The following was printed in parish bulletins throughout the Diocese of Raleigh (pdf) :
Since late January the Church has been engaged in intense public debate about the federal mandate that some of its institutions must, directly or indirectly, provide health insurance that includes contraception to any employees who want it. The latest installment occurred yesterday (March 1), when the Senate voted 51-48 to reject an amendment to the mandate that would have permitted employers to refuse, for religious or moral reasons, to supply or pay for such coverage.
In one corner have been our bishops, who have taken the line that the mandate should be resisted because it attempts to force the Church to do something its doctrine judges immoral. They are supported in this by some representatives of other Christian churches, by some Jews, and by some secular people.
In the other corner have been those who say that the provision of contraception to those who want it is essential for the proper care of women’s health, and therefore belongs to the common good. Those who seek exemption from providing it are, according to this line of thought, themselves immoral and should be constrained by law to do the right thing.
There are a number of difficult questions wrapped up in these debates. Among them, one stands out as most pressing. It is: How should we Catholics think and act when the agencies of the state attempt to force us, whether individually or collectively, to act against what we hold both true and dear? On this, we can say two things with confidence, one about ourselves, and the other about America.
The first, about ourselves, is that the state has no real power in such matters, and we need to encourage one another to act as if we believe that to be true. The state can use its legislative and judicial machinery, of course; but the worst it can do is punish. Our consciences and our fidelity to the church we believe to be Christ’s are beyond the state’s reach. This is what contemplation of the church and its history with various pagan states shows us. It is a matter for serene confidence.
The second, about America, is that we are not only Catholics, but also American Catholics. That means we should love America with the love appropriate to her. She is not the church, and she has no special place in the eyes of the Lord. But America is where we live, and so we love her. Loving her means wishing her well and hoping for her good. It means praying for her, and publicly offering her, in humility and lament, our best understanding of what is good for her. One thing that is good for her is the flourishing of her churches, and ours among them. We should, each of us, now in this difficult and interesting time, be doing what we can to help our country see what that means.
Paul J. Griffiths
Warren Chair of Catholic Theology at Duke Divinity School
St. Thomas More Parish, Chapel Hill, NC,
Drafted 2 March 2012
Anton van Dyck, Emperor Theodosius Forbidden by St Ambrose To Enter Milan Cathedral (1619)