First, Mr. Winters says he continues to maintain, as he did before the president’s press-conference “compromise,” that the offensive HHS Mandate finalized “without change” on February 10 needs to be corrected in final form before the election. That is a helpful clarification, and I hope other Catholics on the left will join in his insistence on this point.
The second matter goes to the merits of the “compromise,” about which much as been said, but regarding which Mr. Winters’ comments advance the conversation significantly. Winters confesses that he does indeed reject the time-honored protection of broad “religious or moral” conscience championed by luminaries such as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Senator Ted Kennedy (and now Senators Casey, Nelson and Manchin), which has restrained the last half century’s cultural revolution from being used in federal health policy to violate Americans’ consciences. This is a significant departure on Mr. Winters’ part, both as a Catholic and as a man of the left, and it should not be undertaken without great circumspect.
Mr. Winters departs from what was up until recently a unanimous and bipartisan provision of generous relgious freedom, on the grounds that he considers it individualistic, because it “perceives conscience as solely an individual thing, untethered from tradition or from the Magisterium.”
If I correctly interpret this view, he is content with the President’s “compromise” (such as it vaguely may become) because it allows important Catholic projects (non-profit ones in “Communio” with the Church) to engage in practices consistent with Catholic moral theology. But according to Mr. Winters, the Bishops are veering into individualism by insisting on “religious or moral” protection beyond those limits. The federal government can violate consciences outside these bounds, and the Bishops should not demand otherwise.
What is wrong with this view, from the Catholic perspective? Three things. First, Winters is certainly correct that conscience is not in its true form “untethered from tradition.” But the present fight illustrates that Mr. Winters is restricting conscience much smaller than even tradition. Although he, Sr. Keehan, David Gibson and the like believe that the Catholic theology of moral cooperation permits an employer to provide a federally-mandated plan, which alone is an employee’s key to obtaining objectionable coverage from no one but the insurer the employer is paying, there is one fact Mr. Winters overlooks: other Catholics disagree. Those disagreeing include significant people Mr. Winters respects greatly (among others he does not respect, to be sure, but that is his loss), including, only for exemplary purposes, Cardinal Dolan (among most diocesan ordinaries) and Professor Rick Garnett.
My point is a simple one: some Catholics look at the theology of moral cooperation and view this employer-plan to be a direct facilitation of objectionable coverage. Therefore Mr. Winters is imposing, not the general principle that federal policy need only respect “right” Catholic consciences, but that it need only respect Winters’ interpretation of Catholic theology, and beyond that can violate even the conscience of the ordinaries of dioceses and consciences formed according to other respected Catholic thinkers.
If Rick Garnett ran a Catholic Charities, Mr. Winters is presently, right now, telling him that he has no right to demand that the federal government not force him to violate his conscientious view that the president’s “compromise” plan still requires him to directly facilitate objectionable coverage. Winters is demanding that Garnett’s conscience, and the conscience of all bishops and Catholics (and other Christians who disagree), conform to Winters’ conscience or be penalized by a federal mandate.
This is, to say the least, an ironic view from someone claiming the mantle of Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. Mr. Winters exceeds plausibility by arguing that it is a “due limit” when the government violates the reasoned theological conclusion of most Catholic ordinaries and many scholars, if they stray from the contrary theological view of liberal Catholic friends of one political party.
If Mr. Winters really believed in government policy protecting only rightly-formed Catholic consciences tethered to tradition, he would at minimum call for broadening the Mandate to allow total exemptions for any Catholic entity whose moral objection has the imprimatur of his diocesan bishop. Of course, to even phrase the policy that way illustrates the fatal flaw in Mr. Winters’ opposition to religious freedom in our nation: the president’s proposed “compromise,” at its best, forces everyone to adopt the consceince not merely of Catholics, but of liberal Jesuits, or else be subject to federal mandates. Such a policy cannot be preferable to the time-honored view of Senators Moynihan and Kennedy and the USCCB. “Religious or moral” conscience protection is the established American way to protect rightly formed Catholic conscience, and Mr. Winters has no Catholic basis to say that an acceptable alternative is to encode Sr. Keehan’s moral view into the federal register.
