I spotted a surprising headline while perusing yesterday's edition of the New York Times: "New York Archdiocese Paying to Insure Birth Control."
Being a former Catholic myself -- as well as someone who follows and blogs extensively about the political activities of the American Catholic hierarchy on this site and several others -- I was already well aware that many Catholic dioceses around the country currently offer insurance plans covering women's reproductive care, including contraception services, despite the Catholic Church officially prohibiting them.
But surely, I thought, Dolan's diocese would be different. After all, he's the most visible Catholic leader in America and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Not only that, the Cardinal is currently suing the Obama administration over the mandate in the new health reform law requiring employers to offer contraception coverage in their health plans. One would think that Dolan would have found a way to either stop covering contraception in his own diocese or explain the glaring inconsistency before launching such a high-profile assault on the expansion of health care (which, by the way, the Catholic Church supports).
Nope: the Times has just discovered that the Archdiocese of New York currently and "quietly" pays for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion services for workers at "affiliated nursing homes and clinics," and has done so for over a decade.
From the article:
...about 3,000 full-time workers at ArchCare, also known as the Catholic Health Care System, receive coverage for contraception and voluntary pregnancy termination through their membership in 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a powerful health care workers union, according to Dave Bates, a spokesman for the union.
ArchCare, which operates seven nursing homes and a variety of other health facilities, gives its 1199 union employees the same coverage they would get at over 100 other nonprofit hospitals or nursing homes in the New York area, because ArchCare voluntarily belongs to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, a multi-employer organization that negotiates with the union every few years for a joint labor contract.
The contraceptive and abortion coverage is provided indirectly: employers like the New York Archdiocese contribute to the union's benefit fund, which then turns around and pays for the insurance. The archdiocese insists that it has "no choice" in the matter, and a spokesman for Dolan's office told the Times that the services are provided "under protest." Yet apart from some grumbling in the mid- to late 1990s when the archdiocese joined the league, the group's president, Bruce McIver, doesn't remember any concerns being raised about contraception coverage in the last dozen or so years of union negotiations. He told the Times, "Eventually, the Catholics just said, you know, we are going to ignore the issue and pay into the fund and people are going to make their own choices about contraception and so forth."
Dolan's archdiocese clearly seems to have found a palatable compromise allowing it to keep a safe distance from contraception and abortion -- which the Catholic Church (inexplicably) views as intrinsically evil and immoral -- while remaining in compliance with state law. Yet the USCCB, under Cardinal Dolan's leadership, rejected a nearly identical proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services that would have provided reproductive coverage through insurers, rather than through the employers themselves. And Dolan himself has repeatedly assailed the Affordable Care Act as an intolerable, unforgivable, "unprecedented intrusion" on religious freedom that forces the Church to subsidize "grave wrongs in which we cannot participate."
But the Catholic Church already participates in contraception coverage, and has -- at least in New York -- for many years. And the last time I checked, the sky has not fallen in New York City, the earth has not swallowed St. Patrick's Cathedral down into the fiery depths of hell, and the religious freedom of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York has remained completely intact.
No word yet from Dolan about why he thinks the rest of the country will fare any differently, nor has he provided any satisfactory explanation for this latest example of head-spinning hypocrisy.
(Facepalm statue via Flickr)