by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This is the fifth of a series on issues related to the upcoming presidential election.
This past Thursday, Oct. 18, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney were scheduled to share the dais of the 67th annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. The dinner is named after the first Catholic candidate who ran for the office of the President of the United States in 1928. Governor Al Smith of New York was narrowly defeated by President Herbert Hoover in November of that same year.
Governor Smith’s Roman Catholicism was a central issue in the campaign, and the reason why many political analysts believe he lost that election. How far have we Catholics come that both Vice President Joe Biden and the challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, are Roman Catholics.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Roman Catholicism and the teachings of the Church have been very evidently on display in this campaign, with two drastically different approaches to involving faith in the public square, which was evidently clear as it was discussed in the vice presidential candidates’ debate.
Each of the candidates deliberated the impact of the universal health care legislation upon the life of the Church and Catholics. Congressman Ryan communicated Catholic teaching on the right to life when he expressed seeing his unborn daughter’s heartbeat at seven weeks. On the other hand, it is unfortunate how Vice President Biden misrepresented the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and inaccurately represented what this law will do.
Vice President Biden’s assertion during the debate was factually incorrect, as he stated: “With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution – Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital – none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”
This is not a fact. As stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops the day following the vice presidential debate: “The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.
“HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as ‘non-exempt.’ That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.’ They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”
There are in fact legal challenges that are still pending. This is a dramatic and unprecedented imposition on the free exercise of religion. This is the reason why it is so important to not just be aware of the issues but to actually be engaged, and to actually bring our faith into the voting booth. We must always and everywhere be proponents of the dignity and sanctity of human life and marriage, and at the same time stand up for the needs of the poor and the stranger in our midst.
As we put out into the deep this week, let us contemplate what Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once reminded us, “God doesn’t require us to succeed, He only requires that you try.” There is no perfect Catholic candidate and there is no Catholic political party. But it is clear that there are some forces at work in politics today that are discriminating against the Church.