Supreme Court decisions and the US Catholic bishops

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The 2015 session of the U.S. Supreme Court produced a number of significant decisions.

We will of necessity focus on arguably the two most significant cases, especially in regard to the hierarchy of the Catholic church. Those decisions are ,of course, the decision authorizing same-sex marriage throughout the country and the decision regarding the Affordable Care Act.

No one expects the Catholic church to immediately endorse same-sex marriage. This is true even though the Anglican Communion in the United States just voted to do so.

The Catholic church simply doesn't operate that way. The church teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are not going to be taking place in Catholic churches. No one is questioning the position of the Catholic church on this issue.

The question is: How does the church react to the Supreme Court decision? A contrast can be seen in the way Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago responded to the decision and how the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, responded.

Cupich even recommends a particular approach to the decision. He comments that the church should not react stridently, but should work through the rapid pace of social changes together.

It is perhaps easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize a "Godless culture" and proclaim allegiance to unchanging truth. All this accomplishes is to isolate the church from the larger culture and render it irrelevant. Embracing the message of Pope Francis, we need to smell the sheep, recognizing that the sheep includes all people, and work to understand them and walk with them on our common journey together through life.

There is also the decision that the Supreme Court rendered on the Affordable Care Act. It essentially makes the act the law of the land and gives it a permanence that had been somewhat in doubt. Where do the Catholic bishops stand on this issue?

We are talking about the law that guarantees health care coverage for all Americans. It makes health care a right for all rather than a privilege. This is a goal long sought by the Catholic bishops and very much in tune with long-standing Catholic social teaching. Yet the Catholic bishops remain among the major impediments to the smooth implementation of this law. The Catholic bishops support and pursue numerous legal challenges to the law. In short, the Catholic bishops have chosen to stand in the way of affordable health care for so many Americans who need this important benefit.

The bishops object to the law's offer of contraceptive coverage to women. They see it as an issue of religious liberty. The missing link in their understanding of religious liberty is a failure to recognize that the freedom of those who disagree with them also needs to be protected. They cannot seem to fathom that those who disagree (and thus are steeped in falsehood) could possibly have rights.

The bishops proclaim their patriotic adherence to the freedoms of this country, especially at this time of our independence. However, they distort the notion of freedom. They have been clearly given a waiver to conduct themselves within the institution as they choose. Yet the truth is, they will not be satisfied until other Americans are forced to accept and conform to the Catholic understanding of truth as well.

As Pope Francis and Cupich have indicated, there is another path. One does not have to compromise one's principles to recognize and respect the beliefs and practices of others. It is time for the Fortnight for Freedom to disband. 

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