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Jost Jousts

Last week Public Discourse, an online journal sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute, posted a piece by Helen Alvaré titled "A Health Care Challenge to Commonweal and Timothy Jost." Alvaré, who is an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law, criticized us and Professor Jost for daring to disagree with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Alvaré complained that "Commonweal's editors just don't seem to trust the USCCB's legal or policy analyses of the PPACA insofar as freedom of conscience or abortion are concerned." Instead, she claimed,Commonweal had naively deferred to the judgments of its "apparent legal advisor," Professor Jost, who, according to Alvaré, has "no record of cooperation with Catholic moral and policy interests along the consistent ethic of life." (Take that, you Mennonite.)

Professor Jost doesn't need us to defend him. Indeed, he has responded to Alvaré's criticisms quite ably in a piece now available on our website. It's true that we have found Jost's analysis of the Affordable Care Act more convincing than that of the USCCB and some leading prolife organizations that opposed the health-care reform bill. This is not because Professor Jost is our "legal advisor" (he's not), or because we were predisposed to distrust the USCCB's prolife office, or because we were so eager to support the president's health-care reform that we were willing to bless "whatever the House majority decided to offer pro-life Americans while in the throes of desperate, last-minute negotiations" (to quote again from Alvaré's complaint).

In fact, it was not a question of trust. It was a question of judgment. We took the USCCB's interpretation of the Affordable Care Act very seriously -- and, after reading the relevant sections of the Act itself andthe analysis of various experts, judged that interpretation to be incorrect. Alvaré thinks our disagreement with the bishops conferences hows us to be"both arrogant and naive," but as Richard R. Gaillardetz has pointed out, neither the bishops nor their lay advisers have an exclusive claim to competence when it comes to the technical evaluation of public policy. Nor can the bishops conference, despite its consistent and often heroic efforts on behalf of the unborn, fairly claim ownership of prolife principles. Professor Jost does not have less credibility as a prolifer because he is not a Catholic, or because he sometimes disagrees with the bishops conference about other issues. It is unbecoming of Alvaré and the editors of Public Discourse, a nonsectarian outfit, to try to turn this dispute into an ecclesial turf war. It is possible for Mennonites -- or Mormons or Zoroastrians -- to construe a piece of legislation correctly and for Catholic bishops to misconstrue it.

Alvaré wonders why we don't just endorse a clear statutory ban on funding for elective abortions at community health centers rather than relying on a dubious executive order signed by a prochoice president. Here she is pushing against an open door. We hope that the Hyde Amendment will be expanded so that it explicitly includes all the money the Department of Heath and Human Services spends on community health centers, including the money appropriated by the Affordable Care Act. (There is no reason to doubt that the Hyde Amendment will pass the next time it comes up for a vote, and there is no point inpassing it if HHS is allowed to use some other source of funding to pay for elective abortions.) Because the Affordable Care Act does not provide for an administrative mechanism that would segregate the money it appropriates for community health centers from HHS funds that are covered by the Hyde Amendment, we and Professor Jost have argued that the new funding was already implicitly covered by the amendment. President Obama's executive order only confirmed this understanding. But Alvaré insists that only a statutory ban will have any real effect; that, on their own, the new law and the executive order will simply not be enough to keep the government from funding elective abortion. She rebukes us for the "growing implausibility" of our claim to the contrary. She doesn't say how exactly that implausibility has grown, and it isn't clear to us how it could grow without evidence that because of health-care reform the federal government has actually started funding abortions it didn't fund before.

Alvaré's description of the new legislation implies a verifiable prediction. So does ours. If she and the bishops conference have read the Affordable Care Act correctly, the courts will soon force community health centers to perform elective abortions paid for by the federal government. If we have read the act correctly, this won't happen. As long as everyone remembers the conflicting predictions, the dispute should be easy enough to settle. If it turns outthat we were wrong, we'll acknowledge our error, and not pretend it was a small one. (No doubt our friends at the bishops conference and Public Discourse will be happy to help us acknowledge it.) But what will it take for them to acknowledge that they were wrong? If community health centers still haven't performed taxpayer-funded elective abortions in five years' time, what will prolife opponents of the Affordable Care Act say? "Just you wait -- give it another five years"? Or "Maybe it didn't happen, but the law itself gave us every right to expect it would. And, besides, you can never be too safe." We'd like to think they'll just say, "Oops. The Mennonite was right after all." But it's harder to say oops when you're wearing a miter, which is why we hope the folks at Public Discourse will take off theirs.

