I miss the days when I could go to Mass and never hear a word about politics. Here in the diocese of Arlington, the priests aren't shy about preaching on abortion, birth control, divorce, homosexuality, or whatever hot-button issue other priests avoid, but they did use to try to steer around politics.
Alas, those days are no more. For several months now, we get the healthcare mandate preached about every Sunday. Sometimes it's also in the petitions. It does no one any harm, but it also doesn't do any good either. After all, the Affordable Care Act isn't up for a vote. It's law now. And Joe Pewsitter is, on average, against it already. So they're kind of preaching to the choir.
The one bit of harm it does, though, is breed panic. I guess I'm a little removed from that level of panic, because I don't obsess over the healthcare bill on a regular basis and I don't have a lot of friends who do either. But apparently there's a lot of panic going around. On this Simcha Fisher article (if you don't read Simcha, you should), there are so many comments admitting that the writer is scared, worried, terrified .... convinced that this healthcare bill is going to send us all back to the catacombs. The question on everyone's minds is, "Will we give in to this law and risk eternal damnation, or will we refuse and go singing to the scaffold?"
Um. I know that martyrdom is always a possibility. And there are so many unjust laws in our country nowadays that you can barely count them. But I don't think this healthcare bill is going to put us over the edge.
First off, I just plain don't think it's immoral to pay for insurance that covers birth control. As far as I know, individuals have been doing so for some time, we just generally don't know about it because few people really know what our insurance covers.
Let me explain. Our Catholic faith forbids using contraception. It also forbids participating with another's sin. The Catechism, at #1868, says, "We have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
- by protecting evil-doers."
There is a difference between material cooperation and formal cooperation. Material cooperation is when we supply some assistance to someone who is doing something evil, but without intending them to do the evil deed or approving of it. For instance, if I hire a man to mow my lawn, and give him $100, and he uses that $100 to buy ammo for his gun so he can shoot his wife, I did help him to shoot his wife. But it's in a remote sense, because I didn't want him to shoot his wife. Formal cooperation is when we supply assistance specifically so someone can do an evil deed; for instance, if I bought the ammo for the man and said, "Here. I know you and your wife aren't getting along. Go ahead and shoot her." Since we approve of and intend his evil deed, we share responsibility for it.
As far as I can see, supplying health insurance which happens to cover contraception is material cooperation, and very remote material cooperation, i.e. there are many intermediaries between us and the sin. It's as if we pay our employees a paycheck, and they go and spend it on birth control. We can't stop them from doing that, even though we disapprove of it. It seems to me conscience would be served simply by saying, "Dear employee, your insurance coverage includes contraception. Contraception is sinful for these reasons, so please don't use this coverage." If they use it, that's not on you -- that's on them.
Another important factor is that our cooperation is not voluntary. Instead, it's mandated by law. In this way it's similar to paying taxes, even though some of that tax money goes for birth control or abortion. We pay our taxes, but we also turn around and advocate for an end to these practices. And I believe that's what we should do in this case. On the one hand, comply, because it is the law and because it is not actually sinful for us to comply. On the other hand, advocate strongly for an end to this law.
My second reason not to worry is that it seems to me there are other options. What about healthcare sharing ministries? These are cooperative groups that pay for each other's medical bills. People who participate in one of these are exempt from the individual mandate to buy insurance. If you are concerned about the healthcare bill, this might be something to look into. The downside is that two of the three organizations I know of, Samaritan Ministries and Christian Care Ministry, require you to sign onto a belief statement which includes a faith-alone clause, so it seems to me a Catholic couldn't join. The third, Christian Healthcare Ministries, has no such requirement. I think, though, that it might be very worth someone's while to make a version like this for Catholics. You'd need someone with a bit of startup money, which is why I didn't start it this last weekend out of my house. But I keep trying to plant this idea around so that a rich person takes it up. There are enough upset Catholics and bishops that it seems the network would take off in a hurry.
More about healthcare sharing ministries:
Healthcare sharing ministry (USA Today article)
Alliance of Healthcare Sharing Ministries
Christian Care Ministry Medi-Share program
In any event, I don't think we have to be singing on the way to the scaffold just yet. Instead, let's do what we always do: preach the Gospel in and out of season, be salt and light, be in the world and not of it.