On family planning, does the Catholic Church represent Catholics?

Riccardo De Luca AP Pope Benedict XVI leaves after an audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Saturday, … Continued

Riccardo De Luca


Pope Benedict XVI leaves after an audience in the Paul VI Hall, at the Vatican, Saturday, July 2, 2011.

John Garvey’s op-ed, “HHS’s birth-control rules intrude on Catholic values,” makes some assertions that do not hold up to scrutiny. In fact, millions of Catholics—theologians and laypeople alike—have lauded the inclusion of women’s preventive healthcare coverage as respectful of Catholic values.

The Catholic University of America (CUA) president asserted that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will “require” CUA to offer its students family planning services, claimed that certain reproductive health services are sinful and that the HHS was violating religious liberty.

There is nothing in the HHS rules that requires anybody to provide services. They require employers to offer coverage, which employees (or students) can then decide to utilize or not.

As regards the alleged sinfulness of family planning and the violations of religious liberty, Mr. Garvey’s interpretation is at odds with that of at least a dozen of the nation’s leading theologians who wrote to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the HHS on this very issue.

In the theologians’ letter, they explained a different, but clear and Catholic, objection to the mandate for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act—saying it didn’t go far enough. To back up their request that the HHS eliminate the refusal clause entirely, they relied on Catholic values and teachings, which they showed to be completely in harmony with the HHS policy on contraceptive coverage.

First, they mentioned the “
sensus fidelium
—the graced and experience-fed wisdom of the faithful that has always been one of the sources of truth in the Catholic tradition.” Since the overwhelming majority (98 percent) of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of modern contraception, it seems that Catholics in the pews might have something important to say to those in the pulpit. We should remember that it was only recently, in 1968, that a majority of the pope’s hand-picked advisors agreed that there was no moral, theological or pastoral reason to ban Catholics from using contraception. The bishops, however, would like us to forget that moment in Catholic history.

The theologians also emphasized the primacy of conscience—a central tenet of Catholic teachings. They showed that this implies a respect for others’ consciences as well. If the “university does not seek to impose its moral views on others,” as Mr. Garvey stated, then it should be free to condemn contraception in theology classes while students and employees are left to apply those lectures, or not, to their reproductive lives. These are the “norms of academic freedom” that Mr. Garvey lauds.

Conspicuously absent from the CUA president’s argument is the well-being of all women, which the theologians upheld as a Catholic value. Further, they noted that contraception is seen as integral component of women’s healthcare “by most other modern democratic societies.”

The authors of the letter also invoked the Catholic commitment to justice, specifically to workers’ rights. The refusal clause for religious institutions would impose unfair labor practices on employees, both Catholic and non-Catholic, who would be denied benefits other American women enjoy, simply because of where they work.

Being religious in a pluralistic world can bring up hard choices. Luckily the 1966 Vatican II document Declaration on Religious Freedom offers some advice: “In spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion.”

One way of checking ourselves against this standard is to ask, “Does this policy support the common good, a core Catholic value, or just some small part of it?” Allowing religious employers to interfere in women’s capacity for moral decision-making is an affront to conscience and an assault on religious freedom. Legal protections for freedom of religion extend to one’s personal religious beliefs and practices, and to religious communities’ right to worship according to their tenets, but they do not give entire institutions or individuals license to obstruct or coerce the exercise of another’s conscience—whether in religious beliefs, public life or accessing critical healthcare. No person of faith should want to set a precedent that would interfere with an individual’s right to conscience. Catholic University is filled with students and faculty who are living proof that the Catholic tradition still has much to say to the world. Hopefully it is a dialogue and not a monologue.

Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice

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  • kevnet

    100% of Catholics and non-Catholics sin. Does the church represent them?

  • henry6

    What does Mitt Romney say about this?

  • CindiC1

    As a Catholic I feel the church has no business in my marital sex life. I don’t know of any of my Catholic female friends who follow the church’s teachings regarding family planning. I allow my own morals and yes financial situation guide my family planning.

  • FortBliss

    Frankly, I object to someone who calls himself “Catholic” and obviously supports abortion – Catholics for “Choice” ?- dissenting with the teachings of the Church.
    “Thou shalt not kill” yet O’Brien supports the killing of babies in their mother’s womb?
    I guess he practices his own particular brand of Catholicism?

