Sifting through the myriad of issues before us...

I recently received an email from our Town Clerk asking my parish to consider in our scheduling what will be increased and heavy traffic in the parking lot our parish office shares with one of Concord's polling places on September 6 and November 6, the dates for the state primary and the presidential elections.  In my reply I noted that our parish, recognizing voting as a moral responsibility, would be more than ready to cooperate.

Acting on one's moral responsibilities always demands knowledge, reflection, study and prayer. U.S. Catholics approaching polling booths certainly have their work cut out for them.

This blog seldom plays in the political arena anymore but coming across the following piece I found it too good to pass up.  It's written by Msgr. Paul Garrity, a brother Boston pastor and seminary classmate, whose clear and reasoned presentation might be of help to all of us awash in the partisan vitriol this topic generally occasions:
As the so called “dog” days of August wind down, the fall election is heating up to stratospheric heights. Already both candidates have spent over $500 million on advertisements and related expenses, setting the pace for the 2012 election to be the most expensive election in our nation’s history. As Catholic citizens we have a moral obligation to pay close attention to the innumerable issues that surround us.

Among the most thorny and complicated issues from a moral perspective is the so-called contraception mandate in the recently passed Affordable Care Act which has been politically named Obamacare. In February of this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promulgated the Final Rule on the Affordable Care Act instructing all employers who offer group health insurance to “…provide the full range of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptive methods, patient education and counseling as “preventative services” for women, as specified under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. These contraceptives include drugs that are considered by some to be abortifacients as well as surgical sterilizations.

Needless to say, the Catholic Church frowns upon these contraceptive measures which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has labeled as being intrinsically evil. The fact that these are available to women and men is nothing new. What is new is the requirement that employers who offer employee health insurance must now extend this benefit to all their employees. Because the Catholic Church and others object to this insurance benefit for its employees on the basis of conscience, HHS regulations have carved out an exception for religious employers, effectively absolving them of this requirement. Such exemptions for religious organizations are not new when public policies raise questions of conscience with the tenants of religious groups. What is new is the narrow definition of what constitutes a religious organization under this mandate. To qualify for the religious exemption, a religious employer/organization has to be uniquely focused on promoting its religious values, primarily employ people of their own faith, primarily serve its own people and be a legitimate tax exempt organization. Unhappily, this narrow exemption leaves out Catholic hospitals, Catholic social service agencies and institutions of higher learning.

The USCCB has been very clear about its disagreement with HHS over this issue and has strenuously made its case in the public forum. HHS for its part has extended the date for full implementation to August of next year, ostensibly to provide time to work out an acceptable compromise. Serendipitously, there will be a presidential election before then which could have significant impact on the resolution of this issue. In effect, this issue has contributed strongly to the way in which national health care has become a political football in 2012.

As we try to sift through the myriad of issues before us, we believe as Christians and as Catholics that we need to defend life from the womb to the tomb and all the moments in between. This should be a major consideration as we evaluate the issues before us. But because we believe that everyone should have adequate, affordable health care we need to be vigilant about the temptation to throw the baby out with the bath water. Welcome to the complexity of being a good Catholic citizen in 2012! 
Msgr. Paul Garrity
Pastor of St. Catherine Parish
Norwood, MA


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