Faith and Religion: Does Catholicism Plus Health Care, Equal Government Shutdown?

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l - Cardinal Sean O'Malley, r - ArchBishop William Lori.

Accomplices to the crime? Insets: l – Cardinal Sean O’Malley, r – Archbishop William Lori.

     Fade in, Uncle Sam is lying on the ground, partially incapacitated. He’s been shot multiple times, by John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the GOP House leadership. While Cantor stands in the road and attempts to block the ambulance’s arrival, (1) the “CSI” of public examination and opinion is looking over the crime scene, trying to piece together what exactly has happened. As it turns out, one of the bullets can be traced…back to the Catholic Church! (This is the point where Horatio Caine dons his sunglasses, and utters a one-liner about the crime not being exactly…holy.)

     It’s an intriguing story, lacking only the beginning strains of The Who’s “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” to complete the scene. The story is based on actual events, with origins tracing back well beyond the passage of PPACA in 2010. Given enough time and page space, I could regale you with a long treatise on the church’s history of government entanglements, however I’d like to keep your attention, while not taking up too much of your time, my fine young readers! So, we’ll just get right into the substance of the story, starting with 2010 and PPACA. (2)

     Although the specific text regarding the coverage of contraceptives, known as the “Contraceptive Mandate,” cannot be found within the 906 pages of Public Law 111-148, section 2713 does contain a general mandate for insurers to cover, with no cost-sharing requirements, the following items:

‘‘(1) evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force;
(2) immunizations that have in effect a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with respect to the individual involved; and
(3) with respect to infants, children, and adolescents, evidence-informed preventive care and screenings provided for in the comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration for purposes of this paragraph.”

     Pursuant to item (4) in the list above, in January of last year, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiring insurers to “…cover these [recommended contraceptive] services without cost sharing for women across the country” beginning on August 1st, 2012. The ruling made an exception for what it referred to as, “Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan,” granting them an additional year to comply with the new law. (3) As a result of this ruling, the Catholic church commenced an offensive against what it considered an “attack on freedom of religion.” (4)

     The opposition from the Catholic church hasn’t waned in the past year and a half. With the help of certain members of congress, two bills (one in the House,(5) the other in the Senate(6)) have been introduced, in an attempt to attach a “Conscience Clause” to the new health care law. Both bills are currently stalled in committee, with little to no prognosis for passage.

     It is at this point in our sordid tale, that the “bullet” comes in to the picture. On September 26th, a letter was sent to Congress by two committee chairmen from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. Within the text of this letter, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley and Archbishop William Lori, urged congress to commit to the following course of action:

“We have already urged you to enact the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940/S. 1204). As Congress considers a Continuing Resolution and debt ceiling bill in the days to come, we reaffirm the vital importance of incorporating the policy of this bill into such “must-pass” legislation.(7)

At odds.

At odds.

     Indeed, two days later the House Republican majority inserted language to these ends, into the tail-end of section 131 of House Joint Resolution 59,(8) and sent it back across the hall to the Senate, which rejected it and sent it back, during the to-and-fro volleying leading up to the current “Partial Government Shutdown of 2013.”

     So, did the Catholic church cause the current government shutdown? No, but they did “supply the shooters with additional ammunition, knowing what that ammunition would be used for,” and that makes them complicit. (Right about now, some would love to see Calleigh Duquesne (ah, Emily Procter!) walking into the offices of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, and placing O’Malley and Lori in cuffs, I suspect!) Will the victim survive? We’re sure to find out within the next few days, as we bump up against Thursday’s debt limit deadline. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to…stay tuned! (Cue the Roger Daltrey scream…)

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Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare, Part Deux

The Vatican: Power over prophylactics?

     In another effort to impact healthcare, the Obama Administration, acting through the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling last week, mandating that all employers provide free access to contraception for their female employees. As a result, the Catholic church, which is vehemently opposed to all forms of birth control, mounted a protest. In response to this, president Obama announced a modification to the rule last Friday. Under the proposed accomodation, Catholic-affiliated employers would not have to shoulder the costs of contraception. Instead, these costs would be paid by the insurance companies.

     At first, it seemed that the accomodation would be accepted. After some discussion though, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement rejecting the proposed change, while at the same time Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, called upon both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to oppose the Obama policy. In addition, Catholics have derided the policy as an “attack on religious liberty.”

