NC Fishwrap: US Bishops are to blame for Pres. Obama’s HHS decision

It had to happen.

Fishwrap is blaming Pres. Obama’s attack on religious freedom on the US Bishops, and their unsophisticated notion of conscience.

Bishops’ conscience model makes light of practical reason
Jan. 23, 2012
By David DeCosse


What if the clashes over conscience between the American Catholic bishops and the Obama Administration are driven in great measure not by anti-Catholicism nor by creeping totalitarianism but by the very model of conscience used by the bishops themselves? [Hey! We’ve got to be practical!]

The next year may provide a decisive answer to this question.

On Friday, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services announced that religious institutions would have a year before they would be required to make contraception available at no cost to all female employees. In response, the Catholic Health Association both criticized the HHS statement and called for an “effective national conversation on the appropriate conscience protections in our pluralistic country.” [That’s code for “Find a way to comply with Pres. Obama’s agenda.”  Sr. Keehan, GIVE BACK THAT PEN!] Will the Church in the next year enter into such a conversation and possibly find solutions that balance the concerns of religious freedom with the respect for democratic equality? How this question is finally answered may well depend on what conceptual model of the Catholic conscience the Church brings to the table.


There is a lot more, but I think this get’s the essence of it.

If only the Bishops in the USA had a more sophisticated understanding of “conscience”!

These poor bishops still think that Catholics must conform their consciences to the teachings of the Church! Of the Magisterium of Bishops!

They still think that a Catholic’s conscience must be shaped according to the mind of the Church.

But WE are Church!  And our consciences are SUPREME!

Fishwrap thinks that the Catholic Health Association can help us understand this better.

Remember, abetted by the Fishwrap, Sr. Keehan and the Magisterium of Nuns have set themselves up as the alternative teaching body over and against the authority of the bishops.

They have a track record in helping catholic dems in Congress ignore the Catholic bishops and vote in favor of a problem that must inevitably provide taxpayer money for abortions.  The Magisterium of Nuns gave them cover.

Be sure to write to Archbp. Dolan, President of the USCCB, and remind him to read the Fishwrap’s suggestion that the Bishops are standing in the way of practical solutions.  Urge the bishops to follow the lead of the Magisterium of Nuns!

To his credit, Michael Sean Winters, though he is still sticking up for poor mistreated Sr. Keehan, got it right in his reaction to Pres. Obama and HHS: “To say that news of the decision by President Obama not to expand the conscience exemption for church-affiliated institutions who do not wish to cover birth control is a disaster would be a gross understatement.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    The subjectivism of the definition of conscience has been emphasized to the detriment of the supernatural virtue of obedience. Our consciences are firstly formed by natural law, which is no longer taught at many law schools or even in some catechesis. Secondly, the natural conscience is informed by sanctifying grace, that is from the Sacraments, and through reason, through the Teaching Magisterium of the Church.

    That many Catholics only stress the subjectivism of the conscience is a modernist error. The conscience is practical in so far as it uses prudence and the other virtues which are based on the knowledge of God and that it responds to duty and necessary moral judgments. This knowledge of God is necessary for a well-formed conscience, well-formed only if in keeping with the teachings of Christ and His Church.

    The intellect must inform the conscience and the intellect must be perfected by grace. Without this journey towards perfection, in compliance with the Church, the conscience is not formed properly. No perfection of the intellect, no well-formed conscience.

    We must “put on the mind of Christ” and think like Catholics, not secularists, and that means we must form our consciences to Christ’s Mind. How do we know the Mind of Christ.? Only through the teachings of the Catholic Church.

    Disobedience to Rome is a sure sign of a malformed conscience. The bishops are desperately trying to bring people back to the true meaning of conscience, but the modernists, such as those as the fishwrap, fight back in the narrowness of their subjective definition.

  2. Papabile says:

    Of course, the Fishwrap is reprehensible AND wrong on this. However, the Bishops aided and abetted this outcome by pushing so hard for the Health Care Reform package. They had been warned about this VERY thing if the Health Care Reform were passed the way it was.

