Do They Know Who They’re Messing With?

During a recent conversation about the HHS anti-conscience mandate, a friend who is neither Catholic nor particularly religious asked the following rhetorical question about the Obama administration:

Do these people know who they’re messing with?

Her point, of course, was that the Church has spent nearly two millennia crushing attempts by secular rulers to dictate the way it carries out its charitable ministries. Commanding Catholic hospitals to fund sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortifacients isn’t like twisting the arm of some roundheel congressman. It’s going to take more than the usual Chitown chicanery to cow a venerable and well-funded organization that has brought more than one emperor to his knees.

The Church’s charitable work has been seen as a threat to the power of the state as far back as the reign of Julian the Apostate. Julian was the Roman Emperor who tried to drag his subjects back to the crumbling altars of the old state gods a half a century after his uncle, Constantine I, had legitimized Christianity by converting to the new faith. Julian’s project didn’t go well, and he complained in a letter to one of his high priests that the effort was failing because “the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well.” What’s an Emperor to do with opponents whose tactics include such dirty tricks as lending aid and comfort to all who need it, including people with religious and political views that differ from their own?

Julian tried to counter the effect of such “impious” tactics by restructuring the imperial administration in such a way that it could compete with the “Galileans” in good works and thereby erode the connection in the public consciousness between charity and the Church. In a move that eerily echoes the progressive vernacular of our own age, Julian issued the Tolerance Edict of 362. The purpose of this decree, like calls for tolerance from modern liberals, was precisely the opposite of its ostensible intent. It re-privileged the old pagan cults, rescinded religious freedoms recognized by Constantine and attempted to sow dissention among Christian ranks by reigniting long-resolved doctrinal controversies.

The Tolerance Edict and a variety of similar edicts flopped. And, after Julian’s short reign ended, his successors gave up his pagan revival project as a bad job. But the meaning of Julian’s failure has been lost on many subsequent rulers, and Barack Obama is among the slow learners who refuse to heed the lessons of history. The president, like Julian, wishes to “transform” his country into a place in which every aspect of the citizen’s life is connected to and controlled by the state. He wants the federal government to be seen as the ultimate arbiter and provider of the electorate’s needs. Obviously, however, this can’t be managed while large and influential institutions like the Catholic Church and its charitable ministries remain in place.

And, where health care is concerned, Catholic institutions are definitely a force to be reckoned with. For example, they provide care to one in six patients treated in the United States every year. During 2010, America’s more than 600 Catholic facilities treated well over 100 million patients, including 19 million emergency patients, and 5.5 million inpatients. And much of the care received by these patients was provided at a loss. Of the 5.5 million in-patients treated by these hospitals during 2010, 3.3 million were covered by Medicare or Medicaid, both of which pay less than the amount it costs to provide treatment. Of the 19 million emergency patients treated at Catholic hospitals, a large percentage paid nothing at all.

So, what happens if the Catholic hospitals simply refuse to abandon their principles and decide to get out of the health care business? This possibility is not as remote as some may believe. Don’t forget what happened in Massachusetts when Catholic charities faced a similar choice relating to adoption. Rather than abandoning their principles they simply stopped offering adoption services. If they take the same course in health care, the effect on our medical delivery system will be disastrous. Not all of the Church’s 600 hospitals would disappear, of course. Some would be bought by large for-profit chains, like HCA. Others would be picked up by big not-for-profit systems. But at least a third would probably go out of business.

And that third will consist mostly of rural and inner city hospitals that treat the nation’s most vulnerable patients. These institutions will never show a positive bottom line because most of their patients are covered by government insurance or none at all. They are only open at present due to the good graces of the Catholic Church and its members. Once those good graces are withdrawn, there will be no buyers and these hospitals will be forced to shut their doors. Where will their patients go for care? The rural patients will have to travel for hours, in some cases, to access care. And many will die on the way. The inner city patients will go to hopelessly overcrowded safety net hospitals where patients already die in the waiting rooms.

Would the Church really withdraw from U.S. health care? In a recent letter to all the Catholic bishops of the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote, “We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.” In the same letter, Cardinal Dolan quotes supportive words from the Pope: “We recall the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI to our brother bishops on their recent ad limina visit: ‘Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.’”