     Cardinal Wuerl, during an appearance on the Fox News program “America’s Newsroom,” had this to say regarding his hopes for support from the citizenry;

    “There’s one thing in the heart of this nation that we’re counting on, and that’s the basic fairness of the American people.”(1)

     [SOAPBOX=ON] Alright Cardinal Wuerl, I’ll give it to you in all fairness. There are a number of things that I find problematic about this whole affair, mostly on the part of the Catholic church, but also on the part of the government. First of all, the “attack on religious liberty” is not coming from the government in this case. It is once again, coming from the church! Freedom of religion also entails freedom from religion. I find it unconscionable that any Catholic-run hospital or other employer would seek to impose its religious proclivities on employees that, in many cases, may not even be Catholics themselves. (Not every employee of places like Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California is a Catholic!) That would be tantamount to saying that, if I work for a Catholic-affiliated hospital, that all of my choices in life must be in line with Catholic doctrines and dogmas. I have one thing to say to that; go fish.

     On the flip-side of the debate, I’m wondering why it is that the proposed coverage for contraception is only for females, and not males as well. Is the government suggesting that women have more sex than men do? Why make contraception and / or safer sex the responsibility of the woman, by default? In my not-so-humble opinion, the man is just as responsible for this! Also, why make it mandatory for employers to provide contraception for free? Just like the sex act is a choice, practicing safer sex is also a choice, albeit a prudent one. It is for this reason that I disagree with the Health and Human Services policy. This would be along the same lines as the government telling insurers and employers that they now have to pay for things like tummy tucks, breast augmentations and plastic surgery, all of which are elective procedures.

     It is things like this that drive the cost of healthcare and health insurance up, instead of down. It is also things like this that show just how power-hungry the Catholic church still is. It’s no wonder we have people like Nicki Minaj, openly mocking the church during a protracted “self-exorcism” performance at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. If the church would just stop trying to run healthcare according to the Vatican’s edicts, and start acting in the best interests of all of the citizens it serves, maybe things would get a whole lot better.

Burned By The Church: Part Two – An Indictment

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

     Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones had a conversation with Mohandas K. Gandhi in the first decades of the 20th century. During this tete-a-tete, he inquired of Gandhi, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi ever so candidly replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.”

     In the course of my life and experiences with the church, I have found Gandhi’s words to be disturbingly accurate. Especially since 2004, I have been increasingly critical of the church, of people who identify as “Christians” and their words and actions. If Mohandas Gandhi noted this dichotomy between Christ and Christians almost 100 years ago, just imagine what things are like now!

     2012 presidential GOP candidate Michele Bachmann, a self-avowed Christian, has on numerous occasions supported the use of torture techniques against detainees in this nation’s “War on Terror.” If I’m not mistaken, Christ directed us to love our enemies, not torture them. Bachmann doesn’t see waterboarding as torture though, not having experienced the procedure herself, she refers to it as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” as if changing the words will soften the act. I expand on this in the article “Michele’s Maleficence.”

     In the past few years, I have also become far more politically-oriented. One of the causes near and dear to me is that of working to secure equal rights for the LGBT community. The resistance to this cause from organised religion is downright scary at times! I have personally been cursed at, belittled and denigrated for my stance on Marriage Equality and LGBT rights by people claiming to be “Christians” and citing Bible passages in the same messages as disparaging words towards me. This isn’t surprising though, as I have also noted an overt agenda of control by the religious right, which includes political lobbying and a decades-old, anti-LGBT propaganda effort. For instance:

     If you ask any serious Christian in the 21st century why Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed, the immediate answer that you will get is one of several variations on the word “homosexuality.” This is due to the fact (and I also remember being taught this!) that Christians focus specifically on Genesis 19:5, which reads:

     Genesis 19:5 – “Who crying vnto Lot said to him, Where are the men, which came to thee this night? bring them out vnto vs that we may knowe them.” (1560 Geneva Translation.)

     What is excluded (to the loss of the Christian, because I know several that display these traits) is the wider message on the detriments of sinfulness, found in Ezekiel 16:49-50. Here, the MAN HIMSELF explains the true reason for the downfall of Sodom and Gommorah:

     Ezekiel 16:49 – “Beholde, this was the iniquitie of thy sister Sodom, Pride, fulnesse of bread (“Gluttony“), and aboundance of idlenesse (“Sloth“) was in her, and in her daughters: neither did shee strengthen the hande of the poore and needie.” (“Greed“) [16:50] –  “But they were hautie, and committed abomination before mee: therefore I tooke them away, as pleased me.” (1560 Geneva. Yes, I’ve developed a love for the early “Englyshe!”)

     What the “abomination” was that S&G committed, he doesn’t say. However, coupled with the Genesis account we have a pretty good idea, and I am willing to take that on a bit of faith. The important thing here is to know that Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed because of a culmination of things; because of their overall decline and not simply due to the one thing that people keep zeroing in on. The problem with any propaganda effort is that other important information is excluded, and in this case the lack of info has resulted in many Christians across the board embracing the very things that S&G were destroyed for.

