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Catholic Nuns Support House Passage of HCR

From the AP, endorsement of HCR by the leaders of 60 orders, representing 59,000 nuns:

Meanwhile, in a rare public disagreement that will reverberate among the nation's 70 million Catholics, leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 nuns sent lawmakers a letter urging lawmakers to pass the Senate health care bill. Expected to come before the House by this weekend, the measure contains abortion funding restrictions that the bishops say don't go far enough.

"Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions," said the letter signed by 60 leaders of women's religious orders. "It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments ... in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."

UPDATE: Here's the letter. (Thanks, Mollie!)

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As if the poor Vatican investigators didn't have enough to deal with!

Good for the nuns.

you go, girls!

Tihs is really deplorable and regrettable.

What is deplorable and regrettable about it, Jim?

Not one of the 300 bishops could see his way clear to support the health reform...as if all the convoluted language, with 3000 pages is such a clear violation of Catholic values. {sexual abuse of minors is not clear] However a majority of the Dem. pro-life legislators will be OK with the Senate bill and language. How come only conservative bishops can say 'USCCB opinions/papers/docs have NO standing in MY diocese'. Is this another 'teaching' we all must obey? David is worried about Vatican investigators? What would you think Cardinal Rode's position on the Senate language will be ? :-)

The nuns' example should inspire the weak-kneed, lily-livered, chicken-hearted congresswomen/men to say NO to the Republicans/bishops/insurance companies and PASS the health care bill.

If (hopefully when) the bill passes and no federal funds wind up being spent on abortion, the American Bishops and others in the pro-life movement will claim all of their protests prevented anyone from daring to implement all of the alleged pro-abortion features of the bill. After all, didn't they stop FOCA?

They should be investigated. Oh wait, they are! Good.

This is a watershed action which will justly sting the leadership of American bishops which has been directionless for some time. This is huge.

Heres the sisters letterCertainly American nuns are much more directly in touch with the nation's uninsured than the American bishops. Many nuns are on the "front lines" in schools, hospitals, and charities working directly with the people. I do not necessarily begrudge the bishops their privileged lives, but I think it does remove them from the lives of average (and particularly poor) Americans.

Yes, the nuns nursed the wounded of both armies on Civil War battlefields without asking their religion, political party, or sexual orientation.And they nursed the lepers at Carville when no one else would do so.Etc., etc., etc.

Proposal: Give the hierarchy to the nuns for a couple of millennia & see how they'd do things. My guess? Better.

Uppity nuns!Things were better off when they were kept barefoot and pregnant ..Oops, right gender; wrong vocation."I do not necessarily begrudge the bishops their privileged lives --"I sure as hell do.

"What is deplorable and regrettable about it, Jim?"This is:"And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments $250 million in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."So much for unity. So much for civility. So much for respect.

I sure as hell do.Jimmy,Think of it this way. It would be a nuisance to kneel and kiss bishops' rings if you were constantly bumping into them at the supermarket or drugstore or on the bus or subway.

On the day he became pope, I sent Benedict an email suggesting that, as his first order of business, he elevate 50 female cardinals. (He hasn't gotten back to me yet.)

It's a nuisance with or without their familiarity. That is one thing I will never do.

So much for unity. So much for civility. So much for respect.But truth is important, too. I guess they could have said, "And despite perfectly understandable though mistaken claims to the contrary made by some of the most wise, well intentioned, and sincere people imaginable . . . "

I'll go with the nuns. They educated me for eight years, and very well, too. The only time I ever came face to face with a bishop, he slapped me.

David - yes, they could have!Or, they could have said something like this: 'Having analyzed what is in the Senate Bill, we believe that its pro-life safeguards are adequate. We respect the USCCB's judgment on this matter, but our own considered judgment is that this bill does not present a danger to the unborn. We stand with the USCCB in opposing Federal government funding of abortion and support their efforts to protect the lives of the uborn.'

Grant, I meant to add, it's deplorable and regrettable that they're hand-delivering this mean-spirited message to every Representative. Istm they are going to some length to dis the bishops.

