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The Sisters and Universal Health Care: Forgetting What Religion Is

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 24, 2012

You may already have seen our news story, Liberal nuns file brief in support of Obama health-care plan. And you may have wondered, as I have, when something will be done to (a) bring wayward communities of women religious into fidelity to Christ and the Church, and (b) bring so-called Catholic social and health service organizations firmly under Catholic control.

The signals from Rome following the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious indicate a tendency to back away from a confrontation. However, the same was true following the first Apostolic Visitation of American seminaries back in the 1980s, yet between the first and the second visitation in the first decade of the new millennium, diocesan seminaries improved a great deal. Then again, it was precisely the religious houses of formation in the more wayward of the men’s orders that had not improved.

Catholic social and health services are another shameful mess. I don’t know all of the structural details, but it seems that many social service agencies and hospitals, like Catholic universities, have gradually passed beyond effective episcopal control. Though the episcopate is gradually getting stronger in the United States, these problems will take a long time to solve. Both Rome (for the religious orders) and the bishops (for Catholic social service and health organizations) need five and ten year plans to restore fidelity.

In the immediate moment, however, what interests me is the utter speciousness of the continuing divide-and-conquer tactic of the enemy, making the most of nominally Catholic lay and religious leaders who are willing to defy the public position of the bishops on things like Obamacare and the HHS mandate. A case in point is the larger story on which our news report is partly based, taken from the hopefully-named ThinkProgress web site. The presumably progressive introductory prose fairly gushes with fallacy:

As further proof that conservative efforts to paint President Obama as the enemy of religion are a red herring, nearly two dozen leading Catholic nuns filed a brief in the Supreme Court last week supporting the president’s signature legislative accomplishment.

And the conclusion contains an even greater dose of muddy logic:

These nuns have unique stature to explain why their support for the Affordable Care Act flows from their faith, given that so many of them have devoted their lives to providing care to those most in need. Nevertheless, their views are hardly unique within their church’s hierarchy. Pope Benedict XVI called health care an “inalienable right,” and added that it is the “moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all of their citizens.”

Sadly, the entire story reeks of confusion. It is not universal health care that makes Obama an enemy of religion, but rather his insistence on the wide availability of immoral procedures such as contraception, sterilization and abortion, and his further insistence that religious people provide and pay for them despite the fact that they regard them as immoral acts. The question dividing the nuns from the Faith is not whether government should play a role in guaranteeing all citizens access to basic health care. In broad outlines, the pope, the bishops, and the sisters all agree about that as a reasonable modern project arising from Christian moral duty. The divisive question is whether the government should be—and force everybody else to be—in the contraception, sterilization and abortion business.

And why divisive? Because those things violate not some nebulous thing called “their faith” but the objective reality of the Catholic Faith. The Pope and the American bishops, who trump the sisters as the custodians of this Faith, have repeatedly made this crystal clear. Catholics need not be terribly concerned with whether the sisters can articulate how their support of Obamacare derives from “their faith”, whatever their faith may happen to be. The bishops themselves would have liked to support universal health care in the United States, but were prevented from supporting it in its Obamacare version precisely because it contains critical components that objectively violate the Catholic faith.

President Obama may not be the enemy of the sisters; but the whole point is that he is, precisely speaking, the enemy of religion, and not only of religion, but of the true religion. He seeks to stake a civil claim to the moral law, which it belongs to government to follow rather than to create. The HHS mandate only confirms this reality. Perhaps the twenty-four sisters have forgotten that the Faith is an objective reality, apart from which “their faith” has no meaning. Perhaps they cannot recognize conflict with religion because they have forgotten what religion is. Perhaps they have also forgotten right, wrong and the natural law, which the law of Christ does so much to clarify. Perhaps there is something lacking in “their faith” which is not lacking in the Catholic Faith—something, indeed, that President Barack Obama opposes. As an enemy.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Feb. 27, 2012 5:55 PM ET USA

    Mary Greene kindly posted the names of the twenty-one sisters who filed the Friend of the Court brief in favor of Obamacare. For greater accessibility, I have moved this information to The City Gates. See Naming the Names of the Nuns. Thanks to Mary!

  • Posted by: Hal - Feb. 27, 2012 5:28 PM ET USA

    What profiteth it a sister to gain universal healthcare and lose her soul? Perhaps we'll find out.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Feb. 26, 2012 12:26 PM ET USA

    This “attitude” towards “rights,” this entitlement mentality, is definitely NOT a hingepoint of Catholic spirituality. What “any person” “should have” in temporality, is not, again, a point of emphasis. It is a horrible disfigurement that the Church at times seems far more concerned about “fixing” the external system then with saving souls and sanctifying sinners. As emphasized in previous comments and articles, this “utopian” perspective is tending more towards a“love of the World”and idolatry

  • Posted by: chasann113163 - Feb. 26, 2012 12:01 PM ET USA

    I too agree with unum: We can't have our cake and eat it. Do we care more about the Governments money or our Faith?

  • Posted by: Cornelius - Feb. 26, 2012 9:55 AM ET USA

    Stephen O'Brien - " . . . leads me to support a resolutely pro-life single-payer national health insurance system." But that's the rub: how do you guarantee "national" and "pro-life" in the same system, given the direction of national government over the past 30 years or so? It's a bit like asking unions to implement right-to-work laws. It could be done in theory, but in practice . . . .

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Feb. 25, 2012 10:04 PM ET USA

    It would be helpful if a list was available of all the nuns and their orders, and lay people in leadership positions with Catholic organizations, who support the Culture of Death so that the laity could do their part and (1) Pray for their conversion and (2) make sure that we are not financially supporting them.

  • Posted by: Stephen M. O'Brien - Feb. 25, 2012 10:59 AM ET USA

    Dr. Mirus, I especially appreciate this excellent article because, unlike many Catholic commentators, you take seriously the Magisterium’s guidance regarding the right to health care--a right affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 2211). My own prudential judgment regarding the optimal manner in which a twenty-first-century state should ensure that right leads me to support a resolutely pro-life single-payer national health insurance system.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Feb. 25, 2012 10:38 AM ET USA

    This calls to mind the Cruxifiction dialogue that occurred between that “no friend of religion” Pontius Pilate and Our Lord. Jesus said to him (Pilate) “...because of this he who handed Me over to you is guilty of the greater sin.” The bishops have “handed over” to the President a “divided Church” (although this is impossible in the essential sense). Also, in the essential sense, the President has no more “power” over us then did Pilate.

  • Posted by: Cornelius - Feb. 25, 2012 10:00 AM ET USA

    I agree with unum: the trajectory of Western governments has been, and is increasingly, anti-life and anti-family, and advocating an important role for these governments in the provision of health care is like making a pyromaniac the fire chief.

  • Posted by: unum - Feb. 25, 2012 8:40 AM ET USA

    The Church's calls for "universal health care" are naive invitations to the increasingly progressive governments of Europe and America to enslave their populations with a health care system that provides mediocre care and disregards the moral principles their Church members hold dear. The fact that our Church leaders are willing to delegate this basic responsibility that Christ gave them (Mt 10:8) speaks volumes about their lack of qualifications to lead our Church. And Jesus wept ...

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