It was the year 2000 and the state was California. In a court case that rocked many believing Catholics, a lower court judge decided that denying contraceptive coverage to Catholic Charities’ employees put an undue burden on those employees.
In 2004, the final decision came from the California Supreme Court, which “ruled that a Catholic group must provide coverage for birth control in its health insurance plan, regardless of the fact that contraception is contrary to teachings of the Catholic Church.” At the time LifeNews accurately predicted, “The decision sets the stage for possibly forcing Catholic and other Christian groups to pay for other immoral activities such as abortion or assisted suicides, if legalized.”
In 2006, the same scenario played out in New York. In Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany v. Serio, the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, ruled against the Church, favoring “contraceptive equity.” One of the proponents of the state law, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), reported:
The New York law mandates that employers offering health insurance coverage for prescription drugs must include FDA-approved prescription contraceptives. Religious employers, such as churches, are eligible for exemption from this requirement if their primary purpose is the inculcation of religious values, their employees share the same religious beliefs, and they mostly serve people who share the same religious tenets.
Catholic Charities, which operates as a secular social services provider independent of the church, does not qualify for the exemption, and claimed that the law violates its constitutional right to religious free exercise. AJC and the coalition filing the amicus brief did not agree.
These decisions and the guarded acquiescence of the Catholic Church in both cases set the stage for what will undoubtedly be a USCCB cave-in on the Obama mandate. This is the most likely scenario in view of the fact that the USCCB historically filed amicus briefs, dubbed religious liberty briefs on the website, but offered no further opposition once the courts ruled in these cases.
Legal experts have analyzed the problem by noting that Catholic Charities, for example, employs a large percentage of people who are not Catholic and receives tax dollars to help in the provision of its services. Therefore while it is claiming to be working to protect religious liberty, it is at the same time—by accepting federal dollars—aligning itself with state and/or federal policies. If indeed, as opponents of the Church position argue, the provision of contraception is a “health” question—which is what the state is arguing—then the Church errs in attempting to differentiate itself from laws such as the Obama mandate.
This is the history that precedes this most recent New York Times headline: “Archdiocese Pays for Health Plan that Covers Birth Control.” Yes, the fact is that not only does the archdiocese reluctantly agree to Catholic Charities paying for insurance coverage for contraceptive services to its employees, but in fact the archdiocese itself uses its own money “to pay for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion for workers at its affiliated nursing homes and clinics.”
The Catholic hierarchy has juggled the balls in the air for a very long time, weighing the services it provides to the needy public against a cultural decline that appears to have sucked it and its programs into the abyss. By accommodating the status quo, the judges, and the unions, the Church today is nearly impotent in its opposition to the Obama mandate. This is perhaps why the Archdiocese of New York, which had subpoenaed documents from the Obama administration regarding the contraceptive mandate, has now withdrawn its subpoena!
If we return to that New York court decision one last time, and recall the report made by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), it all becomes very clear. Contrary to Catholic teaching, or perhaps in spite of it, we read, “Birth control is basic health care and women should have access to it; it is inexcusable for a major employer to deny basic health care to women who work for them.”
When the American Church determined in 1968 that teaching Humanae Vitae to the faithful was not palpable since the majority of Catholics approved of the use of birth control, the Church succumbed to public opinion. That is where she lost the battle. Today she is reaping the whirlwind created by her own lack of moral clarity.
A real American Catholic tragedy indeed!