    With that said, I realize they opposed it at the very end. They took the proper stance there. However, they were critical in the whole process of development of the package.

    It’s literally unbelievable to now hear H.E. Dolan address this rulemaking. See it at:

    I LOVE the line about “never before has the government forced people to buy a product which violated their consciences”…..

    Yet the BISHOPS lobbied to do PRECISELY this. By forcing people into state exchanges, it would force MANY of us to subsidize MANY operations, etc which violated their consciences.

    This is absolutely undeniable and disingenuous.

    I don’t blame the Bishop for this, but a poor press operation.

    He’s now using precisely the argument MANY of US used against the whole HCR.

  3. JohnE says:

    Wow, “conscience model” sounds so sophisticated. I think he’s saying that as long as you struggle with your decision then anything is ok. It sounds like he’s trying to build a “weasel model”.

  4. Rich says:

    The model which says I can do whatever I feel like because my conscience says it’s OK is rather a very simplistic view of conscience. To say that there is a source of divine teaching by which my conscience may be informed, and that my access to this source can result from a combination of my own free decision to seek it out and there being little signposts God will put in my life which I need to look out for and judge according to what I learned through seeking out the truth, and that following my conscience has to do with doing what I know is right and which may not necessarily be what I feel like doing all the time, is actually the more nuanced model of conscience.

  5. I pretty much echo what Papible said…

  6. Stu says:

    Didn’t take long for the CYA protocols to be engaged by NCR.

  7. dhgyapong says:

    Living in Canada, where we have so-called “free” health care for all, we pay for abortion on demand with our tax dollars and no one cares whether our consciences as tax payers are offended.

  8. anilwang says:

    Actually, just the High Priest who sent Jesus to death prophesied correctly that one many must die for all the living, sometimes even heretics can be unintentionally correct.

    The fundamental problem is historically, what Catholics mean by “conscious rights” is the right to follow what God says and wills even if it comes at a cost. Martin Luther redefined “conscious rights” to mean “the right to follow what I feel must be correct”. This redefinition resulted in massive religious persecution within any Protestant country, even against other Protestant sects simply because the King felt that it must be correct that anyone not of the King’s faith was a cancer and should be treated as such. Catholic kings, OTOH, tended to tolerate other faiths even during the height of the inquisitions as long as they did not directly attack faithful.

    During the times after Vatican II, the USCCB has promoted the Martin Luther definition of “conscious rights”, either explicitly or implicitly by allowing liturgical abuse to fester or catechetical abuse to fester or negligence to even inform the faithful that most contraceptives are abortafacients and downplaying people who raise a stink as “uncharitable”. If everything is up for grabs dependent on the whims of the priest and bishop, the how else can you interpret other than “conscious rights” is purely subjective?

    So yes she’s right. As I believe Fulton Sheen once said, all the evils of this world are the result of negligent Catholics.

    Hopefully, the USCCB has finally woken up and see the price negligence and being vague about “conscious rights” has wrought. Unfortunately, sometime we need a rude wakeup before such things happen…”Sanguis martyrum – semen christianorum”

  9. wmeyer says:

    Fishwrap and newspaper are, in this case, mutually exclusive terms. Although any paper may serve as fishwrap, not all fishwrap has served as actual newspaper.

    2 Tim 4:3-4:
    3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

  10. James Joseph says:

    St. John Fisher has a whole section in one of his lengthy homilies about how being too nice causes too many problems.

    It is found in “Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms”

  11. As I continue on my journey in the Catholic Church the more nuns I meet. The more nuns I meet the more confused I am about whether they are Catholic or REALLY Episcopalian. I think they should make a choice. Either become what they seem to already be and exit the Church as gracefully as they are able, or put habits back on, go back to the convents and spend their life in prayer and contemplation.

    And no pens.

  12. ray from mn says:

    When it comes down to it, there is no rule that nuns and priests have to wear “religious”clothing if their order or diocese doesn’t require it. Why is it then that the female religious, almost to a person, look like frump who get their clothing from the discard bin at a used clothing store?

    I know a woman religious in Minnesota, an important executive in a hospital system, who always looks like a million dollars, wearing a classy black business suit.

