Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Caution: Cardinal George, the CHA, and the terms of the debate

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 17, 2010

Cardinal George is very unhappy with the Catholic Health Association, and rightly so. 

But before wholeheartedly endorsing the cardinal's complaint against the group that helped mute Catholic opposition to the health-care reform bill, take a careful look at his logic. Insofar as Cardinal George is saying that the CHA was wrong to support Obamacare because it expands abortion coverage, he's 100% right. Insofar as he is saying that CHA was wrong to support the bill because the bishops opposed it, he's wrong, and he's advancing a dangerous argument.

Bishops have authority to teach on faith and morals. They do not speak with authority on questions of practical politics.

A bishop can and should set forth the basic moral principles on which legislation should be based. Thus the bishops are right to say, again and again, that direct abortion is always wrong, and that forcing taxpayers to subsidize procedures that they find morally repugnant is a violation of religious freedom. It's useful, too, for bishops to set general goals for the sort of legislation that would serve the common good. So it makes sense for the US bishops to prod Congress to ensure that all citizens have adequate access to health care. But since bishops are neither health-care experts nor political analysts, they have no business endorsing particular pieces of legislation. 

In the final debate on the health-care bill, the US bishops' conference indicated that it would have enthusiastically supported the legislation, if only the Senate had included the "Stupak amendment" in the final version of the legislation. I personally would still have found the legislation repugnant-- as, not coincidentally, would most of the pro-life groups active in Washington. Suppose the Senate had followed the bishops' advice, and approved that pro-life amendment. Would I then have deserved the same scolding that Cardinal George is now giving the CHA? Would the bishops' conference have blasted the mainstream leaders of the pro-life movement for opposing the legislation? 

The CHA does deserve blame for helping to secure Congressional approval of Obamacare. But don't criticize the CHA for opposing the bishops' political judgment. Criticize the CHA for supporting the culture of death. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 21, 2010 2:01 AM ET USA

    artemiss, The bishops most definitely DID claim political expertise! So far as I'm aware, both CHA and the USCCB conducted negotiations with appropriate members of Congress. When nearly completed, they stated (publicly, I believe) that they supported this legislation. Sure, they put in the caveat that life and conscience must be protected, so ultimately, they reversed their view. The bill had already gained much momentum by then though, so their sudden "change of vote" came too late.

  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Jun. 19, 2010 2:00 PM ET USA

    I agree with Phil that the issue here is the dissent of the CHA from sacred Catholic teaching - we are all called to oppose the unspeakable abortion deaths of innocent children and the expedient disposing of our elderly at end of life before our Lord calls them home. If the CHA continues in its current positions, there will be no reason to choose their member hospitals over any other hospitals. Perhaps that's what Obamacare is all about....

  • Posted by: artemis3 - Jun. 19, 2010 9:29 AM ET USA

    The Bishops' possible support for the bill with Stupak language bothers me, as does their failure to say anything about protecting patients at the end of life. But it is unfair to imply that they claimed political expertise. They did not. Exercising their authority to judge and teach morals, they found this bill unacceptable. Supporting the culture of death was CHA's main error, but Cardinal George is right to deplore the wound to Church unity it inflicted by public dissent from the Bishops

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jun. 18, 2010 7:55 PM ET USA

    Phil is correct. The problem with this horror is not the CHA disagreed with the USCCB, it's that CHA supported the death of the unborn and equivocated about it with a silly executive order from a man who supported infanticide as a state legislator. But the USCCB does not have clean hands on this: If the two central moral concerns were univ. coverage and don't kill babies, the infirm, and the elderly, there were and there are many means of obtaining that end without socializing health care.

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Jun. 18, 2010 4:27 PM ET USA

    Phil, I disagree. While you are right that this was a piece of legislation, the fact remains that the piece of legislation is immoral because it allows for funding of abortion and therefore groups like CHA and NETWORK should not have supported it. They disagreed with the bishops over a moral issue that was put into the legislation and that disagreement had, has and will have deadly consequences because it allowed the bill to pass.