Broadly applied, the HHS policy would amount to systemic anti-Catholic bias in government programs. And the provocation is one in a series. HHS has drawn conscience protections so narrowly that Catholic colleges, universities and hospitals -- any Catholic institution that employs and serves non-Catholics -- will be required to offer health coverage including contraception and drugs that cause abortion. In global health grants, new language is appearing requiring the integration of family planning and "reproductive health" services, effectively barring the participation of Catholic institutions. Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, calls these policies an "assault which now appears to grow at an ever-accelerating pace in ways that most of us could never have imagined."
The main victims of this assault are not bishops but the poor and vulnerable. USCCB-sponsored human trafficking programs, for example, provide employment assistance, legal services, child care and medical screening. But because case managers won't refer for abortions, HHS would rather see these programs shut down in favor of less effective alternatives. This form of anti-religious extremism counts casualties.
It is also politically incomprehensible. Obama's Catholic outreach is being revealed as a transparent ploy a year before he faces re-election. A portion of the Democratic coalition -- including civil libertarians and pro-choice activists -- has decided to attack and marginalize Catholic leaders and institutions. And HHS is actively siding against Catholic organizations.
"We are in a war," Sebelius told a recent pro-choice meeting. Opponents of the administration, she said, are trying to "roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America." This is no longer the "presumption of good faith." It has all the hallmarks of a vendetta.
How will the White House respond? More specifically, how will the Catholic chief of staff and America's first Catholic vice president respond? They gave up their own adherence to Catholic teaching on abortion long ago. But are they really prepared to betray their co-religionists who still hold these beliefs?
Sebelius is becoming a political embarrassment at an inconvenient time. It will be significantly harder for Obama to repeat his appeal to Catholic voters while a part of his administration is at war with Catholic leaders and Catholic belief.