Health Care Disunity Revisited in George's USCCB Address

Who speaks for the church came up both as an action item for the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and in Cardinal Francis George’s final address as U.S.C.C.B. president. The bishops will be deciding tomorrow on a proposal to reassess levels of authority of church statements and procedures for their release, and in his introductory presentation to the bishops assembled in Baltimore Nov. 15, Cardinal George revisited the painful “wound to church unity” that opened up over health care reform in March. Whether or not the health reform legislation supported by most Democrats and President Obama technically included federal subsidies for abortion was the breaking point last spring between the bishops and the Catholic Health Association, which was in turn supported by Network and the Leadership Council of Women Religious.

Emphasizing the church’s continuing support for health care for all as a “moral imperative,” Cardinal George said, “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.

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“As teachers of the faith,” however, it was the bishop’s moral call, he said, “to judge whether the means passed moral muster, whether or not the proposed legislation used public funds to kill those living in their mother’s womb.”

Cardinal George called the challenge created by the March breakdown of unity on health care a threefold problem for the U.S. church: empirically, does the legislation permit the funding of abortion beyond Hyde amendment restrictions; ecclesiologically, “who speaks for the Catholic church?”; and practically, “how should faithful Catholics approach political issues that are also moral?” In terms of the second concern, it was pretty clear that the cardinal did not appreciate the 11th hour intrusion of women religious and Catholic laypeople who supported the health care reform package in the debate over its moral validity. “We speak for the apostolic faith and those who hold it gather round. We must listen to the sensus fidei…but this is different from intellectual trends and public opinion.

“The bishops ... speak for the church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them," the cardinal said. "All the rest is opinion, often well-considered opinion and important opinion that deserves a careful and respectful hearing, but still opinion."

During the assembly’s opening address, Cardinal George reasserted the bishop’s charges about the health care reform package, which was approved by Congress March 19. He insisted that the health care reform removed Hyde amendment barriers to the use of federal money to pay for abortion, repeating the bishops’ rejection of independent analysis that suggests otherwise and President Obama’s executive orders that explicitly prohibit the use of federal money for abortion.

“Lay people who carefully analyzed the contents of this legislation as it was being tortuously being crafted freed us, the bishops, to make the necessary moral judgments,” he said. “Some have protested that the legislation is complicated and we therefore shouldn’t pretend to judge it….this implies that no one can understand or judge complicated pieces of legislation…or it is to say that only bishops are too dense to understand complicated pieces of legislation,” a proposition that he allowed could be understandable, eliciting a rare chuckle from the assembled bishops.

But developments since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, he charged, “have settled the empirical issue: our analysis of what the law itself says was correct and our moral judgments are secure.” The cardinal did not elaborate on what developments he was referring to.

The debate, Cardinal George said, eventually demonstrated that “there were those who started with the faith in its integrity and fit their political choices into the context of the fullness of the church’s teaching, and there were those for whom a political choice, even a good choice, was basic and the church was judged useful by whether or not she provided foot soldiers for a political commitment, whether of the left or the right.”

Cardinal George said the “public discussion in the church that we are called by Christ to govern will continue, even as we strive to keep everyone together in Christ with the authority given us by him. The tensions, while acute, are not completely novel….Perhaps we are living now a moment when, at last, Dorothy Day meets John Courtney Murray.”

 

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Colleen Baker
7 years 11 months ago
I see that if I am to be a faithful Catholic I shall have to treat the bishops and the catechism as if the Bishops are Martha Stewart and the catechism is a cook book. If only the bishops had her integrity.  At least she did the time for her crimes.
7 years 11 months ago
Adherence to apostolic succession is not optional. The CCC tells us:
76 In keeping with the Lord's command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:
- orally "by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit";33
- in writing "by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing".34
. . . continued in apostolic succession
77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority."35 Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."36


It does not say that 77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left nuns or the laity, or whomever else might which to appropriate this role. I sincerely believe that many people do not understand this...
Marie Rehbein
7 years 11 months ago
The full and living gospel as I recall it said to give unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's.  That means that the church is not meant to be in the business of running countries.  Therefore, the bishops are entitled to no more input on how to reform health care than is any other group of this country's citizens.  If they speak "for the Church" to the government, it does not preclude that other groups of Catholic individuals may make their preferences known.  The idea that if the Catholic Church is perceived to be speaking with one voice about a political, economic, legal matter it will have more influence is debatable.  I think such a thing could just as easily lead to having a deaf ear turned to Catholic concerns.
7 years 11 months ago
"I see that if I am to be a faithful Catholic I shall have to treat the bishops and the catechism as if the Bishops are Martha Stewart and the catechism is a cook book. If only the bishops had her integrity.  At least she did the time for her crimes."

Would someone explain to me how a comment like this is in line with America's comments policy?  Because to me this is both snarky and unfair to the bishops.  I would think a Catholic publication would be concerned about such a thing.

And Colleen - thank you  for proving my point about wilfull ignorance.
William Kurtz
7 years 11 months ago
I'd agree with Jeff Landry that I don't want us to be just like the Episcopalians, not that that's very likely. What I'm afraid of is becoming just like the Southern Baptists, where political marching orders are clearly understood and everyone is expected to fall in line.   
Colleen Baker
7 years 11 months ago
Your welcome Jeff.
Tim Huegerich
7 years 11 months ago
Click my name for a link to a wiki which I hope will be helpful for sorting out the complicated issue of abortion funding in the health care law.  I have started it out with my current understanding.  But I welcome anyone who has studied this to add more information or correct anything I have misunderstood.
7 years 11 months ago
"Emphasizing the church’s continuing support for health care for all as a “moral imperative,” Cardinal George said, “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."

- Can this very insightful passage put to rest the cannard that many on the (Catholic) Left have hurled at those who opposed the particular piece of legislation as being morally wrong for not supporting universal coverage?  I wish all Catholics, particularly some bloggers, could emulate such trenchant moral analysis.

And now, cue the ad hominems, jeremiads and sundry howls against Card. Geroge...and the rest of the Conference for being right wing shills.
ed gleason
7 years 11 months ago
My question to Cardinal George would be 'when and where were these Federal funds used/dispersed for abortion since March 19th? [like in Chicago at XXX hospital Monday  Oct 11?] .Has the USCCB staff named a place where this happened??
If this did not happen yet, what date does he expect the funds to be dispersed and in what city. what hospital. ??  Like NYC Oct. 11 2011 or 2016 or 2020?
Marie Rehbein
7 years 11 months ago
Jeff,

It's up to lay (Catholic) people, and Jewish people and atheists and Muslims and Buddhists, and anyone who is interested and a voting citizen of the US to decide how or if everyone should be cared for.  That is what makes it so difficult, not the Catholic left.  The Catholic left is aware of the need for compromise, while the Catholic right appeared to think it could hold the process hostage to its abortion concerns.
7 years 11 months ago
Marie: There is no Catholic right or Catholic left in the Catholic Church. Language which depicts political camps in the Church only illuminates how confused people are. There are Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Churhc and there are those who are not.
7 years 11 months ago
Maria is correct.  There is no right and left in Catholics or the Church.  The terms have some merit in politics but even there they are used inappropriately more often than not.
 
 
If abortions are funded in the future it will add one more log to fire for repeal.  As of the moment one could argue strongly that as it stands, abortion not an issue, that the legislation is anything but socially just.  That is the debate that should be had.  Abortion/not abortion while an important issue is only one of the considerations. 
 
 
So if social justice is the issue, have the debate on that.  An obvious side issue to all this is that some elements of the Catholic Church think they know better than anyone else what social justice is and are willing to trump others in the Church to push their position. 
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
"We must listen to the sensus fidei…"

And how do they do that? I have never heard the bishops explain this-ever. As for the Catholic Health Association, I don't think they claimed to speak for anyone other then the CHA. It was important to hear from them.
7 years 11 months ago
"The Catholic left is aware of the need for compromise, while the Catholic right appeared to think it could hold the process hostage to its abortion concerns."

- I think fmr. congressman Stupak would disagree.  And if you think what Pres. Obama did was "compromise" with the Right, I'd hate to see what you think NOT compromising looks like.  The Republicans were shut out of the process totally for political concerns (as is well documented in media reports).  the President concluded from the get-go that any compromise with Republicans on various issues (like tax credits to employers) would be seen as violating his campaign attacks on Sen. McCain's proposal.
7 years 11 months ago
Vince: The usurpation of the role of the Bishops by Sr. Carol Keehan et al, in support of Obamacare, was an act of disobedience, never mind Sr. Keehan's imprimatur for abortion.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
I'm sorry Maria but I just don't see the action of the CHA being an "usurptation" or an "act of disobedience" (or Sr. Keehan giving her imprimatur for abortion).

