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Contraception and the Mal-formed Consciences of Conservative Catholic Bishops

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 9, 2012: The conservative Catholic bishops are once again back in the news. This time, they are in the news because of their heartfelt outcry against the Obama administration's regulations that would require certain large Catholic employers such as Catholic colleges and universities, Catholic hospitals, and some other Catholic agencies to pay for insurance coverage that includes contraception coverage.

Let us be clear here. There is an exemption in the regulations that includes each Catholic bishop's diocesan office staff, Catholic parishes, and evidently even Catholic schools that are run by parishes. But the conservative Catholic bishops would prefer to have a much broader exemption, so that employers in large organizations that claim to be Catholic in some way can use this claim to deny employees contraception coverage. Even if the employees are not themselves Catholics. And even if the employees are themselves Catholics who do not accept the church's teaching against artificial contraception.

In short, the conservative Catholic bishops argue that the consciences of Catholic employers should trump the consciences of employees who work at certain large institutions that claim to be somehow Catholic institutions. However, as far as I know, the institutions in question are not directly under a bishop's authority, because they are separately incorporated institutions, separate from the local bishop's diocesan corporation. In some instances, the local Catholic bishop may serve on an institution's board of directors, which in the final analysis is technically the legal employer at the institution.

As American citizens, the conservative Catholic bishops are of course free to criticize the Obama administration's regulations and try to overturn or modify those regulations.

However, as Catholics and non-Catholics consider the heartfelt outcries of the conservative Catholic bishops against the Obama administration's mandate, we might wonder why the conservative Catholic bishops are as conservative as they are. The conservative Catholic bishops want no change.

No masturbation, the conservative Catholic bishops say. Why not? Because this prohibition has long been traditional natural-law theory.

No premarital sex, the conservative Catholic bishops say. Why not? Because this prohibition has long been traditional natural-law theory.

No to artificial contraception, the conservative Catholic bishops say, following Pope Pius VI's 1968 encyclical against artificial contraception titled "Humanae Vitae" (Latin, "Of Human Life"). But why? Because this prohibition has long been traditional natural-law theory.

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No to legalized abortion in the first trimester, the conservative Catholic bishops say, even though the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the first trimester in its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. Why not? Because this prohibition has long been traditional natural-law theory, except in cases of incest or rape. (Non-Catholic ethicists such as James H. Fetzer in his fine book RENDER UNTO DARWIN: PHILOSOPHICAL ASPECTS OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT'S CRUSADE AGAINST SCIENCE [2007, pages 95-120] have noted that abortion in the second trimester is a different matter that deserves to be considered differently, as is the possibility of abortion in the third trimester.)

No to legalized CIVIL marriages between gay men or lesbians, the conservative Catholic bishops say. Why not? Because natural-law theory traditionally considers homosexual tendencies to be disordered tendencies, which is to say not tendencies properly ordered according to natural-law theory. (Nobody is proposing that the Catholic Church or any other religious body should conduct religious marriage ceremonies for gay men or lesbians.)

In the Catholic tradition of so-called natural-law reasoning, these five positions regarding sexual morality are interconnected, because they are all based on the so-called natural law as understood in the Catholic tradition of thought.

We should pause here and note that Catholics seem to have a virtual monopoly on the Catholic understanding of so-called natural law. In other words, non-Catholics have not been rushing to adopt the Catholic understanding of so-called natural law. For this reason, we might wonder why not. Why haven't non-Catholic ethicists, for example, embraced the Catholic understanding of the so-called natural law?

Conversely, we might pause and wonder why the conservative Catholic bishops, including the bishop of Rome (also known as the pope), have not abandoned the Catholic natural-law tradition of thought and adopted deontological moral theory such as the deontological moral theory that Fetzer works with. Is there something inherently conservative about the Catholic tradition?

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However, these five positions do not encompass other matters that the conservative Catholic bishops say "No" to.

No, there cannot be married diocesan priests, the conservative Catholic bishops say, except for certain defector priests who defected from a Protestant church and converted to Catholicism recently.

No, there cannot be women priests, the conservative Catholic bishops say. Jesus was a man, so priests should be men. End of discussion.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell
Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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