    Why don’t all the women religious who refuse to wear religious clothing dress professionally. They just might find that some women would begin to see that their might be some merit in joining a religious order whose member don’t look like a the crowd in the unemployment line.

  13. keithp says:

    I predict that we’ll continue to see the dynamic where the administration uses the dissenting nuns, small c catholic instutions and apostate politicians to give the fig leaf of legitimacy they need to continue to ram thru these mandates. Those same apostates will use that enabling to gain more temporal power for their own illegitimate agenda.

  14. tcreek says:

    The following speaks to the problem of the NC Fishwrap and other “moderns” — If only they were pagans.
    From Edward Feser’s blog –

    Bruce Charlton identifies six problems for modern Christian apologists, and proposes a solution. His remarks are all interesting, but I want to focus on the first and most fundamental of the problems he identifies, which is that the metaphysical and moral knowledge that even pagans had in the ancient world can no longer be taken for granted:

    “Christianity is a much bigger jump from secular modernity than from paganism. Christianity seemed like a completion of paganism – a step or two further in the same direction and building on what was already there: souls and their survival beyond death, the intrinsic nature of sin, the activities of invisible powers and so on. With moderns there is nothing to build on (except perhaps childhood memories or alternative realities glimpsed through art and literature)”.

    From this problem follow several others. Bruce continues:

    “Modern Christianity as experienced by converts tends to be incomplete – precisely because modern Christianity has nothing to build on. This means that modern incomplete Christianity lacks explanatory power, seems to have little or nothing to say about what seem to be the main problems of living. For example, modern Christianity seems to have nothing to do with politics, law, art, philosophy or science; to inhabit a tiny, shrinking realm cut-off from daily concerns.”


    “Modern Christianity often feels shallow – it seems to rely on diktat of scripture and the Church – this is because moderns lack a basis in the spontaneous perceptions of Natural Law, animism, the sense of active supernatural power in everyday life. Modern Christianity (after the first flush of the conversion experience) thus feels dry, abstract, legalistic, prohibitive, uninvolving, lacking in purpose.”

    As they say, read the whole thing. There is, I think, much truth in what Bruce has to say. To be sure, I don’t for a moment think that Christianity really is in fact “shallow,” “incomplete,” “dry,” “lacking in purpose,” devoid of “explanatory power,” with “nothing to build on” by way of common ground with secular modernity, etc. Quite the opposite. But I agree that it can seem that way to many modern people. …

  15. Dan says:

    I agree with Fr. Z’s take on the issue. But I would question the use of the term ‘”magisterium of nuns” to describe the dissenting position. Obviously, some high profile female religious have publicly dissented from the Church’s teachings on the matter, and used thier influence to undermine the Bishops’ authority. But, to throw all nuns in with them is a disservice to all the good sisters who are on the front lines caring for the sick and elderly, teaching, and praying for the world. I know that is not Father’s intention- but I think it may come across as a bit brazen.

    After all, there are plenty of lefty priests and laypeople who have made no effort to hide thier disobedience to the Church’s teachings. If we’re talking about small “c” catholics setting up an alternative magisterium, we should probably start with the priests who convinced the Kennedys and other Catholic democrats that they could be pro-abortion and Catholic at the same time. And then there’s always Ambassador Kemic (sp?), who pulled a Sir Richard Rich during the 2008 election.

    Maybe we should be calling this the “magisterium of dissent” instead. [No. We shouldn’t. We should absolutely called it the Magisterium of Nuns as often as we possibly can and for many reasons.] No need to single out one group (and thereby make it look like it’s ALL their problem) when there’s plenty of blame to around.

  16. NcReporter has a point WRT blame. Kinda.

    In the name of “religious liberty” as proposed in Dignitatis Humanae of VII, our bishops (not just here in the U.S., but everywhere, including Rome) have ceased to make explicitly clear the unique claims to truth that belong to the Catholic Church alone according to the merits of Her Founder, Christ the King.

