The bishops' unanimous (a milestone, if there ever was any) opposition to the HHS contraception mandate provides a great lesson: when they unite, a fair minded public will support them.
I mean, why not? They're the United States bishops, for goodness sakes. And the Church has been around for a long, long, long, long time. If we were a business, that fact alone would earn us some managerial seniority. As current history proves, when it comes to forming the moral compass of society, people do respect us especially when we believe in our own teachings.
Now that the bishops are standing firm, and enjoying the nonsectarian support of the public, it does make one wonder what would have happened if the same had been the case with Humanae Vitae. I'm willing to bet that people would have responded much more positively if the bishops' conference had, at that time, shown a united front. And even if the public hadn't been quite as vocally supportive, they might at least have been much more amenable to listening to the Church's reasons for its moral teaching, instead of dismissing it outright as too archaic, unrealistic and 'out of touch' with the physical urges of human beings.
Because it was assumed that modern, "sophisticated" had moved 'beyond' Church's teaching on contraception, and there was no bishops' conference to say otherwise, people bought the lie that artificial contraception is a good thing. I suspect that there was also a fear of 'losing people' underlying the tragic alignment of clerics, lay leadership, and powerful religious orders with the popular culture's endorsement of artificial birth control.
The present HHS contraception mandate debacle is the fruit of that laissez-faire, "people are going to do it anyway," let your impulses be your guide, line of thinking. Only now it's a "people are going to do it and we all have to pay for it" stalag imperative.
Imagine if it had been assumed that people could and would handle as well as appreciate the wisdom of the Church's wise birth control teaching? Would the firm, fatherly leadership of the bishops have caused a whole nation of individuals to be more cautious and deliberate in their choices? Would it have led to a deeper sense of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, so as to not poison them with chemicals nor negate our fertility with awkward physical barriers? More importantly, would the basic morals of our society not have degenerated as quickly as they have?
No one can predict the future, or the past in retrospect, of course, but, in view of the ongoing support for the bishops's stance against the HHS mandate, the possibility still remains that it could have been. And if not, it still should have been. But, hopefully we can all now take away the lesson that it can be again.
It's time to stop blaming Humanae Vitae for the mass exodus of Catholics from the Church and start admitting that it was dissent from the Church's teaching on contraception that caused it. Not to mention that it is those Sebelliu...oops, sorry... I meant, rebellious sentiments of the sexual revolution that are probably at the heart of why contraception has become a central political issue today.
Now may be the perfect time to unify and catechize the faithful on those moral teachings which underly why the Church is opposed to the contraception mandate to begin with.
It's not too late. We can be a united Faith again. We just need someone to keep leading the way. Enter stage right: a fully convinced bishops conference together and in support for all of the Church's teachings...that is, I hope so, one day.