The Pundit and the Bishops

With friends and defenders like the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, the Catholic Church (and all churches and synagogues) need no enemies. 

Dionne, under the guise of offering helpful advice to Roman Catholic bishops in the contraception flap with President Obama, instead plays Trojan horse in attempting to undercut the Church's 1st Amendment rights.  Thankfully, the esteemed George Weigel offers a powerful refutation of Dionne's sly mush at National Review Online.    

Dionne wrote on Monday a commentary for the Washington Post that one guesses he thinks was an artful way to bring Catholic bishops to heel in the fight for the free expression of religious belief.   

Here' the lead from Dionne's bleating:

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church's legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?   

Dionne, the barnacle-encrusted denizen of a city that lives for politics, is rather deliberately ignoring that the Catholic Church is opposing Mr. Obama's contraception mandate on constitutional grounds -- legitimate and compelling constitutional grounds.  It was Mr. Obama, not the bishops, who chose to pick a fight over so seminal an issue as freedom of religious expression in an election year.

The nub of Dionne's argument is that the bishops should shut up and accept Mr. Obama's "compromise" -- with a modification or two -- that would offload the contraception mandate on Catholic organization insurers.  In making this argument -- which the bishops are having none of -- Dionne is showing himself to be a reliable shill for Mr. Obama's party line.  Dionne attempts to divide the bishops into "conservative" and "moderate" camps (ah, yes, the old "divide and conquer" routine).   

Dionne avers that the bishops wouldn't want to jeopardize their "social justice" agenda for "single-minded and exceptionally narrow focus on the health-care exemption."

Up to the plate steps George Weigel, who writes in response to Dionne's social justice sleight-of-hand.  Its worth quoting Weigel's refutation at length:  

What this tack [Dionne's] conveniently ignores is that, in a Catholic understanding of public life, religious freedom is a social-justice issue. When the Second Vatican Council taught that "the human person has a right to religious freedom," that this right means that everyone should be "immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups, and every human power" in acting on religious convictions, and that this right is exercised "in private or in public, alone or in association with others," the Council fathers were outlining some of the basic requirements of a just society: The just society recognizes the right of men and women to seek the truth freely and adhere to it freely, and embodies this right in constitutional and civil law; the just society does not use governmental coercion in matters of belief, nor does it attempt to control the internal lives of religious communities, in themselves or as their convictions compel those communities to be agents of charity in society; and the just society recognizes that both individuals and religious institutions enjoy these rights.  [Italics in the original]

American Thinker readers should read Dionne's and then Weigel's articles in their entireties.  The contrast lays bare the petty political and disingenuous statist arguments advanced by Dionne versus the deeply informed, broad, and principled arguments of George Weigel. 

The difference between the two men's arguments is the difference between creeping tyranny and authentic liberty.

Catholic bishops have called on Catholics to participate in a day (March 30) of fasting and prayer for religious liberty.  So much for Dionne's counsel.