A Catholic Popeye moment

I’ve quoted my favorite philosopher before, but the time has come again. 

“That’s all I can stand, and I can’t stands no more.” That’s from Popeye, legendary sailor of the comic strips. 

When his nemesis Bluto had tortured him enough, Popeye would utter that phrase, gobble down a can of spinach, take on near super-strength and knock Bluto for a loop.  

I think the time has come for Catholics to have our Popeye moment. We have been beaten up so much, and it isn’t going to change until we start to collectively fight back. Hard. Fight back with our strength in numbers, our strength in influence, our strength in dollars and, yes, our potential strength at the ballot box, if the Internal Revenue Service let’s me say that.  

Because if we don’t begin to stand up for ourselves, it is just going to keep on coming, and God only knows what will be rammed down our throats next.  

The latest broadside is the “preventive services mandate” issued by the Department for Health and Human Services. Under the leadership of Kathleen Sebelius, a self-identified Catholic, guidelines were issued in early August requiring that all individual and group health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraception and sterilization procedures. The guidelines will become effective on Aug. 1, 2012. 

Let’s be blunt. This is a “Catholic Contraception Clause” aimed specifically at Catholic institutions. They are the only institutions that would be forced to violate their central moral beliefs if they adhere to this mandate.  

The mandate does have a religious exemption. But it is so narrowly written that the Vatican would not fit its definition.  

In order to qualify for a religious exemption to the mandate, the Catholic institution could only employ Catholics; have instruction in the faith as its primary purpose; and would serve only Catholics. Violate any one of those and there is no religious exemption.  

Which eliminates from the religious exemption every Catholic social service agency, every Catholic university, every Catholic hospital, every Catholic facility for the aged, the handicapped, the ill and the infirm. And, really, probably every parish, Catholic grammar school and high school as many, if not most, employ non-Catholics and serve non-Catholics in their charitable and educational outreach to the community. 

So come next August the Catholic Church in virtually all its institutions in the United States – land of religious freedom – will be forced to provide what it considers immoral, and pay for the dubious honor. 

But here’s the main point: the Department for Health and Human Services issued the Catholic Contraception Clause because it believes it can get away with it. With the clergy sexual abuse crisis, it is believed that the Church has lost its voice in the public arena. It’s believed that there is no problem forcing the Church to subsidize a direct violation of its moral teachings because Catholics just will not flex their muscle.  

The sexual abuse crisis is the 800-pound gorilla at the bar and we are embarrassed by it. Catholics are afraid to speak up as Catholics because whatever the issue and whatever we say, the sexual abuse crisis will be thrown in our collective face. 

Well, let’s use the Catholic Contraception Clause as the moment when we finally say to hell with that. This isn’t a wake-up call to the bishops or the clergy. 

It’s a wake-up call to the Catholic population of the United States. 

It’s time that we scream in one voice to every government and elected official that we have had all we can stand and we can’t stands no more.  

It’s time to eat our spinach. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.