Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Of human life

I was proud of my alma mater, Notre Dame University, when in 2009 it stood up to protestors and did not rescind its graduation speaker invitation to President Obama. At issue were Obama's stands on abortion and stem-cell research, which were deemed contrary to Catholic teaching. Any democratically elected president of either party deserves a respectful hearing by all Americans, even if we do not agree with his or her policies.

So it was with a bit of disappointment that I read this week that the University has joined other Catholic institutions in a suit against Obama for that part of the health mandate that requires employers to provide contraceptive services under their insurance plans. The Department of Health and Human Services adopted the rule at least in part because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies.

The University contends that the rule infringes on the religious freedom of the institution.

It is not Notre Dame standing up for religious freedom that disappoints me. The school has every right to affirm its religious beliefs. No, it the fact that it takes its stand on contraception that I find depressing.

The Church, of course, teaches that contraception violates the "natural law." If a condom or birth-control pill violates the natural law, then so does the Popemobile and antibiotics. The funny thing is, I haven’t heard anything about Viagra being against the natural law.

An overwhelming majority of sexually-active Catholic women use contraceptives where they are readily available. If the Church is, as the theologians say, the "people of God," then the Church has decided that there is nothing intrinsically immoral about artificial contraception. Rather, many Catholics believe the ban on contraception is itself immoral, leading to unwanted pregnancies, poverty, infant mortality, deaths from childbirth and disease (especially in places like Africa), and population growth that hurts everyone.

There is something in Catholic teaching called the sensus fidelium, "sense of the faithful," which refers to truths sensed or recognized by the whole body of the Church. In the matter of contraception, the sensus fidelium is clear.

Clear, that is, to everyone but the all-male hierarchy, who apparently feel the need to adhere to papal teaching on the matter. And so it seems that Notre Dame chooses to side not with the "people of God," and with women in particular, but with the bishops and the papacy, who lately have distinguished themselves with increasingly retrogressive actions.