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Priest addresses HHS mandate

Nicole Michels | Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Wednesday night, retired priest Fr. Edward Ruetz spoke to Call to Action Michiana about the United States bishops’ stance on President Obama’s healthcare plan, insisting their handling of the issue is flawed.

Call to Action is a nationwide Catholic group focused on altering the way the Church engages in the modern political sphere. According to its website, Call to Action demands Catholic political ideology first and foremost focused on “advocat[ing] for justice and building inclusive communities based on anti-racism and anti-oppression.”

Ruetz traced the development of Catholic doctrine through history, concluding the bishops’ call for the repeal of the recently-revised Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate fails to abide by the 1965 Constitution on Religious Freedom.

“I believe that the U.S. Catholic bishops have not read the 1965 document on the Constitution of the Church in the modern world and that if they did, they would take a different stance on the HHS mandate,” he said.  

The bishops’ failure to abide by the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is alarming, because this article is supposed to define the behavior of all Catholics, Ruetz said.

“What I’m concerned about is that the bishops do not follow the Constitution on Religious Freedom … Even though the Church promulgated that this is what we should be living by, they are not abiding by it,” he said.

The most important element of this Constitution is the way it supports social justice efforts in politics, which is maintained by allowing those of a different faith to adhere to their personal belief system, Ruetz said.

“They are saying these actions are intrinsically evil, saying Catholic institutions would be violating their conscience in offering these services to people who are not Catholic,” he said. “However, they have a different conscience, and that’s where the conflict of personal rights comes up.”

Ruetz said the Constitution guarantees the right of every individual to follow the dictates of his or her conscience, free of coercion.  Catholic institutions such as Notre Dame and the Church hierarchy should show respect for this right, he said.  

“Every human being has the right of private conscience, and they’re trying to coerce that,” Ruetz said. “The right of private conscience within each human individual comes from their inherent human dignity. Therefore, the right of religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition, but in the very nature of the human being.”

Problems arise when the Church presumes to moderate the consciences of non-Catholics because that infringes upon their religious freedom, Ruetz said.

“[From the Constitution] it follows that he should not be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience … But let’s look at the other side. What if the conscience of a non-Catholic tells them it is inherently good to use these services?” he said.

Members of Call to Action Michiana debated these issues, focusing on analysis of the gap between Church rhetoric and the expressed desires of the people.

Call to Action member Tom Murray said he thought the bishops presumed too much when they expressed Catholics are against artificial contraception, and Catholics with a differing opinion should simply opt out of the artificial contraceptive services potentially provided by these insurance plans.

“Though we know that 90 percent of Catholics practice artificial birth control if they are able to, if artificial birth control was to be paid for by this enacted insurance program, it seems to me that if Catholics don’t want to use it, they’re free not to use it,” Murray said.  “I don’t understand why the bishops are allowed to get away with the lie that they are speaking for all Catholics.”

Hank Mascott, a member of Call to Action, said he hoped for similar attitudes to prevail in Indiana, following the pattern of the 18 states that have already accepted Obamacare.  

“Catholic institutions in those 18 states have somehow worked out compromises with state arrangements, and it has not caused this ‘brouhaha,’” Mascott said.  “It would be interesting to go back and look at how the Church has negotiated its position within those states.”

Call to Action Member Br. John Dolan said he also believed careful analysis of the framework of the discussion will lead to a more productive result.

“There are arguments and logic and reasoning on both sides, but the truth is somewhere in the middle,” Dolan said.  “I thought the truth of this debate was that these sides are using overcharged emotional rhetoric.”

Ruetz said he agreed with hopes for a compromise between the dissenting political factions and he thinks Notre Dame would likewise agree to potential arrangements.

“I would hope that Notre Dame could agree with the compromises that have been made, that they would be able to compromise and accept the mandate like many colleges have done,” he said. “Social justice says that Notre Dame should look at the justice issue involved with offering these services to non-Catholic people who think the services are good actions.”

The bishops’ stance on the health care mandate represents a larger trend within the Church of strictly adhering to established doctrine, which Ruetz said disconnects the Church from the concerns of the people it serves.

“The hierarchy is losing touch with what is happening in the modern world … It is not willing to look at [certain] issues and confront them,” Ruetz said.  “It doesn’t want to bring them up because if they did they would have to look at women’s equality, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, married priesthood and the ordination of women.”