Lines are tough to draw in Catholic Church contraceptive debate

Simple question:

Whom do you most trust?

Your church? Your country? Your conscience?

Because, when it comes to birth control, one choice may be in conflict with the others. And in the coming days you may be asked to take sides in a battle that, in some ways, is entirely devoid of a villain.

In case you haven't been following the story, the Catholic Church is strongly opposing the Affordable Care Act because it will soon require contraception be provided free of charge in employer health insurance plans.

Catholic leaders argue, not unreasonably, that this mandate intrudes on long-held church teachings. Sen. Marco Rubio seems to agree, and introduced a bill on Monday that would allow religious hospitals and schools to be excused from the rule.

The Department of Health and Human Services argues, not unreasonably, that contraceptive products are an integral part of preventive care. It could also be pointed out that birth control is not required under the law but merely made available.

The Obama administration has tried to split the difference by agreeing to a provision that exempts those who work directly for a church (as opposed to a church-affiliated business) and by giving religious organizations an extra year to comply with the policy.

For the church, that wasn't enough. Wasn't even close. And this is where the story gets sticky.

Bishop Robert Lynch said the Diocese of St. Petersburg will not comply with the law, and instead will drop health insurance for about 2,300 employees. The employees will be given money to buy their own coverage.

The bishop went a step further by essentially asking Catholics to vote against President Barack Obama by writing that he hopes "no Catholic voting adult will soon forget this egregious and insensitive intrusion by our government.''

I do not fault Catholic leaders for standing by their beliefs, but it's disingenuous for the church to demonize the president and not its own parishioners.

For there is little doubt the majority of Catholics in this country are in favor of contraception, and regularly employ artificial birth control.

You can go as far back as 1967 when a special papal advisory commission of leading bishops, theologians and medical experts recommended the church relax its stance against birth control. Pope Paul VI disagreed.

Since then, national polls consistently show Catholics do not support, and typically ignore, the church's teachings on contraception.

A 1987 New York Times poll reported nine out of 10 U.S. Catholics believed someone could use contraceptives and still be a good Catholic. A 2005 Harris Interactive poll said 90 percent of U.S. Catholics support the use of birth control.

Catholic leaders have to be aware of this, and yet allow priests and others on the front line to turn a blind eye to this rampant disregard of the church's teachings.

And I'm not saying that unofficial policy is wrong. Between HIV and unwanted pregnancies, suggesting otherwise would be reckless. It just seems self-serving to now take a hard-line stance against the government.

Which brings us back to the top: Whom do you trust?

Your church? Your country? Your conscience?

John Romano can be reached at romano@tampabay.com.

Lines are tough to draw in Catholic Church contraceptive debate 02/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 8:41pm]

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