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I hope readers will take the time to read Helen Alvar's article "A Health Care Challenge to Commonweal and Timothy Jost " if for no other reason than to note the dishonesty of Commonweal's repeated suggestion that Alvar made reference to, or drew attention to, Professor Jost's Mennonite affiliation. Specifically, according to Commonweal's post: "Alvar complained that 'Commonweals editors just dont seem to trust the USCCBs legal or policy analyses of the PPACA insofar as freedom of conscience or abortion are concerned.' Instead, Commonweal had naively deferred to the judgments of its apparent legal advisor, Professor Jost, who, according to Alvar, has no record of cooperation with Catholic moral and policy interests along the consistent ethic of life. (Take that, you Mennonite.) "Professor Jost does not have less credibility as a prolifer because he is not a Catholic, or because he sometimes disagrees with the bishops conference about other issues. It is unbecoming of Alvar and the editors of Public Discourse, a nonsectarian outfit, to try to turn this dispute into an ecclesial turf war. It is possible for Mennonites or Mormons or Zoroastrians to construe a piece of legislation correctly and for Catholic bishops to misconstrue it. "But what will it take for them to acknowledge that they were wrong? If community health centers still havent performed taxpayer-funded elective abortions in five years time, what will prolife opponents of the Affordable Care Act say? Just you wait give it another five years? Or Maybe it didnt happen, but the law itself gave us every right to expect it would. And, besides, you can never be too safe. Wed like to think theyll just say, Oops. The Mennonite was right after all. But its harder to say oops when youre wearing a miter. Which is why we hope the folks at Public Discourse will take off theirs."In fact, Alvar not only made no mention of Jost's religious affiliation, but there is no basis in Alvar's article for the accusation that Alvar tried "to turn this dispute into an ecclesial turf war". Rather, Alvar's statement that Jost "not only has no record of cooperation with Catholic moral and policy interests along the consistent ethic of life" prefaced her criticism of Jost for his comments that reflected animosity on his part based on religious differences - namely, his outrageous criticism of the bishop's participation in the health care debate: "I am also troubled with the role the Catholic bishops played in this.. If any religion dominates politics, it has the power to dominate other religions as well. Let us not become another Iran." Alvar then proceeded to criticize Jost's political partisanship, avoiding completely any reference to his religious affiliation: "Furthermore, Jost seems to be a strident partisan across the board, a condition best (and hilariously) exemplified in his May 17 editorial for Politico, wherein Jost wrote how unimaginable it would be for American voters to want Republicans back in government when, under the Democrats, the economy has come roaring back.'"Commonwealth's attribution of a sarcastic attitude on the part of Professor Alvar's toward Mennonites ("Take that, you Mennonite" and "Oops. The Mennonite was right after all) is dishonest and shameful. In a recent post Cathleen Kaveny "Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words" noted an upcoming "conference on abortion at Princeton this fall, which will bring together a range of voices and perspectives for honest but civil conversation". Helen Alvar will be one of the speakers. I hope the Commonweal editors responsible for "Jost Jousts" will have the decency not to show up.

"We hope that the Hyde Amendment will be expanded so that it explicitly includes all the money the Department of Heath and Human Services spends on community health centers, including the money appropriated by the Affordable Care Act. "Good :-)

I'd like to think there is an opportunity to patch up some differences here. It seems clear, as exemplified by the comment I highlighted in my 10:02 comment, that there really is substantial agreement between Commonweal and Jost, and the Witherspoon Institute and the bishops.

Jim, that comment is pretty much at the heart of the dispute. As I understand it, Jost et al believe the Hyde Amendment already covers all the money spent by HHS on CHC. Asking for an expansion simply reiterates the disagreement rather than reconcile differences.

There is something much more important at stake here than prognostications about what will happen about this funding matter.As the reference to Richard Gaillardetz rightly points out, "neither the bishops nor their lay advisers have an exclusive claim to competence when it comes to the technical evaluation of public policy." The bishops were simply wrong to have tried to give the impression that they have such competence and therefore can claim that the faithful have some duty to accept their conclusions and follow them. Even if it turns out that Jost and Commonweal (and I) have been mistaken in this case, it still would not follow that the bishops conducted themselves properly in trying to impose their conclusions as matters for obedience. Or so i think.

