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Cardinal George to President Obama

Here's a link to the letter which Cardinal George, as president of the USCCB, sent to President Obama and the leaders of Congresson January 13th. It might usefully be compared to the statement released right after the election.

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I do think it is a striking shift in tone and content. I think those with a bit of political savvy--inside and outside the hierarchy--got to the leadership with some advice. No word about Roe, heres, surprisingly, and a commitment to working together on policies to "reduce the number of abortions." The buzz in the pro-life blogosphere has also been a recognition that, for example, FOCA is a dead letter, and that there are other, better campaigns to wage. To me this marks the beginning of a beginning of a relationship. Perhaps. There is still so little recognition of the historic moment of Obama's election, little sense of joy or any emotion, or appreciation of the prsoepct of the end of a terrible policies on torture and such. The bishops seem like such bystanders to this moment. But I was amused by what was likely intended as a boilerplate line about gay marriage:"We stand firm in our support for marriage which is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law..."So is the Cardinal asking to President to outlaw adultery and divorce?! It might make more sense!

How does the fact that George has been asked to resign by VOTF factor into this letter and discussion? Does this weaken his moral authority and by extension the bishops? If not is someone here prepared to defend George on his handling of abuse cases?

Well, the bishops show some perspective and savvy here.What did you think of the report of the apostolic visitation of seminaries. Apart from the gay issue, the Maginot Line of the current Catholic restorationism, I thought the mentality behind the visitation and report was too Tridentine. When they cannot talk about gradually giving responsibility to seminarians, what it means is that they have taken that responsibility away from them at the start, actually disempowering them for the tasks of ordinary life. Restricting internet access to the use of computers only in public places put seminarians in a world that may be refreshingly different from that of their contemporaries, who are likely to have constant internet access via their mobile phones. (Are seminarians allowed to have mobile phones?) All of this sequestering and brainwashing is with the purpose of shoring up celibacy; but plunge these hothouse plants back into the real world and celibacy collapses.

Until further notice, Cardinal George is the president of the USCCB, so whatever one thinks of him, he writes the letter and he's the point man for the President. Obama's not going to touch that one. As far as official reaction as per Fr. K's post, it's also interesting to note the reaction from Rome:Nice telegram from the Pope:http://cnsblog.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/pope-benedicts-inauguration-day-... inauguration even commentary in L'Osservatore Romano comparing Washington to Berlin in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall:http://www.vatican.va/news_services/or/or_quo/commenti/2009/015q01b1.htm... a Vatican Radio interview with Rick Garnett of Notre Dame who, according to Catholic World News [http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=1698] "commented on the new presidents openness to religion and predicted that under his leadership, the United States would continue to be less secularist than many European nations." http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=259860 Interesting, FWIW.

I agree with David Gibson that the second letter is, in general, more tempered and politically realistic than the earlier one, though a proponent of gay marriage could certainly disagree with that assessment. What I find most puzzling is that neither letter makes specific reference to embryonic stem cell research, an issue that David Podesta, one of the transition team leaders, has said could be the subject of an early Obama Administration executive order reversing the Bush Administration's executive directive limiting federal funding of ESCR. Though by no means simple, the issue of ESCR has fewer variables associated with it than does the abortion issue, and I'm surprised the bishops did not comment on it directly.

I'm happy the cardinal moderated his language - and so have some other true culture war conservatives. At the same time, I don't think old words are forgotten that easily. I also think the test of a person's real opinions is how they act when in power--not how they act when out of it. I think there will be many conservatives who try to recast themselves as moderates in order to stay in power. But thanks to Google, it's not hard to find their original stances. I tend to be quite skeptical of hardened culture warriors in new sheep's clothing.

Obamania is sweeping papalist circles -- perhaps there is some naivety here -- Obama may still disappoint -- these huge crowds recall the crowds who followed Princess Di, Tony Blair, John Paul II -- political substance is yet to be proven.I note in the report on the visitation of seminaries that the word "principles" is misspelt as "principals". Perhaps people should focus more on the education and less on the training of clerics. The report's attitude to moral theologians is sad -- particularly considering how often qualified moral theologians have been replaced with untrained ideological hacks in seminaries. The report freely accuses moral theologians of lacking the spirit of sentire cum ecclesia; any idea that informed dissent from Vatican crudity in this domain is the truer expression of sentire cum ecclesia is absent.

