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Who has the right to be right?

John Allen reports at NCR on the status of the USCCB's dispute with the Catholic Health Association over the latter's support for the health-care-reform bill the bishops opposed. His story includes an interview with the USCCB president, Cardinal Francis George, and the results are discouraging. Allen doesn't have any trouble understanding the CHA's position. The CHA has explained it very plainly, and they do so again in his report:

"We would not have supported the legislation if it were inconsistent with our values as a ministry of the church," said Colleen Scanlon, a lay medical professional and chair of the CHA Board of Trustees, in remarks opening the assembly.The association, she said, "firmly believes that the enacted law meets this fundamental, non-negotiable priority -- no federal funding for abortion."

And Sr. Carol Keehan says, again: "We did not differ on the moral question, or the teaching authority of the bishops." Pretty clear. But Cardinal George still seems confused about the nature of the disagreement.

"This may be a narrow disagreement, but it has exposed a very large principle," [George] said...."If the bishops have a right and a duty to teach that killing the unborn is immoral, they also have to teach that laws which permit and fund abortion are immoral," George said. "It seems that what some people are saying is that the bishops can't, or shouldn't, speak to the moral content of the law, that we should remain on the level of abstract principles."

"Some people" may be saying that, but the CHA most definitely isn't. (That's not what Commonweal has argued, either.) The bishops' "right and teach that laws which permit and fund abortion are immoral" has not been challenged by the CHA -- in fact, it has been endorsed. The CHA (and Commonweal) supported the law because it met the standards set forth by the bishops, in their (our) judgment. In other words, they (we) felt the bishops were wrong about whether the final bill met the standards they had laid out. As has been pointed out many times by now, that difference of opinion about the details of the legislation is not a challenge to the bishops' teaching authority or moral pronouncements. How has this distinction failed to penetrate the defenses of the USCCB?For Mark Silk, the lesson is plain: "So now we know: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cares more about its authority than being right." The June 18 Commonweal has an editorial on this subject, "Catholic Unity." Like Silk, we noted some conflict between what (some) bishops are saying now and the principles expressed in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Bishop Robert Lynch (of St. Petersburg) seems to have noticed a similar problem:

"I've been associated in one way or another with the episcopal conference of the United States since 1972," said Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. "I have never before this year heard the theory that we enjoy the same primacy of respect for legislative interpretation as we do for interpretation of the moral law."..."I think this theory needs to be debated and discussed by the body of bishops," he said.

You may recall that Lynch, who sits on the CHA board, found himself awkwardly caught between the USCCB and the CHA back in March. Perhaps he learned from that to examine the conference's claims more closely. Would that his brother bishops might do the same. Cardinal George seems to be holding out hope for "reconciliation" without any concessions on the part of the USCCB:

George said there's an "immediate area" of possible collaboration with the CHA, which is the bishops' desire to insert stronger anti-abortion language, based on the Hyde Amendment, into the new health care law."If we can jointly support that change to the law, it would go a long way to fostering reconciliation," he said.

Perhaps. But the bishops' taking the time to correctly interpret the positions of the CHA and other Catholics who supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would go a lot further to rebuild damaged credibility and trust.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Very interesting debate. Everybody agrees that the bishops should elaborate on moral principles and Catholics apply those principles to the facts and circumstances on the ground. The issue is that the bishops often go beyond the mere statement of principles and speak about more detailed legislative issues. In itself, that is fine - I certainly think they are right to (say) oppose the Arizona immigration legislation and support S-CHIP. But the right for years have been telling the bishops to butt out of these areas.The problem, as usual, is inconsistency. On war and torture, the bishops spelt out the principles (just war criteria, torture is always wrong) but never went any further. They never said explicitly that the Iraq war was wrong, whereas any reasonable reading of the just war principles would conclude that it was (and to make the affirmative case for war, the likes of Novak and Weigel had to actually distort the principles). They never explicitly condemned the Bush-Cheney torture techniques either.Put it this way: as a prudential matter, the likelihood that the Iraq war was wrong was greater than the likelihood that this healthcare reform will lead to a spike in abortions.

Who is saying that bishops shouldn't teach? Apparently George took another approach in his remarks to the USCCB executive committee.

This quote, from the CNA story Grant just linked to, would suggest that Cardinal George does understand where the difference actually lies -- even as he insists that the issue is bigger than that. (Of course, "equally valid" isn't quite right -- if the CHA thought the bishop's determination that no Catholic could support the PPACA was "valid," they wouldn't have differed from it. "Equally worthy of consideration," perhaps.) I'd like to see the text of his remarks in its entirety...

In that regard, Cardinal George highlighted that the USCCB and CHAs positions on Obamas health care are not just two equally valid conclusions inspired in the same Catholic teaching, and reiterated that what the bishops said on May 21 in their statement Setting the record Straight is and will remain the official position of the USCCB on the contentious issue.

I guess that last line answers our question about to what extent a statement signed by three bishops should be taken to represent the conference as a whole.

MSW over at America blog had a fine piece on Fr. Hehir's recent talk on this and health care issues in Boston.I think he got it right in terms of the complexity.I also think the Cardinal needs to be less defensive about the every words emanating from USCCB.

