The Catholic Church responded Friday to the White House's defense of new rules that will force many religious employers to provide contraception to their workers in government-mandated health plans with the grace and dignity you'd expect from an organization that used to sell raffle tickets for Heaven, that is, with very little grace and dignity.
Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, assured despairing Catholic employees everywhere that the bishops would "pursue every legal mandate available to them to bring an end to this mandate. That means legislation, litigation and public advocacy. All options are on the table." All options? Maybe the Catholic Church could, say, give back all the gold it helped Spain and Portugal steal from colonial Latin America as an act of good faith or, at least, start paying the taxes the IRS has exempted it from in an effort to show the public that, while the Catholic stance on contraception may not jive with modern attitudes, it's a totally private organization that doesn't benefit from favorable government policies regarding religious institutions.
The new regulations announced last month by the Department of Health and Human Services require employers to provide women with "preventive" health care services such as cervical cancer screenings and — whisper it — contraception by August. The regulations have sparked outrage among evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews, but no group has been more vociferous than the Catholic Church, which employs far more people than either of the other two groups. Religious institutions qualify for exemption if such mandates violate their
beliefs unless they employ large numbers of people who don't share those beliefs. Enter the Catholic Church, which, as of 2011, became the largest non-governmental school system in the world and, over the past 35 years, as the number of priests has dwindled, has had to rely more and more on lay workers. Moreover, employment with a Catholic organization isn't exactly the most lucrative gig, something you'd know if you attended Catholic school and noticed your Calculus teacher eyeing your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the eager eyes of a starving jackal. Employees at those bottom rungs of the Catholic employment ladder who don't necessarily subscribe to the organization's belief system might be hard-pressed to regularly fill their prescriptions (the pill, for example, can cost anywhere from $15-50 for a 21 or 28-day pack).
The White House stressed that new rules, which apply to universities and religious charities but still exempt churches, won't force anyone to buy contraceptives and pointed to the 28 states such as California and New York that already have state-mandates requiring insurance companies to cover contraception. The Catholic bishops responded by collectively stopping their ears and saying that it was misleading for the White House to suggest it wasn't forcing anyone to "buy" contraception, since anyone who pays into an insurance plan will be partially subsidizing all those morally bankrupt sex-fiends who copulate wildly without fear of hellfire.
The state regulations, the bishops claim, provide more opportunities for the Church to avoid compliance and Picarello went so far as to (obliquely) describe the Church's ability to get around state regulations in terms of the German Blitzkrieg: "The state mandates are like a Maginot line. They're a hard barrier, but you can just walk around them." Many Church institutions are "self-insured" which means that they can regulate how their funds for employee health insurance are used. Parishes collect all the money for employee health insurance and send it to the Diocese, which then consolidates the money into one giant dragon-pile to be administered by an insurance company, such as Catholic Mutual Group ("serving the temporal interests of the Church since 1889"). Since self-insurance plans fell under federal regulations, Churches could avoid state health mandates simply by subscribing to a self-insurance program. Faced with the Atlantic sea wall that the new federal regulations represent to Picarello's colorful imagination, the Church will have about as hard time wriggling out of its obligation to pay for contraception as it does trying to convince people that its priest aren't going to molest their children. (Coincidentally, Catholic Mutual Group also sells the Church "extra liability policies for damages [that the Church is assessed] related to sexual misconduct.")
Perhaps the best solution would be for the Church to disabuse itself of the notion that women's health services exist solely to destroy precious, potentially-Catholic life. The progestin-only pill, for instance, is prescribed to women to help treat a whole host of non-whore related ailments. The Catholic Church is an institution that relies on rhetoric to unravel its thornier beliefs — transubtantiation vs. consubtantiation — and would need only to re-frame the issue in terms of women's health rather than contraception. How hard would that be? Then again, the Catholic Church is the same organization that spent 18 years trying to decide if bread and wine turned into flesh and blood when a priest waved his hands around them a recited a little Latin ditty.
Catholics blast federal birth control mandate [USA Today]
Dioceses find various ways to cope with contraceptive insurance mandate [Archdiocese of San Francisco]
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