Catholic Unity

With regret and some trepidation, Commonweal and many other prolife Catholic commentators and organizations, including the Catholic Health Association, disagreed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about the health-care-reform bill that Congress passed in March (see “Crying Wolf,” March 26).

Feelings on all sides remain raw, and in May the three chairmen of the USCCB’s committees on Pro-Life Activities, Immigration, and Domestic Justice, Peace, and Human Development issued a statement, “Setting the Record Straight,” charging those who disputed the USCCB’s reading of the health-care bill with causing “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.” It is not clear whether this statement represents the settled opinion of the conference as a whole; but insofar as it does, it has the potential to cause a good deal of confusion itself.

The statement is remarkably defensive in tone, complaining that the USCCB’s position “has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and misused for political and other purposes.” Those are serious accusations, yet no groups or individuals, aside from the Catholic Health Association, are named. Worse, much of the letter questions the motives of those who disagreed with the bishops about the legislation’s restriction on funding for abortion. The letter implicitly dismisses the arguments of prolife advocates, such as Senator Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), and Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who concluded that the bill did not in any way extend public funding of elective abortions.

The health-care law is an exceedingly complicated piece of legislation, one that some experts on insurance law who share the bishops’ opposition to abortion nevertheless think will advance the prolife cause (see Timothy Stoltzfus Jost’s “Episcopal Oversight,” May 25). In “Setting the Record Straight,” however, the three bishops assert that “whether from within or without the Catholic community, very often these critics lacked an understanding of these particular issues or of the moral framework that motivated our positions. Others did grasp the seriousness of the issue we were attempting to address. Yet other priorities, in our judgment, led them to accept an inaccurate reading of the proposed legislation.”

What makes the USCCB and its legal and legislative staffs so confident that they alone are competent to understand the new law? Is there a possibility that the USCCB might be wrong? Evidently not. “Making such moral judgments, and providing guidance to Catholics on whether an action by government is moral or immoral, is first of all the task of bishops, not of any other group or individual,” the committee chairmen write. If you disagree with the bishops on highly technical legislative and legal questions, the statement suggests, you are guilty of causing confusion and wounding Catholic unity.

It has long been the position of the USCCB that, while bishops must provide moral guidance, lay Catholics are fully competent to make decisions in the public sphere, whether in the workplace or in politics. Is it now the USCCB’s view that the laity has lost that competence? If that is the case, real confusion will surely ensue. And if only the hierarchy is permitted to assess the merits of something like health-care policy, how are American Catholics to make sense of the approval expressed for the new health-care law in La Civiltà Cattolica, the Rome-based Jesuit magazine whose contents are approved by the Vatican secretary of state?

In the USCCB’s 2007 statement Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the conference insisted that “we bishops do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote,” and that “the responsibility to make choices in political life rests with each individual in light of a properly formed conscience.” In other words, the competence and authority of bishops is no greater than that of well-informed lay people when it comes to evaluating a specific candidate or piece of legislation. “Setting the Record Straight” appears to contradict this principle. 

Catholics seeking full and equal participation in American democracy have long battled the canard that they cannot think for themselves, and instead take political orders from their prelates and from the Vatican. Historically, however, American Catholics have shown a great degree of political independence from the hierarchy—and from political parties themselves—and there is little reason to think that will change. If the authors of “Setting the Record Straight” wish to seize a “new opportunity for the Catholic community to come together in defense of human life,” they can start by not questioning the motives of those Catholics who disagree with them about how best to interpret the provisions of the new health-insurance law. On questions such as this, disagreement should not be understood as a threat to unity, but as a sign of the church’s intellectual vitality.


Related: A Pattern of Missteps, by the Editors

From the blog: Who Has the Right to Be Right?



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Here’s a link to the Bishops’ full statement.  It does sound defensive,  and  their apparently fixed notion that for Catholics to disagree with them in public must result in “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity” would seem to guarantee future difficulties of a like nature.


To be clear, the purpose of the Hyde Amendment is to keep the Government from being complicit in the act of abortion. Any Government-sponsored Health Care plan that would include the option for elective abortion paid with separate funds would still remain a Government sponsored Health Care plan thus making the Government complicit in the act of abortion. Although we, who profess to be Catholic, know that the intentional destruction of Human Life denies the Creative Love of God in Whose Eyes we are all created equal and thus Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional, no where does Roe v.Wade suggest that the United States Government should be complicit in the act of abortion. Despite what the Catholic Health Association may argue, one cannot be preserving the health of a Human Individual while destroying the Life of that Human Individual, simultaneously. The Bishops are correct. They have recognized the lie from the beginning, that the intentional destruction of the Life of a Human Individual is not Health Care.

