March 16th, 2012
12:12 PM ET
Editor’s note: The writer was granted anonymity because of concerns this piece could jeopardize her employment.
By Anonymous, Special to CNN
I love the good works my job at a Catholic nonprofit group enables me to do, advocating for the poor, hungry, sick and homeless.
My passion for these issues comes from Catholic social teaching. From my Catholic grammar school to my Catholic high school, I absorbed these teachings into my DNA. As I came into adulthood at a Catholic university, my commitment to social justice guided me.
The most profound declaration of faith I can make is practicing the Catholic teachings about human dignity and about what my faith calls the “preferential option for the poor” in my everyday life.
My work brings attention to people who don’t have corporate lobbyists representing them in government. I advocate for people too often talked at or about, not to, and never with, by the elite and powerful.
But I’ve come to realize that women are excluded from the Catholic notion of social justice, specifically the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ understanding of social justice.
The bishops don’t understand women or biology. They understand power and control. They have become lobbyists in robes exerting influence in Washington and every state capital.
They are detached from the real life challenges facing women who sit faithfully in their pews, serving their churches, and millions like me who’ve rejected their power and control in order to keep the most important parts of our faith.
The politically powerful bishops want to control access to contraception, portraying themselves as victims of the new federal healthcare law’s policy that provides free birth control coverage to women.
My work brings me in touch with people for whom the word “victim” has real meaning. The bishops aren’t victims. They’ve created a political charade based on invented threats to religious liberty.
What about my religious liberty and that of my co-workers? Real religious liberty gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether to use birth control, based on our own beliefs.
And what about our health? When a colleague with a cancer-causing condition at my Catholic nonprofit needed contraception for her treatment last year, she didn’t know where to turn. Our employer doesn’t provide access to contraception, and she couldn’t afford the medication. Her condition got worse.
After months of waiting for permission from our employer, she was finally granted contraception coverage, and her condition improved. But she suffered needlessly in the interim.
Another co-worker, we learned, was paying $90 a month out-of-pocket for the contraception she needs to treat her polycystic fibrosis. That’s a significant monthly expense, especially considering “the pill” is the most commonly prescribed drug for women.
HR told us we had to ask permission of the agency’s CEO on a case-by-case basis. It reminded me of when I first got my period at age 12. My cramps were so bad that my pediatrician recommended contraception.
I had to ask my father’s permission. The only difference today is my colleagues and I aren’t young girls; the CEO isn’t our father.
Recently, I learned that I needed contraception for dysmenorrhea, and I thought my work helping my colleagues get contraception coverage meant I would have an easier time.
Instead, I had to explain my personal medical situation to a man in HR, which is embarrassing for any woman.
When I received special permission from the men in control to get medication to take care of my health – to live according to my beliefs – I requested that the agency develop protocols so no one else would have to go through the same humiliating process. The powers that be refused.
In rejecting the Obama administration’s compromise on contraception coverage – which mandates that insurance companies, not religiously affiliated employers, provide free contraception coverage – the church and the bishops find themselves out on a limb politically.
They have twisted religious liberty to mean they can impose their beliefs on others, and it’s taking a toll. The bishops’ rigid thinking caused me to leave the Catholic Church two years ago.
I could do the church’s good works advocating for others, but the only way I could advocate for myself was to leave the church.
I was no longer nourished spiritually. Instead, the spoken and unspoken messages about sexuality, the body and women – especially our inability to serve as clergy – forced me to leave.
Just like the people I advocate for, within the church hierarchy women are talked at and about, not to, and rarely with.
I’m deeply proud of my work representing the poor and dispossessed. I love my job, and the faith I’ve found through my work after leaving the church. I don’t like the thought of having to leave that behind, too.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.