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Cardinal George laments dissent from bishops on abortion and health care

November 16, 2010

In his final address as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago spoke briefly about Pope Benedict’s apostolic visit to the United States, the election of President Barack Obama, and the priorities of the bishops’ conference before reflecting at greater length on abortion and the health care reform debate and the persecution of Christians in Iraq.

Defending the bishops’ opposition to the health care reform bill over the issue of abortion, Cardinal George said:

Our voice was that of the bishops of our country for the past hundred years: in a good society, everyone should be cared for, especially the poor. The goal of basic health care for all continues to be a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved, but it is not now and has not been up to the bishops to decide the means to realize that goal. We have only very cautiously entered into details of public policy, for this is more properly the work of lay people, as it has been in the health care debate. Universal health care can be delivered using many means: everything publicly funded, everything privately funded or a mixture of the two. Any of these solutions could be moral, and it is up to lay people to decide which are the best means to see to it that everyone is cared for.

But once political leaders and health care experts decided to use government subsidized insurance as the vehicle, the means, for providing more universal health care, it was our moral obligation as teachers of the faith to judge whether the means pass moral muster, whether or not the proposed legislation uses public funds to kill those living in their mother’s womb. Consistently, and ever more insistently since the sin and crime of abortion was legalized in the United States, our voice has been that of the bishops of the Catholic Church ever since the first Christians condemned the abortion practices of the ancient Romans. The act is immoral; and the laws that have permitted now fifty million children of our country to be killed in their mother’s womb are also immoral and unjust; the laws are destroying our society.

“We should not fear political isolation; the Church has often been isolated in politics and in diplomacy,” he continued. In a likely reference to the Catholic Health Association and other Catholic supporters of the measure, he added, “We need to be deeply concerned, however, about the wound to the Church’s unity that has been inflicted in this debate and I hope, trusting in the good will of all concerned, that means can be found to restore the seamless garment of ecclesial communion.”

Cardinal George also called for orthodoxy without self-righteousness:

In 1990, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quoted now Blessed John Henry Newman that, “the whole duty and work of a Christian is made up of these two parts, faith and obedience; ‘looking unto Jesus’ (Hebrews 2:9) and acting according to his will.” Orthodoxy is necessary but not enough; the devil is orthodox. He knows the Catechism better than anybody in this room; but he will not serve, he will not obey. There can be mistakes in our thinking, but there can be no self-righteousness in our will, for this is the sin against the Holy Spirit.


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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: filioque - Nov. 16, 2010 6:11 PM ET USA

    It is more than a little disingenuous to talk as if the bishops did not lobby hard for Obamacare, only to be bamboozled in a most predictable way. They have wanted publicly funded universal care for years; they shouldn't pretend that they left it up to the prudential judgment of the laity and only passed on the morality of what the political process finally chose. The USCCB did everything it could to influence that process.

  • Posted by: ltoscan2645 - Nov. 16, 2010 4:32 PM ET USA

    So why are the priests and religious who cause the scandal of disunity not dealt with by being removed from positions. Frankly this lay Catholic has had enough words from bishops we need decisive action.

  • Posted by: sparch - Nov. 16, 2010 2:27 PM ET USA

    I am heartened that Cardinal George spoke of the dis unity of the church in the presence of the bishops. He is right, and the longer the diunity is tolerated, the deeper the schism will run. Faith and Obedience.