The Bishops v. Birth Control: It’s Not About the Money

In announcing its final rule concerning the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee of access to birth control without a co-pay for all American women—including the Catholics and non-Catholics who work in religiously sponsored schools, hospitals, and social service agencies—the Obama administration bent over backwards to accommodate the Church’s concerns. The goal was to spare Church fathers from the anguish of getting their pristine hands dirty by, as the Bishops charged, being forced to sell, buy or broker birth control coverage for women, including students. The final rule allows that either the insurance company used by the institution will have to pay for birth control—or, if the institution is self-insured, the plan administrator will have to provide or arrange payment—with reimbursement coming through a series of convoluted steps.

In a repeat of the Church battle over the Affordable Care Act, Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, last week publicly approved the administration’s final rule, issuing an explanation for the association’s members about how to implement it. Not so the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The week before, its head, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, released his statement expressing dissatisfaction with the compromise, saying that the bishops are subjecting it to further “analysis,” feel their “religious freedom” is still under threat, and plan to continue “defending our rights in Congress and in the courts.” Count on the 60+ lawsuits by Catholic diocese and universities around the country, joined by secular employers who also don’t like birth control and want to exclude it from their insurance policies, proceeding apace.

It is maddening that the Administration had to go to such extremes to placate the Church fathers, who dare to put “moral” and “money” as it applies to this deeply compromised institution in the same sentence. How pure, really, were the hands of the Church fathers who began decades ago to secretly spend millions of dollars in hush money to silence child victims of clergy rape and sodomy, and rid themselves of the evidence of their paternal crimes? Hush money that came from the faithful in the pews, who paid for all those ever-escalating insurance premiums, and from selling the churches and schools out from under those same working-class Catholics? The victims merited all the compensation they got and more, but the Church fathers literally stole that money from the Catholics they served and lied about it.

When the Bishops realized how much money they had to lose by even these secret settlements, hiding the goods from the victims became the next best strategy. So how pure, really, are the hands of Cardinal Dolan, the leading voice claiming the moral high ground in the battle to keep any of the church coffers from supporting birth control for women? Files just released by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee turned up a letter showing that when Dolan served as the Archbishop of that diocese, he secretly and successfully, and even as the Archdiocese was preparing to file for bankruptcy, petitioned the Vatican to bury nearly $57 million in a cemetery trust fund in order to protect those assets “from legal claim and liability,” aka, child abuse victim compensation. And this was on top of his paying off some priest child sex abusers $20,000 a piece to leave the priesthood, reportedly defended by Dolan in one case as “an act of charity,” so that, irony of ironies, the priest “could pay for health insurance.”

And how pure, really, are the hands of the Church fathers regarding money when we look at the shenanigans at the Vatican bank? Still laughably named the “Institute for the Works of Religion,” the Vatican Bank is literally drowning in mounting accusations of money laundering and mobster connections. Most recently, Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, an accountant for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, which manages the Vatican’s property and investments (and a Vatican account-holder himself), was arrested and charged with conspiring to transfer some $26 million from Switzerland to Italy to dole out to his rich friends.

Given this sad financial state of affairs, how does paying for a health service like birth control for women become such a threat to Church fathers that they’ve made a major campaign out of it?

The bishops claim this mandate violates church teaching that artificial birth control is “intrinsically evil, “despite the fact that nearly 100 percent of Catholics don’t believe there is anything “intrinsically evil” about birth control and use it. The bishops claim birth control is the same as abortion; it isn’t. They claim to be protecting the institution’s “conscience,” thereby stepping all over Catholic Church teaching that defines conscience as “the most secret core and sanctuary” of a person, not an institution, and the Church not as the “men of God” but as “the people of God,” which would seem to include women. They claim the money at issue is “their” money, even though employees earn their health insurance as part of their compensation package, and many have to contribute to or pay the full amount of their health insurance premiums so this is at base a labor issue. And their claim that birth control is not a “health” service, in the face of current scientific knowledge and medical opinion, is tantamount to insisting that the sun revolves around the earth.

A hint of a far deeper motivator lies in a rarely regarded passage from Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Encyclical letter, “On the Regulation of Birth,” which cemented the Church’s current intransigent opposition to birth control. The section on “Grave Consequences on Methods of Artificial Contraception” reads in part:

Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

In other words, a woman should not have access to methods of artificial birth control, should be at the mercy of her husband and her biology, because then her husband is more likely to remain committed to her and to God and faithful to the Church’s “moral law.” Keeping her at constant risk of pregnancy—and the health jeopardy that is attendant on such risk—is a small price to pay for maintaining the Church’s moral order.

That position—blindness to women’s rights and needs—has a familiar ring. It is the same refusal to see that underlies the all-male hierarchy’s ban on women priests. It is the same refusal that forbids priests to marry. Indeed, at the heart of the contraception debate and so many debates around gender in the Catholic Church is a terror that if women have rights—over their own reproductive lives, to be priests, to marry priests, to have real voice and power in the Church—then the Church men will change. And if the Church men change, then the Church will change.  And if the Church changes, the future that the all-male hierarchy lives in terror of—Pope Francis’s nightmare of rampaging feminists, waging a “vindictive battle,” steam rolling men with their “chauvinism with skirts”—will, at last, be here.

