As Simone Campbell explained in an interview this week, one of the purposes of the Nuns on the Bus tour is to respond to Catholic conservatives such as House GOP budget author Paul Ryan, who falsely argued that his radical plan to gut the safety net and slash taxes for millionaires is consistent with Catholic social teaching (and tried to dismiss the bishops when they rebuked him).
But Paul Ryan wasn’t the only Catholic who supported the bill — 58 other Catholic House members voted in favor of it this year, and the nuns are hoping to talk to a few of them. One of those members is Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, at whose office the bus tour stopped yesterday. Unlike Congressman Ryan, Walsh didn’t try to argue that the budget upholds Catholic teaching — he just admitted he thinks the Church is wrong:
My Catholic teaching tells me that it’s my responsibility to take care of my fellow man,” he said. “That’s not the government’s responsibility. It’s mine. … Oftentimes, the Catholic Church can be misguided on economy and government.
Coming to different conclusions than Church leadership about how to put Catholic moral teachings into practice isn’t unusual for Catholic politicians. Conservative commentators just like to pretend only Democrats do it. It’s refreshing to hear a Catholic Republican acknowledge the disagreement.
Last week we highlighted a question from Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz at the Catholic Bishops’ General Assembly in Atlanta repeating a right-wing smear that the Affordable Care Act contains a broad exemption for Muslims.
But just as shocking as the question itself was the response — or rather, non-response — he got from the session speakers, Baltimore Bishop William Lori and Catholic University of America President John Garvey. Lori joked that Bruskewitz “must have got a lot further in that act than I did” and Garvey said they should consult the lawyers.
Here are the two men at the forefront of the bishops’ efforts to convey competence and compassion to the Catholic community and the broader public. They regularly trumpet the notion that the bishops’ efforts are for the common good of all Americans. And yet in the face of a question advancing the supposition that an entire religious group is receiving the exemptions the Catholic community is supposedly being denied, they have nothing more to say than “we don’t know”? This is beyond absurd, it is scandalous. Bishop Lori–you really don’t know if the document you have spent the better part of the last 18 months criticizing does or does not allow for an entire religious group to exempt itself from its reach? Then why should we trust your judgments about the President’s actions on religious freedom? Why should we trust your stated commitment to represent religious freedom for all, when you are ignorant of even the most basic facts related to a major religious group and its standing before the very law that you have made your reputation upon criticizing?
Thankfully, as Mollie Wilson O’Reilly notes at dotCommonweal, Bishop Pates set the record straight with the answer to the question before his remarks in the next session.
As O’Reilly also notes, however, there’s a further question that needs to be asked. Given that the Bishops’ professed standard is that any entity that objects to federal mandates on moral grounds should be exempt, why would a Muslim exemption be objectionable?:
A straightforward answer to Bruskewitz’s question might force the bishops into an uncomfortable position. After all, based on their reasoning about the HHS contraception mandate, if Muslims did object on moral and religious grounds to buying health insurance, shouldn’t they be allowed to refuse? Wouldn’t that make this an unjust law, and therefore no law at all, where they are concerned?
This Wednesday, as the U.S. Catholic Bishops met in Atlanta for their General Assembly, representatives from the Nuns Justice project delivered a petition in support of the American women religious who are facing a crackdown from the Vatican.
Yesterday, the U.S. Catholic Bishops began their summer general assembly which prominently featured a long afternoon session on religious liberty. Following presentations from Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty Chair Bishop William Lori and Catholic University of America President John Garvey, the floor was opened for questions and comments from fellow bishops.
One of the bishops who took the mic was Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska. Prefacing his question with the caveat that he hasn’t actually read the Affordable Care Act, he asked about a rumor he had heard:
I haven’t had a chance to read the Obamacare Protection Act, but somebody told me that there’s a total exemption for Muslims in the back of that act, that all Muslims are exempt because insurance for Muslims is a type of gambling which is contrary to the Koran and therefore Muslims are not obliged in any way to observe the insurance mandate which derives from the act. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, I just want to know if any of you know anything about it.
The allegation that the Obama administration is giving broad exemptions to Muslim Americans is a self-evidently ridiculous right-wing myth meant to further shameful smears of the President as un-Christian and un-American.
It’s shocking to think that Bishop Bruskewitz not only believed there was a chance this smear was true, but also that he was willing to repeat it in a publicly-broadcast forum. When concerned Catholics warn of the dangerous influence of Republican politics among Church leadership lately, this kind of revelation only bolsters their point.