If things suddenly feel a bit more holy this week, it’s because the bishops are in town. To be more specific: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ national meeting took place in Baltimore on Monday. On the agenda: hiring a lobbyist, fighting for religious exemptions in states that allow same-sex marriages, and trying to create religious loopholes in Obama’s health care plan so the parish won’t have to pay for anyone’s contraception. In other words, the Catholic leadership is feeling embattled. And they’re trying to figure out what to do about it.
It’s a tricky time for Church leadership. Catholic organizations have done good work worldwide, but now that the Church’s views are increasingly at odds with mainstream culture, they’re finding themselves stymied by government restrictions. To take one striking example, the Church has long been an advocate for refugees, including victims of human trafficking. But recently the Department of Health and Human Services didn’t renew a contract with the bishops’ refugee services office because the group, as the ACLU puts it, “impose[s] religiously based restrictions on reproductive health services.”
Meanwhile, the bishops are facing criticism from the left as well. Steven Krueger, director of Catholic Democrats, pointed out that despite the tough economic times, the group’s agenda included no mention of poverty. For a group with a history of embracing social justice causes, Krueger says, “this certainly will represent to a vast majority of Catholics a tone-deafness on the part of many, many bishops.” Or perhaps the bishops have other issues on their plate.