In Tuesday's New York Times in an article entitled "Obama Will Ease Restraints on States' Health Insurance Programs for Children," we read at paragraphs 4 and 5:"Mr.Obama has said, for example, that he objects to a last-minute Bush administration rule that grants new protections to health workers who refuse to help perform abortions, dispense contraceptives or provide other care because of their 'religious beliefs or moral convictions'.This 'provider conscience regulation', published on Dec.19, takes effect on Tuesday, the day of Mr. Obama's inauguration."Further on, at paragraphs 8 and 9:"Mr. Obama is also expected to revoke the so-called global gag rule, a policy that prohibits organizations receiving federal money from performing abortions or supporting abortion as a method of family planning in other countries. Critics say that the restrictions -- imposed by President Ronald Reagan, removed by President Bill Clinton two days after he took office and then reinstated by President Bush -- also limit access to contraceptives and family planning services.An official at the United States Agency for International Development, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, 'We are preparing the new policy, press releases, a memo to the field that could go out immediately telling them that all the restrictions have been removed'."If these possibilities turn out to be true, could they provide the first flashpoint between the new administration and the USCCB?(Not sure of my single quotes/double quotes, but in what the Italians call "le piccole ore," I haven't the energy to check the style books.)

Mr.Page-If the report about the provider conscience regulation is true, then it is terrible news. To require that I be allaowed to do what I think is right (e.g., perform an abortion) is one thing. To be requred to do what You Think is right but I think is wrong (e.g., perfom an abortion) is quite another. Next cnscientious objectors will also be required to kill against their consciences.

The Honeymoon is over:Catholic News Service (of the US bishops' conference) has reported on yet another letter that Cardinal George sent President Obama on January 16th. It is much more challenging than the bishops' policy agenda letter of 13 January and their statement yesterday following the inauguration. However, I have not been able to find the full text anywhere. Nor have I seen any other reports on this particular letter.Don't reverse policies protecting unborn, cardinal urges Obama By Nancy Frazier O'Brien Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It would be "a terrible mistake" for President Barack Obama to reverse current policies on embryonic stem-cell research, conscience protection and other life-related matters, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told him in a new letter.Such actions "could introduce significant negative and divisive factors into our national life, at a time when we need to come together to address the serious challenges facing our people," said Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago in a letter dated Jan. 16 and made public Jan. 19.The letter came less than a week after Cardinal George sent another letter to Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and each member of Congress outlining the bishops' broad policy agenda as the new administration and Congress begin their work."I expect that some want you to take executive action soon to reverse current policies against government-sponsored destruction of unborn human life," Cardinal George said. "I urge you to consider that this could be a terrible mistake -- morally, politically and in terms of advancing the solidarity and well-being of our nation's people."Specifically, the USCCB president mentioned the recently issued Department of Health and Human Services regulation protecting the conscience rights of health care providers and institutions; the so-called Mexico City policy barring the use of U.S. family planning funds to promote or perform abortions in developing nations; and current embryonic stem-cell policy prohibiting federal funding of research involving embryonic stem-cell lines created after 2001.Cardinal George said he hoped the new president would "consider these comments in the spirit in which they are intended, as an invitation to set aside political pressures and ideologies and focus on the priorities and challenges that will unite us as a nation.""Again I want to express our hopes for your administration, and our offer to cooperate in advancing the common good and protecting the poor and vulnerable in these challenging times," he added.The cardinal noted that during his campaign Obama "spoke often about a need to reduce abortions" and had said he had no definite answer when asked at what point a baby has human rights."I think your remarks provide a basis for common ground," Cardinal George said. "Uncertainty as to when human rights begin provides no basis for compelling others to violate their conviction that these rights exist from the beginning. After all, those people may be right."And if the goal is to reduce abortions, that will not be achieved by involving the government in expanding and promoting abortions," he added.Commenting specifically on the HHS conscience guarantees, Cardinal George said the regulation was "a long-overdue measure for implementing three statutes enacted by Congress over the last 35 years.""An administration committed to faithfully implementing and enforcing the laws of the United States will want to retain this common-sense regulation, which explicitly protects the rights of health professionals who favor or oppose abortion to serve the basic health needs of their communities," he said."Suggestions that government involvement in health care will be aimed at denying conscience, or excluding Catholic and other health care providers from participation in serving the public good, could threaten much-needed health care reform at the outset," the cardinal added.He said the Mexico City policy, first implemented in 1984, "has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning" but instead ensures that family planning funds "are not diverted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them.""Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size," said the cardinal's letter to Obama.On embryonic stem-cell research, Cardinal George said "recent startling advances in reprogramming adult cells," along with progress in research using adult and cord-blood stem cells, make any change in current policy "especially pointless.""To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics over science," he said.

Wrong again, Gibson! Yes, indeed there was a follow-up letter to Obama, much tougher and focused on life issues of abortion & stem cell research etc. I'm not sure what to make of it, except that there has been a lot of back-and-forth within the bishops conference over what approach to take, and we've seen before that when something is released that seems too "soft" on Obama other voices start lobbying for a corrective. So it seems they may still be working on their approach. I think they'd want to sort it out sooner rather than later. But that's me. The CNS story link is here:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0900248.htmText of Cardinal George's follow-up letter is here:Dear Mr. President-elect:I recently wrote to assure you of the prayers of the Catholic bishops of the United States for your service to our nation, and to outline issues of special concern to us as we seek to work with your Administration and the new Congress to serve the common good.I am writing today on a matter that could introduce significant negative and divisive factors into our national life, at a time when we need to come together to address the serious challenges facing our people. I expect that some want you to take executive action soon to reverse current policies against government-sponsored destruction of unborn human life. I urge you to consider that this could be a terrible mistake -- morally, politically, and in terms of advancing the solidarity and well-being of our nation?s people. During the campaign, you promised as President to represent all the people and respect everyone?s moral and religious viewpoints. You also made several statements about abortion. On one occasion, when asked at what point a baby has human rights, you answered in effect that you do not have a definite answer. And you spoke often about a need to reduce abortions.The Catholic Church teaches that each human being, at every moment of biological development from conception to natural death, has an inherent and fundamental right to life. We are committed not only to reducing abortion, but to making it unthinkable as an answer to unintended pregnancy. At the same time, I think your remarks provide a basis for common ground. Uncertainty as to when human rights begin provides no basis for compelling others to violate their conviction that these rights exist from the beginning. After all, those people may be right. And if the goal is to reduce abortions, that will not be achieved by involving the government in expanding and promoting abortions.The regulation to protect conscience rights in health care issued last month by the Bush administration is the subject of false and misleading criticisms. It does not reach out to expand the rights of pro-life health professionals, but is a long-overdue measure for implementing three statutes enacted by Congress over the last 35 years. Many criticizing the new rule have done so without being aware of this legal foundation ? but widespread ignorance of a longstanding federal law protecting basic civil rights is among the good reasons for more visibly implementing it. An Administration committed to faithfully implementing and enforcing the laws of the United States will want to retain this common-sense regulation, which explicitly protects the right of health professionals who favor or oppose abortion to serve the basic health needs of their communities. Suggestions that government involvement in health care will be aimed at denying conscience, or excluding Catholic and other health care providers from participation in serving the public good, could threaten much-needed health care reform at the outset. The Mexico City Policy, first established in 1984, has wrongly been attacked as a restriction on foreign aid for family planning. In fact, it has not reduced such aid at all, but has ensured that family planning funds are not diverted to organizations dedicated to performing and promoting abortions instead of reducing them. Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size. A shift toward promoting abortion in developing nations would also increase distrust of the United States in these nations, whose values and culture often reject abortion, at a time when we need their trust and respect.The embryonic stem cell policy initiated by President Bush has at times been criticized from both ends of the pro-life debate, but some criticisms are based on false premises. The policy did not ban embryonic stem cell research, or funding of such research. By restricting federally funded research to cell lines in existence at the time he issued his policy, he was trying to ensure that Americans are not forced to use their tax dollars to encourage expanded destruction of embryonic human beings for their stem cells. Such destruction is especially pointless at the present time, for several reasons. First, basic research in the capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines produced with nonfederal funds since 2001. Second, recent startling advances in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells ? hailed by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of the year ? are said by many scientists to be making embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress. Third, adult and cord blood stem cells are now known to have great versatility, and are increasingly being used to reverse serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs. To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics over science.I hope you will consider these comments in the spirit in which they are intended, as an invitation to set aside political pressures and ideologies and focus on the priorities and challenges that will unite us as a nation. Again I want to express our hopes for your Administration, and our offer to cooperate in advancing the common good and protecting the poor and vulnerable in these challenging times. As we approach the first days of your new responsibilities as President of the United States, I will offer my prayers for you and for your family. May God bless your efforts in fostering justice and peace for all, Mr. President, as you begin your term.