    Instead, our shepherds have only sought to assure that in matters of governance the doctrines and rights of the Church are duly considered by the State right alongside the opinions of heathens and heretics. And now, here we are.

    So, when godless rulers like Obama and company dismiss our demands for “conscience clauses” as though the voice of the Church is just another opinion among many, can we really be surprised? After all, isn’t that pretty much all our bishops have mustered up the gumption to claim lo these past forty years?

  17. Centristian says:

    @ray from mn:

    “Why don’t all the women religious who refuse to wear religious clothing dress professionally.”

    Because it would conflict with their hairstyles, of course.

  18. Nora says:

    This seems like a good time to re-visit the issue of what groups/entities/outlets may call themselves “Catholic” and which Bishop has the authority to strip them of the title they have abandoned. Is there a canonist in the house?

  19. NoTambourines says:

    I get the impression much of society confuses their feelings with their conscience. The intellect is involved, too, and it is the window out to an external frame of reference on which way is up.

    We have an older priest who visits from time to time and likes to bring props to frame his homily. One of them was an “attitude indicator,” also known as an artificial horizon. He had been a pilot at one point, and told us about a time where he lost his equilibrium and would have flown the plane into the ground if he had to rely on his own senses. The indicator saved him.

    Our “indicator,” so to speak, is the Gospel, the Church and the guidance of our priests, bishops, and Pope.

    So, I’d say, when the plane is upside-down, you can’t blame the indicator for not telling you what you want to hear. It sounds like the Fishwrap wants to be upside-down with everyone else… because it feels right.

  20. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Supertradmum – Your exposition of the teachings on conscience are superb. I’ll use it in my catechism classes!

    Dan – I agree with you. Magisterium of Dissent is better.

    Finally, what will it take for the US bishops before they apply canon 915 to Kathleen Sebelius? If the devil himself returned and became a public figure in the US, I wouldn’t be sure the US bishops would use canon 915…maybe to avoid the impression of political favouritism, for good measure, they could also apply canon 915 to a pro-death Republican at the same time.

  21. The Sicilian Woman says:

    If only other people in the spotlight had the guts to do this:

    NHL player skips White House

  22. Peggy R says:

    The Fishwrap worked all weekend to come up with this ridiculous theory to avoid calling Obama what he is.

    If we want to blame the bishops, let’s blame them for foolishly supporting the general idea of centralized medical insurance. Did they not understand “subsidiarity” or freedom, not just of conscience? I guess they now see–even his Grace Card. Mahoney sees this for what it is.


  24. Clinton R. says:

    If you didn’t know who Sister Keehan was, you’d just think this was a picture of some lady holding up a pen. The lack of the habit generally (though not always) signifies a distain for Catholic tradition and teaching, which explains Sister Keehan’s backing of Obama and his health care plan. Wearing religious garb is an outward symbol of the inward commitment men and women religious make to the Lord and His Church. Seeing a priest in a t-shirt and jeans or similiar casual wear outside of Mass or a nun dressed as in the above photo does not give adequate dignity to the calling to religious life.

  25. I read today that Sr. Keehan was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. That makes me pretty sad. Does anyone know anything about how people are selected for that award, and who makes the final decisions?

  26. Supertradmum says:

    Ambrose Jnr,
    Thanks–it is all just good , old, Thomas Aquinas…, and I shall venture to say, even though I am a gutsy lady, that the Church and American society is falling into the same problem as Malta and Ireland. The culture and the political basis for decisions have become matriarchies. This is the evil of men giving up their roles. When women’s rights to reproduction and an aura of disobedience enters the teachings of the Church in America, one can say that the men have laid down, curled up and died–hello, some Bishops. Again, Humanae Vitae separated us out. Fishwrap just wants to give in to the ladies who want sexual license and the license to kill. On my blog, I quoted POTUS as referring to abortion as giving freedom to women. I am sick physically today and spiritually because of such comments, but when this view is inside the Church, I am very concerned, indeed. Obamacare is and always has been a disaster. The Mag of Nuns wants men to feel guilty if they do not support abortion, contraception, etc. This is all radical feminism which equals a matriarchy. And, matriarchies chose weak men on purpose.