Are any of the major pro-choice groups covinced by the Jost analysis? Planned Parenthood? NARAL? Any?

"As the reference to Richard Gaillardetz rightly points out, neither the bishops nor their lay advisers have an exclusive claim to competence when it comes to the technical evaluation of public policy. The bishops were simply wrong to have tried to give the impression that they have such competence and therefore can claim that the faithful have some duty to accept their conclusions and follow them."Bernard - I don't believe the bishops have made any claims to exclusivity, nor to binding the faithful on their view. They have made a claim to competence on the questions, not because they are successors to the apostles but because as a national conference they have built the competence the same way Professor Jost or Commonweal or the Witherspoon Institute would.I'd like to see evidence of impropriety on the part of the bishops.

Bernard and all,The most important question that I see raised here is not the propriety of the bishops' conduct (which I don't think has been out of bounds), nor any claims upon the faithful that the bishops may or may not have made, but rather, what flows in the other direction. What deference do we Catholics, whether we are voters or editors of Commonweal, owe the bishops on matters of prudential judgment such as this? None whatsoever? Unquestioning obedience, such that their wish is our command? A respectful audience? Charitable interpretations? Respectful dialogue?In my opinion, this is a tremendously important question, and not just for this isue.

A couple of things- citing the Editorsd of Commonweal as "naive" etc, does little to advance the discussion.Not only do i think the USCCB's competency is an issue but also their "nonpartisanship"What we owe them, I think is an intelligent look at what they have to say.I'd suspect that as their credibility continues to decline. arguments from their status bot hindividualy and collectively loses weight.

Bob - to say, in a public forum, that their "credibility continues to decline" is to precipitate/contribute to that decline. In charity, don't you owe them, and the rest of us, good reasons for thinking that their credibility is in decline?

Patrick Molloy, regarding the pro-choice camp, they are increasingly upset with Obama over the abortion bans -- if that's any consolation:http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/07/18/abortion-rights-advocates-outrag...

David Gibson,I agree that all the major groups (I should have added the ACLU) are upset about what they see as legally unnecessary restrictions. I would be reassured about the cogency of the Jost analysis if these groups were to say that, despite their opposition to the current restrictions, the Jost view is so convincing that it would be hopeless to make any legal challenge. My guess is that outside the religious left Josts views are not given the weight accorded them by the Commonweal editors and that well soon see several vigorous court battles.

Jim Pouwels, the Pennsylvania Catholic conference, the arm of the Pennsylvania bishops, put out a statement which called the Catholic Hospital Association a"so-called Catholic" organization because they took a different position from the bishops concerning the health care bill. The National Catholic Reporter reported that leaders of CHA were having to defend themselves in Rome because they did not follow the bishops' lead on the health care bill. Does this evidence not indicate that the bishops regarded any public expression of a position other than theirs to be a failure to "respect their authority." Would you provide any evidence that the USCCB has acknowledged the legitimacy of a Catholic legislator arriving at the decision to vote for the bill. I know of no such acknowledgment. To the contrary, we keep getting reports of complaints that some of us Catholics are not "deferential" to the bishops in such matters.You ask also about respectful dialogue, etc. I absolutely agree that in these matters of public policy, the bishops deserve a serious, respectful hearing. I also think that there ought to be a mutually respectful dialogue. I do not agree that in such matters the proper outcome is one of agreement. Legitimate differences can often be the outcome, differences that deserve mutual respect. I have never thought that there was something improper about the bishops having a strong opinion on the health care bill and pressing to the end to have their position prevail. But neither have I thought that thoughtful people who argued for a different position, e.g., Douglas Kmiec Brian Hehir, Sentaor Casey, etc. were lacking in proper rrespect when they actively opposed the bishops position.Do you believe that the USCCB would agree with what I have just said? Would you yourself agree?

In recebnt months, the adjective "inept" has appeared here in regard to our American hierachy and I'd say rightly so.The "welcoming" of Rome's latest canonical directives by major Us Bishops has not ben widely welcomed to say the least.The problem is that there is a real divide between those who emphasize the role of the bishop and those who emphasize how well or poorly a bishop or bishops carry them out.In askming what we "owe" bishops, we should also ask what they "owe" the faithful and in public policy the community at large?

