Pope John Paul II, surveying from his seat in the eternal hereafter the battle between the American Catholic Church and the Obama administration over mandated contraception services, must be permitting himself a sad smile. The pope knew more than most about the innate tensions between the state and its citizens.
The Obamaites will object that it is unfair to liken their government to the Communist Party of Poland. That is not the point. What the former Karol Wojtyla knew is that any state will claim benevolence on behalf of doing whatever it thinks it needs to do in pursuit of its goals.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney invoked the good in defense of the Obama law’s universal reach: “The administration decided—the president agrees with this decision—that we need to provide these services that have enormous health benefits for American women and that the exemption that we carved out is appropriate.”
The American Catholic Church, from left to right, is now being handed a lesson in the hierarchy of raw political authority. One hopes they and their supporters will recognize that they have not been singled out. The federal government’s forcings routinely touch other groups in this country—schools, doctors, farmers, businesses. The church’s fight is not the whole or the end of it.
Since he appeared, no other word has been invoked more often to describe Barack Obama’s purposes than “transformative.” Last year, Mr. Obama began to be criticized by some of his supporters for being insufficiently transformative while holding the powers of the presidency—this despite passing the biggest social entitlement since 1965, an $800 billion stimulus bill, raising federal spending to 24% of GDP and passing the Dodd-Frank restructuring of the U.S. financial industry. Naturally an interviewer this week asked Mr. Obama why he hadn’t been more “transformative.” The president replied that he deserved a second term, because “we’re not done.” In term two, it will be Uncle Sam, Transformer.
For many years, Catholic Charities U.S.A. has taken federal money to enlarge its budget. The people who run the Catholic Church, though not everyone in the pews, thought this was a good bargain. Here is the head of Catholic Charities, in 1997, describing the relationship: “We have been partners with government to help government do what it wants to do and what we believe it should do.”
This 1997 statement was in response to criticism leveled at Catholic Charities back then by freshman U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who attacked the organization for its opposition to welfare-reform legislation. Mr. Santorum said welfare hurt rather than helped poor families.