Putting his name-calling aside, Winters proposes respectful dialogue that avoids histrionics. So I offer this reply in that spirit.
Winters fails to square up to the central issue at hand. He wants to talk about the general distinction that exists between the Church and the laity. And of course such a distinction exists. But that is not the question. The question is, does that distinction mean that the laity do not have a claim to religious conscience, and do not have it against this specific Obamacare mandate that they violate Catholic principles?
Again, the question is not, are Church- and lay-run efforts distinct–the question is, does that distinction mean in this case that Christian laity have no claim to a defense from a government mandate that they violate Christian principles.
On this question it is simply impossible from a Catholic perspective to answer that the laity have no conscience claim. I am glad that Winters seems to have backed down from his own previous histrionics wherein he claimed that because the Bishops are defending the laity from this attack on their religious beliefs, the Bishops are advancing a “libertarian,” “neo-con,” “anti-authoritarian,” “uber-individualistic,” “dualism,” “prop for Americanism.”
Instead Winters now concedes that the distinction between Church and laity does not mean that the latter have no religious freedom. Unfortunately, he continues to insist on his own dualism, which denies the laity’s religious freedom from this government mandate against Christian principle. Winters doesn’t explain from Catholic teaching how it is that merely because the laity are operating in the “secular” world it is wrong to defend them from this attack.
He does not because he cannot. It is simply impossible from the Catholic position to justify or accept this attack on the laity. Vatican II teaches that the laity, while distinct from the magisterium, are the People of God, they have religious freedom to obey the truth, the government must respect the same, and the laity have consciences and even duties in business.
Thus Winters continues to dodge the even more ironic fact that he cannot reconcile his denial of lay conscience rights in business to any coherent view that Catholics in business have ethical duties. Winters fails, if not refuses, to explain why he rejects the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s teaching in this situation, that business leaders must be “guided by ethical social principles,” that the adherence of a business’s practice according to Christian ethics “is a genuine human and Christian calling,” that the “most significant” obstacle to the common good in economic justice is the “split between faith and daily business practice,” that lay business leaders must “integrate the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and ethical social principles into their life and work,” and that business leaders must be “guided by ethical social principles.”
It is literally nonsensical to believe that Catholics in business have moral duties to their workers, the poor or the environment, but to attack Catholic Bishops simply for insisting that those same business women and men have consciences that may not be forced to violate Christian principle.
Winters’ only response is to say that sometimes the government can restrict religious objections. But again he is avoiding the main point: the question is not whether that is true in general, it is whether that is true in this particular case of compelled violation of Christian principle. The question has another level too: Winters implies that if you’re not in a Church-run institution, you really have no defense against government mandates unless you can convince society not to impose them in the first place. By taking this position Winters is denying the very concept of religious freedom to the laity, because religious freedom doesn’t mean anything if it must be victorious on the substantive policy level. Instead the Church teaches that lay Catholics are not to be left to majority dictates.
Winters appears to fall back to a “conservative” position, that government should recognize Church prerogatives. But if that were really his view, he would not object to protecting lay Catholic conscience–he would propose instead that exemptions to the HHS Mandate be given only to laity who get a Catholic imprimatur. If that is Winters’ position he should say so. I don’t think he really believes that. But it is again not possible from the Catholic perspective to say that since the government will not recognize Catholic imprimaturs for lay religious objections, it is better not to recognize any religious objections to an HHS Mandate at all, and the Bishops should be subject to a full court press by the Catholic left for calling for conscience clauses that would protect the Catholic laity in addition to others.
Winters seems to force Catholics to choose between being monarchists and adopting the position of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That implausible view sounds like a politically convenient posture to let liberal Catholics oppose the Bishops and support their party’s president even though Catholic teaching demands otherwise. Winters’ opposition to the Bishops on protecting their own flock will continue to appear to be political until he explains a principled and coherent basis for rejecting Catholic business ethics on this question.