     This propaganda effort is just part of a growing trend within Fundamental Christianity, fast becoming known throughout the blogosphere as “Dominionism.” Simply put, Dominionism is the active involvement of the church in the formation of policy and the politics of the state. One has no further to look than to groups such as the Parents Television Council, the Parents Music Resource Center and the American Families Association to see Dominionism in action. Even churches outside of the mainstream are taking part in this disturbing attempt to control our freedom to choose. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was instrumental in the recent passage of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot measure that’s only purpose was to deny the LGBT community equal rights under the law.

     The Catholic Church has been involved in state politics, almost since its inception. In keeping with those fine (italicised for sarcasm) traditions, bishops in the Catholic Church in the U.S. are collaborating on their own political agenda for the 2012 elections. According to the Catholics, the purpose for this active involvement in politics is to “safeguard religious freedom.” Ah, yes. Safeguard it for whom? In my not-so-humble opinion, the Vatican needs to extricate itself from our political arse, and fix their own issues first.(1)

     I have a friend who used to be a pastor. As a matter of fact, he was the pastor of the very church that sits next to my parents’ house, Madera Avenue Bible Church. It was during his tenure as pastor of this church that he lost his faith. As he states it, he became acutely aware of an underlying “meanness” in everything from the Genesis account of the “Fall of Man” to the final battle of Armageddon in the book of Revelation. He, like myself no longer identifies as “Christian,” in fact he is having more of a tough time accepting any form of deism than I!

     A few months ago, I wrote another blog article on Faith and Religion, and how each denomination and church seems to think that they have the monopoly on God and salvation. If you ask me, no one is right anymore. Churches have become big business, focused on the same things that have the Occupy Movement so pissed off at Wall Street. This was not what Jesus Christ meant the church to be. During Christ’s time, he taught! People could, if they had a question, raise their hand in the middle of services and say, “But wait, rabbi! Doesn’t the book say….?” If you try doing this in church in the 21st century, you’ll more than likely find yourself being escorted out the door by the deacons!

     Ladies and gentlemen, I no longer go to church. I go to God. I have become so disenfranchised, disgusted and disdainful of the rampant hypocrisy in the “Body of Christ,” that I no longer want any part of it. No, I haven’t lost my faith. I still believe in the Trinity, in salvation, in the concepts of the Bible and other basic tenets of the Protestant Reformation, that’s why I identify as “Spiritual” these days. I do not however, believe in the doctrine of Dominionism, the premise that it’s our job to keep people from sinning and save them by force of will.

     Since at least the late eighties and my experiences with my wife’s church, there has been something churning in my gut. This sense that things are not as “rosy” as they appear on the surface. For at least the last fifteen years, I’ve been actively questioning the state of things so that I could more readily identify what that “something” could possibly be, and how to reconcile it. I’ve never been one to simply accept the word of authority, or be satisfied that, “that’s just the way it is.” No, there has to be a reason behind everything in this existence, because that’s how God made it. Gandhi knew this, and also saw a hundred years ago what I see now. God rest his spirit, Gandhi was right.

Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare?

Mercy Medical Center's new campus in Merced, CA

     The contents of the following article are mostly my own personal opinions, save for where I state that an event occurred, and can readily provide factual evidence of that event so as to lend substance to the afore-mentioned opinions. I am writing this article because my family, friends and I have been personally and professionally slighted by the entity which I will be discussing. Although this is the case, I will still endeavour to present my arguments in as objective a manner as I am able to, for the benefit of informing you, my fine young readers…

     In May of 2010, Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California relocated itself to a brand new facility; an eight-floor building, complete with state-of-the-art equipment, increased emergency and in-patient capacity and even a fully functional helipad area. For months prior to it’s opening, this facility was touted throughout the area as being the “best thing since sliced bread.” (My words, as an analogous idea.) I will personally admit that this facility is a very impressive one, and its potential (by virtue of its design and equipment) for service to the area is outstanding. This hospital is managed by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit benefit corporation headquartered in San Francisco, California. Prior to the relocation of Mercy Medical Center, the hospital was located in a building owned by the County of Merced, on the southern end of the city. The reasons given for the relocation included concerns over service capacity, an inability to retrofit the existing building for earthquake safety and overall improvement of service to the residents of Merced County. It is in respect to this last item that concerns remain, even after the relocation.