This provider conscience regulation, published on Dec.19, takes effect on Tuesday, the day of Mr. Obamas inauguration.John Page,Aren't you even a little suspicious of a regulation that was promulgated by the Bush administration and takes effect on the first day of Obama's presidency???Before this regulation, was anyone ever forced to perform an abortion? Can you offer a realistic scenario in which a doctor is forced to perform an abortion without the regulation?

Do you really want a country where a baby can be aborted at will and that a hospital or health care worker can be made to partisapate? Ask any one from another country like...... the Netherlands they will tell you they now kill off the ederly and sick! They have relatives that do not want to go to the hospital when they are sick.

When I wrote after midnight, I was fairly certain that there had been a later, less irenic letter from Cardinal George to President Obama than the one sent last week, but I couldn't find it. So I resorted to the NYT article since it seemed to me to indicate possible disagreenment ahead, and very soon. Yes, I believe the timing by the outgoing administration was very suspicious. But I have to admit to having little aquaintance with the "conscience clause" and how or even whether it has ever been invoked. Again, my purpose was simply to bring to the attention of the readers what seemed to me to be a warning sign that the era of good feelings represented by the posting might indeed be very short-lived. It is good to know that the more recent letter of the President of the USCCB, with its specific reference to the "conscience clause," has now been posted for the dotCommonweal readers.

i find it encouraging that the newly-released letter of Cardinal George offers some REASONS in support of his views. It it not a simple - and loud - litany of moral principles which may or may not be true. I don't agree with all of his reasoning, but at least he sees the need to support his conclusions.

"The Honeymoon is over"So what *should* characterize the relationship between the Obama administration and the USCCB? The bishops can scarcely dilute their principles in order to ingratiate themselves to the new administration. At the same time, taking too strident and oppositional approach could harm the chances of productively working together on the many issues in which the administration and the church see eye-to-eye. Surely a tone of civil assertiveness on areas of disagreement is most appropriate on the part of the USCCB? I expect that we'll see quite a bit of shifting in tone between ardor and coolness, depending on the issue du jour.

Do you really want a country where a baby can be aborted at will and that a hospital or health care worker can be made to partisapate? Robin,The answer is no, and the United States is not now, nor will it become during the Obama administration, such a country. How do you envision a health care worker being forced to participate in abortion? Are the police going to come in and hold a gun to a doctor's head? Will people who won't perform abortions be sent to jail? Netherlands they will tell you they now kill off the ederly and sick! Those who live in the Netherlands -- where there is voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide (which is very tightly controlled and closely monitored -- have a longer life-expectancy than those of us in the United States. One would think a country where the sick and elderly will "killed off" would have a shorter life expectancy.

David, I know health care workers who have told me this. They have also said they will leave the health care field. Yes, the hospitals or centers will monitor and if they refuse will be disicplined. I also know people who are from the Netherlands and have family still there. The family members do not want to go to the hospital.

The fact that Cardinal George is the head of the bishop's Conference makes him the poin tman. Still, his xcal lfor resignation from a number of followers (he among others as noted recently) weakens his position with whom he speaks to and his credibility among those who want him aside.I think what would be really poltically savvy would happen behind closed doors and utilize some hopefully skilled lobbying folk.I don't think the Obama proposals will change much about what the Catholic in the street thinks, so I'm not sure about the honeymoon.I guess if folks are having trouble following some directives ethically, it's a good thing they move on -that's a far more powerful witness and argument than asserting one's rights.

Mr. Nunz: If Catholic health-care providers cannot in conscience follow certain directives, are you suggesting that they should simply leave the field to others? I think refusing to follow certain directives--and facing the consequences--would be a more powerful witness than simply giving up this whole vast field of Christian care for the sick.

"I guess if folks are having trouble following some directives ethically, its a good thing they move on -thats a far more powerful witness and argument than asserting ones rights."But even better would be if they don't have rules and regulations foisted upon them that would force them to violate their consciences, the Hippocratic Oath, the virtually unbroken tradition of Western culture, and natural law.

When folks join a certain field, they should be clear about what they're called on to do for those they serve.If it provides an ethical conflict, they need to think deeply about enterring.For this juncture, health professionals say pharmacists for example have ben expected to provide medications their doctor orders.If they can now decide beyond their doctor and his patient what is right, ther eis a problem in the field.If the issue is that profound, their witness about that medication problem I think it would be better if they moved on, both for their conscience and to stimulate the conscience of others.

What if the "field" has suddenly changed from what it had been, and done so on the basis of ethical choices different from those that had led one to join the field in the first place. Why may one, should one, not remain and fight to effect a return to the earlier ethical principles? I should think that this would require the witness of considerable courage. I don't know what witness is given by simply withdrawing from the battlefield.

I wonder if Cardinal George woudl care to expand onthis language:"Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size."Family planning is contraception. It appears he concedes U.S. measures to promote contraception are justified but contends there is a "clear line" between that and abortion. Here in the United States, it is the Catholic bishops who blur the line by arguing both are extrisically evil so he can hardly complain about the blurred line.

"When folks join a certain field, they should be clear about what theyre called on to do for those they serve. If it provides an ethical conflict, they need to think deeply about entering."Agreed. And all fields have such potential ethical conflicts to a greater or lesser extent. People need to explore htese before enterign a chosen filed and perhaps select a career that does not pose as much ethical risk to their particular ethical principles.Health care professionals can't claim surprise that a pharmacist is actually required to fill prescriptions or that doctors may be required to provide medically accrate information to their patients.On the other hand, no medical care professional is, or will be required to, perform an abortion.

Today, Obama came out against lobbyists and made provision for tranparency in government. Maybe he won't be able to do it. But I admit I am stunned. This is delivering. He had a quite a presence with his cabinet and staff at the swearing in ceremony. I refuse to get excited but this was something else. Cardinal George and Co. can use some of this high moral ground and transparency.

I'm willing to be enlightened, but how has the field of heath care changed radically from five years ago? Or did a Bush policy at the end of his term change it radically?If in my own experience a judge had told me to bring i nand lock up someone who I beeived wit hsome cetainty to be innocent, my job would be to obey the judge's orders. If it was so against my conscience, I'd say i twas time to move on and to protest what I though twas unjust.I don't think that kind of withdrawal is one taking their ball and going home,I've often believed that real witness entails some suffering on the part of one who desires to speak the truth.I also think that letting all ldetermine the ethics of their profession may open a can of worms yet unforeseen. Jim's point is valid: work to make the rules and regs of the field correct.

That's precisely what I'm proposing: Stay and "work to make the rules and regulations of the field correct." Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant by "moving on"; I thought you meant moving out of the field.

Thanks for an interesting post. The tone of the two recent letters is a lot less shrill than some of the remarks various bishops made during the campaign and its immediate aftermath. To me, it just means that political passions can get the better of bishops, much like anyone else. A number of bishops essentially endorsed the Republican ticket, however much they avoided saying so directly. This happened in 2004, too. I wonder if the relevant bishops have reflected on their responsibility for helping to elect George Bush.

