Back in the heady days of 2010 and the health-care reform debate, I wondered if there was a “Monday morning conference call” during which Catholic GOP activists got together to work out how to scuttle any reform deal. (Anyone remember Bart Stupak? Didn’t think so.) I wondered if I hit a nerve when a prominent member of the conservative Catholic political class emailed me the next day.
As this current election year heats up, I find myself wondering the same thing about that conference call, as first Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio bravely canceled its student health insurance plan over “religious liberty” fears–better to have them uninsured than trouble your conscience–and today Our Sunday Visitor, along with the University of Notre Dame, trumpets joining a massive federal lawsuit simultaneously filed in 12 jurisdictions against the HHS “contraceptive mandate.”
Two major announcements in two weeks–and this one accompanied by the communications apparatus of one of the country’s largest Catholic publishers, whose head, Greg Erlandson, is also president of the Catholic Press Association. (OSV also has a nice selection of “religious liberty products.”) This is all speculation, of course–and I have no direct knowledge that there is a coordinated conservative Catholic campaign to defeat President Obama in November. But if I was planning one, I don’t think I could have done it any better.
Granted, the administration gave its Catholic opponents some red meat with that mandate, but since HHS has totally backpedaled since the outcry, I hardly see the point in spending so much money–and forcing the government to spend so much taxpayer money–too oppose a regulation that may or may not go into effect, especially given the Affordable Care Act’s almost certain destruction by the Supreme Court.
Then again, I have argued–and I am fairly certain that I am right about this–is that every U.S. diocese, parish, and Catholic grammar and high school; some universities, including Steubenville; and most (if not all) Catholic publishers, including OSV and U.S. Catholic, would have been covered under the very first version of the religious exemption from the mandate, much less all the subsequent revisions.
Notre Dame President John Jenkins seems more circumspect about the lawsuit than Our Sunday Visitor, but whatever the intentions of either organization, I fear this further insertion of Catholicism in its various expressions into this election year is bad for the church. Most Americans–including most Catholics–do not like this kind of direct mixture of religion and politics, and I see no reason to pursue this matter in the courts now given the uncertainty surrounding both the reform as a whole and the mandate. If you’re going to get what you want without all the legal drama, why instigate the legal drama?