I see, Jim. What you really meant is that the statement wasn't nice enough. Or sufficiently deferential. (Incidentally, I find the "REAL prolife" language silly, but not mean-spirited.) I have no idea why "hand-delivering" the message to representatives would bother you. How else should they communicate their arguments to Congress? I take it you were deeply unsettled by the bishops' anti-FOCA postcard campaign?

David yes, they could have!Jim,While I am glad the nuns made their statement, I agree that your rewrite is preferable. So I guess we have found a point of agreement!

I don't understand how their letter is either uncivil or disrespectful or mean-spirited. Quite the opposite, it is clear & concise, and life-affirming. In a civil society, we are allowed to state our opinions clearly and freely, without fear of violence. The nuns made no direct attack on, or even a direct allusion to, the USCCB.Besides, nuns aren't part of the hierarchy. They are laypeople. As such, why should they present a unified front with the USCCB? I second David Nickol: better to speak the truth than to present an arbitrary unified front.

I didn't see any reference at all to the bishops in the sisters' letter. It mentioned only the Catholic Health Association by name, saying it joined with them in supporting the Senate Bill. (The USCCB letter in contrast specifically mentioned and disagreed with the Catholic Health Association). I thought the sisters' letter was just fine and I was very glad to see the Immaculate Heart Sisters signed on; they taught me in grade school in South Philly.

I'm confused by your critique, Jim. By not mentioning the bishops, the sisters' letter goes out of its way to...disrespect the bishops? Perhaps the sisters felt "we stand with the bishops" and so forth went without saying? (Making the same mistake we've all been making around here, apparently.) I see no reason they should have to go into a lot of ritualistic "with all due respect" language just to say what they think. And since the USCCB isn't mentioned, why assume the "false claims" part is a reference to the bishops? Their are plenty of other lobbying groups making demonstrably false claims about the bill's impact on abortion funding right now.

Agree with those in favor of plain English over obsequious Latin.Too much baloney has been larded onto this discussion already.(Soooo proud to see my old teachers' congregations on the list.)

I have to agree with Jim on this one point. The nun's letter is going to be seen (quite accurately) as being in disagreement with the USCCB, and it will only be natural to read "despite false claims to the contrary" as a criticism of the arguments put forward by the USCCB against the bill. The nuns are, quite correctly (in my opinion) criticizing the bishops, but they could have been less blunt and still made their point.

This letter makes me think of the movie "Doubt" and how so much of the Church's history over the last 50 years was so neatly captured in that one little drama. Let's hear it for straighforward, plain spoken English.

Jim, you raise the issue of respect. that is a serious issue, but it cuts all ways. If the USCCB position is the expression of a prudential judgment, why would the bishops not speak in terms of giving advice, of saying that they RECOMMENDED a vote against the bill instead of speaking in terms of OPPOSITION. Where is rthe bishops' expression of respect for those legislators who have worked so hard to try to fashion a good bill. For example, Sen. Robert Casey. We kn ow how some bishops treated him during the 2008 election campaign. Do the bishops, in you view regularly show respect for lay people who are trying to exercise their competence in matters of public life. Just think about the way some bishops dealt with competent people who tried to guide their handling of the sex abuse issue.If I'm not mistaken, there have been calls for "solidarity with the bishop" whatever he says about public matters, even if what he says can be no more than the expression of his prudential judgment. In my view, solidarity is fine, if it's a two-way street. No more clericalism's "my way or the highway" in prudential matters. They do deserve respect for their office. they ought to work hard to earn respect for their prudential judgments.

Cheers to the Sisters ! We all know where the Bishops have chosen to stand. But aren't there any groups of male religious who have the backbone to speak up for health care reform and let the chips fall where they may? Come on fellows. Step up to the plate!

They found 60 people who support the current bill. So this is news?

"I see, Jim. What you really meant is that the statement wasnt nice enough. Or sufficiently deferential."I suppose I didn't think it was nice enough. I used the term "civility". I did find it somewhat lacking in that vitue.I would have liked to see some manifestation of solidarity with the bishops, even if Network doesn't agree with their analysis. We're unified by one faith, one set of beliefs. We're one church. They are our teachers in faith and morals, and this is an issue with a moral dimension. It's not outrageous to ask the various sectors of the church to show a modicum of civility and solidarity with one another on these important issues, especially in public utterances meant for external consumption.

