I blame myself and everyone like me

I feel like an idiot.

When the U.S. bishops came out so strongly against the new government rules regarding contraceptives and health insurance, they said the issue was one of religious freedom.

And I believed them.

When the bishops argued that it was not the administration's place to decide whether Catholic hospitals or colleges fit the "faith mission" exception to the insurance rule, it made sense to me.

And I believed them.

I thought the bishops were trying to make an argument apart from the politics of the moment, separate from the polarizing stances they have so often taken in the last few years, stances that had placed them in league with odd allies from the far right.

I feel like an idiot.

After the Obama administration announced adjustments to the contraception rule that would remove the church from directly having to pay for contraceptive coverage in health plans, many Catholics responded with relief, including Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association. The bishops' objections seemed understood, and the public at large was not denied access.

But the bishops were not to be denied a wedge issue. After initially sounding open to the compromise, they soon came down firmly against something that was just not good enough. The bishops now say they will throw their support behind a Republican-sponsored bill in Congress that would exempt any individual insurance provider or purchaser from any mandate that doesn't mesh with their religious beliefs. It is yet another not-so-subtle attempt to essentially gut the health care reform law.

And now the story has entered into absurdity, a land often explored when the bishops find themselves all puffed up on matters of sexuality and gender.

Nicholas Kristoff exposes the absurdity in his New York Times column. We can't always choose, in a law-abiding society, which rules to follow or not. (For example, I'd love to not pay my share of taxes that went to the tragic war in Iraq -- but I'm not given that choice.) Kristoff phoned up The Christian Science Monitor to see if employees there were not given health benefits at all in keeping with Christian Science teaching against many forms of medical care. Of course they were given those benefits. What about a company affiliated with, say, the Jehovah's Witnesses? Should they be able to deny coverage for blood transfusions? Should businesses owned by ultra-orthodox Muslims and Jews opt out of health plans that don't commit to facilities segregated by sex? Should laws now allow polygamy among fundamentalist Mormons?

There is a fine line, Kristoff writes, between the needs of religion and the needs of every citizen to hold the same rights before the law.

But I blame myself. And everyone like me.

As Kristoff points out, one survey showed that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in America have used contraception at some point in their lives. Overwhelming numbers have from the start disagreed with the church's contraception view and continue to ignore it. And yet we all allow the bishops to hijack this issue and others like it, allow them to supposedly speak for everyone over and over again, though American Catholics as a body don't agree.

We don't raise our voices. Instead, we leave.

Parishes close, schools shutter. Traditions, memories, prayers and hymns that were the fabric of our culture are left behind as in each succeeding generation, Catholics walk off and join independent churches or no church at all. Maybe they teach their kids at home a little about Jesus, read them some stories from the New Testament, put up a Christmas tree and color eggs at Easter. They do their best on their own -- but the sense of shared community is gone. It was left behind when person after person felt they had no stake, no share, no voice in that community.

Political people say, "If you don't vote, you can't complain about who gets elected." And this is a little like that. If you don't fight, if you walk away instead, you can't complain.

But who is fighting? Where do we go to sign up? How do we make a difference and break through the clutter? And will anything really change?

I don't know. I feel like an idiot.

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