Catholic World News

US bishops: Catholic supporters of ‘profoundly flawed’ health care law wounded Catholic unity

May 24, 2010

Criticizing the Catholic Health Association for supporting “profoundly flawed” health care legislation, and responding to criticisms-- such as those lodged by Rep. Bart Stupak-- over the US bishops’ opposition to the March law, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement on May 21 defending the bishops’ actions in the weeks leading to the final vote on the issue. The statement was written by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development, and Bishop John Wester, chairman of the Committee on Migration.

“Reflecting decades of advocacy on behalf of universal access to health care, the bishops were clear in calling for health care reform as a moral imperative and urgent national priority,” the three bishops wrote. “We called for reform that would make health coverage affordable for the poor and needy, moving our society substantially toward the goal of universal coverage. We were equally clear in stating that this must be done in accord with the dignity of each and every human person, showing full respect for the life, health and conscience of all.”

They continued:

Specifically we insisted that the provisions of the Hyde amendment and other longstanding current laws, which forbid federal funding of abortion and of health plans that cover abortion, must be preserved in this or any new legislation. Likewise, we sought to have longstanding policies of respect for rights of conscience applied to this legislation. Americans must retain in new legislation the rights they had before its enactment. These include the full range of protections regarding the right to provide and purchase health care in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions. In addition, since access to basic health care is a right inherent in each human person, as acknowledged both in Catholic social teaching and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, legislation must not unfairly exclude immigrants from health coverage.

“Specifically we reject the argument made to us by some Catholics that expanding health care coverage justified setting aside our longstanding opposition to government participation in elective abortions or weakening rights to life and freedom of conscience,” the bishops continued. The Senate “produced a bill that abandoned the very principles that we espoused: no expansion of abortion, protections for freedom of conscience and the rights of immigrants. With these foundational principles rejected, it was then announced that no further substantive changes were possible. From that moment on, the bishops were clear and consistent in saying that this ‘take it or leave it’ offer was morally unacceptable and politically divisive. Whatever might be the positive aspects of the Senate bill, we had no choice but to oppose the Senate version as a matter of principle. As bishops we must faithfully proclaim the truth.”

In the end, Catholics who supported the law

made a judgment that the moral problems in the new law-- for example, the fact that the federal government, for the first time in decades, will now force Americans to pay for other people’s elective abortions-- simply are not serious enough to oppose a particular health care reform bill.

We regret that this approach carried the day, as some overlooked the clear evidence or dismissed careful analysis and teaching on the morality of these matters. But making such moral judgments, and providing guidance to Catholics on whether an action by government is moral or immoral, is first of all the task of the bishops, not of any other group or individual. As Bishops, we disagree that the divergence between the Catholic Conference and Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association, represents merely a difference of analysis or strategy (Catholic Health World, April 15, 2010, “Now That Reform Has Passed”). Rather, for whatever good will was intended, it represented a fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain, but with the Bishops themselves. As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.

“Since the battle over the bill is over, the defects can be judged soberly in their own right, and solutions can be advanced in Congress while retaining what is good in the new law,” the bishops continued. “Indeed, any failure to do so would only leave these genuine problems as ammunition for those who prefer total repeal of the law. In this context we do not need agreement among lawmakers that the problems are serious enough to oppose the legislation – we only need agreement that the problems are real and deserve to be addressed. This provides a new opportunity for the Catholic community to come together in defense of human life, rights of conscience and fairness to immigrants so we will have a health care system that truly respects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”

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  • Posted by: Pat - May. 27, 2010 7:39 PM ET USA

    The Bishops are 100% correct in thier actions in this case. The traditions of the church backed b y scripture call for the protection of the sanctity of life and at all times and in addition justice and a level playing field for all. They backed Obama care till it came to the point where it was evident that the bill would supprt abortion. if anyone is to blame it is Obama and the other spinelees politico's who knew all along it was going to turn out the way it did.

  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2010 8:38 PM ET USA

    Lay down with dogs, & you get up with fleas. The bishops are so hell bent for their plan they do not listen to guidance from business and "that other party" (not that "that other party" has figured out something needs working). Mass. and Calif. are pushing the bankruptcy envelope; Oregon has rewritten their exclusions; the bishops haven't a lick of economic sense, nor the connection between abortion, the love-child of the Dems, and the bishops plan. And they are surprised? Who led?

  • Posted by: impossible - May. 24, 2010 11:05 PM ET USA

    USCCB Hypocritical! Keehan is wrong, but bishops are more in error for having aided and abetted Obamacare up to the point their withdrawal of support was without any credibility or power. The bishops have violated the long-held and current Catholic principle of subsidiarity. With or without abortion funding Obamacare violates the principle of subsidiarity and is in fact socialism which is against Catholic teaching. The USCCB, for the above reasons and others like CCHD, is an abomination.

  • Posted by: - May. 24, 2010 6:29 PM ET USA

    Slowly, the bishops are recovering their nerve! As it has been absent for some decades, it is a welcome sign.

  • Posted by: Hal - May. 24, 2010 10:06 AM ET USA

    Well, holy cow. Good for them. If they'd remove the Sister who runs the doggone CHA, they might actually be accused of following words with deeds. Still, it's something. Better than nothing I suppose.