"I also think that there ought to be a mutually respectful dialogue. I do not agree that in such matters the proper outcome is one of agreement. Legitimate differences can often be the outcome, differences that deserve mutual respect. I have never thought that there was something improper about the bishops having a strong opinion on the health care bill and pressing to the end to have their position prevail. But neither have I thought that thoughtful people who argued for a different position, e.g., Douglas Kmiec Brian Hehir, Sentaor Casey, etc. were lacking in proper rrespect when they actively opposed the bishops position.Do you believe that the USCCB would agree with what I have just said? Would you yourself agree?"Yes, I do agree. I don't/can't speak for the USCCB, but I'd like to think that they'd also agree.I would also put respectful disagreements in this context: the ideal is unity. Ideally, we would all agree because we are perfectly in communion with one another. Given that we're not living in an ideal world, the imperative is for all of us to approach one another in good will and to love one another. Rhetorical approaches such as describing an organization as a 'so-called Catholic organization' don't seem to me to be as loving and respectful as a bishop or group of bishops should model. Sitll, it may be worth stressing that Professor Jost's dispute isn't with "the bishops" in general, but with one very particular episcopal organization, the USCCB, as represented by their Pro-life Activities department. As we've seen many times on dotCom, the bishops are a confederation of independent contractors in communion with one another. Some of them are also independent thinkers - which occasionally is to the church's benefit, and occasionally to its detriment.

Patrick Molloy, I wonder how the legal scenario will play out -- I'd actually have expected legal challenges by now, but perhaps the law's provisions must go into effect first? Actually, that doesn't seem necessary -- witness challenges to the Arizona immigration law, which still hasn't taken effect, I believe. I wondered if pro-choice might be keeping their legal powder dry until after November to spare the Administration political harm, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyway, any idea on the likely trajectory of legal challenges? Heck, maybe we'll have NARAL joining Tea Partiers on the repeal movement...

I thought I'd put in here a note that on the America blog, Fr. Martin has a panel discussion on "The Future of Catholicism" which covers a wide range of views, including his own on the problem of the fearful Church.There's lots on demagraphics and some on politics, but it struck me that the points of view there from all sides were far more temperate than coming forth from Witherspoon.

When the hierarchy is faced by a conflict of opinions in the church, it does not always succeed in achieving a perfectly adequate response. Broadly speaking, two kinds of mistake are possible excessive permissiveness and excessive rigidity. It is hard to know which of the two errors has done more harm.We must recognize, therefore, that there can be such a thing in the church as mutable or reformable teaching. The element of mutability comes from the fact that such teaching seeks to mediate between the abiding truth of the gospel and the socio-cultural situation at a given time and place.Did Vatican II teach the legitimacy of dissent from non-infallible teaching? It did so implicitly by its action, we may say, but not explicitly by its words. The theological commission responsible for paragraph 25 of the Constitution of the Church refused to make any statement, one way or the other, about dissent.A step beyond the council was taken by the German bishops in a pastoral letter of September 22, 1967, which has been quoted on several occasions by Karl Rahner. This letter recognized that in its effort to apply the gospel to the changing situations of life, the church is obliged to give instructions that have a certain provisionality about them. These instructions, though binding to a certain degree, are subject to error. According to the bishops, dissent may be legitimate provided that three conditions are observed. (1) One must have striven seriously to attach positive value to the teaching in question and to appropriate it personally. (2) One must seriously ponder whether one has the theological expertise to disagree responsibly with ecclesiastical authority. (3) One must examine ones conscience for possible conceit, presumptuousness, or selfishness. Similar principles for conscientious dissent had already been laid down by John Henry Newman in the splendid chapter on Conscience in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874).There is always a temptation for church authorities to try to use their power to stamp out dissent. The effort is rarely successful, because dissent simply seeks another forum, where it may become even more virulent. To the extent that the suppression is successful, it may also do harm. It inhibits good theology from performing its critical task, and it is detrimental to the atmosphere of freedom in the church. The acceptance of true doctrine should not be a matter of blind conformity, as though truth could be imposed by decree. The church, as a society that respects the freedom of the human conscience, must avoid procedures that savor of intellectual tyranny.Where dissent is kept within the bounds I have indicated, it is not fatal to the church as a community of faith and witness. If it does occur, it will be limited, reluctant, and respectful.Avery Dulles http://www.vatican2voice.org/8conscience/dulles.htmContemporary bishops are painfully learning that they can either function hierarchically or they can exercise healthy authority but that they cannot do both.Hierarchies are designed for the exercise of power, that is, for authoritarian control. They depend on structures rather than human relationships.Authority, however, depends completely on human relationships. It derives from the Latin augere to create, to make able to grow. Parents augere their children. Their authority over them is a function of that special relationship through which parents commit themselves to their childrens growth, to their human fullness, to their emergence from dependence. So, too, the authority of teachers, pastors and popes is essentially relational, ordered to the growth of their students, their parishioners or their worldwide flock.Bishops who have been trained to relate structurally through their roles and the rules of hierarchy and who have been conditioned to manage rather than expose themselves to the risks of human relationships find it almost impossible to exercise their authority effectively in an institution that insists that they exercise it as impersonal control. Eugene Kennedy, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality.

