Capital Hill has endured months of wrangling over health care reform. Now the debate has moved to the Catholic Church, as we face the cathartic moment of an extended, deeply frustrating political drama. As this battle within the Church plays out in real time, a friend of mine who works at the highest levels of "Catholic health care" wrote this message:
"The Church and shadow-Church and the Magisterium and parallel-magisterium are finally, after 45 years, on public display with a clarity that no Catholic can ignore. If the health bill passes, with "Catholic health care" support, we will have moral crisis the likes of which we have not seen since slavery since every Catholic will be paying to provide abortion."
From the beginning, the U.S. bishops wanted to make universal health insurance a reality. That was clear. They offered just a handful of preconditions: no federal funding of abortion and robust conscience protections. President Obama said he would honor those concerns. The hierarchy was heartened by the Stupak amendment, which imposed an outright ban on federal funding of abortions. The Senate chose a different path. More wrangling, more closed door meetings. By last Friday, the Democratic party leadership walked away from negotiations with Stupak, and the USCCB had to walk away from a tempting, if flawed solution to the mounting red ink that has forced the closing of many Catholic hospitals throughout the country.
Then Sister Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association backed the Senate bill, a move that prompted Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M.Cap. of Denver, the USCCB President, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and Archbishop Dolan of New York to reaffirm the USCCB position--and Cardinal George explicitly took aim at Sister Keehan's stance. A few days pass, and two House Democrat holdouts signal their willingness to climb on board the Obamacare train.
Yesterday, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, already smarting from Rome's decision to launch an apostolic visitation that will review the practices of progressive-minded U.S.women's congregations, issued a statement of support for the Senate bill. Will the statement provide cover for a few more Democrats to back the Senate bill? We'll know the answer to that question very shortly.
Today, the orthodox Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious jumped into the fray with a statement backing the U.S. bishops as the authoritative voice for the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the USCCB has issued yet another statement that provides further ammunition for pro-life opponents of Obamacare.
I've posted the USCCB response in full below:
U.S. BISHOPS PROVIDE RESOURCES EXPLAINING FLAWS IN SENATE HEALTH CARE BILL
WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has made available several new resources explaining its calls for essential changes to the Senate health care reform bill. In a March 15 statement, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, President of the USCCB, said that the U.S. bishops would, regretfully, have to oppose the final bill if these changes were not made.
The resources are available at: www.usccb.org/healthcare
Among them is an analysis of the abortion funding provisions of the Senate health care bill that highlights the bishops’ objections (www.usccb.org/healthcare/030410facts.pdf). Two pieces respond to recent criticisms of the bishops’ position on the health care bill, namely criticisms from Timothy Stoltzfus Jost of Washington and Lee University Law School (www.usccb.org/healthcare/jost-response.pdf) and the other regarding the funding of abortion at community health centers (www.usccb.org/healthcare/communityhealthcenters.pdf).
With so much of the health care debate focusing on the nature of the legal “status quo” of federal abortion funding, the page also features a backgrounder on current federal policy on abortion funding (www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/healthcare/abortion_funding_102309.pdf) and an analysis of the House health care bill’s Stupak Amendment (www.usccb.org/healthcare/StupakAmendmentFactsheet.pdf).
Update: The USCCB just issued a sharply worded "clarification," responding to a statement issued by the religious lobbing group, NETWORK, which sent a letter to every member of the U.S. Congress endorsing the Senate bill and purported to represent tens of thousands of women religious. The USCCB clarification is offered in full here:
"Washington—A recent letter from Network, a social justice lobby of sisters, grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media.
Network’s letter, about health care reform, was signed by a few dozen people, and despite what Network said, they do not come anywhere near representing 59,000 American sisters.
The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice.
There are 793 religious communities in the United States.
The math is clear. Network is far off the mark."
Most unusual! Hard to know where this debate/war is headed. Will it be papered over, once the dust settles? Or will the fissures revealed in these statements erupt into something more definitive--that much discussed, long anticipated schism?
Sister Mary Ann Walsh
Director of Media Relations
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops