By Father John Flynn, LC
WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Opposition to the U.S. federal government's decision to oblige Church affiliated institutions to cover contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization in their health plans continues to gather strength.
According to one recent count by the Catholic Vote blog, out of the 183 dioceses in the U.S. who have a bishop currently serving as its head, 169 of them have issued statements protesting the new regulations issued by the Health and Human Services department. In many cases these statements have been read out at Sunday Mass.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has also continued to speak out. In a Feb. 3 press release, the bishops criticized what they termed "a set of false and misleading claims on the White House blog," regarding the regulations.
The press release accused the White House of twisting the facts and of misleading the public. In response to the claim that the Obama Administration is committed to respecting religious beliefs the USCCB said blankly that this is "false."
Then, on Feb. 6 the USCCB issued another press release, with a series of points regarding the new regulations. It reiterated the point that many Catholic institutions will be affected and that it will force them to pay for things considered immoral by the Church.
The USCCB pointed out that protests are being made by a number of other groups. These include the National Association of Evangelicals, The Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Losing the fight
An article dated Feb. 9 on the Washington Post Web site listed a number of reasons why, in the opinion of the author David Gibson of the Religion News Service, Obama is losing the fight on this issue.
He pointed out that Obama has lost the support of the Catholic allies who backed his election in 2008. Emblematic of this was the very strong criticism of the HHS regulations by Washington Post columnist and long-time Obama supporter E.J. Dionne, and Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter.
In fact, one of the most prominent Catholic supporters of Obama, Douglas Kmiec, former ambassador to Malta, also decried the new regulations. According to the political Web site "The Hill," Kmiec not only criticized the decision but also indicated that "until I have an opportunity to speak with the president, I am for now (unhappily) without a candidate."
As for Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, former director of the Jesuit weekly America he said that: "the Obama campaign and administration appear to be tone deaf in dealing with Catholics."
Interviewed by the Web site "Vatican Insider" on Feb. 2 he said that: "They do not know how to appeal to Catholic voters and they periodically do things that alienate sections of the Catholic community."
The Republican Party has now taken up the issue, sensing a vital political opportunity. "In imposing this requirement, the federal government has drifted dangerously beyond its constitutional boundaries, encroaching on religious freedom in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation's most vital institutions," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), according to a Feb. 8 report by the Washington Post.
According to press reports, more than 150 members of Congress, from both parties, have sent a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services department, criticizing the regulations on contraceptives and sterilization.
In his analysis of the situation in an article on the American Spectator Web site today, Sam Gregg, director of research for the Acton Institute, harkened back to the famous April 2005 homily by the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, when he warned of the dictatorship of relativism.
"[T]his is all about the absolutization of choice for the sake of choice," Gregg observed.
"In this world, tolerance no longer creates the safety for us to express our views about the nature of good and evil and its implications for law and public morality," he added. "Instead, it serves to banish the truth as the reference point against which all of us must test our ideas and beliefs."