Will the Bishops Go to the Mattresses?

A quiet, closed-door meeting in Washington next month will be of crucial importance in shaping the Church’s response to the nation’s biggest church-state crisis in decades.

When some 40 bishops of the administrative committee of the national bishops’ conference gather March 14-15 at conference headquarters, they’ll be looking at the Obama administration’s January mandate to Catholic institutions to violate Catholic teaching as well as the problematical “accommodation” of religious concerns unveiled by the president February 10.

A series of ugly events sets the stage for the bishops’ deliberations.

Flash back to early November. Obama and Archbishop (now cardinal-designate) Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the bishops’ conference, met to discuss topics including tensions in the religious liberty area. “I left the meeting somewhat at peace,” Archbishop Dolan later said.

That meant he believed Obama was likely to give church-sponsored institutions a comprehensive exemption from a Department of Health and Human Services rule requiring virtually all private health care plans to cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception under the new national health plan known as Obamacare.

It was not to be. On January 20 HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, acting for the administration, released the rule’s presumably final version. Its only concession to the Church was a year to comply—“a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” Archbishop Dolan said angrily.

Many people saw in the administration’s move a payoff to Obama’s supporters in the birth control-abortion industry. Administration sensitivity to potential criticism was visible in the release of Sebelius’ announcement late in the day on a Friday, a familiar Washington tactic for minimizing news coverage. In the same vein, the one-year delay in compliance (“more time and flexibility to adapt,” Sebelius said) appeared aimed at keeping the issue out of the presidential campaign.

Furious reactions from bishops and other Church sources greeted the move. The administration’s message to Catholics, one bishop said, was, “To hell with you.” Even the liberal Washington Post editorialized against, while columnist E.J. Dionne, an Obama apologist, said Obama “botched” the issue and “threw his progressive Catholic allies”—like Mr. Dionne—“under the bus.”

Hence the February 10 accommodation—if it really is that. Among other things, the difficulty it raises from the point of view of the Church is that, like a key that opens a lock, it makes the health plan a Catholic institution provides to its employees the key needed for them to unlock coverage for contraceptives, abortifacient drugs, and sterilization directly from the insurance carrier. There also are reasonable grounds for fearing that, no matter how the accountants structure it, costs of this coverage would be passed on to the Church.

If the bishops reject this deal, they don’t have a lot of options. Closing down thousands of Catholic institutions and programs isn’t likely. Remedial legislation pending in Congress has little chance of becoming law with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House. As for simply refusing to obey the HHS rule, it’s a last resort.

That leaves litigation. Three religiously sponsored lawsuits against the new mandate, involving Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, Colorado Christian University, and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) are underway. The bishops could decide to back these challenges or others.

Religion in America scored a smashing 9-0 victory over the Obama. administration in the Supreme Court a few weeks ago when the justices unanimously upheld the constitutional right of churches to decide ministerial personnel matters without government interference. Now the HHS mandate could also be headed for the court.


Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.

  • Bender

    Ooohh, the judges.  Obama’s really scared.  By the way, the judiciary is even more tyrannical that King Henry, just ask those 55 million babies.

  • poetcomic1

       Alinsky taught Obama ‘never let a crisis go to waste’.  The Catholic church has learned this over and over again for 2,000 years. Crisis and persecution are our ‘meat and drink’!  Eat my dust, Satan!

  • jcsmitty

    The bishops need to play hardball and threaten to close institutions rather than comply. Catholic Charities alone would have to pay $140 million in fines if it stopped offering health insurance with these mandated “services,” yet no one is talking about the toll on the poor if such institutions were forced to close. Why isn’t this possibility being put out there to the public?
    The bishops need some savvy marketing people and advisors to help get the public behind the church’s defense of religious liberty. Cardinal-designate Dolan seems to think he can take Obama at his word despite being lied to twice! Wake up, bishops! Obama is a liar and his intent is to cripple the Catholic Church.

  • The Black Prince

    Ugggghhhh. There are times when I have to admit that one of my older brothers, a man with an infinite capacity to see the cloud within every silver lining, is right after all…We’re toast. I am grateful Bishop/Cardinal Nolan is voicing his outrage over the latest Obama outrage…But, in the above article, when it says he left that first meeting “at peace” I want to scream. Religious Liberty is a Constitutional guarantee not only for organizations like the Church but for ME! and YOU and YOU and YOU…The First Amendment protects INDIVIDUALS first and foremost…So what we get from the Church is a sense of relief and “peace” when they think, wrongly of course, that the Obama Administration is going to respect their rights…But let’s assume for argument’s sake they did. Let’s say they gave the Church complete and total amnesty from this debacle of so-called health care…Where would that have left the INDIVIDUAL Catholic trying to live out his faith with fidelity…In the same boat he would have been in when Bishop/Cardinal was at “peace.”  If I have a string of Hamburger joints and employ a couple hundred people I, the guy who is said to have inalienable rights, MUST pay for birth control and abortion inducing chemicals for my workers. That was the case before the Bishops got a little backbone and it will be the case if the president were to back down from the Church-centric mandate, which I positively guarantee he won’t.  Why aren’t the Bishops fighting for the INDIVIDUAL Catholic. It’s because for the most part, the Bishops have bought that bill of goods that the fault is in our social justice systems and not ourselves.

