The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meets this week to elect a new president. Relations with Washington top the agenda. Stalking those relations is the reality that the USCCB compromised itself two years ago to facilitate the presidential candidacy of Joe Biden. Now it is caught in the repercussions of its own priorities in 2020.
Biden’s appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services would eliminate freedom of conscience in the name of health care. They propose to revise Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to add mandates about abortion, “gender identity,” and sexual orientation to existing protections against “discrimination on the basis of sex.” Revision will subvert the right of hospitals and medical practitioners to claim exemption from participating in procedures that violate their religious convictions.
The USCCB responded with a directive to laity: “Act Now! Tell the Federal Government to Do No Harm to Catholic Health Care Ministries.” Posted on the USCCB’s website, it prints out as a two-page flyer for distribution in parishes:
According to the new rule, it would be considered discrimination for a health care worker or Catholic hospital to object outright to performing gender transition procedures. … [It] also suggests that the government may refuse to honor the right of health care workers and providers not to perform or participate in abortions.
The bishops are opposed to mandates that imperil the functioning of Catholic health care institutions. Yet they themselves undercut conscientious opposition to abortion — or any morally repugnant surgery — two years ago. Attacks on religious freedom in medical practice are the unintended but predictable consequence of the USCCB’s tacit support for Biden in 2020.
The group refused to confront presidential candidate Biden’s de-Christianizing agenda: “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party.” The pose of neutrality and a fastidious blind eye to Biden’s contempt for church teaching and natural law was not strictly an endorsement. But it functioned as one by the back door.
Secular Humanist Agenda
Biden’s ambition to reverse existing limitations on abortion was in full view during his campaign. So was his blessing on gender theory, including transgender “rights” for minors. But the USCCB, bent on keeping borders open, tipped its miters to Biden by revising its voter guide in advance of the election. “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” was a 53-page inventory of secular humanist agendas that, by sheer volume, sidelined abortion. The sexual revolution went unnoticed.
The vade mecum cataloged every ill recognized by the humanitarian left: from liberation theology’s preferential option for the poor, to immigration, “global solidarity,” support for United Nations programs, and censure of “unjust discrimination.” It called for the United States to be a leader in addressing regional conflict around the planet. It sought to “humanize globalism.” The “intrinsic evil” of abortion eddied around in a stream frothing with competitors for attention:
Care for Creation is a moral issue. Protecting the land, water, and air we share is a religious duty of stewardship and reflects our responsibility to born and unborn children, who are most vulnerable to environmental assault.
Even universal internet access “regardless of income” ranked among moral issues to occupy Catholic consciences. Transgenderism was not one of them.
That lacuna leaves the USCCB at a disadvantage regarding so-called gender transition. “Act Now!” avoids challenge to the heart of the matter: the deconstruction of sex. It provides no challenge to the aims and premises of radical gender theory. Instead, the bishops take refuge in the selfsame appeal to revealed religion that activists are adept at targeting:
If a DOCTOR has a religious belief that God created human beings male and female, and that we are to accept our bodies as beautiful gifts of God, that DOCTOR should not be pressured or penalized by the government to perform gender transition procedures.
If a RELIGIOUS HOSPITAL believes that God created human beings male and female and that we are to accept our bodies as beautiful gifts of God, that HOSPITAL should not be pressured or penalized by the government to perform gender transition procedures.
The directive cites biblical principles but makes no effort to assert the rationality of them. Missing is any scrutiny of the sexual politics (e.g. denial of biology and objective reality; malice toward norms) that subvert those principles. It provides no reference to scholarship that counters LBGT propaganda. The omissions cede ground to gender militants.
No Real Pushback from USCCB
Instead of militant push-back, the USCCB stays on the defensive. It insists only that opposition to “gender transition” is simply a clinical judgment, never an act of bias against individuals. Bishops cite their own poll: “A study commissioned by the USCCB found that 70% of registered voters recognized that objection to the procedure is not discrimination.”
Bishops are obligated to provide clarity on moral issues. But moral clarity does not come from polling data. The anxious caution of a poll is a confession of timidity against the meteoric rise of gender ideology.
Religious liberty is part of an over-arching civilizational fight in which the episcopal bureaucracy — with rare exception — is reluctant to engage. Freedom of conscience is best secured by vigorous resistance to a de-civilizing incoherence that claims the mantle of science for political ends. Unhappily, that resistance lost substance during the Covid hysteria as a result of episcopal ambivalence over religious objection to the jab.
Thousands of American Catholics sought conscientious dispensation from vaccine mandates. Lucky ones had a sympathetic bishop. Many others were denied cooperation. Pope Francis had declared vaccination a “moral obligation” and “an act of love.” Refusing the vaccine was “suicidal.” Accordingly, some bishops forbade priests in their jurisdiction from helping parishioners claim exemption.
The USCCB’s hedge in 2020 followed 40 years of effort to reduce abortion’s dominant status among ever-expanding social justice concerns. It has been a conceptual maneuver since 1983, when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin declared that being pro-life is not only about abortion. A “consistent ethic of life” includes all factors that affect material well-being. Bernardin’s dogma advanced “a seamless garment” from which individual threads cannot be pulled.
It is a tight weave. Last month, Pope Francis appointed Mariana Mazzucato, an American economist and pro-abortion activist, to the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Seamless garment thinking denies a hierarchy of moral concerns. If no single evil can be torn from the sum of all the others, it is impossible to decide on which issue church truth falls with the greatest weight. As Madison, Wisconsin’s Bishop Donald Hying intoned to his flock in September of 2020: “No individual or party can ever represent the totality of our values and beliefs.”
“What is truth?” Two years ago a temporizing USCCB left Catholics to answer Pilate’s question on their own. This year it directs the laity to fend off a result of its own intentional ambiguity.