Catholic sisters challenge bishops on abortion, health reform

By David Waters Hard to say which men will find this more troubling, U.S. Catholic bishops or Glenn Beck, but … Continued

By David Waters

Hard to say which men will find this more troubling, U.S. Catholic bishops or Glenn Beck, but a “social justice” coalition representing 59,000 U.S. Catholic sisters sent a letter to Members of Congress Wednesday urging them to pass the Senate’s health care bill.

The letter was a direct challenge to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which supports health-care reform but opposes the Senate’s version. As three bishops wrote for On Faith this week, the Senate bill “extends abortion coverage, allows federal funds to pay for elective abortions and denies adequate conscience protection to individuals and institutions.”

Poppycock, say the sisters. “Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments – $250 million – in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

Can 59,000 Catholic sisters be wrong?

Surely they couldn’t be more courageous. At a time when American sisters are under investigation by the Vatican, a direct challenge of the public position of the bishops is likely to raise a few eyebrows in the Church hierarchy. (Priests for Life is already responding.)

But while the letter might confound Catholic bishops, it’s likely to make Beck apoplectic. Earlier this month, the Fox News/Views celebrity implored Christians to “look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words (for socialism.) Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Catholics and other Christians who believe Jesus taught individual as well as social salvation assume Beck left the church long ago. But while Beck is busy promoting himself and getting rich, America’s Catholic sisters continue to live with and serve America’s poor.

(Read more about Catholic moral thought and action at

As Father Thomas J. Reese reminded us a few weeks ago, America’s Catholic sisters “went to the frontier bringing education and health care. They provided medical services to both sides during the Civil War (and) began the first health insurance plan in the nation.”

When it comes to matters of health care, do any religious figures in America have more credibility than Catholic sisters?


Update: Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops send this note to media outlets today:

“A recent letter from Network, a social justice lobby of sisters, grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media. Network’s letter, about health care reform, was signed by a few dozen people, and despite what Network said, they do not come anywhere near representing 59,000 American sisters. The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice. There are 793 religious communities in the United States. The math is clear. Network is far off the mark.”

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  • Call_to_Holiness

    The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are the servants but also the shepherds of God’s people. Their teaching authority extends from Christ, who reigns now from His Throne. In the end, the Bishops and the religious sisters must turn to Jesus Christ, their King, for direction.From the Bishops’ WP posting:

  • paultaylor1

    I’ll put my money in with the Catholic sisters.The brothers are too busy chasing young choir boys around to be paying attention to human welfare matters.

  • YEAL9

    What the Sisters failed to do is offer suggestions on how to pay for universal health care.Some suggestions to be reviewed by the Sisters to be used in their next communication with Congress:1. An added two dollar health insurance tax (or higher) on a pack of cigarettes. Ditto taxes on alcolholic beverages, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. Ditto for any product shown to be unhealthy (e.g. high caloric/fatty foods??)2. Physicals akin to those required for life insurance- the overly obese will pay signficantly more Medicare and universal health insurance (unless the obesity is caused by a medical condition).3. No universal health care coverage for drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or using cell phones while driving.4. No universal health coverage for drug addicts or for those having self-inflicted STDs.5. No univeral health coverage for abortions unless the life of the mother is at significant risk and judged to be so by at least two doctors. 6. No universal health coverage for euthanasia.7. No foreign aid given to countries who abort females simply because they are female.8. There are different opinions as to what a religion really is or what a non-profit is. To be fair therefore, there should be no tax-exemptions for any group and that includes the Democratic and Republican Parties. Faith and community initiative grant monies should also be cancelled and there should also be no tax deductions for contributions made to charities and non-profits. All taxes received from non-profits and charities will be used for universal health care.

  • Maerzie

    The Bishops and priests with the big mouths that I have heard speaking on ANY issue are always WAY off on any matters dealing with people’s lives or conscience. THEY want to BE the conscience, but they don’t want to put forth the money or the effort to educate children to grow up LEARNING morals and forming good consciences. WHERE is all the money going that is SAVED by not allowing these men to have wives and children?? The GOLD treasures, hoarded in Catholic structures, are no different from the GOLDEN calf in the Bible, so displeasing to God. Nope, the Catholic Bishops need to clean their own closets and lives first; THEN they can go back to instructing little children in learning the commandments and forming consciences; and THIRDLY, they can begin to be priests again, instead of JUDGES!The donations to Churches in most areas are mostly directed into priests’/Bishops’ selfish, lavish, indulged lives, their Cadillacs, their expensive tickets to sports events that most parishioners can’t afford, committing, causing, or hiding scandals. Education of children, priests for the poor parishes, maintaining Catholic schools are all things of the past from when priests were instruments of God! God did not call them to be JUDGES! He called them to be teachers and give good example by their lives. MANY of their lives and ways FAVOR only the wealthy, so VERY unlike Christ!! Children of the WEALTHY can afford the elite, SCARCE Catholic schools, though the poor are the ones who NEED the education much more. The priests and Bishops have misdirected the Church already for years; it’s past time for them to ask themselves “WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?” Certainly NONE of what THEY are up to!Nope, I’d much sooner listen to the good sense of the sisters/nuns who live among the people and truly donate their lives to the sick and the poor as Christians.