"Im confused by your critique, Jim. By not mentioning the bishops, the sisters letter goes out of its way todisrespect the bishops? I did think their reference to "false claims" and "REAL pro-life stance" was to the bishops. But you're right - there are other pro-life groups making similar claims to the bishops'. Maybe I've just got bishops on the brain today.

I wonder if the sisters notified the Bishops beforehand. Or is this situation similar to the Notre Dame affair where, if I remember correctly, the local Bishop learned of the Obama choice for an honorary degree almost at the last moment?

Hi, Bernard, you're quite right that the bishops and their various staffers as in the Pro-Life Secretariat shouldn't be exempt from rules of civility and respect for others. The handful of their statements that I've been focusing on in all of these dicussions didn't strike me as out of line, but of course this is one of those things that is in the eye of the beholder.I agree it's not difficult to dredge up examples of bishops behaving badly. I'd like to see the sisters hold themselves to a higher standard of comportment than *that*. :-)

"Lets hear it for straighforward, plain spoken English."Clear and concise writing needn't exclude civility. There is a difference between respectful and obsequious.

Btw, I realize this is a tangent, but it's a serious question: if the bill passes, would religious sisters who currently receive no retirement benefits be eligible for better medical care?

Jim,The reality is that the bishops have made serious mistakes in faith and morals. We are unique in our times that conscientious Catholics cannot be guillotined for standing up to the bishops. Newman made a point that we should not choose the bishops over our conscience.It is not exusable to explain our wrong actions by stating that we followed the bishops. They have been wrong many times.

If American Catholics should speak with one voice, then a lot more people will need to be brought into the discussion. Our bishops can't just talk amongst themselves on political issues then expect all of the rest of us to just go along with whatever they decide. Some posters question whether the sisters communicated with the bishops before issuing this letter. Did the bishops include the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (and similar organizations) in their own conversations around this bill? As Bernard Dauenhauer pointed out, solidarity is a two way street. Communication works in both directions.

Hi, Irene - I think the sisters are entitled to their own opinions, and to speak them. Whatever else they are, they are also highly visible members of the same church as the bishops, and whatever they say will be perceived in that light. I think they need to keep this in mind in their public statements.

Jim,Is this what you had in mind for civility?"[G]roups, trade associations and publications describing themselves as Catholic or prolife that endorse the Senate version whatever their intentions are doing a serious disservice to the nation and to the Church, undermining the witness of the Catholic community; and ensuring the failure of genuine, ethical health-care reform. Such groupscreate confusion at exactly the moment Catholics need to think clearly about the remaining issues in the health-care debate. They also provide the illusion of moral cover for an unethical piece of legislation.

"Did the bishops include the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (and similar organizations) in their own conversations around this bill?"--------- (Have any bishops said anything about the investigation of nuns? Have those who pressed for it issued any explanations? Has any bishop told the investigators they are not welcome in his diocese? Have any bishops offered to be present when the investigators are investigating the nuns in their dioceses? Have any bishops offered to supply the paper shredders, computers, etc., which the investigators require?)

In the statement issued two days ago by the president of the USCCB, we read the following:"This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke."It seems to me that the last phrase is unnecessary, even somewhat snide.

Well said, John Page! And the comment is more than rude. Many of the moral objections have in fact been met. And when the Bishops--whose own credibility has been thrown into such question lately-- insist that any assurances the legislation can be amended to respond more explicitly to those moral objections are simply not to be believed, they are treading on dangerous ground.

One should really consider the source. This is a group of nuns from congregations that are dying, and dying for good reasons typified by this defiant statement which in its result is pro-abortion. I suspect that if you polled these nuns you would find a whole tissue of Church issues upon which they dissent. It will be better for the Church and for our country when these congregations finally pass from the scene. They are being and will be replaced by vibrant young congregations that are loyal to the Church. They will continue to do damage but not for many more years.

defiant statement which in its result is pro-abortion . . . .Eggloff,Oh really? Anyone who supports the Senate bill's language over the Stupak language is "pro-abortion"?

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.