The actual press release has not yet been posted on the CASP Web site, but you can read it here. Video of a news conference held yesterday to publicize the statement is on the Web, however. The conference was hosted by the Rev. Dr. Donald B. Green, executive director of CASP. The principal speakers were the Most Rev. Robert W. Duncan of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the Most Rev. David A. Zubik, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. (Duncan reads the body of the press release in the video, though he is difficult to understand due to an audio problem.)
Clearly, it is the Roman Catholic David Zubik who is the primary backer of the CASP statement which is, frankly, nonsensical. The statement declares
Today, we speak together about two shared concerns: (1) the preservation of religious liberty as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, and (2) the moral imperative of providing healthcare for all, women, men, and children alike.Calling on the federal government to broaden its exemption so that religious-affiliated organizations can avoid paying for contraception, the statement warns
Many religious institutions are now placed in the untenable position of (a) violating their consciences, (b) ceasing health insurance and paying ruinous fines, or (c) withdrawing entirely from providing the social services to the wider community that have long been a social justice hallmark of their ministry. Creating gaping holes in the public welfare safety net is in and of itself an immense injustice.All this is so much nonsense intended to support the absurd position taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have written elsewhere why I believe the bishops are wrong. (In fact, I believe the exemption should be narrowed, not broadened.) Here, however, I want to concentrate on the statement itself.
The signatories—I will get to the matter of who they are in a moment—claim to be concerned with religious liberty (i.e., the liberty of churches to withhold benefits from employees so as not to offend their own consciences) and universal health care. Nowhere in the statement (or at the news conference) is anything said about how what is generally viewed as basic health care for women is to be provided for female employees of religious-affiliated organizations if their employers are relieved of their responsibility for providing it. The expressed concern for universal health care, therefore, seems less than sincere.
Even less credible are the choices the statement claims are available to religious-affiliated organizations. Religious institutions are not being asked to violate their consciences; they are being asked to abide by the law. (We all are “forced” to support governmental functions of which we do not approve and to which we may have serious moral objections—think fighting wars and applying capital punishment.) The option of “ceasing health insurance and paying ruinous fines” is doubly insincere. Were a hospital, say, to drop health care for its employees, it would soon find itself without employees. And if it managed to dodge that bullet, the fines imposed by the government would be, I submit, less than “ruinous.” Finally, the suggestion that churches might cease to provide social services if forced to provide contraception for employees is extortion, pure and simple. The threat is a depressing indication that churches—the Roman Catholic Church especially—is willing to sacrifice absolutely anyone for the sake of its own precious doctrine. What, I wonder, would Jesus say?
Upset as I am about the CASP statement, I am that much more upset by the fact that my own bishop, Kenneth Price, was willing to lend his support to this horrible document. It is even more galling that our deposed bishop, now Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America Robert Duncan, is so publicly associated with the statement.
I do not doubt that Duncan supported the statement with some enthusiasm, but his appearance at the news conference was largely dictated by the fact that he is the current chair of the Council of Bishops and Judicatory Executives of Christian Associates. Interestingly, although 26 judicatories of various churches are represented in CASP, the 18 signers of the statement represent only about 14 of them. Apparently, the thinking on this matter was less than uniform. Reputedly, some did not sign due to restrictions on what their representatives to CASP are allowed to do. The United Methodist Conference of Western Pennsylvania is not represented on the statement, however, because the United Methodist Church has a policy of supporting universal access to reproductive services. (Apparently, the Methodists know insincerity when they see it.)
It is not actually clear to me that Bishop Price had the right to commit the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the CASP statement, a matter that perhaps will need to be considered at the next diocesan convention. Certainly, he does not represent my own view in this case, and I know he does not represent the views of a number of fellow Episcopalians with whom I have discussed this matter.
Update, 4/17/2012: The press release is now on the CASP Web site here. A clearer, searchable version (though without the third page of subscribers, which was likely a last-minute addition) is here. These are the related news stories that I know about: