Michael Sean WintersNovember 16, 2009

The USCCB begins its annual plenary session today in Baltimore. On the formal agenda, the bishops will consider a proposed pastoral letter on marriage (which they should scrap and start over) and the final approval of Mass translations (some are good, some not so good but it is past time to fight over them anyway). Behind the scenes, the issue that dominates all the others is the polarization within the Conference, a polarization that seems to have been imported from the political world into the USCCB. The most important thing for the bishops to do this week is to heed the voice of their president, Cardinal George, to resist the political categories of left and right and return to “simply Catholicism.”

In the event, there is a political issue that is tailor-made for the “simply Catholicism” model proposed by Cardinal George: pro-life health care reform. For decades the bishops have backed universal health insurance for all Americans. Since 1973, the bishops have been the leaders, in season and out of season, of the pro-life movement in America. Now, thanks to the 240 members of Congress who voted for the Stupak Amendment banning federal funds for abortion, and the 220 members who voted for the final bill, the possibility of pro-life universal health insurance is that much closer to reality.

The Church’s commitment to pro-life health care reform does not conform to the orthodoxies of either political party. The Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they will do whatever it takes to defeat any substantial reform bill. Many of the most prominent Democratic members are now up in arms because of the pro-life restrictions of the Stupak Amendment. Catholic members of both parties – not just members of Congress but all of us – must ask a simple question of ourselves: Is our commitment to the Church’s teaching prior to our political orthodoxies or is it secondary?

As Pope Benedict made clear in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, life issues are social justice issues and social justice issues are life issues. The Church’s teaching must be received, understood and accepted integrally. I know that integralism is a word with a sinister history, espoused by Catholic witch-hunters during the reign of Pius X and the last years of Pius XII to brand anyone who disagreed with them as heretics. Among those caught in the web of suspicion in the reign of Piux X were Giacomo della Chiesa and Angelo Roncalli, who became Pope Benedict XV and Pope John XXIII respectively. That is not the integralism Pope Benedict XVI calls for. Instead, he merely suggests that all of the Church’s ethical teachings must be seen to flow from our dogmatic claims about the events on a hillside in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

The solidarity with the human condition that caused the Son of God to endure suffering and death surely requires that we spare no effort to make sure our fellow citizens do not have to endure similar suffering and death unnecessarily because of an insane health insurance system. The abysmal loneliness of death which Christ endured requires all of us who invoke His name to propose a Culture of Life that cannot but see abortion as an unspeakable crime against the child and the mother and against all that it means to be human and humane. If you are pro-health care and pro-abortion, you are missing something about the consequences of Calvary. And, if you are anti-health care and claim to be pro-life, your inconsistency is transparent to all.

As mentioned before, the exact language of Stupak is going to be modified because as currently written it makes it impossible for women, with their own money, to purchase health insurance that covers abortions. I pray for the day when no woman wants such coverage, but I have to acknowledge that in this regard, Stupak goes beyond the Hyde Amendment, which only forbids the use of federal funds for abortion. The bishops should not turn Stupak into a totem: Even if the Stupak language stays exactly as it is, many women will still get abortions and the task of building the Culture of Life will remain. The victory in the U.S. House of Representatives was a great victory, and we should not squander it, and kill health care reform, by over-reaching. In politics, as in physics, every action produces a counter-reaction. If we over-reach, we might get pushed back further than we anticipated. The line in the sand is no federal funding of abortion. 

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Think Catholic
11 years 7 months ago
MSW, by calling for the Stupak Amendment to be watered down, you are putting your Democratic orthodoxy ahead of your commitment to the Church's teaching.  Rep. Stupak is not a right-wing ideologue opposed to reform; he is a pro-life Democrat, and through support by the USCCB he got 240 votes in favor of keeping the government out of the abortion insurance business.  Yet you value your partisan charge for reform more than you value the Church's position.  And you can't stomach the fact that your President, who is now choosing abortion over health care by opposing Stupak, is wrong, and that the supposedly polarized bishops who have been saying he is an abortion enthusiast are right. Guess what, MSW: the Bishops already have a unifying rallying cry this week-it's the Stupak Amendment.  But you oppose it.  So who's the partisan divider?  Watering down Stupak will very simply mean government funding for insurance plans that cover abortion, but that's what you want.  Stupak doesn't go "beyond" Hyde or the ban on federal health plans that cover abortion.  It's your dogmatic commitment to large government intervention that has caused us to have only two choices: keeping government out of abortion insurance via Stupak, or having government funding of it with no end in sight.  It's your prioritization of health-care-that-funds-abortion over Catholic teaching that leads you to support government funding now.  According to your own logic, it makes you a partisan first and Catholic second, and for calling others partisan when they stand with Rep. Stupak and the USCCB, it makes you a hypocrite.
Andrew Nelson
11 years 7 months ago
Interesting read.
You wrote - "For decades the bishops have backed universal health insurance for all Americans."
That may be true. But apparently, the Washington Archdiocese does not anymore. From what I read, its gay employees who take part in a civil marriage are not part of the "universal" community that should be covered by insurance. 
Pearce Shea
11 years 7 months ago
Drew N.
Beyond the fact that that was a dig, the Bishops _have_ been clear on the need for universal healthcare. What they've been just about as consistent on is that that healthcare ought not to un-necessarily sanction behavior that is contra Church teaching. The Archdiocese of Washington, if anyone ever bothered to read their press release rather than the near-slander that WaPo's Tim Craig seems to prefer, doesn't object to homosexuals getting healthcare, it objects to healthcare benefits structured such that they tacitly sanction same-sex marriage, contra Church teaching. So it's not an issue of coverage but what constitutes an adequate right to coverage (ie, does your life partner receive insurance benefits or not?). By your logic, I think it could be argued that there ought not be any abortion protection in the health care bill as it would then fail to adequately cover the health needs of women.
Vince Killoran
11 years 7 months ago
The Church hierarchy might have supported universal health care coverage for years but they only spend real money on a narrow range of issues, most of which relate to re-criminalizing abortion and preventing gays and lesbians from obtaining the rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.  In recent years I have taken the money I would donate to the bishops annual appeal, Peters Pence, etc. and given it to other Catholic groups.
MaryMargaret Flynn
11 years 7 months ago
Funny, I thought we were discussing the first serious bill passed by the house to adress the civil rights issue of univerisal health care. Even Thomas Jefferson says a person without health does not enjoy liberty. Why it is about abortion legislation is this blog? You can do as I did during the Viet Nam "error"; as a USA citizen you can withhold the propotion of your taxes that you calcaulate goes to fund abortions. Of course you may risk crimanal penalities but at least now withholding taxes from war funding is a routine thing-they just take it out of your pay check. But I recall the 1960ies-civil rights legistlation is difficult and it is a generational battle. I only hope I live to see a bill that begins to adress the horrible social insjustice which is our "health care system". It is entirely possible to be pro life feminist health care reform Catholic Chritian advocate. I pray daily for reform passed and signed before Jan 1 2010. An incarnation of some social justice principles into our human laws and policies that enable all of us to be treated with human dignity.
Marie Rehbein
11 years 7 months ago
It seems rather ridiculous to go out specifically to purchase abortion insurance when the same amount of money put aside just in case would not take long to accumulate, and then if it is not used for an abortion, could be used for more important things. 
This amendment is a gross distraction from the real issues pertaining to health care reform.  If abortions decrease after this reform is initiated, it will be due to the availability of health care, not the unavailability of insurance coverage for abortion.
The Stupak amendment makes abortion opponents feel good because it makes abortion advocates feel bad.  However, for those of us stuck in the middle, who sincerely want to get something done about the cost and availability of health care, it is a lot of nonsense.
People should realize that insurers are only offering abortion coverage now, despite abortion being elective the way face lifts are, because they know abortions are cheaper than maternity and newborn care.  However, abortion is elective surgery just like the face lifts that insurances do not cover.
11 years 7 months ago
Winters makes a cogent case in the last paragraph, and it's the same one i've been making to my friends.
It's very easy to say someone who makes this case is not standing up for the life of infants in the womb, as many responders have done here. But those who say such things are not going to succeed in helping us reach or goal of reducing the number of abortions. Whereas, what Winters suggests will, albeit incrimentally. Let's take what we can get here folks, and not push for the restrictions that go beyond the Hyde Amendment because if we pursue that route we'll get nothing. Stupak will not, as Winters points out, survive in its current form.
Over-reaching is a major problem that many of my pro-life friends can't seem to acknowledge. They are so wrapped up in the cause, which is admirable and understandable, but taking a black-and-white stance in pluralistic society that overwhelming favors legal abortion is not going to get us very far.
If you condemn Winters' suggestion, I would ask you to step back for a moment and consider the value of saving the life of one infant in the womb at a time rather than overreaching. That individual life is valuable. Isn't it? Isn't it better to save that life than to roll the dice when the chances of winning are slim? That's pride. That's what that is. We really have to wake up and resolve not to let our desire to win the war result in losing key battles. This is not about making uncompromising ideological statments, it's about saving lives-one at a time if needs be.
ed delarm
11 years 7 months ago
Cardinal George, president of the USCCB, praised the Stupak-amended health care bill saying, "it provides adequate and affordable health care to all."

