The HHS Mandate and Wily Providence | Benjamin Wiker | Catholic World Report
With contraception, the Obama administration thought it had found a chink in the American Church's moral armor. It was wrong.
While it is certainly right to lament the fact the Obama administration is attempting to force Catholic institutions, through the Health and Human Services mandate, to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, there is a bright side to all this. It may very well be a wily act of divine providence, a case of God using hostile secular powers to effect much-desired goals of the Church itself.
In saying this, I don’t mean to undermine the gravity of the situation. The HHS mandate is an egregious violation of the Church’s moral doctrines, of the proper relationship of church and state, and of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. If it is an act of divine providence, it is one of those divine goads—like the Church being forced to clean out child molesters among its shepherds by the onslaughts of the secular press—that we wish could have been avoided by doing the right thing to begin with.
So, what seems providential about this whole mess? The HHS mandate has had the happy effect of forcing the bishops (and priests under them) to do something that they’ve sadly neglected to do for the last half-century: defend the Church’s teaching against contraception. They have been vocal enough against abortion, but about contraception, the near-silence has been deafening.
The result has been that a reported 90-plus percent of Catholics interpret the silence as consent, as a sign that the Church’s ban on birth control is really, more or less, like the Church’s tradition of having only altar boys. The former can be overcome just like the latter by cheerfully ignoring the prohibition, and doing as one pleases until the Church catches up.
There is little doubt that the Obama administration, in issuing the mandate, understood the situation quite well, and planned its strategy accordingly. The strategists knew the bishops have always been lukewarm in their defense of the Church’s prohibition against contraception. They also knew that the bishops were red-hot in their enthusiasm for national health-care. How likely was it that American bishops who couldn’t be prodded into a defense of the Church’s teaching against contraception would suddenly be galvanized into action by the state to defend this teaching, especially if delivered in the coveted national health-care package?