dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

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 duty...to 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.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

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:http://vox-nova.com/2010/03/16/the-human-limitations-of-our-bishops/

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.

http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2010/06/truth-be-told.htmlThis 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.

Pages