Unfortunately, a cabal of politically conservative bishops wants to kill health care reform, and they are aided and abetted by Raymond Arroyo of EWTN's "The World Over. He gives them a national platform from which they and right-wing Catholics like Robert Sirico, George Weigel, Robert Royal and others can propagate their distorted views of Catholic social doctrine.

I wish you would do a profile in "America" of Mr. Arroyo. His show's move from Birmingham, Alabama, to the John Paul II Center in Washington, was precisely to give him greater access to the political elite.

EWTN is said to be funded by small viewer donations, but I am certain that it receives large donations from corporate America to spread its message to an audience of devout, but relatively un-sophisitcated Catholics who sadly believe that everyting on "The World Over" represents authentic Catholic doctrine. Ed DeLarm
Michael Liddy
11 years 7 months ago
20-30 million people (in the lower to middle income brackets) purchasing health insurance in a country that aborts over 1 million children per year. Yet, you still claim that there will be no market for abortion riders. I find that very hard to believe.

Either way. Stupak is federal policy that has been around for decades, whereas the healthcare bills are just that, bills. The authors and supporters of such bills should realize that federal programs are going to be subject to long-standing federal policies, such as that no subsidies can be used for private plans that cover abortion (military, fed employees, native americans, etc). The fact that they goofed and designed a plan that is not harmonious with federal policy is their fault. That doesn't mean we start changing policies to fit in with the bill.
Michael Liddy
11 years 7 months ago
I don't understand this bologna around over-reaching! There is no over-reaching here people. Hyde restricts the use of federal funds for private insurance policies that cover abortion (Medicaid). Stupak restricts the use of federal funds for private insurance policies that cover abortion (Insurance Exchange). Women will still get abortions - we have over 1 million per year. If there is a market, riders will be offered. If not, women will pay for the abortions just like most of them have been doing already. This is an inexpensive, elective procedure. And guess what, emergencies are covered by almost every single plan out there.

And Marie - you are completely wrong. I don't like this amendment because it makes pro-choicers feel bad, I like it because it is the right thing to do.
Claire Mathieu
11 years 7 months ago
Here is something useful that could be accomplished at this meeting. The following two paragraphs of the catechism are highly misleading.
2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.
As written, this puts the emphasis on discretion, and proposes secrecy as the default option, except when one has a right to know the truth. The emphasis is misplaced. Judging from the scandalous events that took place under a cloak of secrecy and with the poor excuse of avoiding scandal, this paragraph of the Catechism has been repeatedly misunderstood and used inappropriately. Contrary to what is written in the Catechism, the emphasis should be on transparency and truth-telling, and secrecy should be the exception, not the rule. This section of the Catechism should be revised and rewritten to take into account the harm caused by excessive discretion as it has been understood and practiced.

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