I, like my friend, am not a Catholic. And I am certainly no expert on Church politics. But the Cardinal’s letter to the bishops does not read like a bluff. It is true, of course, that the Church is no longer as powerful as it was in Julian’s day or 700 years later when the Holy Roman Emperor was forced to walk across the Alps and stand barefoot in the snow begging for an audience with Pope Gregory VII. But it is by no means without influence in the modern era, as the conspicuous absence of the Soviet Union attests. If Cardinal Dolan is not Gregory VII, neither is he Bart Stupak. When he writes, “As our ancestors did with previous threats, we will tirelessly defend the timeless and enduring truth of religious freedom,” I think he means it.

Nonetheless, it isn’t at all clear that Obama, his cadre of Chicago sycophants, and their accomplices in the media do understand “who they’re messing with.” If they think the absurd Sandra Fluke and their phony crusade against a fictional “war on women” will make the very real issue of religious liberty go away, they are even dumber than their policies suggest. In fact, it could mean they are so clueless that it may indeed be possible to beat them in November — even with Mitt Romney as the GOP presidential nominee.

David Catron is a health care finance professional who has spent more than twenty years working for and advising hospitals and medical practices. He blogs at Health Care BS.

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  • Joe DeVet

    The headline kind of rings a triumphal note, but let us not be tempted to hubris.  We only survive while empires rise and fall, because the Holy Spirit directs the path of the Church in spite of our sinfulness.  Thus, we can say with confidence that the Church will still be standing, evangelizing, and fulfilling its mission to bring all to Christ long after the demise of the USA, and incidentally the NY Times, Newsweek, Georgetown U, and all other voices of opposition.  But not through our own merits–only God’s grace.

    I do share the author’s cautionary note that Catholic hospitals will close up shop before they will knuckle under to immoral mandates from The Son of Lies.  But lest this tempt us to threaten closing the institutions as a sort of power play against the HHS mandate, let us recognize that this is probably exactly what Obama wishes.  He will then use his bully pulpit to charge that the Church had abandoned its clients, and that the Feds have to take over these hospitals and run them–the very point of Obamacare (despite false assurances to the contrary) in the first place.

  • Azeb

    I totally agree with the comment.  The Church is not ours but she is the Bride of Christ.  May God have mercy on us and give us the Grace to fulfill the mission of His Church!

  • Poppiexno

    Joe hit the nail on the head! Many of The Son of Lies’ (I like that one!) policies may seem incomprehensible to reasonable people until one thinks about their long term consequences. Why would the administration risk Catholic institutions going out of business when their services are so cost effective? Because that is precisely what the sociallists want. Why does Sec Chu want high gas prices (he seems to have conveniently reversed his stance recently)? Because of the socialist vision of green energy. This country needs God’s grace now more than ever in its history – and I write that acknowledging  all the devastating wars the nation has endured. As Lincoln put it, we can only be defeated from within.

  • Terrygeorge

    yes certainly it is only by God’s grace that His Church has outlived its persecuters in the past.  We can expect His grace to continue of course, but persecutions may get worse before they get better, especially if obama is re-elected or even if he isn’t.  rather than shutting down healthcare systems i think we will have to try to operate them according to God’s directions to us despite government threats.
    WHY DON’T I SEE ANY NEWS (OR HEAR OUTCRY) ABOUT THE ABORTION CHARGE BEING MANDATED ON EVERYONE’S  INSURANCE?  OR ABOUT THE VATICAN BEING PUT ON A MONEY LAUNDERING LIST WHICH ALLOWS OBAMA’S CONSPIRATORS TO TRACK CHURCH MONEY?  don’t underestimate obama and the pack of evil men and women working with him.  these moves are calculated and being made for a reason, for a fundamental transformation larger than just this country or even the Church.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/AKXZHQNUR4CKXASDCOCSW5TMIU James A

    Excellent reminder that warning to Obama and the Chicago thug mentality in his Administration: Hands off the Roman Catholics and their friends, the Evangelical
    Protestants. 
    Obama, the Marxist secularist, is playing with fire when he attemps the cleanse the Church of its moral theology.
    In the debate with John McCain at the Saddleback Church, the abortion question, Obama said, “was above his pay grade.” This issue is far above his pay grade but he thinks he knows the answer: Bow to Baal!

  • Bob

    “I, like my friend, am not a Catholic.” And yet, Mr. Catron spoke as a true advocate of the Church. In looking at this systematic, relentless statist attack on Christianity, when I read articles such as this, one must recognize the universality of essential Truths through the lens of these troubling times.