  • YEAL9 of Counties with at least 400 Tax Exempt Organizations County Number of Organizations Total Income Total Assets Los Angeles County CA 46,902 $98,809,686,018 $212,802,552,870 Cook County IL 31,520 $110,085,748,138 $114,778,413,424 New York County NY 25,124 $188,816,031,921 $246,872,519,680 Harris County TX 18,055 $42,332,652,889 $53,051,840,529 District of Columbia County DC

  • FarnazMansouri

    What the Sisters failed to do is to explain to the American people why the “Bishops” are influencing American legislation (yet again).Just a few weeks ago a United States Appeals Court deemed the Vatican a FOREIGN NATION and therefore immune to lawsuits by American citizens.Said FOREIGN NATION also receives TAX EXEMPT status from the United States.Add to this the fact that it is not made responsible for its crimes–shielding pedophiles, obstructing justice (a statement authored by Benedict has been introduced into evidence in US and European Courts attesting to OBSTRUCTION of JUSTICE)Finally, said crime-ridden (currently under investigation by Italian Justice Dept for laundering 200,000,000 mafia dollars) FOREIGN NATION, tax exempt, influencing legislation, is inviolation of the FEDERAL Racketeering Act, as another blogger pointed out.The Congress, particularly those with loyalty to the Vatican, rather than to the United States, owe us, the people an explanation as to why the Vatican has been immune to prosecution, etc, how it has been enabled to legislate in the US, tantamount to Establishment.These are the issues, not the letter of the Sisters.

  • amelia45

    Good for the Sisters. We should not write laws based on any particular theology. And there is a huge divide in the religious and legal rights regarding abortion. The health care bills find a way between the two that leaves both in place. The problem with the Bishop’s stance is that abortion is legal in this country and they would deny insurance coverage to anyone for it. Well, that is consistent but makes the legal right a joke.

  • johnturkal1

    Any married man, let alone if he’s Catholic, knows you don’t argue with a woman when she’s set mind on the subject. Anyone who ever attended a Catholic school that had Nuns will tell you “Don’t get on their wrong side.” Unfortunately many Bishops and Priests never seem to have learned that, I suspect their title went to their heads. I come from the North Woods of Wisconsin/Michigan and it was the Nuns who started Health care for the Lumberjacks and families. Probably can include alot of none clergy in that group who need their knuckles hit by a Sisters ruler.

  • celestun100

    Good job, Sisters!

  • spidermean2

    Catholicism is NOT Christianity and the Bible can prove it. If it speaks, it is more likely that it comes from the devil.The title “Holy Father” is reserved only to God. It is blasphemous to call a person as “Holy Father”.God has no mother. Even Jesus said in disgust, “Who is my mother?”Only God can make saints. People who are born again are saints. No church or pope has the power to declare a person to be a saint. It’s blasphemous.The list goes on.There is no surprise that majority of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world are Catholic.

  • DwightCollins

    these sisters are wrong…

  • kedohio

    Thank you, Sisters. I wish you ran your church, not the men! Good for you for standing up for what you know is right. You are brave and doing the REAL work on the frontlines. Thank you again!

  • FormerCatholic

    The Sisters have it right; the Bishops, speaking from the Church’s dysfunctional view of human sexuality, have it wrong, again.

  • damascuspride04

    I wonder how the Catholic Church’s positions would change if women were allowed to hold positions of leadership within the Church. This is an especially intriguing question given that we now know there is a significant segment of Catholic women that disagrees with at least one of the Church’s official positions.

  • FarnazMansouri


  • wcurmudgeon

    My vote goes with the sisters. They taught me for twelve years, and I owe them a great deal. I am suffering, meanwhile, from severe Bishop Fatigue. I have heard too much negation from them on almost every subject, and virtually no affirmation. Meanwhile, the Vatican–at whose door the pedophile scandal has now unsurprisingly arrived–is bent on enforcing some homogenizing orthodoxy among the supposedly too feisty nuns. Resist, sisters, resist. And stay feisty.

