US Catholic Faith in Real Life

A bishop who can speak without shouting: Blase Cupich's reasonable voice on the mandate

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

As the media continues to follow NYC's "rock star" Archbishop Timothy Dolan to Rome to get his red hat, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington is doing what really matters: Dialing back the rhetoric over the HHS mandate and offering some meaningful beginnings to dialogue about not only this issue but the relationship between religion and government in a pluralistic society. From his March 5 essay in America:

"While this controversy has been painful for the nation and the church, it has raised awareness of the important contribution that religion makes to the common good. In an era that has seen not only the erosion of the free exercise of religion through laws, regulations and court decisions, as well as the attempts to marginalize the voices of believers, commentators from various perspectives and politicians of different persuasions have had to grapple with the role of religion in society. It would be a mistake to let the next news cycle topic distract us from unpacking further this important issue, an issue which merited the first place in our U. S. Constitution."

Cupich manages to express his concerns with the administration's policy while being respectful to the president and presuming his good faith. No one could accuse Cupich of being a lackey for the GOP or having any personal animus for the president.

Unfortunately, it seems the "front line" bishops on this issue--Dolan, William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, along with lay staffers Anthony Picarello (general counsel) and Richard Doerflinger of the bishops' pro-life office--seem intent on nothing less than the complete repeal of the mandate, which simply is not going to happen.

Jesus says in the gospel of Luke: "What king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace."

Neither the law nor politics are on the bishops' side here; courts have already upheld state mandates, and a law introducing a religious exemption for any religious reason simply will not get out of Congress, much less avoid a veto. Even the current court challenges may backfire, with the Supreme Court confirming rather than overturning the mandate, further privatizing religious belief. The longer this goes, the more extreme the bishops sound, and the more they have to lose.

Cupich's call for a wider dialogue is both reasonable and necessary. But if the bishops' continue as Anthony Picarello said they would yesterday--"The bishops have no choice. They just have no choice. They’re not going to relent on this. They can’t relent. They have no choice."--I'm afraid they will lose, and not just this fight.