MSW Responds to Mr. Doerflinger

In my election analysis article in the current print edition, also available online by clicking here, I looked at the President's proposed "accommodation" and the response from the USCCB.

In the comment section, Mr. Richard Doerflinger of the USCCB has responded and you can read his comment here.

Mr. Doerflinger is correct to note that the "accommodation" was not entered into the final rule as published in the Federal Register. A preamble to the published rule promised a subsquent rule taht would enact the accommodation into the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act and, importantly, promised to do so this summer. That is, before the election. I understand why the officials of the USCCB would be reluctant to take the President's word on anything given the fact that he told Cardinal Dolan in November that the USCCB would be pleased with his changes to the original, narrow rule, and then changed nothing. I understand, too, that it was foolish to publish the unchanged rule at this point, if for no other reason than that it provides those who would like to gut the ACA with an additional talking point. I share Mr. Doerflinger's concerns because the promised change was only promised after the election, and that is worrisome. But, in the event, I think the White House has learned its lesson and that the changes promised will be entered into the Federal Register.

The USCCB - and the rest of us - should be watching how the administration addresses the remaining outstanding issues. Obviously, self-insured religious organizations remain a hurdle and there must be a "work-around" set up to accommodate them. I also wish that Congress or the courts would require the Obama administration to simply expand the definition of religiously exempt organizations - I have written before that any distinction between a house of worship and a ministry of the Church is a distinctly non-Catholic view of the matter. Unfortunately, the USCCB has signed on to legislation that goes further than is needed, extending the exempt organizations to include any individual or secular employer. That was the focus of my article - the "Taco Bell" argument - and it is more than a little curious that Mr. Doerflinger does not respond to that part of the article at all.

I wish to add that while I know many believe the USCCB staff is simply in the pocket of the GOP, I admire and commend Doerflinger and others at the USCCB mothership who monitor these issues and bring their expertise to bear upon their analysis. I do not always share their conclusions, and continue to think that arguing for exemptions for secular employers is both a non-starter politically and suspect theologically - the Church should not do anything to feed the beast of hyper-individualism in this culture and supporting the Fortenberry bill in the House and the Blount bill in the Senate does precisely that. But, I challenge my fellow progressive Catholics to set aside their pre-ordained narrative on these issues regarding the partisan bias of the USCCB just as surely as I challenge some bishops to set aside their pre-ordained narrative about the evil being wrought by the Obama administration. We do not need a war here - we need a solution.

Editor's Note: For those of you having trouble finding Doerflinger's comments on Winters' piece, they are reprinted below in full.

These criticisms of the bishops are based on the false premise that some kind of "compromise" has been offered that expands the original rule's religious exemption.

On the day of the President’s speech, the controversial rule of August 2011, with its incredibly narrow religious exemption, was finalized “without change.” The published rule says it is finalizing this policy “without change” four times (Federal Register, February 15, 2012, pp. 8725, 8729, 8730). This intransigent refusal by the Administration to compromise, to make ANY change in the exemption, is the ONLY thing happening on February 10 that had any legal force.

In a statement that has no legal force, the Administration also said it plans to issue an additional rule by next August regarding THE MANNER IN WHICH the mandate will be imposed on the many religious organizations that, AS BEFORE, remain “non-exempt.” Since it is against these organizations’ conscience to cover such items, insurers (acting on orders from the government) will insert them into the coverage instead. These items will be included in the health plan with no additional premium, because (the government says) the insurer will get that money back when it saves the cost of childbirths those employees would otherwise have had.

The Administration’s “compromise,” then, is this: These organizations’ health plans must include items that violate their religious and moral teaching; the organization may state a conscientious objection, but that objection will be ignored and have no practical impact. Any more genuine compromise -- anything that actually freed Catholic schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations from the mandate -- is out of the question, because on February 10 the Administration issued a final rule making such genuine accommodation illegal.
We don’t see this as an advance for religious freedom, and I cannot imagine why anyone would think it is such an advance.

From the annals of the Dutch euthanasia program, there's an account of a Dutch doctor who euthanized a Catholic nun who was in great discomfort while dying. The doctor said that the nun never asked for euthanasia, but he knew that was because her religion wouldn't let her do so -- so he provided the consent for her. That is exactly what the Obama "accommodation" does to Catholic charitable organizations. If you think the Dutch doctor was legitimately respecting the nun's religious freedom, you will disagree with the bishops on this issue too.

Richard Doerflinger

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