Mark Shea:"Just as Catholic war advocates assumed grave responsibility and should have been the first, not the last, to criticize our commission of war crimes, so Catholic Obama Excuse-makers should be the first, not the last, to criticize the use of their Beloved Health Care Plan to kill children. That they are making excuses and attacking critics tells me that the concern about abortion is just smoke and mirrors."

Jimmy Mac: I really like that Dulles quote (as I like just about everything I read from Dulles). This is just my opinion: I think it does not apply in a direct way to the question of what deference we owe our bishops on questions like the health care reform legislation.I don't think it applies directly because - again, in my judgment - this was not a case of anyone dissenting from church teaching. The bishops, Commonweal editors, and I believe Professor Jost, are all on the same page regarding abortion. I don't believe anyone is dissenting from a church teaching on faith or morals in this dispute.It's not a question of church teaching but legal analysis and projected future factual outcomes.

What Mark Shea has not shown, nor Zippy, is that such is happening.

"What Mark Shea has not shown, nor Zippy, is that such is happening."I take it, Henry, that you did not read this very post? It's merely the latest in a long line of apologias for ObamaCare. Each time Commonweal has discussed the issue of ObamaCare and abortion it has done so from a defensive posture, attempting to put the best possible light on the legislation and naysaying, ridiculing or directly attacking anyone who might suggest in good faith the potential of abuse of the law by pro-abortion advocates.

You do know, it is a rule of Catholic hermeneutics to attempt to put what others say in the best possible light?

And more importantly, no demonstration is done to show such abortion is happening -- it's easy to just keep crying wolf, but it does no one any good.

"You do know, it is a rule of Catholic hermeneutics to attempt to put what others say in the best possible light?"If so then why, as Michael Kelly points out in the first comment of this thread, did Commonweal dishonestly suggest that Alvare negatively presented Jost's Mennonite background? It does not appear Commweal attempted to put what Alvare said in the best possible light.

I think the editors of Commonweal have done a great job on this issue, especially clarifying what the law does. I have to admit however that I have wondered who the heck Jost was. Not to say that who a person is should discredit his argument, but it helps to understand where people are coming from, and what biases they might have. I especially wondered if he was pro-life/anti-abortion. Part of the reason I trust Commonweal on this is because I know CWL is pro-life. I assumed Jost was too. Now I'm not sure. He opposed Stupak because he thought the legislation was pro-life enough before Stupak, but I recall that it allowed the money to simply put on a different line in the accoun books.Also, while I think the joke here implying that she is criticizing him for being a Mennonite is funny, it isn't particuIarly fair. In her post, Alvare links to a post by Jost where he worries that the bishops' lobbying in favor of Stupak might lead us toward Iranian theocracy. I suppose reasonable people can believe that bishops lobbying violates the constitution somehow, but the Iranian comparison is inflamatory and stupid.

Jost wrote: "I am, however, a prolife Christianmore specifically a Mennonite. We Mennonites believe we are among the most prolife of Christians. We believe that Jesus taught that taking life even in war is wrong."JC, I think your basic instincts are right. I encourage you to read Jost's reply to Alvare, since he answers some questions there about who he is. As a Mennonite, he is in a tradition that is suspicious of political and religious authority. That may show sometimes.But the Catholic position on abortion is based on natural law, something even a Mennonite is supposed to be able to understand. Ms Alvare departs from that with her remarks about Jost' lack of a track record on Catholic issues. The USCCB moves in that same awkward direction when they appeal for deference, as if opposition to abortion is particular to Catholics, and not a universal heritage. We share a great deal with many people on our right to life, and denominational narrowness is the last thing we should encourage in this discussion. (this is probably what is behind the editors' Mennonite remark, their unease with the awkward narrowing to Catholics alone)Jost makes another important point. Much that supports the bishops reads like a brief asserting that abortions are funded by the PPACA. When the issue is litigated, the bishops will be on the wrong side, supporting NARAL and Planned Parenthood when they assert that abortion must be funded. They need to reexamine the law now, and support the interpretations that say the law of the land does not allow Government funds to be used for elective abortions. Otherwise, they leave themselves in a desert, unable to advocate against abortion when they could actually be effective.

