplicity. It is, likewise, easy to sign a death warrant or write a prescription for a lethal injection, but many religious opponents of capital punishment can’t do those things without violating sincerely held beliefs. At the end of the day, this is not a case about access to contraception. The government can always distribute contraceptives itself — indeed, our government already spends hundreds of millions of dollars doing just that every year through Title X grants and its own network of healthcare insurance exchanges. So why does the most powerful government in the world need to strong-arm a group of Catholic nuns into helping them achieve their goal? Posted with permission from New Boston Post.
When the history of this year’s Synod on the Family is written, there will be any number of people and ideas that will be seen as winners or losers in the process. But of all the synod’s surprises, Cardinal Walter Kasper’s collapse of credibility stands in a category of its own. For the second time in as many pontificates, Cardinal Kasper embarrassed not only himself, but the pope as well. This time, it seems unlikely that his progressive reputation can be salvaged. Four years ago, just before Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to England, Kasper said in an interview: “When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes might think you have landed in a third world country.” Outrage ensued, and Kasper quickly bowed out of the trip, with health issues being the official explanation. Now he’s done it again. He told veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin last week that at the Synod on the Family, “[The Africans] should not tell us too much what we have to do.” He also said: “Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo.” The outcry was swift, and nearly universal. And his few defenders soon found themselves in an untenable position when even Cardinal Kasper himself declared the comments abhorrent, saying: “I am appalled. I have never spoken this way about Africans and I never would.” With the release of the audio by Pentin, the denial became as unbelievable as the comments themselves, further damaging Kasper’s credibility, and casting him as an elitist not only disdainful of Africans and the third world, but of the truth as well. What makes his derisive comments even more shocking, is the fact that Kasper regularly claims to be speaking for Pope Francis. To what extent the pope actually agrees with some of Kasper’s more radical theological notions is matter of significant controversy. The controversy is certain to grow if Kasper continues to claim to speak for a pope who hails from the “Global South,” and whose program has focused on outreach to poorest margins of society. With Kasper now widely seen as holding a disdainful view of the “third world” and being dismissive of its bishops and cardinals, the juxtaposition is undeniably discordant. For more than a few Synod observers, it seems that “mercy” in Kasper’s lexicon, may only apply to “first world problems.” But even in the first world, his credibility faces a problem. In a May interview with Commonweal, he noted – concerning celibacy in a remarriage – that “heroism is not for the average Christian.” The comments provided an interesting perspective indeed, coming as they did from a cardinal pledged to personal celibacy. While heroism may not be for the non-celibate laity, Kasper, by his own definition, is both heroic and above average. Furthermore, having decided that the average lay person cannot do what he does, and thus needs abundant “mercy,” he ironically moved on in the same interview to decry the “clericalist” mentality. He suggested that a step toward overcoming such a mentality might be to appoint women as advisors to the CDF. Kasper did not, in this case, venture an opinion as to what ethnic or cultural backgrounds might be preferred. Going into the Synod, Cardinal Kasper’s credibility on matters of faith was already strained in the eyes of many of his brother bishops and cardinals because of his outspoken agitation for a controversial movement in favor of a radically new interpretation of Church teaching: an interpretation seen by many as both heterodox and at odds with scripture. Coming out of the Synod, what was strained before is now irrevocably broken. Given his gaffe on Africa and his denial of those taped comments, one might reasonably conclude that Cardinal Kasper should do as he did in England, and again at the Synod last Thursday: have mercy – on the pope, his brother bishops, and the rest of us – by removing himself from public view.