A Long Train of Abuses

Many people have expressed concern and disquiet over a recent article in the Times relating to ArchCare, the organization of health care affiliates of the Archdiocese, such as our nursing homes.  These institutions have for many years been paying into the benefits fund of Local 1199, the union that represents their employees.  These benefits funds pay for morally offensive items, such as contraception.

The implication of the article was that this represented some kind of hypocrisy on the part of the Archdiocese, given that we oppose any such mandate to provide coverage for contraception — such as the infamous HHS mandate.

The Archdiocese has responded to these allegations officially, in an effort to allay the disquiet and to correct the record.  Let me add my own, unofficial, personal take.

It’s important that people understand context here, so that they get the real picture.

We have a state law contraception mandate that is binding on all employers who provide prescription coverage, with a very narrow exception for a few religious employers (an extremely tiny exception similar to the one in the original HHS mandate).  Our hospitals and health care agencies would not qualify for the exception, because they serve and employ people without regard to their religious beliefs.  This mandate was challenged up to our Court of Appeals, and we lost.  So that’s a key factor — there’s an element of strict legal coercion involved here.

Second, we are in a very strong union shop state.  This contributes yet another element of legal coercion.  The health care workers union, Local 1199, is the mandatory union for health care workers.  The trade association is the industry’s recognized bargaining agent for the hospitals.  Once they negotiate a contract with Local 1199, that’s the contract for everyone in the industry — even if you weren’t a member of the association, you would still have to sign the standard industry contract.  The union won’t negotiate with you separately. It’s a “take it or leave it” proposition.

As a result, there’s no way to change or opt out of the health coverage — any effort to evade the standard contract would produce massive disruption of our health care institutions (strikes, etc.) and a ruinous and certain-loser legal action before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

So we have two layers of legal coercion that affect us, when it comes to the operation of our facilities, and the provision of benefits to our employees.

There are also some essential facts that affect the analysis of this situation from a moral perspective.  There is an fundamental element of separation between the Archdiocese and the union health plan.  It is not like the HHS mandate, which would have required us to list contraception in our own plan, and to directly promote it to our employees in our human resources materials — these offensive elements would be specifically endorsed by us, explained by us, and counseled by us.   The HHS mandate would literally drag words out of our mouths — and it’s hard to imagine a more offensive violation of our liberty.

The union contract is entirely different — we have nothing to do with the benefits, which are administered completely by the union, it is entirely out of our control, there’s no endorsement, there’s no involvement beyond writing the check to pay for it.

So, morally speaking, it’s an identical situation morally to paying taxes that go to Medicaid contraception and abortion — the remote cooperation with evil is mitigated by the fact that my conduct is involuntary, and I have no involvement in the act itself nor do I facilitate it in any way.

There’s another element here.  There is an argument underlying the Times piece — and we’ve seen it elsewhere as well — that our compliance with these other coercive mandates somehow renders our protest against the HHS mandate void.  I just don’t understand this.  If we are repeatedly subject to unjust actions by the government, how does that prevent us from opposing a new imposition?  At what point of coercion do I lose my basic human right to protest?

Here’s an analogy that I think people should think about.  Go back to your history books, and re-read the Declaration of Independence.  Read the key paragraph, the one that deals with our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  The remainder of that paragraph is an argument that a free people are likely to endure a “long train of abuses and usurpations”, before they finally take action to defend themselves.

I certainly don’t compare this situation to that experienced by our Founders, nor am I saying that we’re justified in taking up arms.  But the fact that we are willing to be long-suffering does not in any way mean that the abuses lose their offensiveness, nor does it mean that we waive our rights.

All it means is that when we do resist, we will be all the more resolute.


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5 Responses to “A Long Train of Abuses”

  1. tom faranda says:

    Good clarification Ed.

  2. Dear Mr. Mechmann: While I appreciate the distinctions you make regarding the “fundamental element of separation” in the ArchCare situation that does not apply to the HHS mandate, I wonder if this is not ultimately (or at least practically) a distinction without difference. What the Archdiocese seems to have forgotten in its responding to this matter is the fact that most people – even well meaning Catholics – aren’t going to hear such fine distinctions through the din of a media culture. To evangelize effectively, we need to be aware of facts like these, and give due credit to such facts when it comes to whether certain actions (even if they are, prima facie, morally licit actions – such as remote material cooperation) engender theological scandal. In this case, I think the Archdiocese is doing a disservice to the non-professional-theologian layman, man-in-the-street, who operates on a simpler level of judgment about these matters perhaps, and is quite liable to see this as hypocrisy indeed.

    In light of which facts, it seems that it could at least be argued that the Archdiocese should consider trying to rise above even the *appearance* or *seeming* of hypocrisy. To which suggestion, your other points go directly, but lead us to an impasse: you observe that in the ArchCare situation “there’s an element of strict legal coercion involved here” and it comes after a court battle being lost. Do you not think that this will lead many Catholics who have been trying diligently to follow Cardinal Dolan’s leadership on the matter of the HHS mandate to fear that, should the matter finally be lost by the Church at the Supreme Court, there won’t be any of the resistance you speak of at the end of your piece at all, but rather a quiet rolling over and abidance of yet another in “a long train of abuses and usurpations”? [And let’s not kid ourselves, the abuses which THIS GOVERNMENT is perpetrating against the Church right now are far more egregious and offensive than any of the provocations by the King’s government on the colonial citizens of the 18th century! Forced cooperation in abortion is unarguably a matter more grave than a tax on tea or paper or the coercive quartering of troops.]

    Many Catholics like myself have been prepared from the outset of this dilemma to stand by the U.S. Bishops and to follow their leadership to a very bitter end. But the approach to the recent revelations in the Times so far has led even the most steadfast to wonder whether we will be left standing alone or only to follow the path of an ignoble and unconscionable retreat?

  3. Virginia Corbett says:

    Excellent article!

  4. Sid says:

    This is an embarrassing disclosure and the arguments presented only lead us to believe that the right of religious freedom is already muted. It is time to become the Church militant again and face the issues head on and that starts with the handling of seemingly CINO politicians. This finding should take the good Cardinal Dolan away frm being the point man against the HHS mandates. Could there be another Bishop or Cardinal out there that fought and won cases like this? If there is, let him assume command of the battle with the government over theri disregard for the separation of church and state.

  5. […] is why when I read the Archdiocese of New York’s unofficial reply to the New York Times article that was published last Sunday, I find myself caught between the rock […]