You know, the USCCB aren't the only voice in the public arena for American Catholics.  If they are, we are in big trouble.

Enough with the feishization of the USCCB. You would think that they are the absolute authority in all matters pertaining to morality, legislation, etc.
7 years 11 months ago
The bishops - successors of the apostles
861 "In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry."374
862 "Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops."375 Hence the Church teaches that "the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ."

Have they changed this part, Vince? Is a small band of errant nuns now fightgully assumed responsibility for gobverning the Chruch?
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
I didn't realize that the CHA was merely "a small band of errant nuns."

Seriously, is anyone "despising" the bishops?  What do these passages actually say?  It's not clear to me that they support your contention that only bishops may weigh in on pending legislation before the U.S. Congress. 
7 years 11 months ago
If the teaching authority of the bishop, as successor to the Apostles, is unclear, it can easily be resolved by reference to the Catechism.  But any mention of this is usually derided and castigated as being "simple-minded".  So perhaps the problem with "understanding and accepting" the authority of the bishop results from willful ignorance on the part of some combined with obfuscation by many in the "academies" who like to pretend that Vatican II changed "everything".

The inidividual bishop speaks for the Church as he is ordained as bishop, successor to the Apostles.  The USCCB actually has very little binding ecclesial authority on both its consistuent bishops and lay Catholics in America.  The individual bishop retains final jurisdiction in each diocese.

The smoldering flames between the USCCB & many women religious is a problem that needs to be addressed. Whatever the merits of CHA's argument, it should have coordinated its arguments with and through the USCCB, if its going to be "Catholic" in any sense, at least.  The fact is (and its an unconvient one for us all I think) we just do not belong to a church that allows for doctrinal "entrepreneurship".  Otherwise we'll end up like the Episcopalians.
Vince Killoran
7 years 11 months ago
Given Jeff's assertion that the USCCB  "has very little binding authority" I'm not certain why he insist that the CHA should have "coordinated its arguments" with them in order to be Catholic "in any sense."

I've just re-read the CHA statements from last spring.  They read to me as being very Catholic in their concern for assuring quality health care for all Americans irrespective of wealth.
7 years 11 months ago
Fr. Dolan has such a clear eye for the Truth. He made the following remark, quoted by Goodman, in the Times: “We’re pastors and teachers,” Archbishop Dolan said of the bishops’ role, “not just one set of teachers in the Catholic community, but the teachers.” He emphasized “the.”

I
7 years 11 months ago
Whoops. No mere Padre he, Archbishop Dolan. My apologies, Your Emminence.
Tim Huegerich
7 years 11 months ago
The debates about nuns vs. bishops are a distraction from the real issue here.

The outrageous statement is this: “As teachers of the faith,” however, it was the bishop’s moral call, he said, “to judge whether the means passed moral muster, whether or not the proposed legislation used public funds to kill those living in their mother’s womb.”

Is it really a moral question "whether or not the proposed legislation" contains such and such a provision?  No!  It's a moral question whether it is right to use "public funds to kill those living in their mother's womb," and I passionately agree with the bishops' powerful teaching on this moral question.

What I disagree with is whether the legislation in question does such a thing.  I'm not a trained lawyer, so I claim any special competance to make the call on that, but neither are the bishops lawyers!  I've read what Prof. Jost's law arguments against the bill funding abortion and I've read the bishop's law expert's analysis, and it seems to me that Jost has it right.  The bishops, as a whole, have come to the opposite conclusion.  How exactly does that make me a bad Catholic that I have reached a different conclusion from the bishops on the particulars of this law?  Isn't making particular judgments about the technical meaning of legislation the prototypical example of the role of laity?  This is absolutely outrageous!

And I suspect Archbishop George knows he's on shaky ground here.  It's interesting how he says, "The bishops ... speak for the church in matters of faith and in moral issues and the laws surrounding them."  Let's see, which of those three, faith, moral issues, and laws, doesn't belong with the others?

I anxiously await the developments tomorrow: "The bishops will be deciding tomorrow on a proposal to reassess levels of authority of church statements."  Is this reassessment really going to conclude that bishops may issue authoritative statements on technical matters outside of their expertise, which Catholics are then bound by faith to accept?  Unbelievable..

Please do not get caught up in your tired arguments about the USCCB and liberal nuns and miss this huge issue!

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