In a post subsequent to this post on the firing of Shirley Sherrod, Eduardo Pealver is indignant at the misrepresentation of Ms. Sherrod's views by the selective editing of her speech. However, Pealver as well as Commonweal are deserving of similar criticism for mischaracterizing Helen Alvar's article A Health Care Challenge to Commonweal and Timothy Jost.. In a post at Mirror of Justice, The Scope of the Bishops' Teaching Authority, Pealver endorsed Commonweal "colorful" post "Jost Jousts":" I wanted to post something about (the dispute between the USCCB and the CHA) but never found the time. Luckily, the editors at Commonweal beat me to the punch, writing a post that basically makes the same basic point I wanted to make, but more colorfully and in the context of their response to criticism by law prof Helen Alvar of an article in Commonweal by law prof Timothy Jost, the latter of which argued that the law would not provide federal funding of abortion."However, in a subsequent post at Mirror of Justice addressed to Pealver, Helen Alvar vs. Commonweal, Robert George points out Commonweal's mischaracterization of Alvar's argument"" the Commonweal editors mischaracterized Alvar's argument by suggesting that her claim was that to disagree with bishops on policy matters (such as health care legislation) is ipso facto unacceptable."This suggestion is reinforced by the insinuation that Alvar disagrees with the following claim: 'neither the bishops nor their lay advisers have an exclusive claim to competence when it comes to the technical evaluation of public policy. Nor can the bishops conference, despite its consistent and often heroic efforts on behalf of the unborn, fairly claim ownership of prolife principles.'"Then, after stating that he (George) and Alvar in fact agree with the above quoted claim and noting that "Commonweal's suggestion that Alvar denies it is way out of line", George writes:."In truth, Alvar made a specific claim against the argument and position of Commonweal on abortion and the health care bill. She claimed that that position (which is a position rejected by the bishops, who believe, rightly in my view, that the bill will result in an expansion of abortion) is arrogant and naive. She did not make the general claim that to disagree with the bishops on policy matters is ipso facto wrong. To defend themselves from Alvar's criticisms of their position, they suggest that she is making a broad claim to episcopal authority that, to my knowledge, no Catholic conservative (and no Catholic liberal) makes. Alvar herself certainly does not make it."And while we are speaking of claims Alvar did not make, she also did not claim that Timothy Jost has less credibility as a pro-lifer because he is not a Catholic, or that it is impossible 'for Mennonites or Mormons or Zoroastrians to construe a piece of legislation correctly and for Catholic bishops to misconstrue it.' For the Commonweal editors to suggest that Alvar made such claims is outrageous."Let me add one more fact. Alvar's criticisms of Commonweal were a response to Commonweal's criticisms of the U.S. Catholic Bishops and the nation's major pro-life groups. Alvar did not start this. Nor were her criticisms of Commonweal harsher or even as harsh as Commonweal's criticisms of the bishops and the pro-life groups. When Commonweal launched its assault on the bishops and groups, it scarcely treated the matter as one on which reasonable people of goodwill could reasonably disagree. Its editorial plainly questioned the motives of people who disagreed with Commonweal's view that the health care legislation was 'abortion neutral.' It strikes me as unseemly now for the editors to cry foul when Alvar characterizes their position as arrogant and naive."George is careful to note that he is in general agreement with Pealver on the issue of episcopal authority and that his criticism is directed at Commonweal and not Pealver, having stated at the outset that "it's not clear from your recent post whether you yourself read the article by Helen Alvar to which the editors of Commonweal responded" because "you quoted the editors' characterization of her argument, not her argument itself." I think it is doubtful that Pealver did not read Alvar's article, but if he did not then like the NAACP and others who were too quick to criticize Ms. Sherrod, he was "snookered" by the unnamed editors mischaracterization of Helen Alvar's article.

