Action Alert!

artful ambiguity?

By Diogenes (articles - email) | Aug 27, 2010

Catholic Charities USA is holding a gala “Centennial Gathering” in September to celebrate its 100th birthday. Among the highlights will be the presentation of the Centennial Medal to honor “valuable contributions of individuals and organizations to the reduction of poverty in the United States.”

Among the organizations receiving the Centennial Medal will be the Catholic Health Association.

Now what was the first thought that popped into your mind when you read “Catholic Health Association?” Did you think about how CHA broke with the leadership of the US bishops, and threw its support behind Obamacare despite the problem of abortion funding? About how President Obama singled out CHA as one of the groups whose support was crucial to the passage of this legislation that the bishops has opposed? About how President Obama presented Sister Carol Keehan, the CHA president, with a ceremonial pen that he used to sign the legislation that the bishops opposed? In short, did you think about how the most newsworthy thing the CHA did during the past year was done in defiance of the bishops?

But surely Catholic Charities is not honoring the CHA for its defiance of the bishops. Surely the honor is intended to reflect the CHA’s long history of providing health care for the needy. Right? Let’s read the commendation from Catholic Charities USA:

A passionate voice for compassionate care, the Catholic Health Association stands with the poor and disenfranchised and advocates for services and solutions that reflect dignity and respect for all people. CHA is the largest group of non-profit health care providers in the nation.

To be sure, there’s nothing in that commendation that says Catholic Charities is honoring CHA for defying the bishops on Obamacare. At the same time, there’s nothing in that commendation that says Catholic Charities isn’t honoring CHA for defying the bishops. It wouldn’t have been difficult to word the commendation in a way that would signal the CHA was being honored for its long history of health-care service, not for its recent brush with political controversy. But no such hints are dropped in this statement. It's certainly possible to read the text as an endorsement of the CHA position on the health-care legislation. Yes, that might be a reach. But at best the statement is ambiguous.

Why is it ambiguous? Two possible explanations spring to mind:

  1. The leadership of Catholic Charities is oblivious to the controversy created by the CHA defiance of the bishops.
  2. The leadership of Catholic Charities wants the commendation to be ambiguous, so that the organization can give a public boost to CHA, and leave others to wonder whether it’s a reward for defiance.  

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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