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On b.c. and the RCC: Can we at least get it right?

February 14, 2012

It’s been fascinating following this Obamacare contraception issue — the controversy over whether the White House is messing with religious liberty by forcing certain Catholic institutions to pay for reproductive services that violate church teaching. But it’s also been incredibly frustrating for this former religion reporter.

Let’s put aside all the ways Republican presidential hopefuls have used this as an opportunity to bash the administration. I’m not interested in that. What concerns me is the spin this is getting on the left. And in the mainstream media. Get Religion, as expected, has done a wonderful job critiquing some of the reporting. See here and here for some recent examples.

Anyway, here’s something that irked me: a New Yorker blog post by John Cassidy. It begins with a rather crude opening:

Having failed to take adequate precautions, President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, his secretary of Health and Human Services, were looking a bit sheepish on Friday lunchtime when they walked into the White House media-briefing room and administered a morning-after pill to quiet the controversy over a government edict requiring all employers, including ones with religious affiliations (though not churches and the like), to provide women with free birth control as part of their health-care plans.

And then goes on to explain why contraception isn’t that big a deal to Catholics and throws in the stat about 98 percent of Catholic women using birth control at some point in their lives. Yeah, OK, I get it. Catholics don’t follow all the rules. But that’s not the point. The church condemns artificial contraception and sterilization and the morning-after pill, so naturally the church doesn’t want to pay for those services for its employees.

What really rubs me the wrong way about Cassidy’s piece is his tone, which comes across as condescending and somewhat superficial. He doesn’t explore the reasoning behind the bishops’ opposition to birth control, sterilization and the morning-after pill. He doesn’t mention Humanae Vitae, a document that, by the way, some non-Catholics are now embracing. Instead we get:

Among the churchgoers I know, the prevailing practice on those occasional and unfortunate Sunday mornings when the parish priest takes it upon himself to outline the Vatican’s opinion—an opinion largely unsupported by the scriptures—that sex should be confined to procreation, and that contraception is an evil, is to sit quietly with a dutiful expression, letting the words go in one ear and out the other.

I realize he’s describing only “the churchgoers I know,” but it’s still incredibly dismissive of those Catholics who take this issue seriously. More alarming is his misunderstanding of church teaching. Sex should be “confined to procreation”? But look what the above-mentioned encyclical says here:

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.

And Cassidy just tosses out there that this opinion is “largely unsupported by the scriptures.” He may be right. I’m no biblical scholar. But I felt he should have backed that up somehow. Then again, he didn’t get the teaching right, so …. aaargh.

The thing is I support better access to and availability of birth control for women. I think the Catholic Church-supported Natural Family Planning is doable for some families but not all. Personally, I don’t see the “evil” in using artificial contraception. But here’s the thing: I do think it’s imperative that we understand the church’s teaching on this matter and that we explain it accurately.

Am I asking too much here?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jack Wirtz permalink
    February 14, 2012 5:44 pm

    It is not necessary to understand it, but to merely accept the fact that it is the religious teaching and doctrine of the Roman Church, and it need not be the doctrine of any other religious body.

    The doctrine is theirs, and has been for millennia, and is protected by the First Amendment.

    Read Charles Krauthamnner’s ( a Jew) The Gospel according to Obama,
    Washington Post Writers Group. He explains it clearly.


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