Compelling and Principled

I was gratified to see the editors of America acknowledge (“How Compelling?” 4/12) that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the final health care reform bill for a range of reasons, including the law’s lack of “protection of the conscience of health professionals,” its lack of “coverage of undocumented immigrants” and its “possible funding for abortions.” I was even more pleased to see them acknowledge: “All [of these concerns] merit further legislative and legal action as health care reform is implemented.”

But in the very next paragraph, the editors claim it was actually the issue of abortion funding at Community Health Centers that represented “[t]he great stumbling block to [the bishops’] endorsing the bill.” Though this is certainly a major problem with the law, it was not the only deal-breaker. The C.H.C. funding issue first entered the debate late in the process, by which time the bishops had already declared repeatedly—by letters of Dec. 14, Dec. 22, and Jan. 26—that the Senate bill failed to satisfy the bishops’ moral criteria in other ways and should therefore be opposed.


The editors also claim that the concern over abortion funding at C.H.C.’s was based on “[t]enuous legal arguments,” “debatable, technical questions of law” and an inconclusive “tissue of hypotheticals”—all of which the bishops inappropriately elevated to the level of principle. But the legal foundations are far stronger—and far less contested—than the editors suggest.

As the editors note, my office prepared a detailed analysis of the final bill and executive order, explaining the shortcomings of the new law regarding abortion funding—both directly through C.H.C.’s and indirectly through plans that cover abortion—and regarding conscience protection. That document has now been available to the public for about a month, without a single substantive critique in response.

Only one scholar (Prof. Timothy Jost) and one government agency (Health and Human Services) were willing to provide any reasoned basis at all for opposing the numerous analyses of the C.H.C. problem that U.S.C.C.B. offered before the bill passed. Neither Jost nor H.H.S. undermine our analysis. C.H.C. services that receive federal funding are defined by a federal statute that uses broad categories, such as “family planning services.” For over 30 years, courts have consistently read such broad statutory categories to include abortion, and so to require—not just allow, but require—federal funding for abortion unless Congress passes a statute that expressly excludes abortion from funded services. It is this long line of court cases that created the need for the annual Hyde Amendment, which has since provided that express statutory carve-out for certain federal funds.

But the Hyde Amendment covers only the one large appropriation that Congress makes each year to H.H.S. Hyde does not cover separate appropriations like the health care reform statute’s multiyear appropriation of billions of additional dollars for C.H.C.’s. As a result, courts will require those additional funds to be made available for abortions.

If there were a legally valid way to overcome this statutory problem short of a statutory solution, we would welcome it warmly—but as it is, we see none ourselves and have heard none from others.

The U.S.C.C.B.’s analysis has been careful and sound throughout, and even today it stands substantially uncontested on the merits. In this context, it would have been an error of principle to reject that analysis, in favor of last-minute attempts to paper over serious moral problems with the bill. Thankfully, the bishops followed the principled course.

Anthony R. Picarello Jr.

U.S.C.C.B. General Counsel

Washington, D.C.

Thread of Creation

Re “Resurrection Redux,” by Kyle T. Kramer (5/10): I am hanging by a thread to my Catholic faith. The thread that I hang by is my love of creation, the resplendence and faithfulness of spring, the many colors of green, the emergent growth of the spruce outside my window and the earth ministry connection to my parish.

I am an organic farmer in my small acre of suburbia, and your article reminded me of the similarity of liturgical and growing seasons, that both are hopeful symbols of not only God’s presence in creation, but also in history in Christ—ecological and cosmic history. For now, my only religious/spiritual practice is my care for creation (in community) and my willingness for ongoing conversion. Thank you for the timeliness of your article for me.

Jane Giblin

Rochester Hills, Mich.

Contagious Smiles

Re “Pilgrim People, Part I” (Editorial, 5/10): You write: “The sisters took me to the back country to meet the very poor.” I just returned from a visit to my sister, a member of Maryknoll, at their motherhouse in Ossining, N.Y., where I felt the joy of these mostly elderly but vibrant women who cheerfully and often laughingly tell their stories of working with the poor all over the world. Their peaceful smiles after a life of dedicated and often dangerous work with the poor are contagious.

John Henry, S.J.

Baltimore, Md.

Learning From One Another

Re “Pilgrim People, Part I” (Editorial, 5/10): I made the pilgrimage from Rome to Canterbury 35 years ago. Although I feel the pain of the division, I had discovered that I was more Anglican than Roman in my thinking about church.

I appreciate the Anglican checks and balances on the authority of bishops, our married priesthood and women in holy orders as well as our vowed religious. I regret our lack of a more visible and viable center as in the papacy. We would regard the pope as primus inter pares but not as solus supreme.

No church is perfect, but I think we have a lot to learn from one another, especially in light of the sexual abuse scandals. Our married and female priesthood and the checks on episcopal power offer effective safeguards against abuse.

(Rev.) Don Hands

Milwaukee Wis.

Who or What Is Illegal?

Re “Bishops Challenge Arizona Law” (Signs of the Times, 5/10): The root cause of border violence on our side and untold murders on the Mexican side is Americans’ desire for illegal drugs. I lived for six years on the Tijuana side of the border. Those who are coming here without documents are hard-working, very good people. Yes, more so on the Mexican side of the border than the U.S. side. We suffer the horrible effects of the American need for illegal drugs. Racial profiling will do nothing to stop the violence and indeed might provoke more violence. A culture of rehabilitating American addicts would make a difference.

John Curran, O.M.I.

Pacoima, Calif.

Quality Control of Bishops

My hat is off to Bishop Blase Cupich “Twelve Things the Bishops Have Learned From the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis” (Online 5/10, also in this issue, p. 8) for his honesty and courage. But it is crucial to put in place a system that will minimize the probability that the present situation will repeat itself. Even if all the present guilty parties could receive the punishments they deserve, that will not ensure us for the future. The present system of papal appointment of bishops, which violates ancient church teachings, must go. The church must return to the election of bishops by the clergy and people of each diocese—this time for a defined term. Elections never prevent all problems, God knows, but they are the best way we have to achieve accountability and quality control.

Charles McMahon

Lafayette Hill, Pa.

Reverse Mission

Re “African Beliefs” (Current Comment, 5/10): I first became aware of African Catholicism while working on schistosomiasis in Kenya 40 years ago. Encountering Catholics in the third world greatly helped me in turning my own faith around. Even more exciting has been encountering members of the Nigerian diaspora since moving to Michigan in 2003. At St. Michael’s (now Transfiguration) Parish we had a vibrant subcommunity of Nigerians. And Nigerian and Kenyan priests are playing an ever increasing role in our archdiocese. This is truly reverse missionary activity. People from sub-Saharan Africa are strengthening our Catholic faith here in the United States. I love it.

Ron Pelley

Allen Park, Mich.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim Lein
8 years 7 months ago

"Who or What is Illegal?"  Why didn't someone think about this before drafting and passing the AZ immigration law?  By definition it is an ill-considered law. 


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