It is a well-known phenomenon that generals have a tendency to “Fight the Last War,” meaning that they tend to use the tactics that brought them victory in the last war they fought. The problem is that the enemy usually shows up with new weapons and new tactics. Either the generals adapt, or go down to defeat.
In the war over the HHS Mandate, it seems that the bishops have shown up with Cardinal O’Connor’s playbook from the 1980’s. It won’t work, and they had better grasp that reality today, and with all due urgency.
This past week, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago issued a letter to his faithful warning that the archdiocese will need to get out of the hospital and healthcare business, as well as education, social services, etc., if the Obama administration does not back down. Some excerpts:
Catholic hospitals, universities and social services have an institutional conscience, a conscience shaped by Catholic moral and social teaching. The HHS regulations now before our society will make it impossible for Catholic institutions to follow their conscience.
What will happen if the HHS regulations are not rescinded? A Catholic institution, so far as I can see right now, will have one of four choices: 1) secularize itself, breaking its connection to the church, her moral and social teachings and the oversight of its ministry by the local bishop. This is a form of theft. It means the church will not be permitted to have an institutional voice in public life. 2) Pay exorbitant annual fines to avoid paying for insurance policies that cover abortifacient drugs, artificial contraception and sterilization. This is not economically sustainable. 3) Sell the institution to a non-Catholic group or to a local government. 4) Close down.
The state is making itself into a church. The bishops didn’t begin this dismaying conflict nor choose its timing. We would love to have it ended as quickly as possible. It’s up to the government to stop the attack.
If you haven’t already purchased the Archdiocesan Directory for 2012, I would suggest you get one as a souvenir. On page L-3, there is a complete list of Catholic hospitals and health care institutions in Cook and Lake counties. Each entry represents much sacrifice on the part of medical personnel, administrators and religious sponsors. Each name signifies the love of Christ to people of all classes and races and religions. Two Lents from now, unless something changes, that page will be blank.
There’s much more in the letter. Read it here.
Cardinal George’s tactic here was that of Cardinal O’Connor in the 1980’s, when Mayor Ed Koch passed Executive Order 50 that would have forced the Catholic Church to hire homosexuals in all of our institutions. From Wiki:
O’Connor actively opposed Executive Order 50, a mayoral order issued in 1980 by Mayor Ed Koch, which required all City contractors, including religious entities, to provide services on a non-discriminatory basis with respect to race, creed, age, sex, handicap, as well as “sexual orientation or affectational preference”. After the Salvation Army received a warning from the City that its contracts for child care services would be canceled for refusing to comply with the executive order’s provisions regarding sexual orientation, the Archdiocese of New York and Agudath Israel, an Orthodox Jewish organization, threatened to cancel their contracts with the City if forced to comply. O’Connor maintained that the executive order would cause the Church to appear to condone homosexual practices and lifestyle. Writing in Catholic New York in January 1985, O’Connor characterized the order as “an exceedingly dangerous precedent [that would] invite unacceptable governmental intrusion into and excessive entanglement with the Church’s conducting of its own internal affairs.” Drawing the traditional Catholic distinction between homosexual “inclinations” and “behavior”, he stated that “we do not believe that homosexual behavior … should be elevated to a protected category.”
The Church won its case in court, but O’Connor was willing to close our schools and child care agencies if we lost, forcing a city just inching back from bankruptcy to pick up the cost.
Back then, I was in my early 20’s. The bulk of voters were the Greatest Generation, then in their 50’s, and the generations who preceded them. In other words, most voters actually had education in civics, and most men came from a generation when military service was regarded as a rite of passage into manhood. They valued the Constitution, and a thug such as Barak Obama never would have made it past being a city councilman from a radical district. Back then, voters understood the need for fiscal responsibility and Ed Koch would have had his goose cooked if he threatened the fragile economic recovery of the city, or if he incurred a threat made good by Cardinal O’Connor.
Today the bishops are in contention with a Democrat Party headed by a president who wants them to abandon the field in every sector: education, social services, healthcare…
Today the bishops are in contention with a Democrat Party headed by a president who have added ten trillion dollars of debt to the nation in two years. That they don’t care at all about fiscal responsibility is an understatement.
Today the bishops are in contention with a Democrat Party headed by a president who understand that the bulk of the voters who stood behind Cardinal O’Connor almost thirty years ago are dead. In their place are the Baby Boomers, the children and grandchildren of the Boomers who are largely ignorant of American History, civics, or the Constitution.
Today the bishops are in contention with a Democrat Party headed by a president who are catering to the pervasive narcissism and hedoniosm of a society that stands in shameful contrast with the Greatest Generation that backed O’Connor. That’s why the HHS mandate has a good chance of prevailing.
Cardinal George is no fool, and he understands what he’s up against with the Democrats and Obama:
The provision of health care should not demand “giving up” religious liberty. Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if you could find one. The church, however, could do nothing except conduct religious rites in places of worship-no schools, religious publications, health care institutions, organized charity, ministry for justice and the works of mercy that flow naturally from a living faith. All of these were co-opted by the government. We fought a long cold war to defeat that vision of society.
He’s right. However, the tactics need to change. We do not have a half-century to fight this one as we did the Cold War. We have until November. If Obama is reelected, we’ll lose our tax-exempt status and be stripped of all our agencies by a president who hates who we are and what we stand for. This is no longer a fight over a facet of Obamacare.
It never was, and the bishops need to awaken to that reality. This is a new Marxism, as Cardinal George alluded to. If Obama backs down and the bishops claim victory they will live to regret being duped in so monumental a manner. A Marxist has declared war on the only Church with enough institutional infrastructure to pose a threat to his party’s agenda.
The Catholic vision of human anthropology, who we are, is lived out in our healthcare and social services, and is inculcated through our educational institutions.
Obama gets that.
Cardinal George left out the fifth, and only viable option. The Church has had war declared on her by the government. She must now rally her faithful to vote out this wicked administration in November. She must coordinate strategy with all people of faith from other religions and Christian denominations. If she doesn’t, we lose everything. If she does, a new administration will not permit her to lose the tax-exempt status for having been forced into political organizing to fight an existential threat from the government. (And there are hundreds of videos of Democrat politicians campaigning in Protestant church pulpits).
The plan as laid out by Cardinal George is yesterday’s strategy. It worked for Cardinal O’Connor in a different age, with a different electorate. It’s time for our normally quiet and pastoral bishops to gird their loins.
This one’s for all the marbles.
UPDATE: Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Ill. responded to this post. His response and my rejoinder here.