  27. Legisperitus says:

    If only the Bishops could be like Nancy Pelosi and not have “this conscience thing.”

  28. wmeyer says:

    It is indeed sad that we have the Magisterium of Nuns, the Magisterium of Catechists and Theologians, and perhaps several others. It must surely be time, and past time, for Pope Benedict to begin wrangling these dissenters and dissidents back to the fold. Since there can be little doubt that internal disagreements have long since become matters of public discussion, I think it might be a good first step for these folks to be clearly identified by our Holy Father as being well outside the teaching of the Church. Too many continue to believe that these are matters of conscience, and not of doctrine.

  29. For decades the bishops have been just fine encouraging Catholics to exercise their “religious liberty” by following their conscience on contraception, doing almost nothing to form those consciences properly. Catholics have now exercised that “religious liberty” and have, overwhelmingly, rejected Church teaching on contraception. “Birth control” is now an accepted Catholic value in the pews (and, for the most part, in the pulpits). Just check almost any diocesan web site and it is a REQUIREMENT to be married in the Church that you know how to practice birth control via NFP. Catholics, if they bother to think about it at all, just distinguish themselves from the culture by using an approved “method.” They still embrace birth control.

    Now the bishops have the chops to expect happily contracepting (“birth controlling”) Catholics to march behind them protesting a violation of “religious liberty” by making mandatory what they have practiced voluntarily. When the bishops lead the charge, will there be any soldiers behind them? I hope there will be, but it won’t be because the bishops have been forming the troops properly all along.

    The bishops are reaping what they have sown. Maybe now they will wake up and confront dissent, even when found within their own ranks. It’s a bit late, and it’s not likely to bear fruit in a garden that they themselves have polluted by their timidity, but it’s never wrong to do the right thing, even when late.

  30. Supertradmum says:


    The problem is that people do not understand that a matter of conscience is a matter of doctrine. Henry VIII is a good example of this confusion. Another confusion is the misunderstanding of Cardinal Newman’s treatise on conscience. This is the most misquoted text in history. He has several notes on conscience, but the message is clear that only when one’s conscience is in conformity with the Catholic Church is one “right”.

    Samples: Obedience to God the Way to Faith in Christ (1830)
    The Christian’s faith and obedience are not the same religion as that of natural conscience, as being some way beyond it; secondly, [I say] that this way is “not far,” not far in the case of those who try to act up to their conscience; in other words, that obedience to conscience leads to obedience to the Gospel, which, instead of being something different altogether, is but the completion and perfection of that religion which natural conscience teaches … what conscience suggests, Christ has sanctioned and explained; to love God and our neighbour are the great duties of the Gospel as well as of the Law; he who endeavours to fulfil them by the light of nature is in the way towards, is, as our Lord said, “not far from Christ’s kingdom;” for to him that hath more shall be given.

    Another:All through my day there has been a resolute warfare, I had almost said conspiracy against the rights of conscience, as I have described it. Literature and science have been embodied in great institutions in order to put it down. Noble buildings have been reared as fortresses against that spiritual, invisible influence which is too subtle for science and too profound for literature. Chairs in Universities have been made the seats of an antagonist tradition. Public writers, day after day, have indoctrinated the minds of innumerable readers with theories subversive of its claims. As in Roman times, and in the middle age, its supremacy was assailed by the arm of physical force, so now the intellect is put in operation to sap the foundations of a power which the sword could not destroy. We are told that conscience is but a twist in primitive and untutored man; that its dictate is an imagination; that the very notion of guiltiness, which that dictate enforces, is simply irrational, for how can there possibly be freedom of will, how can there be consequent responsibility, in that infinite eternal network of cause and effect, in which we helplessly lie? and what retribution have we to fear, when we have had no real choice to do good or evil?

    A third: I observe that conscience is not a judgment upon any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done. “Conscience,” says St. Thomas, “is the practical judgment or dictate of reason, by which we judge what hic et nunc is to be done as being good, or to be avoided as evil.” Hence conscience cannot come into direct collision with the Church’s or the Pope’s infallibility; which is engaged in general propositions, and in the condemnation of particular and given errors.

