M. Cathleen Kaveny, the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, Commonweal Magazine contributor, John T. Noonan, Jr. protege, and Humanae Vitae critic, appeared on the Daily Show on 3/1/12.
Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked a great “man on the street” question in his mostly straight-up interview of Prof. Kaveny: Why all the apocalyptic language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the HHS mandate?
Prof. Kaveny did not directly represent the point of view of the Bishops in answering the question, but stuck to the Commonweal, or as I like to call it, the Cogleyweal narrative of urbane dissent from Humanae Vitae. This urbane dissent undermines the ground around Humanae Vitae’s teaching while not directly challenging it, in part by illustrating in various ways that not all Catholics view this matter the way the Bishops do.
A more direct and complete answer to Mr. Stewart’s question might have been this:
1. The Bishops see abortion as a most fundamental and total crime against a single human because it viciously and arbitrarily violates that person out of existence at that person’s supreme point of innocence and defenselessness. Abortion in the eyes of Catholic teaching negates every principle on which other acts of simple justice and social justice rest, and therefore must be opposed in a fundamental way.
2. Many forms of artificial contraception prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, and are thus also forms of abortion.
3. Because Catholic teaching sees these acts, including sterilization, as immoral in a fundamental way, therefore Catholics have built religious institutions, including hospitals and clinics, where Catholics can perform acts of charity while not participating in actions they consider immoral.
4. Civil libertarians, especially in President Obama’s home state of Illinois, who formed the core group advancing his political career and who have key posts in his administration, have long pressed the government to remove the above independence from Catholic institutions.
5. By posting the HHS mandate to the Federal Register without modification in “45 CFR Part 147 [CMS–9992–F] RIN 0938–AQ74 Group Health Plans and Health Insurance Issuers Relating to Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” the White House has given the original mandate the force of law without any “accommodation.” Talks between the staffs of the White House and the U.S. Catholic Bishops about the details of this “accommodation” are not substantively progressing. At this point, the “accommodation” is nothing more than an unfulfilled promise in a string including the “sensible conscience clause.”
6. The White House’s proposed “accommodation” would still force religious institutions that are self-insured to pay for sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception that in some instances acts as an abortifacient. (Somehow, the anonymous Jesuit editorial writers at America Magazine and some Commonweal Magazine personalities think that the mere offer of an “accommodation” makes everything OK now, and are back to supporting the White House instead of the Bishops based apparently upon another unfulfilled promise).
7. The U.S. Catholic Bishops, in order to not participate in supporting a grave evil of sterilization and the distribution of abortifacients, see that it might be necessary to close Catholic hospitals and clinics, built with great sacrifice over the course of many generations, rather that follow the law as it is now written, since the law as written forces Catholic institutions to violate the very principles on which they were founded.
8. In 2009 at Notre Dame University, President Obama promised a “sensible conscience clause” to Catholics. He has not delivered on this promise, it is not contained in the HHS mandate, and it has not been provided in the recent “accommodation.” It is thus reasonable for the Bishops to continue to press for such conscience protection.
9. Therefore, we have heard absolute, life and death, “apocalyptic” language from the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
As long as the public view of this question is that this matter is only about birth control, but not also equally about human life and religious freedom, the Bishops haven’t broken through sufficiently into the consciousness of the public. To the extent that Prof. Kaveny did not help articulate the Bishops’ view, she assisted in undermining the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ position.
Jon Stewart’s question is a good one: Why the apocalyptic language from the Bishops in this issue?
Much rides now on whether the U.S. Bishops can answer Mr. Stewart’s question effectively in public square, and for the Catholic “man and woman on the street” and others of good will to learn how critical it is to support the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ stand for life and liberty.
The very existence of Catholic institutions, free to follow Catholic consciences, is riding in the balance. Prof. Kaveny, at least in her Daily Show appearance, despite being highly qualified to do so, apparently did not vigorously help to defend the moral independence of Catholic institutions in a free society.
Seemingly yet another case of Notre Dame’s Forgotten Freedom!
For more on the intellectual origins of Prof. Kaveny’s position on Humanae Vitae, please see my scholarly article on Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand.
For a response to Prof. Kaveny from Fr. Robert Barron and the Word
on Fire blog, see this link.
© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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