I grew up in a very Catholic home, one that epitomized what it has meant to be an American Catholic over the past century. I attended Catholic schools all the way through my educational studies (except college) and attended mass once per week with all my classmates during school, as well as attending every weekend with my family. And, most importantly, I'm the youngest grandchild of over fifty grandchildren (on just my father's side, of course).
My Catholic upbringing has influenced and shaped every aspect and perspective of my life, including being the subject of my Master's thesis in political science. And that is why I have watched the Catholic Church's protest of a new federal law requiring faith-based employers to include birth control in its health care coverage with great interest, and I feel compelled to speak up.
Many Catholic leaders across America have raged against the proposed law, telling its congregations the Catholic Church's freedoms are being violated and that Catholics across the nation are outraged. I can't help but ask whether Catholic Church leaders are speaking for Catholics or simply for themselves. William D'Antonio, a researcher at the Catholic University of America, has stated recent polls have shown 95% of Catholics use a form of birth control and that 89% say it's their decision to make, not the Catholic Church's. This is problematic, as I was taught at a very young age the dangers of "buffet" Catholicism - that the choosing of which Catholic teachings to follow is not Catholicism, and any Catholic who engages in the practice is not a Catholic at all.
Such a stance is quite troubling for the Catholic Church, as Catholics don't agree with the Church on a myriad of issues it holds dear. In one recent study, 71% of Catholics were supportive of civil unions for same-sex couples. In the same study it was revealed that 60% of Catholics were supportive of same-sex couples adopting children, another huge no-no in the Catholic Church's eyes.
In another study, only 40% of Catholics opposed abortion. So a question inevitability arises: when the Bishop of Pittsburgh, David Zubik, informed his diocese that President Obama's proposed law was the president's way of saying, "To hell with your religious beliefs; To hell with your religious liberty; To hell with your freedom of conscience," was he speaking to a series of empty pews? Or is "buffet" Catholicism only tolerable when donations are reaching the collection plate? I am familiar with the work of researcher William D'Antonio (mentioned above), as my Master's thesis was based off the findings in his research. In D'Antonio's American Catholics Today he finds, to quote my thesis, "89% of Millennial-aged Catholics (America's youth) felt it was okay to disobey Church teachings on abortion while only 44% of the oldest generation felt the same way." His results led me to hypothesize a demographic split was emerging among Catholics, with Catholic youths being more liberal than their senior counterparts.
The research in my thesis proved my hypothesis to be untrue - younger Catholics are not more liberal than senior Catholics. In fact, abortion failed to even reach statistical significance as a salient issue. But my research did cause one finding to pop off the page. When seeing 89% of young Catholics felt it was okay to disagree with the Catholic Church on the issue of abortion, I believed that to mean Catholic youths were more liberal on the issue of abortion than their parents and grandparents.
I was wrong. But it did imply that Catholic youths felt it was okay to disagree with the Catholic Church's stance on abortion not because of the issue itself but because Catholic youths were expressing their right to not consent to following Church authority, a point of interest leaning toward similar findings of William D'Antonio. Catholic leaders are now arguing that being forced to offer birth control within their insurance policies at universities and charities (though individual churches would be exempt) is a violation of their rights, an argument that portrays themselves as a victim of federal reach.
Given the Catholic Church's recent role in sexual controversies around the globe, choosing to play the victim card is rather disgusting. The proposed law would allow women who work for faith-based employers access to birth control, and it's an option they will have every right to not exercise if they so choose. The Catholic Church's rights are not being violated - they're attempting to prevent female employees' access to a choice. This line of logic -- that the Catholic Church is a victim because it isn't being allowed to deny someone else access to a right or choice -- has been seen in American history before when rebel states seceded from the union over the "excessive" reach of federal law telling them what they could or couldn't do within their homes, mainly their property (the property, of course, being slaves).
It was an unacceptable argument of logic to make then, just as it is now. Growing up in Catholic schools, I often heard the phrase "the Church is not a Democracy" by priests whose sensibilities were offended when a parent dared question their authority. And while the Catholic Church may not be a Democracy, the United States most definitely is. It's a lesson, from one Catholic to another, the Catholic Church should start taking to heart.
Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a Master's Degree in Political Science. He is also the co-founder of the “You Made A Difference" Campaign, a national effort to thank educators for their service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.