  • Logic3

    Exactly, how is Elective Abortion Healthcare? It’s Death!

  • FarnazMansouri

    Hmmm….A blogger says Sister doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church.Who is speaking for the Shoe Repairers of America?The Laundromats?Office workers?Tennis pros?Weekend athletes?American puppies?

  • Logic3

    Where are those 59,000 Catholic Sisters in America? There are only a few Nuns, they must be hiding in their Macy’s Suits.

  • Logic3

    What are you talking about Farnazmanshouri?

  • chet_broadhurst

    Sooner or later “the faithful” will have to realize that “the church’s” obsession with convoluted bureaucracy and and self-serving power is just that. The sisters should tell the bishops to shove it and set fire to it and start a movement to found their own church here in the “new world.” Any random collection of old men in dresses would have as much credibility with their claim to a direct line to God.

  • Athena4

    Any kid who was raised Catholic will tell you – don’t mess with the Sisters! They’re the ones actually doing the work of ministering to the poor. Plus, they’re just confirming what I’ve been saying all along – proper maternal health care will result in less abortions.

  • jrw1

    I hereby recommend that the Catholic Sisters start running the Catholic Church. Not only do they have more common sense they couldn’t possibly screw things up more than the hapless bishops of the past 50 years. Send the old boys out to pasture, better yet, to prison, and let the girls run the place. Has to be an improvement.

  • Wallenstein

    Indeed, Catholic sisters were the among the first to provide free social services in this country. They know a thing or two about this issue. There are 8 North American saints, 5 sisters. Of the three men, 2 were martyrs. That is, the 5 of the women were deemed saints based on a lifetime of good works alone, and only 1 man. I had the privelege of attending the school founded by Saint Philippine Duchesne.

  • mhoust

    With 195 dioceses in the U.S.; the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops should number roughly 400 members. 59,000 women who actually understand women’s needs and issues can, and should, tell those 400 dysfunctional, misogynistic, institutional sexual deviants go go piss up a rope.

  • klausdmk

    The political tactics of Obama and liberals are in violation of the majority will of the people and against the U.S. Constitution protecting the rights of the American people. Obama and those responsible for pushing the Obama health care into law will be held accountable.Obama and liberal Democrats have slapped the American people in the face. They will abuse the power of pubic office to twist arms, make deals and do what ever it takes to pass their bill and impose a government structure of health care on the people.Obama and liberals have stooped to the level of trying to convince Catholic nuns that abortion is OK. For those of faith, government is interfering with religion. Obama and liberals need to learn a lesson to keep their agnostic liberal humanism away from the Christian churches. The Catholic nuns will file a lawsuit against the Obama White House for government violation of separation of church and state and damaging the faith of Christian church members.

  • MaggieB1

    God bless you sisters, you are the greatest!

  • pirate1

    Catholics for Choice (formerly Catholics for a Free Choice) never represents itself as an official Catholic organization. Of course it isn’t. How could it be? It represents the beliefs of a majority of American catholics on the very complicated subject of choice. As we know a democracy is the last thing the Catholic Church interested in. Why reason when you have received “wisdom” from the patriarchy? Why exercise free will and judgment when you can just do what the bishops tell you to do? Brava to the nuns. Brave and godly women. Unlike the bishops, they walk the walk.

  • former_michigander

    The IHM sisters taught me through grade school and high school and one of the lessons that came through loud and clear is that is if wish to be truly human we have an obligation to help others any time, any where, any how we can.As a life-long Catholic, I am concerned that some members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would rather condemn Senator John Kerry and deny him Communion because he upholds current U.S. laws regarding aboration rather than remove those who practice or coverup the actual crime of child sex abuse. I’ll stand with the sisters. This nation needs less greed (captalism) and more concern for the least among us.

  • Arminius0208

    To the badly named ‘Call_to_Holiness’:Call to holiness my arse. You are only appealing to – actually, groveling and arse-kissing – an inbred hierarchy interested only in power, money, and dragging altar boys into closets. Meanwhile, nuns are trying to do the work of Jesus.It is glaringly apparent that America, Europe, and now Latin America (Brazil is the latest) are not just disgusted, but appalled and nauseated by the behavior of the RC rulers in protecting pederasts. Not to mention the recent unveiling of the Vatican laundering hundreds of thousands of $$$ of Mafia money.I repeat, call to holiness my arse, You want a real call to holiness? Then try reading the Gospels and following the teachings of our Lord.