    And the one which is misunderstood: And the French Dominican, Natalis Alexander:—”If, in the judgment of conscience, through a mistaken conscience, a man is persuaded that what his Superior {261} commands is displeasing to God, he is bound not to obey.”—Theol. t. 2, p. 32.

    The word “Superior” certainly includes the Pope; Cardinal Jacobatius brings out this point clearly in his authoritative work on Councils, which is contained in Labbe’s Collection, introducing the Pope by name:—”If it were doubtful,” he says, “whether a precept [of the Pope] be a sin or not, we must determine thus:—that, if he to whom the precept is addressed has a conscientious sense that it is a sin and injustice, first it is duty to put off that sense; but, if he cannot, nor conform himself to the judgment of the Pope, in that case it is his duty to follow his own private conscience, and patiently to bear it, if the Pope punishes him.”—lib. iv. p. 241.

    Would it not be well for Mr. Gladstone to bring passages from our recognized authors as confirmatory of his view of our teaching, as those which I have quoted are destructive of it? and they must be passages declaring, not only that the Pope is ever to be obeyed, but that there are no exceptions to the rule, for exceptions there must be in all concrete matters.

    I add one remark. Certainly, if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please,—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards. Letter to the Duke of Norfolk

    Point is seen in Assisi 1986, in such things which are not infallible, of course, which is why we have the Doctrine of Infallibility. Those who confuse Newman’s words forget the basis for a good conscience is clearly that it conforms to the Catholic Church, Newman’s point. When he quotes the Fourth Lateran; that “He who acts against his conscience loses his soul”, Newman supposes that the person has taken the time and energy to train his conscience, like a good athlete trains his body. He is not supposing the heresy of relativism.

  31. wmeyer says:


    I should have pointed out the obvious: that exercise of conscience can only be valid if the conscience in question has been properly formed, and formation must come from doctrine.

    Through failures (I believe) of formation, we see:
    – the appearance of self-formed Magisteria, claiming authority they can never possess
    – the proliferation of schools that do not teach, or even honor, the faith
    – the continued publication of journals which claim the Catholic mantle, but clearly are not Catholic

    Msgr. Wrenn, in Catechisms and Controversies detailed and gave ample evidence for the spontaneous creation of the Magisterium of Catechists and Theologians. That Catholic education was then severely damaged should be no surprise. Similarly, RCIA instruction has become all touchy-feely, under the tender ministrations of that same Mag which does not follow the faith, nor teach from the CCC. I spent two years in RCIA, and not once did they refer to the CCC, though they routinely made reference to their “favorite theologian” Fr. Richard Rohr!

  32. Supertradmum says:


    You made excellent points. Would like to change RCIA back to what it was years ago, as it has deteriorated. God bless your reading.

  33. Cathy says:

    I hope and pray that all of our Bishops stand up and fight this and do not seek the advice of theologicans, the likes of which who met at Hyannis Port, to suddenly, magically determine that this is ok.

  34. I almost thought it was a man holding the pen up in the picture. However, upon closer inspection I realized it was a woman who wanted to look like a man. I suppose the same reasons apply as to why those of that ilk want to pretend they are the Magisterium.

    To think for all those years those feminist nuns were telling us that women should be respected for being a woman. You know “women’s rights”, etc. Seems like they didn’t even believe their mantras. Otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to look like men if they thought being a woman was so valuable or something important.

    Sorry they do not merit the title of nuns (very few of whom were/ are actually involved in the present dissent). Technically nuns are/were cloistered and have a certain distinction canonically from religious sisters- that and aren’t ashamed of being a woman. To call those unhappy souls nuns is to slander those holy women who have sacrificed much to be faithful and devoted completely to Christ and doing so in the cloister. However, they are disgrace to the religious sisterhood to which they canonically belong.

  35. irishgirl says:

    The Sicilian Woman-thank you for the link about Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins declining to go to the White House!
    Good for him! He wasn’t afraid to ‘tell it like it is’!
    He had ‘guts’, indeed! More power to him!

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