In the News 2013

Catholic Church tests its reach in health care debate

Bystanders love a good brawl. Make it between people not normally viewed as combative and the crowd gathers, primed for the rumble.

No surprise, then, when people jumped at the animosity between Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter. Finn unleashed on the liberal leanings of the newspaper in a column. He called the paper out for “lionizing dissident theologies” on issues like the ordination of women and church teachings on contraception.

But realize that Finn alienated portions of the Catholic community within months of his arrival in 2005. He has ruffled liberal/progressives about Catholic life and activism.

Those tensions are the tip of this iceberg. Faith-based pushback to health care reform is where eyes and ears should focus. That’s the building battle that will affect people far beyond the Catholic faith.

The fact is many bishops are out of step with their flocks when it comes to contraception.

But others are being drawn in through lawsuits, many filed on behalf of the Catholic faith. The suits question government mandates to provide coverage for birth control in prescription coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Religious employers can already claim exemption based on religious freedom. What’s challenged is how wide the exemptions will be cast. Some religious-affiliated universities, hospitals and social service agencies that employ people outside their faiths and aid the public also want to opt out.

Even more problematic are the arguments of private businesses. Consider the challenge filed by the owner of Hobby Lobby craft stores, which asks for his personal beliefs to dictate which drugs and procedures will be covered.

The government is due to clarify the exemptions by mid-February. But the issue will probably land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

This week, Catholics for Choice is meeting with legislators in Jefferson City, Topeka and Lincoln, Neb. Among other points, the group will remind them of recent polling showing 68 percent of Catholics object to a university denying birth control coverage in their employee health care plans. And 77 percent of Catholics object to pharmacies refusing to fill birth control prescriptions, the same rate of Americans overall.

The views aren’t surprising considering Catholic women use birth control at rates equal to other women, despite the church’s stand.

For church leaders such as Finn, the polling highlights a crisis in the faith. Consider that a private family spat.

The secular dilemma is how far religious hierarchy will reach to influence the lives of non-Catholics. A contentious fight is brewing.

This piece was originally published by The Kansas City Star.

Catholics for Choice