  • surfer-joe

    The Catholic Church represents the “Church!” No one else. All the church wants to do is protect it’s money and power and control over people. Not that it’s any different from all the religious cults, for that’s all they are. The Catholics just got started a little earlier than most others and it they had a better business plan.

  • cprferry

    People disobey their conscious and teachings at their own peril, but that’s a separate point from that organizationally the Church in communion with the heir to Peter owns and operates many institutions that retain certain rights the HHS decision violates.

  • cprferry

    It should be pointed out that Catholics for Choice is a group that is not in communion with the Pope, has been reprimanded by the US bishops and has little to no support from clergy or congregants that attend church weekly. They are funded by George Soros’ network and seek to subjugate the church to liberal political power. It’s a fight the Church has fought for many centuries as various kings sought to subjugate the Church to their interests. The Church successfully fought off many of those attempts and will continue to do so now with Soros’ efforts.

  • silencedogoodreturns

    what a stupid question. The Church IS catholicism. The relevant question is, “are Catholics really Catholic?”

  • silencedogoodreturns

    so…you are a Catholic, but don’t follow the Catholic Church’s teachings. So, what makes you a Catholic? I’m a truly interested.

  • pam8

    I object to any one who claims to follow the 10 commandments and supports capitol punishment. No need to get into the New Testament. Either you believe in “Thou shall not kill” or you don’t. There are no qualifiers to the commandment.

    Too simple. Not at all. It makes life very easy.

  • ccnl1

    From the Land of More and More:

    The reality of birth “control”:

    o Bottom Line 1: The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and STDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and STDs.

    Bottom line 2-
    Currently, a perfect barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one! In the meantime, monoma-sturbation or mutual masturbation are highly recommended for hete-rose-xuals who need a contraceptive. Abstinence is another best-solution but obviously the sex drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

    From the Guttmacher Institute:


    Percentage of women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy

    Method Typical

    Pill (combined) 8.7
    Tubal sterilization 0.7
    Male condom 17.4
    Vasectomy 0.2

    Periodic abstinence 25.3
    Calendar 9.0
    Ovulation Method 3.0
    Sympto-thermal 2.0
    Post-ovulation 1.0

    No method 85.0″

    (Abstinence) 0

    (Masturbation) 0

    The failure of the Pill as noted above results in one million unplanned pregnancies every year because women basically fail to take it once a day as prescribed in big bold letters. Is there a literacy problem that Planned Parenthood failed to recognize?

  • helllo1

    The answer is PROBABLY NOT since the most people in this day and age are not as blatantly sexist as what was acceptable in the past by the catholic church.

    Do catholic women and their spouses/lovers really believe that each time they use a contraceptive it is a sin?! Or do they believe that the only time to have sex is so they can have a pregnancy?

  • helllo1

    The church should root out all of those sinners who use contraceptives.

    Then they can have their following reduced to those over the age of 50.

    Who really thinks that contraceptive is a sin?

    I think it is a sin not to use it our to give people access to this.

    Why is it that the human sex drive is only second to that of the hunger drive? Way to go Lord, set up everyone to sin in the eyes of the “Catholic” church.

    How can the Pope(s) be wrong so many times through history when he alone hears straight from the “Lord”? Would not you think the “Lord” would have set it straight from day one?!

  • helllo1

    Isn’t the thought of having sex with someone a sin?

    Damn you, LUST!

  • JH17

    Does this author seriously cite a Wikipedia article? And we’re supposed to take him seriously? I wish Jon would go and just start his own Church like most good Protest-ants, and leave mine alone.

  • adamsleretired1

    The Catholic Church does not represnt the people; it is Gods representaive on Earth. I know not if the Church is right or wrong on the sublect of birth control but if you are a member of a group then you should follow the rules of that organization.

  • FortBliss

    Wow, I know many Catholic women (under the age of 50) who avoid ABC.

  • peleke111

    My Great Grandmother was sent to hell by the Catholic Church for going up on the altar during mass when the priest had a heart attack. My Grandmother was sent to hell when she ate meat on Friday. My Mother was sent to hell for complaining to the bishop about a pedophile priest. My wife was sent to hell for practicing birth control. Of course, none of these SINS is a sin! Just keep dropping your donations in the basket.

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