Adele Stan: [T]he perception remained that there was a "Catholic vote," one the bishops could deliver, even if those voters ignored the bishops' backward sexual edicts. But the events of the past week reveal that the bishops command no one, not even the leaders of Catholic institutions.
In offering the bishops an "accommodation" they refused to accept… the Obama administration effectively exposed the powerlessness of the bishops when the rest of the church rose to accept the offer…. [T]he bishops, who now stand marginalized in their own church, as major Catholic organizations, most of them led by clergy -- the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Catholic Health Association (which represents Catholic hospitals), Catholic Charities, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Sisters of Mercy -- signed onto the administration's plan over the bishops' objections.
Adding insult to the bishops' injury are the polls, which show majorities of Catholics in favor of the healthcare plan's mandate for contraceptive coverage by employer-provided health insurance, even if the employer is an institution, like a hospital or university, that is affiliated with the church….
And the disagreements don't end with contraception. On gay marriage, too, the laity is at odds with the clergy….
Back in the first half of the 20th century… Catholics comprised a largely urban population whose members were defined by the ethnic identities of the countries either they, their parents or grandparents had left behind. The bishops were their advocates…. But you'd be hard-pressed today to find a vote delivered by a bishop… the voting behavior of Catholics is virtually indistinguishable from that of the public at large…. So if the bishops can't deliver the votes of their flock or control the leaders of the church's institutions, do they have any power left? Well, yes, they do -- for the time being. They have money -- money from the collection plates of their parishes, which they've been diverting to campaigns against gay marriage, often in states far away from those in which the money was collected. Those dollars, according to a report by Dominic Holden in The Stranger, a Seattle area newsweekly, are contributed by parishioners who are largely unaware of their ultimate use….
The bishops won't go down easy, of course. At Salon, Sarah Posner writes of a hearing scheduled for today, convened by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., at which the bishops, along with allies from other denominations, will answer this question: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" (Gee, I wonder what the answer will be.)…
It is fitting that the bishops, who once reveled in their unilateral power over their own flock, secure in the power of their own lobby, now seek allies among the most regressive factions of the church's rivals on the roster of the world's great religions, most notably among the Protestant evangelical right…. In this sense, the bishops' remaining political power is in a revisionist history of their own disempowerment…. The bishops now stand on the edge of a chasm, wide and deep, shouting to their theologians, institutional leaders and their very flock on the other side, only to hear nothing but the sound of their own voices echoing back at them.