     At this point, I would like to relay to you, my fine young readers, a little sidebar story. Over the past year or so, I have become close friends with the family downstairs from my humble apartment abode. They are some of the nicest people one could ever meet. My neighbor has three sisters (also fantastic people), one of which has two young daughters. (With me so far?) The youngest one, who is almost four years old but quite small for her age, was attacked by a Pit Bull last Tuesday at a local dog park. According to her mother, the attack resulted in significant injuries to the right-side temple area of her head, which tore the skin open and exposed the superficial temporal artery, missing the vessel itself by one millimeter. The child also has a puncture wound to her right lower jaw, and tearing of / through the right earlobe.

     (Again, the following events were recounted to me by the girl’s mother.) When this attack occurred, her parents immediately called for an ambulance, which transported the girl to the emergency room at Mercy. Upon arrival at the hospital, the girl and her parents were placed out in the department’s outer “waiting room,” where they proceeded to wait for over two hours before the girl was finally seen by a physician, according to her mother. Once inside the room, the physician rendering treatment decided to use this as a teaching situation (MMC Merced is after all, a teaching hospital!) for an intern. It was at this point that the grandmother (who had arrived during some point in these events) and the mother decided that the care the girl was receiving was not in line with the severity of the injury, removed her from the Mercy Medical Center emergency room, and drove her approximately 45 miles south to Children’s Hospital of Central California. Within 15 minutes of arrival at CHCC, the girl was being cared for by emergency staff.

     (The following section is factual, and can be readily corroborated by e-mails and screen captures.) Now, I have personally gotten a close-up look at the aftermath of the injuries to this little girl’s face, so I can vouch for their nature and severity. When I was told of this, I immediately posted my concerns to the CHW page on Facebook. Here’s what was written, presented for your perusal in its entirety:

     “ALERT – I am bringing this HERE, and will bulldog this issue, even if I have to go to the AMA and the U.S. Surgeon General: CHW Hospital Mercy Medical Center in Merced made a 2 and 1/2 year-old dog attack victim, brought via ambulance to ER, wait over 2 hours in the WAITING ROOM, with severe lacerations to her head, one of which missed the superficial temporal artery by 1mm! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN!?” “This happened yesterday afternoon. The victim was attacked by a Pit Bull at a local dog park. She was eventually taken by family to CHCC in Madera County, where PROPER care was rendered within MINUTES of their arrival.

CHW JUST BUILT this new facility in our city, yet juvenile cases such as this continue to be mishandled. WHY?”

     Two days later, a reply was posted from whoever runs the page, stating the following:

     “We appreciate your bringing this to our attention, John. This is absolutely not the experience any person should have when seeking care. We are in contact with the president and the chief medical officer of the hospital and will take appropriate steps to help ensure this does not happen again.”

     This was followed immediately by another post, which read:

     “If you would like to speak with someone directly to provide us with more information, please send your contact information to contactus(at)chw.edu.”

     I passed this information along to the girl’s family, and replied in the thread that I would do so. Then, I checked back a few hours later. The two posts above had been removed, and the following had been posted in their place:

     “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, John. We want to assure you that we are committed to the highest standards of care and treatment. Please send us your contact information at contactus(at)chw.edu so we can gather more information about this matter.”

     I immediately posted a reply, inquiring why the original post had been redacted. I also re-posted their original reply to me, in a posting under MY name so that it was clear to everyone reading this exchange what had been redacted. CHW then removed my re-post of their original comment, and posted this in response:

     “Thank you, John. Your care and attention to your friends’ well being is appreciated. We hope you agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to have the family and our caregivers engage in a conversation to better understand the facts. Our original post was removed after it became clear that this was a complaint you were lodging not on behalf of yourself (and so weren’t speaking from direct experience), but on behalf of a friend. It is always our first priority to provide quality, timely care. We are looking forward to connecting your friends with our caregivers for an open conversation.”

     I’ll wrap up the section at this point, but the idea is now clear; CHW was going to take this seriously, but when they determined that this was a second-hand complaint, they down-graded it. When I re-posted their original text, they censored it, yet spoke of “open conversation.”

     Inordinately long waits in the MMC emergency waiting room are no new thing. In 2008, my son came down with pneumonia. He and his wife went to the emergency room, arriving there around 6:00 P.M. I know this because they called me four hours before I got off from work that evening, telling me that they had just arrived there. When I shifted off, I drove past the hospital on my way home. I found them walking down the street towards our complex, only yards away from the hospital parking lot. I asked my son what the doctor had said, however he replied that they had not even seen a triage nurse. This was at 10:05 P.M. I immediately went back down to the hospital with them, and asked the desk nurse why they had been waiting for over four hours to be seen. Upon checking her computer screen, the nurse informed me that my son had only been there for a little over two hours. (In all actuality, they waited almost two hours before inputting his info into the computer!) I immediately took my son 35 miles down to Madera Community, where he was seen and prescribed antibiotics within an hour.