When the bishops go after the Military Industrial Congressional Complex instead of supporting America's Darwinian health care business, many of us will listen.

Unity, schmunity--  How about risking the SALVATION OF YOUR SOUL!!!

"The Church is not a political party or interest group. It is not the Church’s primary task to fight political battles or to be engaged in debates over specific policies. This task belongs to the laity." [emphasis added]

Bishop  Jose Gomez - the next bishop of LA. 


Brian, with all due respect, I believe that the Good Bishop knows that the fundamental Right to Life is not a "political" issue based upon politics but rather a self-evident Truth, grounded in the Dignity of the Human Person, endowed to us from our Creator, God, and for this reason the fundamental Right to Life must be protected for all Human Individuals.



you write "the purpose of the Hyde Amendment is to keep the Government from being complicit in the act of abortion. Any Government-sponsored Health Care plan that would include the option for elective abortion paid with separate funds"

I find interesting the proposition that the purpose of the Hyde Amendment is not to reduce the number of abortions but to achieve some theorethical statement regardless of any effective results. 

However, the government sponsored health care plan in the legislation is the expansion of Medicaid, which is subject to the Hyde Amendment.  What you seem to be referring to are not government sponsored plans but private industry sponsored plans that will be sold on the Exchanges. 

We are not Protestants.  If CHA in good faith disagreed with the bishops, it should have remained silent.

Besides, the arguments of CHA, Professor Jost, etc., just don't hold up. These defenders of the bill might know something about health care policy, but they simply are not even in the same league as USCCB staff when it comes to understanding abortion law.

The heirarchy's opposition to this health care reform is as well founded as it's (sometimes brutal) insistance that the sun revolved around the earth.  They never grow up.

Can someone site some of Prof. Jost's pro-life writings prior to the health care debate?


From what I have been able to find, Prof. Jost's interest in abortion policy has been concentrated in demonstrating that the health care reform does not fund abortion.  Which doesn't mean he's incorrect, but I don't trust that he shares my moral perspective on abortion.

In other words, the competence and authority of bishops is no greater than that of well-informed lay people when it comes to evaluating a specific candidate or piece of legislation.

This is a false statement and is NOT what the Bishop's said.  It said the responsibility is up to the individual in "light of a properly formed conscience." 

The Bishops have the competence and authority to teach us that it is a mortal sin to vote for a person who supports abortion.  This is clear if you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and properly form your conscience.  If we follow the Catechism when it tells us how to compare issues like, the war in Iraq, capital punishment, poverty,etc. vs. abortion none of these issues are of the same moral equivalency as abortion and we are therefore not free to vote for democrats as Catholics since the party platform openly supports abortion.  There is no moral equivalent and to try and suggest as above that the laity are an equal authority clouds the issue and is a direct attempt to spread dissent and heresy. 

I have taken an extensive look at the exchanges between Commonweal, Professor Timothy Jost and the USCCB over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and have just published a commentary too long for this blog format, at  Having gone through all of the analyses offered by both sides (i.e. Commonweal and its apparent legal advisor, Professor Jost on the one side, and the USCCB on the other), I remain mystified why Commonweal and Jost are so adamant about their conclusion that everything will be just fine under PPACA insofar as abortion and conscience protection are concerned. Jost apparently hopes the law will be interpreted to exclude federal abortion funding. He makes legal assumptions and proposals regarding how federal agencies might theoretically operate to exclude abortion funding. In the end, however, he can’t carry really assure that -- under basic principles of statutory interpretation, or administrative law, or the law of separation of powers --  a president, or his federal agencies, or judges, will get away with ignoring or overturning the plain language of the relevant health care laws and judicial decisions.

Commonweal’s and Jost’s refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that the USCCB’s arguments to the contrary are more sound, therefore ends up smacking more of politics than legal analysis. I think that once the dust has settled, it will seem foolish – especially for a Catholic publication like Commonweal, with its history of often eloquent advocacy for the entire Catholic social justice agenda – to have disaparaged the reasonableness of the USCCB’s legal argument.  The USCCB is one of the very last public voices holding up the entire consistent ethic of life within a federal legislative environment which has become very, very partisan.

Helen Avere does not even mention Obama's  Executive order preventing federal funding. Her silence is telling. Her silence on this destroys her argument. The truth will eventually  out on no federal funding on abortion and I bet she will give credit to Tea party defunding efforts. PHEW

My Health insurance Kaiser Permanente' funds abortion, birth control sterilization etc as do almost all private health insurance which most all insured  American have. Is there a moral lapse in having this carrier while not using these 'services' . Does Avare's and Nancy Dickerson's health  plans fund these procedures? Reply appreciated.  

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