  • YEAL9

    In case you missed David Waters note posted today at the bottom of his column:”Update: Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops send this note to media outlets today:”A recent letter from Network, a social justice lobby of sisters, grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media. Network’s letter, about health care reform, was signed by a few dozen people, and despite what Network said, they do not come anywhere near representing 59,000 American sisters. The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice. There are 793 religious communities in the United States. The math is clear. Network is far off the mark.”Information on the NETWORK’s IRS Form 990 supports Sister Walsh’s statement.

  • tojby_2000

    yeal9 asks: Any other suggestions on how to pay for universal health care? ___________________________________________Want another? Cut military spending. That’s trillion with a “T”, campers.

  • map529

    While the nuns are reflecting the heart of the Catholic church, or any religion for that matter (i.e. allowing each soul to experience dignity as human beings), the bishops are taking the long view–church survival. They bishops see the Catholic church (as most mainstream religions in the U.S.) in decline. What better way to generate increased market share by killing the competition. Kill government’s ability to provide access to health care for more people, then they will have to turn to the church for assistance (and indoctrination). The church will be waiting with open arms (and open palms). These bishops may be oppressive to women, child molesters, and hypocrites. But they are not stupid.

  • mandym1

    As usual, the WaPo is quick to give its space up to any group or person who wants to trash the Catholic Church and its beliefs. These so-called Catholic nuns are a disgrace and should be excommunicated for supporting Obamacare with its funding for abortions. Also, to the other posters here who love any opportunity to trash the only real Church, go to H…!

  • chatard

    Which Christians “assume Beck left the church long ago”??? Name them. Oh, you just made that up. Oh, and evil people now include not only Catholic bishops but people like Beck who work for a living. You’re pathetic, Waters.

  • rcasero

    What evidence do you have that Glenn Beck is a man?

  • candomarty

    “Call to Holiness” above said: From the Bishops’ WP posting:I’m sorry, but the US Catholic bishops ARE decidedly politicians, and their party is Republican. I’ve often said that I know what Pharisees look like in the 21st Century: they wear miters and carry croziers. I’m embarrassed that I live in Cardinal Francis George’s archdiocese. Thank God (literally) for the nuns!

  • YEAL9

    Other groups who try to influence our local, state and federal legislators:e.g. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith“The organization has a professional staff of approximately 528 in 28 offices nationwide, of those , two staff members based in Washington DC devoted 75% of their time, and the other devoted approximately 50% engaged in advocacy on legislative proposals related to federal hate crime laws, global anti-terrorism, the Middle East Peace Process, immigration issues, the use of government money to fund faith-based organizations and counter-terrorism proposals outside Washington, DC.”The total revenue for the ADL in 2008 was $59,960,134 mostly coming from contributions and grants.The largest of the lobbyists:(note the large sums of money being spent by health “profiteers” on lobbying )Lobbying Client Total 1998-2009Would the move to end tax exemptions for any group generate the added taxes/contributions needed to pay for universal health care?? The money spent by the health-“profiteers” on lobbying should be spent on health insurance for those who cannot presently afford it.

  • BillT2

    Way to go Sisters. The ongoing world wide pedophile scandal and continuing obstruction and cover up by the Church’s bishops is an abomination against our faith. At this point in time a reasonable person may conclude the Catholic Church’s hierarchy is corrupt and in need of reformation. The Sisters seem to be the keepers of the true values of the Church.

  • YEAL9

    Any other suggestions on how to pay for universal health care?

  • click03

    There are those who admire Jesus (the priests and hierarchy of our regressive bureaucratic Roman Catholic Church) and those who walk with Jesus. Clearly the Sisters are doing the walking and we of the Christian Catholic Faith owe them our appreciation and support. They still understand and believe in the Good News.Jesus proclaimed none of the pomp and privilege imbedded in the Roman Catholic Church. The demand for rigid adherence to “church” teaching and absolute obedience is remarkably similar to certain other autocratic religious governments.Cast the pedophiles and drovers out. We need shepherds and I believe the Sisters clearly have the compassion, skills, and faith to lead us.

  • gonhkn

    I try to obey God, not Glenn Beck. I do not consider hateful invective whether from the right or the left part of God’s will.

  • schnauzer21

    Again no one is actually reading the article. The sister are not condoning abortion. There letter states they beleive the current laws and provisions in the bill continue to prevent federal funds from going to abortions, thats all. All they are saying is the language is still clear and the Hyde ammendment still standing so please pass the bill so people can get care. The bishops are just mad the bill doesn’t make abortion illegal.