  • pnyikos

     Yes, the Catholic Church alone could not have brought down the Soviet Union in anything like the time it actually took.  A lot had to do with Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher and even Francois Mitterand being stronly anti-Soviet.  Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” has already become part of every collection of “Famous Quotations” worthy of the name.

    I’d love it if the Republican candidate, whoever he turns out to be, were to say to Obama during the debates:  “Mr. Obama, tear down this mandate!”

  • no chance

    It was John Paul II that tore down the iron curtain- from within. He had help from outsiders like who you mentioned.

  • Rockerbabe

    Why is it that every time women start to gain parity with men when it comes to salaries, opportunity or benefits, the GOP and the catholics start screaming?   There is no duty of the US government to honor anyone’s sensibilities when it comes to discrimination against women or anyone else for that matter.  In fact, the discrimination is illegal, ill-conceived, and unconstitutional.  Framing it as “religious liberty” is a sham and a rouse.  Women do not deserve the treatment that the church and the GOP are heaping on them, for wanting the same benefits and services the men receive and for paying the same medical insurance premiums that the men pay.

    All of this religious crap is just crap.  The church has been against most of the freedoms women now enjoy.  The right to vote, the right to sit on juries, the right to marital parity with men in terms of marital assets and the right to parent their own children, even with a divorce is a reality.   The right to receive an education, the right to participate in sports, the right to own property, make wills and keep the money they earn.  The right to NOT be raped, to be taken seriously when raped, the right to not be a victim of domestic abuse, etc.   The church as fought against all of this progress made by women over the last 75+  years.  

    As for doing social work in underserved communities;  well, that is no excuse for trying to deny women their right to be treated fairly and equitabily.   The “church” should be ashamed of their attitude and stance regarding what women need and want from their medical insurance programs. 

    Maybe the “church” should wonder, just WHO are they messing with?

  • Rockerbabe

    Have you ever wondered why so many women are fed up with religions in general.   WHY do you think that discrimination against women is so wonderful?  The US government has no duty to honor the church’s discriminating ways and no duty to provide exemptions for them to discriminate against women in general.  YOU need to rethink your attitude. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Perello/596677708 Joshua Perello

    pnyikos – God uses everyone that cooperate with His Grace. :)  I do love Reagan’s quotes, but one of my favorite is from Pope John Paul II.  Be not afraid!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Perello/596677708 Joshua Perello

    How is the church discriminating against women?  Are we discriminating against adulterers because we still call it a sin?  How about those poor fornicators that are constantly called sinners?  Maybe we should just stop worshiping God and worship the Religion of Rockerbabe!  The religion of do whatever makes you “feel” good.  No matter how bad it destroys our society.

    You might want to study history to see how our world treated women before the rise of Christendom.  Christ and His Church see women as equal.  If this aggravates you, please move to Saudi Arabia and voice your complaints. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joshua-Perello/596677708 Joshua Perello

    Rockerbabe- The Catholic Church survived the persecution of the Roman Empire, Attilla the Hun, Nazism, Communism, etc., etc.,.  For 2000 years our Church has preached the Gospel to all nations and Christ Himself promised that the Catholic Church will never be destroyed.  (Matt 16:18).  Are you calling Christ a liar? 

    No one is talking about discriminating against women.  It wasn’t the Church trying to make everyone stop using contraception.  It’s the Government forcing us to cover it in our Healthcare plans, which not only cover contraception, but ABORTION (that’s what abortafacients are!)  For you to call this discriminating against women is very naive.  Women can still get contraception whenever they want it.  This is a Religious Liberty issue and many of men and WOMEN have died for this right. 

    Rockerbabe – I want you to know that God loves you and He forgives you.  You are in my prayers.  God bless

  • chaco

    Dear Rockerbabe, Evil never comes with horns, pointy tail & a pitch fork. It has to wear “Sheep’s Clothes”.  Under the wool covering you’ll find that birth control only increases abortions & abusive sexual expression ie; current sexual slavery that dwarfs slavery of Africans. Much of reverence for women has come from the teaching of Jesus and his Bride (Church). Much of “Women’s Liberation” just furthers the objectifying of women. [Reflect awhile; would you rather have your sexuality regarded as a "Piece of Candy" or as the treasure of your total giving of Spirit - Soul - Body?]     I hold that God has drawn a “Line in the Sand”; Redefining life & marriage. Government forcing The Church is crossing that line. Is  the seemingly eminent confrontation between the “Forced Faith” of radical Islam and the Freedom to choose one’s Faith happening at this time merely a coincidence ?  Before my final statement of gloom, I’d like to offer this ray of hope; Sr. Faustina from Divine Mercy Revelations was shown that ”A SPARK” of hope would come out of Poland before Christ’s return. Aquire a picture of the Divine Mercy image with the words; “Jesus, I trust in you” and recall it each time you remember these words from Fatima (scrutinized & approved revelations-1917);”God uses war to discipline His children.” 