The second Catholic error in Mr. Winters’ view similarly relates to his selective application of Vatican II. Mr. Winters insists that the Bishops are wrong to ask for conscience protection beyond religious non-profits to any religious or moral objection, even if by a person or entity operating for-profit. The Second Vatican Council, however, emphasized that the Church is the People of God. Laity are not operating as individualistic atoms whenever they are not volunteering at a soup kitchen. Their life and work within the community, including their generous provision of healthcare and family wages for their employees, is “the Church” active in society, not an extracurricular activity.
But Mr. Winters insists that if Rick Garnett ran a construction company (Rick, you’re welcome for all these job promotions I’m giving you) Mr. Winters would deprive him of any right to object to the federal government forcing him to provide coverage of objectionable items, merely because he is contributing to his community in business. Construction Rick would not even have a right to engage in the kabuki dance that pretends the insurer rather than himself is providing the coverage. He gets no allowance for conscience at all under Winters’ view.
Winters’ attitude against conscience protection beyond non-profits is not an expression of “Communio”–it is a choking of Communio to exclude Christ’s work in the lay faithful. His view is simply incompatible with the Church’s view of Christ living in society through the laity, and is instead a form of clericalism–assuming that Christians are only really being Christians when they are in Church or volunteering in close proximity to it. The Gospels show Jesus reaching out to the poor, yes, but also to the businessman and the centurian. Salvation comes to their houses when they live virtue in their professions.
Ironically, men of the left like Winters castigate the capitalist right for its laissez faire attitude towards ethics in business, and lambast Wall Street for its ethical corruption. But Mr. Winters leaves no room for “Construction Rick” to practice his business according to well-formed Catholic ethics. Mr. Winter’s constricted view of business ethics is a fundamental rejection of Vatican II, and really of the universal Lordship of Christ.
The third Catholic problem with Mr. Winters’ acceptance of the president’s imaginary compromise is one that Winters himself points out, but does not sufficiently apply. Even on its own terms, the “compromise” will maintain the three-tiered caste system of “religiousity.” “Really religious” entities will be churches and religious orders that only have insular functions, leaving them to navel-gaze outside the objectionable coverage mandate. “Sort-of-but-not-really-religious” groups like non-profits will have to submit to the president’s shell game and pretend that their compelled, paid plan necessary for the objectionable coverage isn’t really providing the coverage. And daily-Mass going lector and permanent deacon “Construction Rick” (more promotions for you, Rick) has no religious conscience at all in the eyes of the federal government (or of Mr. Winters). All of this will remain in the president’s compromise, by the president’s own promise. If and when it happens, Mr. Winters will accept it, however grudgingly. That is not a tolerable Catholic position towards federal religious freedom policy.
There are plenty of other, contextual historical reasons why American Catholics cannot accept Mr. Winter’s fence-sitting view, including several I alluded to, and the fact that the whole scheme violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and is illegal. Also, PPACA gives the president no power to mandate that insurers cover items anyway–it only allows mandates within the existing plan–so that necessarily means the compromise will be meaningless because the coverage comes through that plan, or the compromise itself will be lawless in mandating a different plan. The rule of law is a Catholic principle, too.
In sum, three fundamental issues preclude Mr. Winters’ view within Catholic thinking: he is punishing other Catholics and Christians because they disagree with his conscience; he is punishing Cathoics for trying to contribute to society through ethical business practices; and he is accepting a religious caste system never before imposed by the federal government.
Mr. Winters is fond of citing Robert Bolt’s Sir Thomas More for his example of someone trying very hard to find a way to accept the King’s unjust mandate. But More also did something that Winters has not yet been willing to do: he respected the conscience of the Duke of Norfolk to disagree with More’s conclusion and sign the oath. President Obama’s mandate, in contrast, forces everyone to conform their conscience to Winters’ casuist sympathies.
To Catholics and Christians who take a different moral view than Winters on President Obama’s insurer-coverage fiction, he and the Catholic left plead, “Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!” “And when we die,” says More, “and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”
Will you, Mr. Winters, for “Communio”?