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2/12/2013 11:54:00 AM
Their idea of being Catholic is not our idea of being Catholic
Catholic News Service photo
People rally outside the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.
Catholic News Service photo
People rally outside the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

One of the things making it hard for the Obama administration to create proper room for religious liberty in health care law is a modern penchant for keeping faith compartmentalized from public life.

Whatever the reason, our culture decided to keep deep matters of our souls safe zones. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black went to great legal efforts to keep religion out of civic discourse.

That's why the federal Department of Health and Human Services can with a straight face argue that Catholic hospitals, charitable organizations, high schools and colleges are not Catholic in the same way parishes are. The government has defined these ministries in a shallow way — by activities — instead of by their mission and central religious values. That's like calling use of holy oil an application of lotion, and missing all the real meaning.  

What's more, Catholics who own businesses have no recourse under the law to live out their values.   

The flawed thinking must stop somewhere. We are proud that our bishops have taken a stand, despite criticism from those uncomfortable with the fight. E.J. Dionne, the Washington Post columnist, underestimates the gravity of the situation, as if it were just a dispute over condoms when it's really a debate over the status of faith in American society.

Jesus asked his followers to do just the opposite of keeping the gospel in a compartment. Of course, we should not ask the government to fund our evangelizing mission, but certainly we cannot stand by while our very reason for existing is willfully impeded. Hospitals, schools and charities are integral and organic parts of our Catholic ministry.  

The HHS debate is not done. The Obama administration took a small step last week. We are grateful, but respectfully declare that the "accommodation" is simply not adequate. A good way around the impasse is to announce loudly what defines us as a church: our public ministry, which furthers the common good, nurtures human dignity and invites citizens of the world to consider Jesus and the gospel.

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