by Kathy Schiffer
Negligence. Ignorance. Inertia.
These are some of the reasons why Catholic dioceses might offer employees health insurance plans which include coverage for contraception which violates Church teaching, according to Dr. Janet Smith.
Dr. Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was Al Kresta's guest on Kresta in the Afternoon May 28. She was responding to a New York Times article which reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, is providing contraception coverage to his own employees, while campaigning against such coverage on the national level.
Is the Archdiocese of New York, as the article implies, being disingenuous or less than transparent by providing contraceptive coverage while opposing the HHS Mandate? No, explained Smith.
For one thing, state law in New York mandated that employers provide the coverage; and many U.S. bishops have assumed control of dioceses in which longstanding insurance policies include birth control and abortion coverage.
Secondly, some in the Church during the years following the Second Vatican Council may have expected that canon law on the subject of contraception would eventually change; hence insurance policies which anticipated that change by offering contraceptive care may not have raised concern at the time.
A third explanation which Smith cited is that Cardinal Dolan's and the USCCBs resistance to the HHS Mandate has caused some to review their existing health care policies. As a result, many Catholic dioceses may only recently have discovered that the standard group insurance package which they purchased for their employees includes coverage for contraceptive services.
And Cardinal Dolan may simply be directing his energies where he feels they can have the most impact. As head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Dolan has decided to fight the HHS Mandate on the national level. If he wins at that level, it will be easier to win at the state level, not only in New York but around the country.
In the Archdiocese of New York, the late Cardinal John J. O'Connor did, in fact, resist the state requirement that all employers provide insurance which included contraceptive services. After efforts in the early 90s to eliminate birth control coverage from the Archdiocese's medical plan, he eventually decided that there was no other option, if the Catholic Church was to continue to provide health care to its union-affiliated employees in the city of New York.
Not all the staff employed by the Archdiocese of New York currently have contraceptive coverage. However, workers in the Catholic Health Care System, also known as ArchCare, do receive coverage for contraception and abortions because they are members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a healthcare workers union. ArchCare belongs to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes; that organization negotiates a joint labor contract with the union.
Of the 3,000 unionized full-time workers in ArchCare, it is not known how many have chosen to avail themselves of the contraception benefit.
One last question raised by Al Kresta concerned the issue of "intrinsic evil". Is the Church cooperating with evil if it affiliates with hospitals whose health care plan for unionized employees includes contraceptive coverage?
Dr. Smith laughed, noting that God gave us everything we have, even while knowing that some humans would do some terrible things: God provided Adam and Eve with the tree and the apple, and He gave them the possibility of eating the apple from the tree. God was not, however, complicit in their sin. Similarly, if a thief puts a gun to your head and demands that you drive him to the airport, you are under duress and are not guilty of material cooperation for driving him. In the same way the Catholic Church, required to include birth control and abortion in their insurance coverage, is not culpable if the insured then utilizes that coverage.