    And while I’m on a roll, I might as well add that Obama has made a calculated political move and it will prevail. He will get the majority of the “catholic” vote in the 2012 election and a substantial amount of the “catholic” vote that attends mass on a regular basis. That is because Bishops have been whistling past the graveyard as their flock, even the vast majority who send their children to catholic school, practice artificial birth control. Obama will peel off every single “catholic” politician and many “catholic” institutions like Notre Dame and Georgetown. I’m sure it is only a matter of time before an American Bishop gives us the double talk of how the psuedo-compromise is actually the Lord’s work. We may even get a seamless garment argument, which is about as pathetic an excuse for philosophical and theological thought that has come down the pike since sola scriptua…Okay, I’m going to take a breath now and go back to my Rosary.

    • Carolyn McKinney

      You are absolutely right. But we, the laity, also need to realize that we cannot sit on our laurels and ask the clergy to take care of it. Really, it is not their job to navigate political waters — it is ours. It is their job to preach the Truth (and the bishops’ jobs to make sure all the priests under them are preaching the Truth).

    • Tout

      I, too, pray the rosary daily,with 3 friends. Those who hesitate, please, start to act.Say a prayer. And realize that we must act openly, not hide. We are for peace. Therefor we will defend.

    • Carl

      I remove my hat and bow to respect the words of The Black Prince…

  • The Black Prince

    My apologies to Bishop/Cardinal “Dolan” not Nolan

  • Jim Mulcahy

    They had better.  If they don’t their credibility will be irretrievably ruined for a generation.

    • Sorry, the USCCB hasn’t had any credibility with THIS Catholic in quite a long while. They started losing it with the issuance of leftist “pastoral letters” on economic subjects about which they know nothing; lost even more when they stubbornly kept funding ACORN despite our protests; and lost it completely with their support of Obama and ObamaCare. The Bible is clear — especially in Ezekiel — about God’s attitude toward BAD SHEPHERDS.

      If the American bishops had gone out and publicly protested and gotten arrested in front of abortion clinics in the immediate aftermath of Roe v. Wade in 1973, legalized abortion would not have stood for even a year. And how often has any Catholic actually heard any preaching against contraception from the pulpit?

      In my own diocese, we had a very solid, orthodox bishop whose first public act after he was made bishop was to participate in a pro-life march. Yet even he refused to excommunicate the pro-abortion Catholic politician who represents our area in the legislature. I keep telling myself there must be some behind-the-scenes things I don’t know about the situation, but it’s disheartening nonetheless.

      I’m afraid the bishops have been very weak for a long time.

  • Lightninbug

    Exactly, Black Prince. There are 27 million Catholics in this country. The Bishops need to protect the consciences of every single one of them. To the matts!!!

  • Phil

    I find the title of this article “Will the Bishops Go to the
    Mattresses?”sadly appropriate in a way the author, I’m sure, didn’t mean.  To the extent that Catholics blithely voted
    for, honored and supported such an unabashed abort-ophile as Barak Obama they have
    been in bed with the devil. To
    complain about his actions now, while appropriate, seems a little too late!

    • Guest

      They take innocent little boys “to the mattresses,” too, and protect their cronies who do.  The bishops are themselves corrupt.

      • Deacon Ed Peitler

        Examine your conscience

  • irishsmile

    Please Bishops, take the dissenting ‘Catholic’ politians/clergy to the mat!  Make a Canon Law  example of Keehan. Kmiec, Jennings, Pelosi, Sebilius, etc! 

  • Alecto

    If the bishops do not fight this assault on individual liberty, they will have reinforced the belief of many that they are indeed lacking in fortitude, wisdom, understanding and for many, piety.  It’s a sad state of affairs when the people supposedly chosen by God to lead the faithful instead cower in the corners, or worse, are perfectly willing to let others lead the troops into battle while they stay comfortably ensconced in their grand residences. 

