Naïve sisters or paranoid bishops?

This Catholic’s View By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. The Catholic bishops of the United States are calling for the defeat … Continued

This Catholic’s View

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

The Catholic bishops of the United States are calling for the defeat of the Senate health care bill because they say it will provide federal funding for abortion. Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association, disagrees as does a group of sisters who head religious congregations. Are the sisters being naïve or are the bishops paranoid?

The disagreement is not over the morality of abortion or federal funding for abortion. The disagreement is over the meaning of the legislative language dealing with health insurance exchanges and community health clinics in the Senate bill.

The bishops fear the bill will force people to choose an insurance plan that includes abortion because it might include coverage of other things not in a plan that also excludes abortion. And because there is no explicit language forbidding community health clinics from doing abortions (although they have never done abortions in the past), the bishops fear courts might force them to perform abortions.

Many, including the sisters, think such fears are misplaced.

The arguments on both sides are quite technical. If the U.S. Congress were a functional body, the legal language could be clarified in the conference committee, which is supposed to work out the differences between the two houses. But because the Republicans will filibuster any bill that is returned to the Senate for passage, there is really only two options–pass the Senate bill or have no health care reform.

Catholic social teaching has always acknowledged that on the application of principles, Catholics can disagree even if adherence to the principles must be unbending. The area of disagreement in this case is not over principle but over the interpretation of legal language. Neither the sisters nor the bishops have any special charism when it comes to interpreting legislative language or predicting how legislation will be interpreted by the courts.

Granted that this is a question of prudential judgment, Members of Congress can and must decide for themselves.

Certainly a legitimate case can be made for voting for the legislation granted the certainty of the good it will do in expanding coverage to the poor and the speculative nature of the legislation’s potential for funding abortions. Supporters also argue that any failures in the Senate bill can be fixed in the future, whereas if the Senate bill does not pass, we will not see health care reform for another decade.

If the Senate bill does pass, we will know within a few years whether the bishops were paranoid or whether the sisters were naïve. Do you think either will acknowledge that fact when the time comes?

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is a Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
March 18, 2010; 8:41 PM ET

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  • usapdx

    The American bishops are republicans from the way they speak,yet their dioceses pay no tax when they speak out on political matters vrs the rules of the tax exampt law. I wish the members of the RCC knew how much money they spend at the places they meet as a body which the average member could not afford to stay at. The American bishops as a body never that I know of gave their view on the case in Brazil of March,2009 of the little girl age 9, of 80 pounds pregnant with twins by her stepfather which was in many medias. I know what any American mother whould have done no matter what any bishop said. I bet all the bishops have very good heathcare insurance in the USA paid for by the RCC of USA membership.

  • YEAL9…/20090314-bishops-admit-mistake-annul-excommunication-abortion-row-minor-rape-brazil “AFP – Brazilian bishops have said the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion after being raped was wrong and would not be applied.

  • mbc7

    Doesn’t one of those Commandments cover lying or maybe liberal Catholics repealed it. Health care reform isn’t dead if this bill fails, incremental reform can happen this year. Substantial portions of the bill have bipartisan support. All that is needed is compromise. When the economy recovers, additional change can be discussed. Why does anyone think next year’s Congress will fund the bill? This is just a giant suicide pact. (Only 100 or so members are above the Brown line, the rest are at risk.) The President is turning the nation back to the Republicans. It took Bush 6 years to destroy his party, Obama has done it in two, supported all the time by his enablers in the liberal elite, the press,and the Universities.

  • levarfan

    Sadly, the Catholic bishops are becoming more and more just a mouthpiece for the Republican party, discarding Jesus’s teachings on social justice and embracing the religious right at any cost.