Father Hehir & the Health Care Debate

The Catholic Health Association received a videotaped message from President Obama yesterday that acknowledged the decisive role the organization played in getting the health care reform bill across the finish line. He singled Sr. Carol Keehan for special praise.

The President’s words may have captured the most attention, but the more important speech was delivered on Sunday afternoon by Father Bryan Hehir, who serves as the secretary for health and social justice concerns in the Archdiocese of Boston. Hehir is always a thoughtful exponent of Catholic social thought and his address to CHA was not exception. He noted that values animated much of the debate about health care reform and saw this central role for values as an invitation to the Church: “This is our strong suit in the Church.”  


I hope President Obama and the members of Congress read that part of Hehir’s talk. The Democrats did not do the best job explaining the moral rationale for health care reform. They talked about bending the cost curve, which is important and which has a moral dimension, but they need to defend the bill in the same terms that Hehir used to characterize it, as the kind of major transformation akin to Social Security, the Civil Rights Act and Welfare Reform, a transformation undertaken by the government because the private sector had failed to meet a minimum standard of justice for all citizens.  

Hehir addressed the divergence of opinion between CHA and others on the merits of the final bill in two ways. First, he explicitly praised Sister Carol’s “experienced, hands-on care for the poor and ministry to all, and her intelligent and courageous leadership of this organization.” That sounds like a pretty strong endorsement if you ask me. Secondly, he noted that regarding specific judgments about the legislation, difference of opinion “was possible within the tradition” of Catholic social thought. He noted that while Catholic health care comes from the biblical narratives of both the Good Samaritan and the prophets, and that “adapting the [biblical] mandate to a ministry takes interpretation, adaptation, and experimentation, the living out of a basic mandate which does not change in multiple ages and places.”  

Most importantly, Hehir urged an end to the acrimony. “It’s time to face the future,” he said, “and not replay the past continually.” The bishops of the United States are meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida this week and although this is their “retreat year” with no formal business meetings, they are expected to have a discussion about health care and the role of CHA. Some bishops have vocally objected to the role CHA played. I hope they listen to Father Hehir. I hope they recognize that there is work to be done, assuredly, in implementing the health care law, that it will need improvements, especially in its treatment of undocumented workers and conscience protections for Catholic institutions, and that such work cannot be achieved if we are bringing recriminations against each other. Well-informed Catholic consciences can sometimes reach different conclusions.    

Michael Sean Winters


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James Lindsay
8 years 7 months ago
Equity is justice, which is the basis for the Catholic moral position. Morality does not consist of simply trying to avoid Hell on a personnel level. Indeed, morality on that basis is the surest way to get to Hell.

Three cheers for Fr. Hehir (who is my wife's former boss and who baptized my daughter). His talk should be mandatory reading for USCCB staff and leadership, especially in the pro-life office.

I hope this does not backfire, as he would make an outstanding bishop. This may hurt him with some bishops and some in Rome - however I think the Holy Father would likely agree with him (even if Law and Burke would not). I would hope that he gets a red hat before Burke does.
8 years 7 months ago
There is a story up about the content of Father Hehir's talk at CNS.  Here is the link
8 years 7 months ago
Can someone post a link to the text or a video of the actual talk?  It seems that some of you have read or viewed the actual talk as Fr. Hehir delivered it (rather than just the news report), so I'd appreciate if you can pass along the reference so others can read it as well.
Stephen O'Brien
8 years 7 months ago
It would be wonderful to see Father Bryan Hehir work with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to achieve a pro-life single payer national health insurance system.
Regrettably, the single-payer movement overwhelmingly supports legalized abortion, but Catholics should try to work with that movement to attain objectives on which Catholics and non-Catholics can agree.
To those Catholics who argue from the “right” against even a pro-life single-payer system, we should point out that the Magisterium has never reproved the health care systems in countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, and that single-payer is consonant with *CCC* 2211.
James Lindsay
8 years 7 months ago
The likely compromise on health care is single-payer catastrophic insurance, with employer paid Health Savings Accounts and employee funded Flexible Spending Accounts - with only the last usable to fund abortions and alternative therapies. A key feature would be that not using health care above the FSA level would result in a "fully loaded" HSA at the same level as the catastrophic deductible - allowing the employee to receive a bonus in lieu of the HSA contribution. Such a scheme would satisfy those who do not want to fund the abortions of others (with the customary exceptions for the life of the mother - see Arizona woman with pulmonary hypertension) and would provide a real incentive to cut back on usage and thus lead to lower demand for services and lower costs.

Single-payer catastrophic is pretty much inevitable, given the low mandate penalties in the Health Care Law, which will eventually lead to the bankrupting of private insurance and its use of the TARP facility. Any help that the Republican Attorney's General wish to add to hasten this by challenging mandates is most welcome.


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