"False claims"

E. J. Dionne's latest column is up on our Web site. When it comes to the Senate bill and its prolife provisions, he takes the side of the Catholic sisters who support it. Dionne points out something that strikes me as important, especially in light of accusations that the Catholic sisters have disrespected the bishops by publicly questioning their conclusions about the Senate bill:

Rather astonishingly, the bishops' statement misrepresented the view of the CHA, whose members include 600 Catholic hospitals and 1,400 nursing homes.Cardinal George acknowledged that the bishops' "analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association." Then he said: "They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill."But Sister Carol, as she is known, said the latter assertion was flatly not true. "We're not saying that," she said. Her organization believes the bill as currently written guarantees that there will be no federal funding for abortion and does not need to be "corrected." Why the bishops would distort the position of the church's major health association is, to be charitable, a mystery.

At least one bishop has had to correct himself after relying on that inaccurate summary from the USCCB. St. Petersburg's bishop, Robert Lynch, is also on the board of the CHA. But he was in the hospital as a patient when the CHA released its statement. Catching up with the debate, he backed the USCCB on his blog -- until Sister Carol ("a good woman of the Church, no liberal trouble-maker by any stretch of the imagination," he avers) contacted him to set the record straight. He did so, much to his credit, in another blog post.The CHA did have some specific suggestions for what might be included in the reconciliation package, which they expressed in a letter (pdf file here). But they weren't about abortion. However you may respond to Cardinal George's "Midwestern parlance," his line about "a pig in a poke" is based on a completely inaccurate understanding of what the CHA (and others) actually said.Given what's at stake, it is vitally important to get this right. If you're inclined to give the bishops' interpretation more weight simply because it comes from the bishops, this sort of thing should give you pause. Even bishops can make mistakes. But this is a matter about which we can't afford to be careless.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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