If it's done nothing else, the Great Contraception Coverage Mandate Brouhaha (GCCMB) has afforded Catholic Church-watchers an excellent opportunity to explore the fault lines within America's largest religious body, and not only between the contraception-embracing laity and the contraception-rejecting hierarchy. Among the bishops, reaction to President Obama's revision of the mandate has ranged from Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput's angry dismissal to Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich's optimistic construction of the way forward:
Clearly, as the USCCB noted, the president’s announcement Friday provides us with an opportunity to resolve the present impasse. But, I believe that an even greater opportunity is before us, namely to have a deeper and on a more prolonged basis a fundamental dialogue about the role of religion in society in general and the nature of religious liberty, especially as it applies to faith-based charitable, health and social service ministries in the United States, in particular. I also believe that the president, relying on his personal experience with church, which he cited once again this week, has not only the potential but also the responsibility to make a significant contribution to this more sustained and expansive discussion.
With regard to the latter, the good Jesuits at America are already on the case, with this essay by Catholic theologians David Hollenbach and Thomas Shannon, which places the GCCMB in the context of the Vatican II understanding of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. And law prof. Mary Ann Glendon's more conserative take, which ends on the following cautious note:
No serious person disputes that religious freedom has to be harmonized with other fundamental rights or that it is subject to necessary limitations in the interests of public health and safety. Questions of the legitimate scope and limits of religious liberty are complex and delicate, legally and politically. But religious voices must not be excluded from the processes through which these questions are resolved, and religious freedom must not be demoted from its prominent place among this country’s most cherished freedoms.
A presidential election campaign may not be the best time to have a reasoned national conversation about the role of religion in American society and how religious freedom can be harmonized with other fundamental rights. But the conversation is now starting to take place within the Catholic fold, and the rest of us should not refrain from joining in. That goes for the president, who would be well advised to take Bishop Cupich's invitation to heart.