"Jost makes another important point. Much that supports the bishops reads like a brief asserting that abortions are funded by the PPACA. When the issue is litigated, the bishops will be on the wrong side, supporting NARAL and Planned Parenthood when they assert that abortion must be funded. They need to reexamine the law now, and support the interpretations that say the law of the land does not allow Government funds to be used for elective abortions. Otherwise, they leave themselves in a desert, unable to advocate against abortion when they could actually be effective."Here is the relevant excerpt from Professor Jost's article:" I ask Professor Alvar, What purpose does your argument actually serve? What Alvar has written is essentially a brief that could be used by an abortionist claiming that community health centers must cover abortions. This is a very strange argument for a prolife advocate to be making. It is an argument that seems to have more to do with opposition to the Affordable Care Act than with opposition to abortion."The (alleged) weaknesses in the new law that Alvare points out are the same ones that the USCCB was highlighting before the legislation became law. It's not strange for a pro-life advocate to point out weaknesses in current legislation, *with an aim to shoring up those weaknesses*.It's helpful to recall that the USCCB was/is pursuing corrective legislation to plug the leaks (as the USCCB perceives them) in the new law. Seemingly, Jost and Commonweal took umbrage that the USCCB would do this. That, as I recall, is what spurred Jost's recent article in Commonweal (which, in turn, spurred Alvare's reply). The same question that Jost is asking can be asked of him about that proposed legislation: why criticize legislative efforts that would only strengthen the pro-life provisions of the new law?Jost and Commonweal think the new law is adequate as-is; the USCCB and its allies and advisors disagree. Despite the disagreement - there seems to be substantial common ground here.

There is a tired historical sameness to all of this. The bishops have a persistent bad habit of immediately leaping to wrong conclusions about things they don't like, that is to say, anything new. We have to be grateful that they are no longer permitted to use their historically normal means of dealing with--supressing brutally--dissent, at least in the West. (They never say their are sorry, of course, until and unless they are shamefully embarrassed in public.) Instead, nowadays, they use patsies. like Alvare, who seek to snow the rest of us with mountains of rhetoric. Because it's lengthy and elaborate (and ignores reality), it must be right, a time-honoured tradition in the Church. In fact, as statute law goes, a much more complicated thing than doctrine, the Act does as good a job as can reasonably be expected. The simple truth is that the heirarchy and Alvare are wrong about the PPACA. That they opposed it is disgraceful. Calling for "respectful dialogue" is inappropriate, since bishops only do so when they are losing the battle and therefore have no other choice, a realisation at which they characteristically arrive long after it is due. There is something to be said for their, and Alvare's continued campaign on this issue, as will continue to show their utter disinterest in anyone's welfare but their own.

Jim,I do not see any common ground, beyond the basic agreement against abortion. (and many on the pro-life side seem to have questions about that!)The USCCB is in an untenable situation, supporting arguments that the law provides funding for abortion. Someone will litigate this in order to get funding for abortion, and can look to the USCCB, Alvare, et al. as supporting their argument. (Maybe that is the intent -- have the law tested by people who use the flawed arguments that are easily dismissed)IMO, the bishops would be in a better position if they would accept the law as defined by the Executive order. 'The American people, through their representatives, have enacted Health Care that excludes funding for elective abortion.' Instead, they choose to set themselves in opposition to the law, and the people behind it, by demanding changes to plug the leaks they see. I cannot see what that will accomplish/

"The USCCB is in an untenable situation, supporting arguments that the law provides funding for abortion. Someone will litigate this in order to get funding for abortion, and can look to the USCCB, Alvare, et al. as supporting their argument. (Maybe that is the intent have the law tested by people who use the flawed arguments that are easily dismissed)"Hi, Jim McK, I don't think that pro-choice advocates will be sending "thank you" notes to the USCCB, should future court decisions come out in their favor. I give them credit to do the analysis and come up with the arguments without our help. They're large, well-funded (including by government funds) and have substantial legal resources.

"The bishops were simply wrong to have tried to give the impression that they have such competence and therefore can claim that the faithful have some duty to accept their conclusions and follow them."Bernard --Right! This brouhaha is not only about the wisdom of the new healthcare laws, it's also about a meta-issue: where do we find competent advice about the wisdom of the legislation . The bishops themselves are dependent on others for their opinions -- on more or less competent lawyers, experts in the field of America health care, and politicians. Having expert advisors does not make the bishops experts themselves.To trust the bishops' judgments would really be only to trust their advisors. We are under no moral obligation to do so.