No wonder they’re fighting so hard.

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  • HeilMary1

    Humanae Vitae is an insulting completely invalid farce because its author criminally secretly collaborated with the genocidal anti-abortion Croatian Nazi Ustasha (Catholic Action) during the 1940s. Many Allied officers, journalists and survivors have documented the Ustasha atrocities that primarily targeted 1 million Serb Orthodox Christian “heretics” with forced conversions to Catholicism, immediately followed by genocide. Cardinal Montini (Paul VI), as Vatican undersecretary of state for refugees, insisted on funding Ustasha leader Ante Pavelich to “fight abortion” even though Italian papers reported his gruesome exterminations that included pregnant Serbs. Montini should have been hung at Nuremburg, but the new CIA, being run by Nazi money launderer Allen Dulles, found other “anti-communist” Operation Paperclip uses for thousands of Nazi scientists and the Ustasha death squads. If Hollywood ever got the guts to make a feature film about this hidden chapter, it would be game over not only for the Catholic Church, but also for the fetal idolaters now ruining the GOP. Alperin v. Vatican Bank addresses claims by Serb survivors whose stolen money has been kept in the Vatican Bank along with the melted gold teeth of Jewish holocaust victims. The Vatican’s betrayals are always far worse than anyone can imagine.

    • Rdzkz

      Good reminder.

    • Arekushieru

      It seems to me, though, that Serbs were the ones who persecuted Croatians for the most part, though.

      • HeilMary1

        You may be thinking of the 1990s Balkan wars in which many still-angry Serbs did attack Croatians when Croatia seceded to resurrect its Catholics-only “paradise” nation.

        • Arekushieru

          But, they didn’t just attack Croatians, they attacked Albanian Muslims.

          • John Alexander Harman

            There were a fair number of Bosnian Muslims who fought on the Nazi side and committed atrocities against the Serbs in World War II as well; the 13th Mountain Division of the Waffen-SS was composed mainly of Bosnian Muslim volunteers.

          • Arekushieru

            But, it’s also possible that, like the Serbs, as outlined by HeilMary, that these were some very angry Albanian Muslims who had suffered long before Hitler came on the scene.

          • John Alexander Harman

            Indubitably; that conflict had been going on for centuries. Some of the ethnic/religious hatred in the Balkans goes all the way back to the crusades.

  • Kay4Justice

    This article clearly points out the hypocrisy of it’s so-called moral authorities. I do not understand how anyone can believe anything they say, no matter what it is. Of course, I am a survivor of priest abuse and that fact alone has made it easier for me to develop a zero-tolerance policy where this ‘church’ is concerned.

    • HeilMary1

      I’ve come across many cases of “anti-choice” priests, just like adulterous “anti-choice” Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, getting away with forcing contraception, abortion and even infanticide on their female rape victims. If contraception and abortion are OK for protecting their unholy male careers, contraception and abortion should also be OK for protecting ALL pro-choice women’s lives.

  • idendoit

    “….., is tantamount to insisting that the sun revolves around the earth.”

    Recently was the 400th anniversary of Gallileo’s publication of ‘The Starry Messenger’ with its heliocentric observations. At the time the church had him put under house arrest for subverting church law. On the anniversary, they forgave his house arrest but never agreed with his observations. You are not far off the mark.

  • Dam Spahn

    I’m so tired of misogynistic old men in skirts telling us how to behave and meddling in our lives. I’m tired of them covering up molestation, protecting their pedopheliacs club, and in general, treating the world as if its inhabitants, particularly the women and children, are their chattel. If they were truly investigated and prosecuted for their crimes, there would be less misery, suffering, and deprivation in this world. These vile bishops seem to be bent on making hell on earth.

  • Rdzkz

    Catholic church leadership talks about what it does not know: women and reverence to women.


    Celibate old men don’t practice birth control, therefore no one should be allowed to practice birth control. They will go to the wall defending their philosophical construct, and remain totally oblivious and indifferent to the real world damage that construct causes.

  • bicfj

    The real source of morality is certainly not the church(es).

    Morality is not intended to support a collection of clergy and their hierarchy.

    Morality is intended to support the rights of individual persons while doing justice for humanity in general

    Morality is intended to support the well-being of humanity in general while doing justice for the rights of individual persons.

    These two different sentences illustrate why there should be a science of morality.

    Churches and their hierarchy are impediments to the development of real morality.

  • ukash kart

    I do not understand how anyone can believe anything they say, no matter what it is. Of course, I am a survivor of priest abuse and that fact alone has made it easier for me to develop a zero-tolerance policy where this ‘church’ is concerned.

  • Andrew Patton

    No one has the right to be a priest. Being a priest is a privilege and an honor, granted by God through the Church, and no candidate has been denied anything he has a right to by being refused ordination.