For many on the Catholic left, the confusion of “non-negotiables” in Church teaching with matters of prudential judgment has become all too common. In this week’s Acton Commentary (published October 17), Dr. Don Condit looks at how Vice President Joseph Biden’s “facts” about Obamacare were received by the Catholic bishops. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Politics, Social Justice and the Non-Negotiables

by Donald P. Condit

Vice President Joseph Biden’s run-in with the Catholic Bishops over the “facts” of Obamacare once again revives the important question of how voters sort out the “non-negotiable” matters of conscience against those political and policy issues which are properly debatable.

The bishops threw a quick yellow flag at Biden after his debate with Congressman Paul Ryan. The vice president falsely described the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, which forces employers to pay for abortion causing drugs, sterilization, and contraceptives, this way:

With regard to the assault on the Catholic church, let me make it absolutely clear, no religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital, any hospital, none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay or contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.

The bishops pointed out that Biden was not, in fact, dealing with the facts. In their statement, issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, they said that the HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain religious employers which was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

The statement continued, demolishing Biden’s blatant attempt at disinformation:

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and” to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, similarly corrected the vice president in observing that Biden’s “facts” are exactly the reverse. “Under the mandate, nearly every Catholic hospital, charity, university, and diocese in the United States — along with millions of institutions of other faiths — must refer for, must pay for, and must act as a vehicle for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs,” Duncan said. “If they do not, they face millions in fines. That is a fact. “

In the debate, Congressman Ryan’s thoughtful question – “why would they (faith based institutions and employers) keep suing you?” — was overshadowed by Biden’s disrespectful theatrics.

As a further, and actual, matter of fact, more than 100 plaintiffs are suing the Obama administration to protect their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion.  On Oct. 12, thirteen states and The Catholic University of America, The Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington filed a brief in support of Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College challenges to the HHS mandate.

For many on the Catholic left, the confusion of “non-negotiables” in Church teaching with matters of prudential judgment has become all too common. Ryan’s own bishop, the Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino,addressed the subject in the diocesan paper for Madison, Wis. The church, Morlino wrote, regards abortion as an “intrinsic evil” (meaning always and everywhere wrong, regardless of circumstances). In sharp contrast, Morlino said, on issues such as how best to create jobs or help the poor, “there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the church offers.”

John Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of Autocam and Autocam Medical in Grand Rapids, Mich., understands the difference. He has courageously filed a suit in federal court against the mandate. His firm, which employs around 700 people in the United States, would face nearly $25 million per year in penalties for non-compliance without judicial relief if he failed to comply.

“This law requires me to violate my beliefs by paying for controversial products that cause abortions, and it does nothing to improve access or eliminate cost for essential medications like insulin and heart medication,” Kennedy said.

The Obamacare mandate would have a devastating effect on some of the biggest charitable groups helping the poor and the sick. For example, Catholic Charities West Michigan in 2009 served 26,000 individuals and families — 80 percent of whom were non-Catholic. Penalties for non-compliance would likely result in the loss of 300 professionals and 3,000 volunteers serving thousands in the 11-county Diocese of Grand Rapids.

Saint Mary’s Health Care has served patients and families in western Michigan since 1893. This 2,500 employee and 344-bed acute hospital and associated care facilities would similarly face insurmountable financial penalties with subsequent irreplaceable loss of community service with fines of $100 per employee per day.

Considering the extent of benefits and services these employers, health care entities, and charities provide to women and children promptly discredits any objection to the HHS mandate as a “war-on-women” over birth control pills costing under $10 per month.

We should hope that other federal judges follow the example of Colorado U.S. District Judge John L. Kane Jr, who in July granted injunctive relief for the Newland family’s business, Hercules Industries. This 265-employee manufacturer of HVAC equipment sued the federal government “to protect its right to administer its self-insured employee plan for its 265 full-time employees in a way that comports with the family’s religious faith.”

Founding Father John Adams, if he were around today, might remind Vice President Joe Biden that “facts are stubborn things.”