The Catholic Church is ramping up its opposition to the administration’s regulation requiring insurers to offer preventive health services — including contraception — without additional co-pays. Yesterday, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George sought to explain the Church’s concerns by claiming that the coverage requirement could lead to a “theft of identity” for religious groups and the growing secularization of society:
But the contraceptive mandate violates the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion, which applies as much to institutions as individuals, he said. George bemoaned the government’s attempts to limit the definition of religious institutions and deny protection to church entities that educate and provide medical care to the general public.
The issue is more than religious freedom, George said. It’s “theft of identity,” he said.
But most importantly, the cardinal said, the legislation highlights a growing cultural conundrum. “What is the place of church in society that is secularizing itself very, very rapidly?” he said. “’If the use of religious pluralism is to remove all religious institutions from public life, it’s going to be a very different society than what we have now.”
The comments reinforce the notion that the Church isn’t interested in finding a reasonable accommodation with the administration — one in which religious institutions are exempt from providing birth control (as is already the case), while women can decide for themselves whether or not to take advantage of the benefit. Rather, religious leaders won’t be satisfied until contraception coverage is completely removed from the Affordable Care Act and women — particularly lower-ince women — struggle to afford reproductive health services.
But this goal is unpopular with most Americans and Catholics, the majority of whom reject the Church’s teachings against contraception. As Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York admitted during a recent Fox News interview, “It’s a tough battle because of that and our opponents are very shrewd because they’ve chosen an issue that they know we don’t — we’re not very popular on.”