I can understand Cardinal George's concern that he should be able make publlic statements which relate principles to specific legislation or to any other matter. But let him do it *as an individual* under his own name only, just as Benedic XVI published his recent book on Jesus under the name Joseph Ratzinger. This would result, no doubt in different bishops making different statements, but that's as it should be. But as soon as the whole group pretends to be a semi-council, the Church and society is in trouble.In fact, the American bishops do have a lot of expertise in matters of health care, immigration.. education, etc,, and the country can benefit from their perspectives and considered opinions. But let them speak as individuals.

"One highlight was a video tribute from President Barack Obama, hailing the "help and courage" of the CHA as well as the "extraordinary leadership" of Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA president."This is not good for Catholic unity.

"Cardinal George highlighted that the USCCB and CHAs positions on Obamas health care are not just two equally valid conclusions inspired in the same Catholic teaching, "This is true but not to the point. The CHA reads the legislation one way and the USCCB reads it another way. The question is: Whose interpretative reading is correct? Both parties agree on the moral issues. George appeals to episcopal authority as decisive. But episcopal authority does not apply when the question is: What are the provisions of the law? One who appeals to his authority in a sphere to which his authority does not extend tends to lose credibility.

Why not, Jim?

I find it ironic that they are complaining about "Catholic unity" on this issue. Where was the concern for unity when the Catholic right was fighting tooth-and-nail against this reform, on purely ideological grounds? What was so hard about distinguishing between valid and invalid reasons for opposing the bill? By staying silent, they gave cover to the nutty right that has no time for Catholic social teaching.

Since the purpose of the Hyde Amendment, (otherwise referred to as the spirit of the law) is that the United States Government NOT be complicit in the act of intentionally destroying a Human Life, Sr.Carol Keehan should admit she was mistaken. All Government sponsored health care plans that provide the option for purchasing elective abortion coverage remain a government sponsored health care plan even if the elective abortion coverage is purchased with separate funds. In other words, according to the spirit of the law, without the government sponsored healthcare plan to begin with, there would be no option for elective abortion coverage. The Government is complicit in the act of elective abortion by providing the option to purchase elective abortion coverage. It appears that President Obama is on the offence once again.

The thing I have never seen the bishops say:"G.W. Bush divided Catholic unity, and Catholic supported him over the bishops," though that clearly is true, and not just on matters of prudence, but principles. Indeed, one of the big problems is that the way the bishops have read the health care reform, if followed consistently, would ultimately lead someone to say "we must reject the Constitution" because the Constitution itself doesn't forbid abortion!

I remember when Austin Ruse, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, said GW Bush was The Second Catholic President. Talk about divisive! But no one cared...

The USCCB and Nancy believe Obama's EO is a lie or ruse? So Catholic unity is we must believe Obama is lying too? No... we have the Eucharist and the Creed as signs of Catholic unity. . I also believe tugging forelocks is not part of Catholic unity.

I think this discussion is not being framed correctly. The question is not, "who is right?" That question might be open to debate.The questions are really, "Who gets to speak in the name of the Church? Who gets to say 'this is what Catholics stand for'? " The problem is not that CHA advanced a different opinion. Catholics may personally disagree with any number of things the Church says. But we don't have the right to then step out in public and equate our personal discernment with the Church's. The problem is that CHA either gullibly or complicitly allowed itself to be used as an alternative magisterium by a certain group of politicians who were looking for a way to "Catholic up" their legislation in direct opposition to the stated position of the USCCB. Reasonable people may disagree on whether a certain piece of legislation is better than another piece of legislation, but that's not really the question here. The question is who gets to speak for the Church. Is it, as Bp Lynch's comments suggest, that anyone who is Catholic and attempts to act in good faith has the right to say, "Catholics may believe or do thus-and-such" or is speaking in the name of the Church a responsibility that ultimately lies with the Bishops' ministry to teach, govern, or sanctify?As Cdl George points out to anyone willing to actually listen, the debate is not really about politics. It's about ecclesiology. Let him who has ears...G

Ed, you are mistaken. What I said was, " It appears that President Obama is on the offence again." I suppose he could actually be playing some defence. You decide:

GregActually, we have a right to disagreement, when dealing with prudential reasoning, and a right to declare our disagreement to interpretations of legal documents, without it being a division of church unity. Of course, one must respect the authority of the bishops, but that authority must also be understood for where it lies, and not moved beyond that. We must also remember, the bishops were not united in their interpretation of health care reform, that at least one bishop made public his agreement with the CHA.

Everyone has the right to be right, but no one has the right to manipulate The Truth.

Greg, you are mistaken. Your framework is the one Cardinal George insists on, but it's not actually the relevant question here.

The questions are really, Who gets to speak in the name of the Church? Who gets to say this is what Catholics stand for?

The bishops, of course. That has never been in question for the CHA et al., the ones who say the PPACA is acceptable according to the prolife standards established by the bishops. It is, in fact, the background to the discussion about applying Catholic principles to this particular law.

Re Gregory Popcak's "the question is who gets to speak for the church":The issue here was that of speaking about a piece of civil legislation, a very complex piece of civil legislation.Given the sections of Lumen Gentium about the role of the laity (paragraphs 30 ff), how can the bishops rightly tell Catholic legislators and other informed lay people tha it is somehow an official position of the church that all Catholics ought to oppose the legislation?Bishop Lynch clearly sees something that apparently escapes Cardinal George. If one were consistently to follow Cardinal George's position, then it is hard to see what these sections of Lumen Gentium could possibly mean. On his position, if I'm not mistaken, the laity's competence in such matters can always be set aside whenever the bishops decide to do so.Note that in the case at hand, the health bill does not require that anyone undergo or perform an abortion. The bishops would be right to denounce a bill that required such a thing. Blocking or not blocking access is something else again. That's a matter for civil law to determine, informed by moral principles, but not always enforcing these principle by the force of civil law.

Mollie and Henry, I should have waited for your remarks. I need not have "piled on."

In the area of legislative advocacy, it's not just who gets to speak for the Church, but more importantly, who gets to speak for Catholic voters. I think if the bishops would like to hold out that they speak for American Catholics on political issues, they need to do much more legwork reaching out to the larger Catholic community. No one gets to take my vote for granted, not even my religious leaders; I imagine I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Lumen Gentium:They [the Laity] are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.The intricacies of heathcare law is an area not within the bishops special expertise. Those members who do have expertise have an obligaiotnto speak out and teach their bishops with reverence and charity. The bishops have ac orrepsonding duty to seriously listen and learn, again with reverence, charity and, I would also suggest, some humility.

The USCCB had about 48 hours to discern the efficacy of the Executive Order, Reveal the who what where of the research done in that time frame.

Molly,Thank you for your comment. But no, I still think its the relevant question. Here's why. Even in light of the quotes from LG, which I strenuously support, when there is a difference of opinion there has to be a body that determine, if not "who's right?" then at least, "what are we going with here?"In a family, there might be a dispute about whether we as a group are going to eat at the Italian place or the Thai place tonight. In a business, there may be several, workable, legitimate proposals, but someone has to say, "this is the public position of the company from this point forward." Everyone has a right to an opinion, but ultimately someone gets to make the call. "The call" isn't necessarily the "right" answer, but it's the answer that, for many different reasons, seem to be more in character with who "we" are at that particular time. That's what this debate is about. When faithful, informed Catholics disagree, who gets to make "the call" for the Catholic family in the public square? And, once "the call" is made, what are the limits that constrain the family members regarding independent action in the name of the family. Does every well-intentioned Catholic get to say, "This is Catholic!" "Yes, and this is too!" "And This!" "And this!" Or, is there a point, on certain important matters, where Catholic Bishops have a right to step in and say, "Thank you for all of your input. Now, this is the direction we've decided to go." and expect the faithful to get on board for the good of the family without being intentionally undermined by these alternative magisteria of the left and right?Or we could just be Anglican. ;-) G

Greg, your example (and your "alternative magisteria" crack) might make sense if we were talking about disagreement on a matter of principle -- e.g., the notion that Catholics should oppose direct federal funding of abortion. But beyond that point, no. The idea that Catholics must have a body to decide "what we're going with here" is not just wrong, it's an anti-Catholic caricature of long standing. If we use your analogy, what we now have is the head of the family deciding that we should have Italian food for dinner, and then ruling that we absolutely cannot eat at Mamma Mia's, the only nearby Italian restaurant, because they don't serve Italian food (regardless of what the menu says). Is the rest of the family obliged to keep mum and go without dinner because Dad doesn't know an Italian restaurant when he sees one?

Greg, to be clear, our personal and public discernment must be consistent with the Catholic Church in regards to Faith and Morals. This means that Catholics must oppose elective abortion.

"Greg, you are mistaken. Your framework is the one Cardinal George insists on"Mollie et al - I'm not certain, at least in the documents we've been shown in this thread, exactly what it is that "Cardinal George insists on".If I may, I'd like to present two poles, both of which I think are incorrect if pushed to the extreme.The episcopal-maximalist pole: "All Catholics should follow the bishops' lead, as though it were a matter of faith and morals, in the political sphere, to the best of their ability."The episcopal-minimalist pole: "Bishops teach moral principles. Legislation encompasses applications of moral principles but is not the same as morality. Bishops have authority to teach the principles, but have no special authority or claim on the interpretation of the moral dimensions of legislation. In fact, there really is nothing wrong with the notion of 'alternative magisteria' if 'magisteria' in this regard is understood as authority to teach on the content of legislation, because (some) non-episcopal Catholics are at least as holy, well-educated and politically astute as the bishops."My impression - and I invite correction if this is not right - is that Commonweal's view, as well as the view of various commenters here, tends toward the epsicopal-minimalist pole.I suspect - and again, invite correction if this is wrong - that a lot of folks here believe that Cardinal Geroge's view tends toward the episcopal-maximalist pole.I'm suggesting that there isn't enough information given in Cardinal George's statements presented here, to assume how close to episcopal-maximalism he comes.(In support of the notion that he is not an episcopal maximalist, I would point to the fact that the bishops and CHA are talking, and that apparently they are sanguine of a good outcome of that talk. Dialoguing is not the same as firing off orders).

"Why not, Jim?"I don't think it's good for the CHA to be perceived as being too aligned with a particular political party or administration.

It is not about minimalist -- the issue is the kind of authority which must be understood; ecclesial authority differs according to the type of issue.

I'm not sure how CH is aligned with a particular party - though in this horriblly partisan country, one might be perceived that way for taking a stand on an issue.I do think Jim is right , viz. lots of folks here are episcopal minimalists (though that sounds like one of the old apologetic categories that can easily be too simplistic) and the Cardinal a maximalist ( as, for example, his desire to bring Catholic universities and periodicals into line with his and the hierachy's thinking on all things.)I also think Greg is confusing an official position with both a final answer and (to borrow a phrase) the Truth from the beginning.Hierarcical credibility will only occur when there is again balance in the church.I don't think you can minimalize or pooh pooh that.Msgr, Harry Byrne notes that in his latest blog post at Archangel summarizes the problem that many see as he talks about (where have I heard the word)"implosion" in the Church.

I dont think its good for the CHA to be perceived as being too aligned with a particular political party or administration.Jim,If the Stupak amendment had succeeded, and the USCCB had continued with their support for health care reform, they would have been working entirely with the Democratic Party. They stood ready to endorse a bill that no Republican would have voted for.

The pro-USCCB posters make the Hyde amendment, that allows abortion to save thw mother. etc etc, sound like the epitome of Catholic doctrine.. Say hello to the Phoenix hospital.

David - the passage in the House of the Stupak amendment was the most (only?) bipartisan moment in the health care slog.

David N - to continue with your (good) point about the USCCB and the Hyde Amendment - suppose that, as everyone originally expected, the House and Senate had gone into conference with their two bills, and the resulting compromise measure had retained the key provisions of the Stupak Amendment, and that this compromise had become law - again, with no Republican support.Had that happened, I would think that both the CHA and the USCCB would have been ok (if not, on the USCCB's part, ecstatic) with the final bill. But yes, you're right, they would have been happy with a hyper-partisan bill.

Bishop Lynch commented that he had never before heard the theory that the bishops "enjoy the same primacy of respect for legislative interpretation " that they "do for interpretation of the moral law" and he added, "I think this theory needs to be debated and discussed by the body of bishops." Fine idea, if the bishops did their homework, gave it their highest priority to understand the nuances of a complex problem, and had Bishop Lynch's brand of courage to speak their minds to each other.

Jim P said: "I dont think its good for the CHA to be perceived as being too aligned with a particular political party or administration."I ask: --- and what about the Catholic bishops? Hearken back to the most recent administration and the current Republican party.Pot? Kettle?

Jim, I am episcopal minimalist as you describe it, if I can make one change to your definition. "Alternative magisteria" exist wherever non-bishops have special expertise in a particular subject. Doctors, plumbers, parents,etc. teach within the bounds of their own competence. Hospital administrators teach, = exercise their magisterium, within the field of administering health care.The bishops have a responsibility to exercise a different kind of magisterium, which is not based on competence but on charism. Fidelity to that gift means keeping the balance between faith and reason by evaluating the expertise of catholics trained in their field. The bishops do not appear to have done that in this instance. They tried, but they overweighted LEGAL opinion against expertise in administering health care, and then blurred the distinctions among those different kinds of 'knowledge'. They fudged their authority on moral issues to make it appear as if they were valid guides on legal interpretation and medical administration.

Here's another question--what sort of professional advice should bishops seek when they attempt to influence the flock on mixed questions of facts and morals? Why not get two or three independent law firms to produce white papers?

"Why not get two or three independent law firms to produce white papers."Because many, not all, law firms do not understand The Spirit of The Law or The Constitution, which would only lead to more mixed questions in regards to questions of Faith and Morals.

for example, to say that the Constitution does not forbid abortion, is to say that the Constitution does not protect our fundamental Right to Life.

Nancy ==You might appreciate these words of wisdom from Daniel Patrick Moynihan:"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."Principles, facts, hypotheses, explanations, opinions. We really must be careful to distinguish them.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, fact or fiction?

Cathleen, a question. Suppose bishops got the sort of advice you suggest. Then what? Ought they to claim that, having gotten advice, they "speak for the church" and therefore can tell Catholic legislators what they are obliged to do if they are to be good Catholics? I doubt that you mean this, but I can't presume to speak for you.

Nancy --Those words are from the Declaration of Independence, not the U. S. Cont\stitution. Since when does Thomas Jefferson and/or the founding fathers have the status of Catholic bishops?

Jim, I lean toward episcopal minimalism, but I don't suggest that there is any alternative "magisterium" constituted by lay people. We lay people have our own spheres of competence, but they are always spheres of fallibility. So, when I agree with the Catholic Health Association's assessment of the health care bill, I'm not proposing an "alternative magisterial interpretation." I'm just saying that so far as I can tell, its position makes more sense than what the bishops have said. If you will, I am denying that there is anything "magesterial" about the bishops statements in the health care debate, but that does not imply that i would be claiming anything "magisterial" for the CHA posotion that I endorse.By the way, lots of serious thinkers--I don't include myself in that number-- have fretted about a Roman tendency to extend claims about infallibility too broadly. Cardinal Newman certainly was one of these thinkers.

Let's not lose Joe McFaul's excellent contribution on competencies. In my opinion, Cardinal George is smarting because CHA made more reasonable arguments in support of universal health care without compromising the Church's position on abortion and were able in the end to guarantee both, whereas the bishops were willing to sacrifice universal health care for the sake of a misunderstanding of what the health care bill was about. They are embarrassed to have been outmaneuvered by the laity in bringing about both goals they had publicly declared to be their own, when they were really only interested in defeating universal health care. They chose to ally themselves with Republicans and their base rather than with their own people who had a better grasp of the issues and the bill itself, and who never sold out the poor they way they were willing to do. They should be ashamed. but they should admit their mistake and move on for the sake of Catholic unity. I think it is George who is being devisive and not CHA.