"I wonder if Cardinal George woudl care to expand onthis language:" Once the clear line between family planning and abortion is erased, the idea of using family planning to reduce abortions becomes meaningless, and abortion tends to replace contraception as the means for reducing family size."Family planning is contraception. It appears he concedes U.S. measures to promote contraception are justified but contends there is a clear line between that and abortion."I'm not Cardinal George, but I read that section of the letter as clarifying the intent of the Mexico City policy, in response to distortions and misinformation about it.I agree that there is a trade-off between contraception and abortion implied in the policy. I'm okay with that. It appears that Cardinal George and the bishops are as well.Btw, apparently President Obama didn't find that paragraph of the letter persuasive. Fox News is reporting that he will issue an executive order tomorrow (1/22, the anniversary of Roe v Wade) repealing the Mexico City policy.http://www.foxnews.com/politics/first100days/2009/01/21/obama-lift-ban-f... the run-up to the election, there were many claims made in this forum that President Obama would implement policies to reduce the incidence of abortion, and this claim was made to make it acceptable for Catholic voters to vote for Obama. Here is the first concrete act on life issues of his presidency - an act which emphatically will not reduce the incidence of abortion, and arguably will make the United States, its legislators and its taxpayers complicit in abortions overseas.

Are Islamic restaurants legally required to sell liquor? Are Jewish restauratnts required to serve pork? Why should my druggist who owns his own store be required to sellvcontraceptives and abortifacients? Why should private hospitals be required to provide services of ANY specific sort ? If they are required to providecone kind, then why can't they be required to provide all kinds? This anti-conscience clause of pro-abortionists is frightening. Part of my background was very pro-Enlightenment, including its emphasisvon freedom of conscience. (this comes from my French side, buttressed by tbe opinions of John Locke's and those of the American founding fathers.) Such a law would set a dangerous precedent which would allow all sorts of violations of conscience.Granted, there is a theoretical problem here. - how to respect individual consciences which might or might not affect the common good . But surely when there are allternatve ways of serving what the majority thinks IS the common good. Then thecernatives should be applied. For instance, if a woman thinks abortifacients are ethical, then she can go to a different pharmacy. If there is only one pharmacy in town, she should consider that before living there. I guess the basic question I'm trying to get at is this. Why should one person's conscience should one person's conscience take precedence over another's?

It just amazes me that abortion keep getting over 50% of the coverage here. In many ways the bishops seem to still set the agenda. Yet they are wrong on contraceptives, to be sure. And they continue to be wrong on protecting children from abuse. Unquestionably real children while many reputable scientists say we are really talking about zygotes, albeit a potential human. Contrast that with 5 million children dying every year lacking basics and the thousands dying because of the might of others, who just happen to have the power. Etc.

Repeal of the Mexico City policy is hardly a surprise, but I find the Roe v. Wade anniversary timing of the announcement troubling. Of course, the new president's pro-choice supporters will be ecstatic about the timing, but it's something of a stick in the eye to those who are pro-life. Can we also expect tomorrow an announcement of the president's unqualified support for the Pregnant Women Support Act?

What I don't understand about the conscience clause regs is why they are needed...From what I understand, no health care provider (or any employee) can be forced to do something against their beliefs or moral convictions, nor can they suffer any penalty for standing by those convictions. That's federal law. Are there any examples of people being forced to do things they object to? I know these regs can also have many unintended consequences, such as undoing (potentially) laws to provide rape victims with contraception etc.

To be fair, I'll qualify my 8:19 pm post for the time being to say "if" it is true that Obama will issue an executive order tomorrow repealing the Mexico City policy. Fox News is not my first, or even my fourteenth, source for news, so I'd like confirmation from other sources before my umbrage is official.

If the conscience clauses are not needed but simply ratify already existing federal law, why are some so strongly in favor of them, and others so insistent that they not be allowed? Whether to introduce them into legislation has been a vigorously debated matter in some states. And if they only ratify existing law, why the alleged haste to repeal the recent directive? Why not just forget about it? There must be something at stake, for both sides.

Back in August, the HHS issued a fact sheet about the proposed conscience clause regulations. The link to the fact sheet is below. As you'll see, the stated purpose of the new regulations is to clarify the statutory provisions of three already existing laws that deal, at least in part, with conscience issues. As a general rule, clarification of statutory language is a primary purpose of federal regulations. They fill in the gaps that exist in virtually every piece of legislation enacted by Congress. Much more often happens at the administrative level--i.e., the level where agencies promulgate the regulations that are used to flesh out a statute--than happens at the congressional level. Whether the new conscience clause regulations overreach is a separate issue, one that courts are being asked to take up quickly. For example, three separate suits were filed last week in federal court in Connecticut challenging the regulations promulgated by the Bush Department of Health & Human Services.http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2008pres/08/20080821a.html

"Why should private hospitals be required to provide services of ANY specific sort ? If they are required to provide one kind, then why cant they be required to provide all kinds?"As the Brits say: If you take the Queen's shilling, you must do the Queen's bidding. Private anythings that take advantage of governmental funding as part of their income stream will have to get used to the fact that governmental requirements hold sway. Ctholic Charities and same-sex adoption is a good case in point.Don't want to do it? Go strictly and financially private.