    I believe this is a defining moment for Catholics and every American concerned with the loss of liberty guaranteed – let me write that twice for emphasis – guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.  If we do not fight this everyone loses, not solely Catholics.  This situation also presents an opportunity to unite and heal some of the rifts the bishops themselves have caused.  I pray for them daily to find the courage, the wisdom to lead in the path of righteousness.  I hope God answers that prayer.   If not, I’m taking it to the streets.

  • Dens214

    I think the Catholic schools are most at risk.  Why would you send your son or daughter to a Catholic grammar, high school, or college; if in fact that school was contributing to the violation of your faith.  Hopefully this will reach the supreme court in ample time so as not to disrupt students, in case these schools are forced to close.

  • Old Gringo in Mexico City

    Too bad this is just a small part of the real problem for orthodox Roman Catholics like me and most of you.   Since O has cancelled the Mexico City Policy the US government is fully back in the business of promoting and delivering international family planning programs and products that include abortion with taxpayer money.   Shame on us for not making real noise about a massive eugenics program that dwarfs the Nazi and Marxist model.  

    Old Gringo in Mexico City

  • fondatori

    We need to realize that this mandate is a persecution and we should accept the suffering as it comes to us and not worry too much about the effects (losing money, having some institutions close) which are the means our wannabe persecutors will use to try and weaken our will.  This is not the worst persecution the church has faced (to say the least).  The saints and martyrs in the past endured much worse and they can inspire us in our own troubled time.

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  • Nemo

    Conscience!? Where was their “conscience” when they voted for Obama as I suspect most of the bishops did?  If past performance  can predict anything then they will cave and follow their liberal beliefs.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    Let’s understand a few things here:
    #1 The intent of the “contraceptive mandate” was not about offering contraceptives under health care. It is a wedge intended to divide Catholics.  It is an attempt to neutralize the power and authority of the Catholic hierarchy.  The Catholic vote would be controlled by the socialists,  having been severed from the influence of the bishops since they observe that  Catholics uniformly do not adhere to the Church’s teaching on the matter.

    #2 When I was the director of my diocese’s Catholic Charities, I warned against two things: first, any financial contractual agreements between the Church and the government.  I could see how easily Churchmen and women would sell out their Catholic faith when forced to by the government in order to maintain the flow of revenue from the government.   Think I am paranoid? Reference the Diocese of Richmond’s Catholic Charities signing for and driving an underage minor in their custody for an abortion just a few years back – done in the name of Christ’s body the Church!

    The other thing of concern was who our Catholic Charities hired to work for it.  I observed many people working for the diocese who were non-Catholic or nominal Catholics at best.  They shared none of the interest in maintaining the integrity of the faith and did not see what they did as carrying out the mission of the Church.  They saw what they did as a job, rather than participating in the ministry of the Church under the leadership of the bishop.  Yes, there ought to be a litmus test for those wanting to do the work of the Church. 

    This is exactly the problem we see among people like Sister Keehan.  In her hubris, she has fashioned herself as an authoritative  leader of the Church which she is not.  A a result, she has allowed herself (and the bishops have allowed it too) to be used by the Obama Administration as a divisive element between the pew-sitting Catholic and his/her bishop.  We clearly need to clean things up.  The bishops would be wise to begin with replacing people like Keenan, Fr. Larry Snyder at Catholic Charities USA, the president of Notre Dame University and all others who do not understand their role in the mission of the Church.  (please do not tell me that the President of Notre Dame does not report to the bishops.  If you do, you are poorly informed about how the Church works.)

    Is it any coincidence that the tactics used by the Alinsky/Ayers/Dorhn/ Marxist Obama White House mimics how the Soviet Union dealt with the “problem” of the Orthodox Church?  Weren’t operatives of the State insinuated into the ranks of the clergy?  And we think history does not repeat itself.  Perhaps we skipped over that chapter in the textbook because “it could never happen here.” 

  • Guest

    I used to be a Catholic, but NO MORE!  My MONEY now goes to Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes International, and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  If the church is an employer, it should follow the laws that pertain to all employers.  The bishops are wrong about this.

  • Kirk

    Funny thing is I too have been upset when I read Bishop Dolan left the meeting with a sense of peace. But while reading this article it came to me that maybe it was the Holy Spirit giving hem this peace and not the words of Obama. I see God is setting us up to make moral choices in this country no more sitting on the fence. We are so divided not by polical issues but moral issues. Then even within the churches the divisions are usually moral. So I bet God gave Bishop Dolan the sense of peace to say don’t worry this is all going as I planned. The scary thing is I am not sure He will like the outcome.

  • Hrcosentino

    The Spanish civil war started by the communist and socialist killing Bishops, Priests, Sisters and Brothers.
    Are we to see the prelude to our civil war?

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