I believe I’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that I am no fan of the Catholic Church. Back during the pedophile priest scandal (when known child-molesting priests were covered for and shuffled around the country by Church officials), I thought a RICO investigation was more than called for. I think much of the Catholic doctrine (especially the bits about birth control) are utterly wrong.
That being said, I have to say that I find myself cheering for the Church now, as it rediscovers its spine.
And all it took was enough Catholic officials to rediscover the issue of abortion.
The Freedom Of Choice Act would write the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision into law, and wipe out several laws that currently impose restrictions on abortion — laws that forbid partial-birth abortion and federal funding for abortions, just to name two examples. Other critics say that it would forbid any hospital that accepts any federal money from refusing to perform abortions.
That is where the Catholic Church is drawing the line. They believe that hospitals should have the right to refuse to perform abortions if they so wish. And this is far from an academic issue — according to the Catholic Health Association, 12.5 percent of the nation’s hospitals are Catholic, and account for 15.1% of all hospital beds. (Full disclosure here: I once spent four days in a Catholic hospital, and I owe them my life.)
The bishops who govern the Church in the US say that, despite all the other liberal social policies they embrace, they are absolutely resolute on the issue of abortion. They say that it is an intrinsic evil and utter anathema to any conscientious Catholic. During the last election, several of them forcefully took to task several prominent Catholic politicians who misrepresented the Church’s doctrine on abortion — most notably Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.
And now they say that if the Freedom of Choice Act passes and it requires hospitals to perform abortions, they’ll shut them down entirely.
They won’t even sell them off, on the fears that they might be then used to perform abortions. The instant the government tries to force a hospital to perform an abortion, the nation will lose, overnight, one out of eight hospitals.
I don’t get the feeling that this is extortion, or brinkmanship. This is the Church — finally — drawing a line in the sand and saying “this is what we believe in, this is where we stand, and we shall not compromise on this principle.”
The beauty of the Church’s threats are that they have every legal and moral right to do as the ask. One of the essential elements of any Church is that it must have certain moral and ethical principles, and it has the right to demand that any would-be adherent abide by them — or it can cast them out.
No one has the “right” to be a Catholic. And no one has the “right” to demand that the Church operate hospitals. Under the First Amendment, the Church can make these decisions and set these policies without any interference from the government.
And I am glad.
As I said, I’m no Catholic, and never will be. And I have no truck with much of the Church’s doctrine, and even less tolerance for many of its practices.
But I will defend to the end its right to set its own rules, to issue its own doctrine, and police its own membership to see that it is obeyed — under penalty of excommunication.
It’s been a long time since the Church exercised its moral authority in the United States, and there were some damned good reasons for it. But now they’re refusing to yield on what they believe are absolutely fundamental moral principles for their faith, and willing to go to the wall in defense of them.
Good for them.