  • Bobt

    I believe the church has the right offer insurance as it sees fit. They are a religious organization and entitled under the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. You are entitled to not have to work at a Catholic institution. If you look at the polls you’ll find that the majority of Americans do not agree with the president’s position. You need to be more tolerant and less bitter. Your shrill rhetoric tends to make you less credible. I’ll keep you in my prayers. 

  • Alecto

    I do not agree that the only choices are to comply or to close up shop.  What happened to standing firm and opposing the forces of evil come what may?  By admitting defeat without engaging in a battle, or even firing one shot (figuratively), what does that say about the commitment of Catholics to works of charity? Let them come.  Let them try to shut down or fine Catholic hospitals.  How will those photos look on the front page or on Youtube?  Facebook?  Bring it!

    It bothers me that the question is framed this way.  I seriously doubt that any federal body (ostensibly comprised of some percentage of Catholics) would drag clergy, doctors and nurses or patients away in chains should Catholics defy the mandate? 

    Catholics used to be fighters.  Now, they seem resigned to Satan’s victory.  I don’t believe God wants Catholics to drop out of providing healthcare to those who are in need and in fact, I think he won’t look favorably on Catholics for taking the easy way out. It certainly won’t stop at providing healthcare.  Next they’ll shut down Catholic schools, and finally they’ll shut down houses of worship. 

    This Administration and many Democratic politicians pay no respect to anyone’s constitutional rights.  Only an organization like the Catholic church has enough members and power to publicly fight them.  The only victim here or ever was Jesus Christ.

  • Alecto

    How is refusing to pay for your contraception, sterilization or abortions depriving you of them?  You need to pay for that yourself.  Your argument is so logically flawed, you give women a bad name. Plus, you don’t understand the U.S. Constitution, which provides (along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) grounds for any faith institution to oppose this stupid mandate. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TKP6TVJ4A3M7HFC62PMISPKLCI Sharon

    First, Rockerbabe you need a little history lesson as yours is flawed. The Church Never, I repeat never prevented or wanted women to be unable to vote or sit on juries or parent their children. If anything, men were given the short shrift on rearing children as it was the courts (liberal) who felt that women deserved to raise them and men were to go straight to hell after paying loads of support. Go check this out. Even now, men are treated unfairly (not by the Church), but by the liberal establishment. Re: being subservient to their husbands, yes it is true-however what is NOT true is subservient meaning rape, husband in charge—NO WAY! what it meant was when a man and woman married, they become as One and when they have children–it is ALWAYS THEY, not her, not him, but THEY. Yes, women because of our ability to bear them become the homemakers. You have only to see what a mess the country has been in for the last 75 years or so, that as women achieved this so called “parity”, we burned our bras, had affairs, left our marriages, put ourselves first, etc. If you think for one minute that our children are in a better society for these things, then “think” again. WE as a society forfeited so much more (important values) like morality, teaching our children that having monetary gains is not the end all, etc. We can thank, at least in part, this liberal way of thinking for the plight of society today. Where our young people are taught that “the nanny state” will take care of them and that their interests are Paramount and if they aren’t happy, then home life can’t be. All Ridiculous ways of thinking. This country is suffering because of it.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    Speak for yourself “Rockerbabe” ! I am 100% a woman as well as a RCC lady ! I respect the Church for asking its members to respect themselves, male and female ! You do NOT have the right to “dictate” my moral and ethical conscious ! Obama doesn’t have that right either with his cronies (false Catholics Sebilius,Biden Pelosi et al !)

    You be secular, I WILL and DO remain a Faithful Catholic. Never the twain shall meet. You follow your god (self) and I will follow my God, The Holy Trinity.

    Religion is a choice, no one is “forcing” you to be/do ANYTHING !

  • Walt

    Nice article, and about time.  These mealy mouthed, arrogant, whining excuses for “leaders” in our government DON’T know who they are messing with.  Catholic or not, the numbers don’t lie:  The Catholic Church, as a whole, does more good for more people than any other organization in the world.  But, as we all know and certainly our Savior knew, most people simply DON’T WANT THE TRUTH.

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