Good questions all: I need to educate myself, as they say. As to why these are a big deal, I think it's mainly to score political points, for one side or another, more than actually making law better, or not.

To Jimmy Mac: The question at issue remains whether the government, representing the citizenry, should introduce these kinds of requirements or restrictions. That's a legitimate matter of public and civic debate, which I take it is what is now going on.

if regulations are interpretations of laws, how can they contradict/violate laws hat have already been passed be the Congress? For instance, a law explicitly requires parental notification before am abortion. How can a mere interpretation of some other law over-ride the act of Congress? Or are all of the restrictions ok abortion satez, not federal, laws?

It is perfectly appropriate for Bishop George to be Pro-Life and Pro-Family, but would you not say that he has been purblind about other lives and other families. Here is a brief note I wrote this morning to one of the genuine consciences in this complex world. It would be good idea for the good bishop to read it and to pay attention to AJ's broadcasts.I am an American living in Germany. On my cable TV, there is only one channel that remotely comes close to reporting the facts and a balanced point-of-view and that is Al Jazeera. America and Israel are hysterically blind and even (usually) fair-minded Germany is calculatingly blind to the ruthlessness of Israel--and worse--the churches in both countries, Catholic and Protestant, look the other way--afraid of the retaliating strikes of both Israel Lobbies.Al Jazeera has become the Conscience of the Middle East--against Establishment Terrorism which notices only the stones and puny weapons of Insurgent Terrorism.Highest Praise to you.Keep up the good work

Ann, I'm not an expert on regulations and executive orders, but I think this is a gray area of policy and politics that is worked out through court challenges and such. One sees it, for example, with interpretations of voting rights laws or clean air and endangered species acts. Sort of like the Catholic Church. There is the law, and then there is the pastoral application. The latter can vary widely according to one's views. In the case of the conscience clauses, whatever their merit or lack thereof, they were pretty clearly driven by politics. Otherwise, if Bush were so "pro-life," why did he wait seven years to promulgate them? Same with the Human Life Day thing or whatever he did just before leaving office.

By the comments being left, it appears that very few have any idea what the state of the law actually is and what these rules are evidently trying to accomplish. I think this link takes you to the rules: http://frwebgate6.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/PDFgate.cgi?WAISdocID=631937506... link should take you to the complaint filed by the Connecticut AG that outlines the objections to the law (though it might not work if you don't have the service -- I'm not sure): http://op.bna.com/hl.nsf/id/psts-7nbr3s/$File/cons.pdfAnn, the Secretary promulgates regulations to provide guidance on interpretation and enforcement of statutes. She doesn't make up the law as she goes along and lots of rules get invalidated for going beyond the boundaries of the statutes that are being interpreted. In general, the Secretary has broad but no unfettered discretion. The difference between a notice and comment rulemaking and other kinds of guidance is the level of deference that the Secretary is entitled to when she shows up in court to defend the guidance. Notice and comment rulemaking, where the Secretary has solicited the input of the public over a period of time, and considered their comments and suggestions, gets the most deference. Ad hoc guidance gets some deference, however, it depends on what the guidance pertains to -- if it interprets technical matters that the Secretary has unique expertise in, it still gets a lot of deference. If it interprets a statute of broad application, like the Church Amendments, it gets virtually none. The problem with these rules is that they not only allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide services, which is a well-established legal and perhaps even constitutional principle, but they essentially prevent non-Catholic institutions from being able to effectively work around personnel who refuse to provide services they object to, even if those services are a material and substantial part of the institution's mission, even if the refusal is ad hoc, and even if the refusal might threaten the life or safety of their patients. It's the impact on NON-CATHOLIC providers and the patients they serve that is at the heart of the objections.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.