In his appearance on Fox News Sunday on February 12, White House chief of staff Jack Lew discussed with host Chris Wallace what the administration was determined to sell as an “accommodation” to Catholic concerns, an “accommodation” that tweaked an HHS mandate requiring that all health insurance provide no-co-pay abortifacients, sterilizations, and contraceptives. Lew tried, unsuccessfully, to shore up the administration’s pretense that something in the moral calculus of the original mandate had changed with the administration’s “accommodation” — which, of course, it hadn’t. What was truly striking about the administration spin, however, was Lew’s suggestion that the Catholic Health Association (whose president, Sister Carol Keehan, had quickly and publicly applauded the administration’s “accommodation”) trumped the bishops’ conference when it came to who-speaks-for-the-Catholic-Church-in-America.
Chris Wallace quoted the bishops’ February 10 statement rejecting the “accommodation,” to which Lew replied, “We didn’t expect to get universal support of the bishops or all Catholics.” Wallace pressed on, noting that the February 10 statement was “the most powerful statement by the Catholic Church in this country” and that it expressed “grave moral concern.” Lew said that he couldn’t “speak to the differences within the Catholic Church,” and when Wallace asked how, then, he would “respond to [the bishops’] statement that this [is] government coercion,” Lew played the CHA card as a trump: “I would point to the statement put out by the Catholic Health Association, which knows a fair amount about . . . health care in this country. They thought this was a very good solution.”
In the administration’s view, then, primacy in the Catholic Church is not conferred by the pope, but by the White House. Thus Sister Carol Keehan could be recognized by the president’s chief of staff as primate of the Catholic Church in the United States, because she headed an organization that “knows a fair amount about . . . health care in this country” — unlike, for example, those mulish bishops who had failed to be taken in by the administration’s shell game.
So, to get this straight, Obama now claims: (1) the power to tell the Catholic Church that it must violate its deeply-held and long-standing beliefs about Life in the name of a putative right to "preventive" health care; (2) the power to decide what activities of the Catholic Church are sufficiently religious to warrant an exemption from the mandate (houses of worship, yes; Catholic charities and hospitals and schools and universities, no); and, now, (3) the power to determine who speaks for the Catholic Church.
Arrogance. Sheer arrogance.