By Dave Andrusko
A column in today’s Washington Post is the latest evidence that an audience well beyond the Catholic Church is coming to agree that the Obama administration is systemically anti-Catholic.
Michael Gerson pays close attention to the latest confrontations—over the objections of career staffers, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) abruptly ended a grant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop for programs that aid victims of human trafficking. (More about that momentarily—see also “Can Anyone but Catholics Apply?”)
But Gerson rightly begins with President Obama’s 2009 remarks at the University of Notre Dame. There was a tremendous controversy over the University’s decision not only to choose President Obama to give the commencement address but also (and to many worse) to award him an honorary law degree.
“Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,” Obama said at the time, “and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.” None except the willfully blind were fooled by Obama’s assurances and Gerson observes in his column Monday that “Obama’s statement had the awkward subordinate clauses of a contentious speech-writing process. Qualifications and code words produced a pledge that pledged little.”
Of course 54% of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008 so his administration routinely denies they are anti-Catholic. But that is why the decision to end funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help victims of modern day slavery speaks so loudly. (The USCCB has overseen nationwide services to victims since 2006.)
The USCCB lost out when senior political appointees at HHS “awarded the new grants to the bishops’ competitors despite a recommendation from career staffers that the bishops be funded based on scores by an independent review board, according to federal officials and internal HHS documents,” according to the Washington Post’s Jerry Markon. “That prompted a protest from some HHS staffers, who said the process was unfair and politicized, individuals familiar with the matter said. Their concerns have been reported to the HHS inspector general’s office.”
What was it about the USCCB’s application that political types at HHS found so objectionable? “The bishops’ organization, in line with the church’s teachings, had refused to refer trafficking victims for contraceptives or abortion,” Markon reported. “The American Civil Liberties Union sued, and HHS officials said they made a policy decision to award the grants to agencies that would refer women for those services.”
“HHS announced it was giving preference to grantees that offer ‘the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.’ This was described by one official as ‘standard procedure.’ So it is now standard procedure in the Obama administration to deny funding to some Catholic programs based solely on their pro-life beliefs.”
According to Gerson,
“The process that produced the HHS decision remains murky and USCCB has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more details. But it is difficult to imagine that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was not involved in a matter of this much obvious controversy. Sebelius — an outspoken pro-choice Catholic — has a long history of conflict with Catholic authorities.”
There are a host of other “in your face” Obama administration policies, revolving around conscience protections for pro-lifers. The Obama administration offers the narrowest possible construction and then criticizes pro-lifers for not being grateful for the pittance. The result of these decisions is “effectively barring the participation of Catholic institutions,” as Gerson explains.
He quotes Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, who calls these policies an “assault which now appears to grow at an ever-accelerating pace in ways that most of us could never have imagined.”
Gerson ends his column with the question, “How will the White House respond?”
“More specifically, how will the Catholic chief of staff and America’s first Catholic vice president respond? They gave up their own adherence to Catholic teaching on abortion long ago. But are they really prepared to betray their co-religionists who still hold these beliefs?
“Sebelius is becoming a political embarrassment at an inconvenient time. It will be significantly harder for Obama to repeat his appeal to Catholic voters while a part of his administration is at war with Catholic leaders and Catholic belief.”
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