     In 2009, my daughter-in-law was seen at the MMC emergency room for abdominal pain during the early stages of a pregnancy. After waiting over three hours in a chair in the hall, she was finally taken to a room and examined. Emergency room staff completely missed the fact that she was having a miscarriage.

     For an organization that has “showing compassion” in their stated aims, Catholic Healthcare West, an entity associated with the Catholic church, does not appear to be doing such a wonderful job at it. Fostering “open conversation” is also problematic, especially when CHW engages in censorship. Now, I do understand that they are perfectly entitled to post and remove anything they wish in their spaces on the internet, however it still does not speak well for their “modus operandi.”

Faith and Religion: Not All That Glitters…

George Orwell, Author (1903 - 1950)

     George Orwell, in the preface to his book “Animal Farm,” wrote this about liberty:

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. The common people still vaguely subscribe to that doctrine and act on it.”

     To that end, I thought it was high time that I addressed a topic that until now, I’ve been trying to avoid. You see, when I started The Cybersattva weblog, it was never my intention to attack or impugn a person’s religion or beliefs. Now that the blog has been up for awhile, I’ve had some cause to deviate from that policy where radical Islam is concerned, only because the actions of its adherents are in direct contradiction of basic human rights and liberties. Now, my focus turns towards the Holy See, and the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

     First, I’d like to convey a little something about myself. I am an extremely vocal proponent of Children’s Rights, and completely detest those that would abuse, molest, neglect or otherwise harm these most precious of life’s gifts that we’ve been given. When I see injustice done towards our children, I cannot…will not remain quiet.

Catholic Pope Benedict XVI

     Lately, we have borne witness to several revelations (no pun intended) of child abuse by Catholic Church clergy. Compounding this problem is the manner in which higher elements of the church have handled cases of abuse they were made aware of. In defense of the HRCC heirarchy, I’m sure that there are far more honest priests than dishonest ones. This does not however, lend anything to the sad state of affairs that the church, all the way up to the Holy See, finds themselves in. Quite the contrary, everything that the Bishoprics and higher offices have done in response to the actions of pedophilic priests seems on the face of it, designed and / or purposed to hide this most hideous of transgressions.

     Since the church fancies referring to itself as the “body of Christ,” then let’s deal with this subject in those terms for a sentence or two. This is indeed a viral infection, eating away at parts of the so-called “body.” What does the body do when presented with an infection? It takes the infection into the lymph nodes, and “reads” it. The lymphatic system then creates antibodies, which go out and attack the virus. In the “body of Christ,” what has actually been happening is that certain parts of the “body” have been harboring the virus, and then moving it around to other parts of the “body,” effectively playing a sort of “shell game.” What happens to the human body when this happens?

     How else can we (I’m writing from the perspective of a non-Catholic here) look at this problem? From a Democratic view, the situation is an epic fail. While priests, bishops, cardinals and the Pope waffle around with this, the laypeople continue to attend services every Sunday, go to confession and maintain the norm, instead of what they should be doing; calling a “cease-fire” on the range. When calling a cease-fire, everything stops. No weapons are fired, every weapon gets unloaded and cleared, and there’s a top-down examination of procedure before anything is allowed to proceed. I for one don’t see this happening inside the Catholic church. Maybe it’s time that it should.

     Historically, far-reaching institutions headquartered in Rome seem to have always had issues with “doing the right thing” morally. Roman emperors such as Claudius and Tiberius often took “carnal liberties” with innocents, in amongst a plethora of other human injustices. Since its inception, the Catholic church has also had trouble in this area, right up to the office of the Pope himself. Pope John X had affairs with both a woman and her daughter. (Theodora and Morozia, respectively.) Pope Alexander VI (born Roderic Borja) presided over one of the most lascivious eras in the papacy.

     The main thing that I personally have a problem with, besides the fact that the vast majority of Catholic laypeople have absolutely no cojones to stand up against the injustices of the pontificate, is the fact that every time a priest or bishop gets caught with their “hand in the cookie jar,” they deny and avoid, instead of taking the onus. Aren’t these men supposed to be leaders? Aren’t these people supposed to be upstanding, men whose watchwords include “accountability?”

     The encouraging thing is that lately, more and more people are speaking out. More of these crimes are being reported, and more pedophilic priests and bishops find themselves moving from the “cell” of their rectory to one that measures 8×10 and has bars.