Bernard:From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:Christ . . . fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy . . . but also by the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word.CHA was not establishing an alternative magisterium they expressed the sensus fidelium in the magisterial vacuum created by the bishops on this matter.

To paraphrase one of the points in an article by Fr. Joe K. called Authority and Conversion or: the Limits of Authority: Authority is an exercise of power and is also a social relationship between two parties with a common interest. Legitimate authority rests on more than the exercise of mere compulsion; it rests on the acknowledgment of the parties that one has the ability to contribute something that the other cannot. The party accepting the authority trusts that the other has the capacity to make the contribution and thus freely recognizes that partys authority. For example, university students typically trust that their professors are providing accurate information and do not fact check every detail. If there is a credibility gap, if there is an unwillingness to display sources or data, or to argue coherenly, authority is compromised because there is no trustworthiness.I think the bishops are trying to claim an authority by right of office that they have not earned by their actions.

Someone said the bishops have their authority because of their charism, not because of their competence.Something seems very, very wrong with this. If there is no competence, there is no trust and there *should* be trust. So my question is: exactly what is this charism of a bishop as bishop? What are the relationships between charism. authority and competence? I find these words "charism", 'authority", and above all "magisterium" to be quite cloudy as used by the bishops and theologians. The bishops' charism seems to be a kind of teaching function for the good of the Church, but what sort of teaching function and how is it related to competence? The phrase "the magisterium" (singular) is usually used and it thus implies there is only one, but history tells us that there have been many different teachings.Last comment: to what degree should there be a unity of belief in the Church? If the Church is indeed a family (metaphorically, of course), then, as happens in strong families, the members will often disagree but will learn from each other. The premium put on unity by some Catholics can be a straight-jacket.

"and to secure these Rights, governments are instituted by Men, a.k.a., The Constitution, fact or fiction?The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic...From the CCC: "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own positions of teaching authority." CCC,no.77

Far be it from me to pass up an opportunity to acknowledge that the editors of Commonweal have a valid point. I think there's a legitimate concern that sufficient room be afforded to the prudential judgment of the faithful as they evaluate whether proposed legislation is in accord with Catholic teaching. Having said that, I think what's really troubling the bishops is their suspicion of the true motives of the CHA, and others like them. If these people voted for the president, who can deny the bishops are have good reason to feel as they do?

"I think whats really troubling the bishops is their suspicion of the true motives of the CHA, and others like them. If these people voted for the president, who can deny the bishops are have good reason to feel as they do?"An intellectually honest positon and, if true, this is what should have been said: "We agree tha the law as drafted does not allow for federally funded abortions. We oppose this law because we do not trust supporters of this reform act who will either ignore the law as written, amend the law later, or simply nullify a executive order. Because we do not trust our polictical opponents we must oppose this law."Perhaps a hard truth, but bishops are not very good at speaking hard truths when obfuscations are radily available. Speaking in obsfucations is clearly not an exercise of the teaching authority and can safely be disregarded.

How blessed we are to have such multi-talented bishops. Cardinal George is a lawyer. The guy in Phoenix is a medical doctor. Apparently they are all capable of giving theological interpretation, legal advice, medical consultations and who knows what else, straight from the mind of God to their lips. I can't believe I have spent all these years wasting money on attorney's fees and doctors' bills when I had this fount of inexhaustible episcopal wisdom available to me. Maybe instead of hiring faculty members Catholic universities should just play tape recordings of their bishops' homilies for the students to listen to. It would be so much more enlightening.

I have done two posts, within the last year, on the issue of ecclesial authority. The latter was written with the debates on health care reform in mind -- and might be of interest to people. It also points out that there will be places where their authority is high, and other issues where their authority will be low, which is why minimalism/maximalism is a false divide:

What the Bishops failed to do in regards to the Health Care Bill, is to point out the obvious fact that elective abortion is not Health Care, to begin with.

Catholic Catechism: " the sense of the faith [sensus fidei] and the grace of the word."OK, so we are provided with the sense of the faith and the grace of the word. Now what do those phrases MEAN? What did "sensus" mean to the bishops of Vatican II? What *sort* of grace is the grace of the word? What authority if any do those give us?Contemporary theologians, please answer.

We need to remember when it doesn't track that some bishops are prelates of the Wholly Republican Church.

"Heres another questionwhat sort of professional advice should bishops seek when they attempt to influence the flock on mixed questions of facts and morals?"Cathleen - don't judges occasionally appoint 'special masters' to tutor them on arcane topics on which a judge can't be expected to be an expert, e.g. computer software source code, or genetics? It's probably not perfectly analogous, though, because the special master is only on the payroll for a particular case? And perhaps the opposing parties mutually agree to her appointment?

"An intellectually honest positon and, if true, this is what should have been said: We agree tha the law as drafted does not allow for federally funded abortions. "Joe, fwiw - the bishops' actual position is that they *don't* agree that the law as drafted does not allow for federally funded abortions. They have commented voluminously (some might say, repetitively and even tediously :-)) on this.

The competency argument cuts both ways, though. Nobody would dispute that the CHA is competent on matters of health care policy. But recall that the bishops didn't oppose the health care reform bill for reasons of health care policy. They opposed it (among other reasons) for *pro-life* reasons.Is the CHA competent on political pro-life matters? I'm not suggesting they're *in*competent, but ... are they experts? If so, wherein lies their expertise?I don't perceive that they're particularly expert on political pro-life issues. Honestly, I have no reason to suppose that they are as competent as the bishops' conference, which has a full-time pro-life office that has complied a long track record of lobbying and educating on pro-life political issues.

Re: episcopal minimalism: I'm probably somewhere on that half of the continuum, too. But ... the church documents themselves are also amenable to a more maximalist interpretation. For example, there is this from Lumen Gentium 37 (#37 could provide a lot of inspiriation/insight for this conversation, istm):"The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God. Nor should they omit to pray for those placed over them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of their souls, so that they may do this with joy and not with grief.(211)"

Hi Jim,I think yopu've hot the nail on the head."The bishops actual position is that they *dont* agree that the law as drafted does not allow for federally funded abortions."If that is their positon, then they are factually incorrect. It's not disputable. They are as wrong as if they had just annoucend that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. How did they get so wrong?For exactly the same reason they have blown the clergy sex abuse scandal. You are *never* wrong when all your advisors are sycophants. Bishops do not retain advisors who disagree with "Your Holiness." Instead they are told daily by their closest advisors tha they are holy, wise and always right. This is a grave structural and easily repaired defect in the Church.The quesiton at issue is: "Does the health care reform act federally fund abortions more than they are already? There is an objectively correct answer to that question and there are highly competent Catholic laity who know that answer.When the bishops ignore those Catholics, its a very bad thing. When the bishops reject out of hand the expertise those Catholics offer, it's morally wrong and a sin of Pride.Now, if the bishops correctly ascertained that there was some indirect way that healthcare reform might otherwise facilitate abortions, then that may be material or formal cooperation with evil. I expect the bishops to be competent to teach on material and formal cooperation as applied to real world situations.The bishops are by their teaching authority entilted to teach on faith and morals in the real world. They are not entitlled to their own reality.

Joe McFaul, please let me ask you to clarify your remark that if the health care reform bill "might otherwise facilitate abortions, then that may be material or formal cooperation with evil. I expect the bishops to be competent to teach on faith and morals in the real world." 1. What counts as "facilitation?" Does failing to enact legal impediments to an action count as morally cooperating with that action, should it be performed?2. If the bishops do accurately conclude that x amounts to material or formal cooperation with evil, does it follow that a legislator confronted with a complex piece of legislation, of which x is a part, have a moral obligation to oppose the entire piece of legislation even if he or she has done everything feasible to prevent x from being part of the legislation? Would it make a difference if the evil in question is positively encouraged by the legislation or is instead not actively opposed? Perhaps mistakenly, I think that these two questions are a crucial part of any analysis of the rightness or wrongness of the USCCB's rejection of the health care bill recently enacted.

recall that the bishops didnt oppose the health care reform bill for reasons of health care policy. They opposed it (among other reasons) for *pro-life* reasons.Jim, I cannot recall that because I have only ever known the opposite. The bishops opposed the health care bill because they judged that the mechanisms in the bill would constitute funding of abortion. Planned Parenthood may have reached a similar judgment. It is not a position on pro-life politics, but about how health care is administered. The CHA has some expertise in this area, and probably should have been consulted by the bishops. After answering that question, the bishops then made a decision about pro-life politics. (or perhaps they answered that question based on pro-life politics, rather than health care policy) But they disagreed first with the CHA on the question of how health care will be administered, and subsequent disagreements simply follow from that difference.

I wrote: The bishops actual position is that they *dont* agree that the law as drafted does not allow for federally funded abortions.Joe McF replied: "If that is their positon, then they are factually incorrect. Its not disputable. They are as wrong as if they had just annoucend that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east."Joe - despite your certitude, they are disputing it. There have been a number of threads already in dotCom that hash and rehash it all. I'm not going to take up the mantle at this point. Maybe someone else will want to.

"Now, if the bishops correctly ascertained that there was some indirect way that healthcare reform might otherwise facilitate abortions, then that may be material or formal cooperation with evil. "Yes, providing enormous blocs of government funding to pay for abortions is, indeed, material cooperation with evil. If it isn't, then neither is providing enormous blocs of government funding to pay for secret prisons in which suspected terrorists are tortured.

"recall that the bishops didnt oppose the health care reform bill for reasons of health care policy. They opposed it (among other reasons) for *pro-life* reasons.""Jim, I cannot recall that because I have only ever known the opposite. The bishops opposed the health care bill because they judged that the mechanisms in the bill would constitute funding of abortion."Jim McK - opposing the funding of abortion is a *pro-life* position. How can that not be clear?

There is little doubt that in November the Republican Party will have as one of its main themes the repeal of PPACA. The US bishops will surely be sympathetic to this objective in the same way in which they largely favored the Republicans in 2008. If the Republicans should succeed in achieving a repeal, isn't it likely that health care insurance reform will be doomed, certainly in the near term and most likely in the long. Will the bishops and their advisors, who appear to have decided to read the the bill as passed in the most negative and suspicious ways possible, show regret for the fact that 32 million people who would have had insurance through the PPACA will then be denied it?

"Honestly, I have no reason to suppose that they are as competent as the bishops conference, which has a full-time pro-life office that has complied a long track record of lobbying and educating on pro-life political issues."Jim P. --When the gentlemen from the pro-life office visited here I asked him where the official arguments of the Church regarding abortion are to be found. I'm still waiting for an answer.If they bishops were competent he'd have had an answer.

I should have done research first. My repeal scenario appears all but impossible even if the Republicans gain control of the House and increase their numbers, but not gain control, in the Senate. However, could they with increased numbers in both bodies find ways to significantly gut major provisions of the legislation as it stands?And, since the bishops have belittled the worth of the Executive Order, seeing it as extremely vulnerable to judicial challenge, would they readily lend their support to such a challenge (or challenges) in the courts?

Jim, the point was that opposing the funding of abortion was only part of the decision. (indeed, the CHA also opposes the funding of abortion) There is an added consideration, whether the bill funds abortion. That is not a pro-life position, but a determination that should be made by those with expertise in that matter.If a> the bill funds abortion, AND b>it is morally proper to oppose the funding of abortion, then c> the bill should be opposed. The latter propositions are about pro-life politics, but the first is not. It is a question of legislation and health care policy. It is within the bishops' competence about as much as repairing a sink is. They can make all kinds of declarations about whether the bill funds abortions, or which washer should be put where, but it is not going to make any difference to the facts. It will not even make the issue a matter of pro-life politics.

Now of course this whole kurfuffell is just one more reason few in the USA pay much attention to the Catholic view; there really isnt one.Thanks to Sr. Keehan and others who have for so many years done their level best to undermine the Magisterium, the CHA managed to do yet another end-run around this nation's Bishops. No wonder so few take Catholics into account.Of course the nuns associated with CHA were wrong to go against the USCCB in supporting this legislation.The bishops asked for three main things:1 - That the health care legislation not use tax dollars to pay for abortions 2 - That the legislation provide universal coverage, mainly that include all the poor, as well as the indocumentados living here.3 - That we keep in mind the notion of subsidiarity.In the end the legislation will fund abortion (albeit in a round-about way) and it does not provide coverage for all of this nation's poor; it specifically states that indocumentados will not be allowed to participate.Well now, that is something isn't it?It is clear now that neither CHA or Sr. Keehan has helped very much - at all.

In Reply to Bernard,I leave the distinction between "materal" and "formal" cooepration for the bishops' expertise. I personally find that distinction muddled, internally inconsistent and confusing, but am willing to be taught differently. I suspect that the distinction is also "prudential." My wife once obtained a job processing madical claims for a large insurer. After a few weeks she got her first abortion calim to be processed. I can make several arguments why processing that claim was neither material nor formal cooperation with evil. Nevertheless, she decided that she in good conscience could not do that job and quit. I considert eh possibility that another good Catholci may have legitimately reached a different decision

"I leave the distinction between materal and formal cooepration for the bishops expertise. I personally find that distinction muddled, internally inconsistent and confusing, but am willing to be taught differently."Joe McFaul --Me too. That's what happens when you use terms metaphorically in a metaphysical discussion. Use of the terms "matter" and "form" in biology can be clear, but when we use them in an analogous sense in ethical discussions we're dealing with another matter (if you'll excuse the expression). The use of rarified and metaphorical thinking isn't likely to persuade anybody unlessf the meanings of the terms have been stipulated in such a way that those meanings are crystal clear. I won't hold my breath waiting for them, and if the meanings are made clear I suspect that the bishops are going to be the losers in the argument anyway.

Ann, If the question is a metaphysical one, as in to be or not to be, I think the Bishops are well aware and Biology confirms, that we come into being at the moment of our creation at Conception, when a unique Human Individual exists. According to our Founding Fathers, it is at the moment of our creation that we are endowed with the fundamental Right to Life. (except for some commas, its all there in one sentence because each point flows from the previous point.)This does not change the fact that the debate in regards to the Health Care Bill should have been centered on the fact that abortion is not Health Care and not trying to keep the "status quo" as defined by the Hyde Amendment.

P.S., referring to the self-evident Truths upon which this Nation was formed does not make one a libertarian.

"Ann, If the question is a metaphysical one, as in to be or not to be, I think the Bishops are well aware and Biology confirms, that we come into being at the moment of our creation at Conception, when a unique Human Individual exists. "Nancy --True. But the question is, just when does the moment of conception occur? I mean, just when in the process of gestation does the person come into being? This generation of bishops think it's when sperm joins egg. But they are in the minority of Catholic bishops about this issue. Over the last 2000 years most Catholic bishops didn't take that position. Since the current bishops don't have any complete philosophical arguments supporting their view, isn't it best to go along with the earlier bishops?.Let me ask you about that -- why do you think that when bishops and popes disagree that you should always accept the opinions/interpretations of the contemporary bishops and popes? Since the teachings have not been universal -- the bishops have disagreed -- why choose one bishop or pope over another?

Thanks, Joe, for responding. To you and to Ann, I'd say that the terms 'matter' (material) and 'form' as used in Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics are analogical terms. To use them in that context is not to engage in metaphorical discourse. And for what it's worth, Joe, though there is much reason to applaud your wife's decision about her job and paying claims for abortions, I would consider whatever material cooperation her doing so to be far too remote to have required her to decide to resign.

