This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Response to Richard Doerflinger and the Bishops

Richard Doerflinger, associate director for pro-life activities of US Conference of Catholic Bishops, published an opinion piece in the Arlington Catholic Herald this week on how the "Bishops refused to choose between wrongs." This essay seems to be part of a systematic apologia by and on behalf of the bishops for their position against the recently passed health care reform law. Other actions include what appears to be a pattern of retaliation by some bishops against religious orders which supported the law, in opposition to the bishops' position - hence the need to play defense. You can read the article at

I will assume, for argument's sake, that each of the policy issues raised by Deorflinger is valid. It does not follow from this that opposition was the best policy. Indeed, both opposition and the need to justify it is probably counter-productive. Why is this? Because to amend the law to take correct these perceived flaws will require winning back progressive Catholics, not alienating them. Given that fact, the current effort can only be described as an exercise in sour grapes.

Luckily for the bishops and Doerflinger, liberal Catholics can afford to be magnanimous in victory. If any of the problems he identified actually appear, we will join with the bishops to fix them, just as we keep the pressure on to keep passing the Hyde Amendment - although retaliation by some bishops against the Sisters threatens that willingness and should stop. The internal Catholic coalition for Hyde should not be sacrificed for the right to life (read Republican) coalition, which is becoming problematic for the Church.

The sad fact of the matter is, if Doerflinger could have gotten just one Republican Senator to commit to voting for cloture, there could have been a conference committee on Health Care Reform and the issues could have been dealt with immediately. Indeed, it is a mark of the weakness of the bishop's position and influence that the USCCB could not get the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) to support the House bill as amended by the original Stupak Amendment. I suspect that it might have even passed the Senate if doing so would have led to bipartisan support for passage. The bishops had no business backing the Republican defeat-the-bill at any cost strategy while expecting Democratic Catholics to back their play. Without the ability to move both sides or the willingness to condemn obstructionism for its own sake, I submit that the USCCB has gotten more out of the debate than it deserved.

For the future, it would be good for the bishops to re-examine its relationship with the NRLC - especially its key strategy of seeking the judicial overturning of Roe v. Wade. This strategy works well for electoral politics, but it has absolutely no chance of success - nor should it since doing so would overturn much in the way of equal protection jurisprudence.

While I can understand how the bishops dislike some aspects of this part of the law, since it protects both contraception and gay rights as well, doing so is short sighted. Equal protection jurisprudence protects the Church in areas where there are few Catholics and many Evangelicals who still believe the Pope is the antichrist. It will also be instrumental in eventually revoking Blaine Amendments, which ban the direct funding of Catholic Schools in some states, including Virginia.

Minority rights in the face of majority power is the essential feature of a natural rights democracy. Altering 14th Amendment jurisprudence by buying the NRLC (and Federalist Society) position on abortion would seriously alter the nature of our democracy and can be opposed by Catholics on good grounds, regardless of its effect on the unborn. There are other (and better) ways to extend rights to the unborn. As long as the USCCB and the NRLC persist in their current strategy, however, doing so is impossible.


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