Bernard --How do you define "matter" and "form" in their ethical senses? (I don't, of course, mean when "matter" and "form" are used in ethics to describe a human substances. That's the basic, metaphysical meaning.) I mean ethical "matter" and ethical "form" (or "species"????). They always seem to me to be loaded down with Aristotelian biological associations that make the meanings very, very cloudy to me. is interesting. It seems Cardinal George has been misquoted.

"That the health care legislation not use tax dollars to pay for abortions." Actually, from what I understood, the USCCB basically said, at least originally, that the status quo would be acceptable. The fact is that, according to the status quo, one can find all kinds of ways "abortion is being funded," should be considered in all such discussions. No one has said that we must all renounce private health care insurance, even if the companies pay for abortions. Nonetheless, the law as it was passed actually funds less, and more indirectly, than the status quo, and allows one to become even less involved with the funding of abortion. So, if we deal with the issue according to the status quo, it was met.

Thanks, Henry - especially for the link to the USCCB media blog. So the CNA/EWTN story Grant linked to above (see it here), which quoted Cardinal George sounding much more combative than he did talking to John Allen, is not accurate, according to the USCCB. I have no problem believing that, but I'd still love to see what George actually said. I'm confused by this:

For CNN to elaborate even more on what CNA said in error is even more disturbing. If CNN had tried to verify the citations, it would have learned that CNA fabricated quotes. It also would not have made its huge and erroneous assumption that the issue in question was an example of the bishops at odds with the sisters.

Has the CNN story been altered since the USCCB blog lodged its complaint? I don't see any elaborating; just a cobbling together of quotes from NCR and CNA. Every time they quote the CNA story, they note the source -- so I think it's still safe to say the fabrications in the CNA/EWTN news story are the most disturbing part of this whole thing.

Fascinating. I wonder whether all the quotes are fabricated. Osman writes, "To honor the bishops privacy and confidentiality, we will not be releasing the transcript. Its unfortunate if someone breached that confidentiality." If? Osman was at that meeting. Is she suggesting that the story contains some accurate reporting or is entirely false? If the quotes are fabricated, then where's the breach of confidentiality?

It would be nice to have a (single) theory of the crime. The sentence you quote, Grant, offers two: "Its unfortunate if someone breached that confidentiality; also unfortunate if CNA tried to take an educated guess at what the cardinal might have said and cobbled together its own fabrication of the session." That seems to rule out the possibility that there was a credentialed CNA reporter observing the meeting (which the CNA/EWTN article implies -- no sources for the information are named, which suggests, apparently falsely, that the article is a first-hand account). So either CNA's reporters made that story up out of thin air, or they had a source who attended the meeting and reported back to them, erroneously, on what Cardinal George said. The latter would be a breach of confidentiality, I suppose, even if the information was wrong. And, again, the notion of a USCCB insider/staffer leaking information, especially inflammatory and false information, to CNA/EWTN strikes me as far more disturbing than what CNN did with the resulting article.

More likely they had a source who attended the meeting. It wouldn't be the first time a bishop leaked confidential information to the press (and I use that term loosely). It's possible the source misunderstood the cardinal, or embellished according to his own biases. It would be foolish to intentionally leak falsifiable information to CNA--especially given George's interest in the question, "Who speaks for the church?"

The CNA story is disturbing, but not for the breach of confidentiality, at least from my point of view -- leaks happen all the time, and are often vital for getting information out. But the CNA reporting is so shoddy that it makes a mockery of Catholic journalism. No byline on the story, no sourcing, no context, no nothing. And then it turns out (apparently) that the quotes are wrong. CNA is a certified Catholic media outlet, and their practices are appalling, at least in this case. My assumption was that a bishop wrote or supplied the information. That needed to be disclosed. In any case, I actually don't think the central issue changes much: The bishops' leadership were and still are very much at odds with the sisters (and many other Catholics who support HCR). The tone seems somewhat different, but George in both cases seems to reiterate the points he made with John Allen. Also, I don't think we can make a proper judgment on the tone and content of Cdl George's talk until we see the full transcript. Otherwise, we have one person's word against another -- even though I'd trust Helen a good deal more than CNA!

"The sentence you quote, Grant, offers two."You left out the possibility that Helen Osman's statements may not be accurate.

Nancy, you're right, I did neglect to explore the possibility that the USCCB's spokesperson is simply lying. The CNA is now saying that's the case.Please see the blog post above from Peggy Steinfels for further discussion of the latest he-said, she-said details.

You could ask Cardinal George which statements are accurate. This is not to say that there has not been spins placed on statements that were accurate making it appear that those statements reflect something other than what was actually stated resulting in a delusion of the original statement.

My interpretation of the CNN quote is that CNN heightened what it found in the misquotes, making it an objectively worse sounding division -- the one who causes the error is greater in subjective guilt, but the objective problem can be worse with someone whose subjective error is less.

And you are welcome, Mollie -- I thought it was an interesting turn of events. I am not sure where it will take us, but I hope it will take us someplace better than where we are at now.

"No one has said that we should all renounce private health care insurance, even if the companies pay for abortion."The bishops did say that abortion is not health care. This is an opportunity to re-visit that argument. If I were an insurance company that valued Life, I would not include an option to purchase elective abortion coverage. Certainly there is a market for such an insurance company or companies.

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