Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics

Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association

A quick round-up of “some things Catholic.” First, the American Catholic Council‘s Janet Hauter has a short reflection (see below) on the American bishops and power that illustrates the deep theological divide at the foundation of of post-Vatican II Catholicism and the current issue between the US Catholic bishops and the Obama administration. Hauter highlights David DeCrosse’s excellent NCR article on the “Bishops’ Conscience Model.”

Next, the newly formed Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (self-described “Vatican II priests“) will have its inaugural convention in June. This is part of a world-wide movement of priests forming their own associations, not under control of the bishops’ conference, in order to discuss issues happening within their churches and speak with a unique voice. Continue reading “Conscience, Power, and Obedience: A Conversation Among Catholics”

More Healthcare: Leading U.S. Catholic Newspaper Stands With Sisters on Healthcare

hcr-is-pro-lifeIn more late-breaking news, the nation’s leading Catholic newspaper the National Catholic Reporter, released an editorial backing the passage of the current health-care reform bill before Congress. “Congress, and its Catholics, should say yes to health care reform,” states NCR.

This move aligns NCR with thousands of Catholic sisters and millions of lay Catholics (see Catholic Nuns Pick Up Where Bishops Fall Down) , but puts it at odds with U.S. Catholic bishops, who said earlier this week that they could not support the current bill.

We do not reach this conclusion as easily as one might think, given the fact that we have supported universal health care for decades, as have the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and other official and non-official organs of the Catholic church. There are, to be sure, grave problems with the bill the House will consider in the next few days. It maintains the squirrelly system of employer-based health care coverage that impedes cost reduction. Its treatment of undocumented workers is shameful. It is unnecessarily complicated, even Byzantine, in some of its provisions. It falls short of providing true universal coverage.

Nevertheless, NCR sees passing healthcare reform as a giant step forward in correcting a failed system and putting the country on the right track for continued improvements. NCR acknowledges that much of the heated debate as we get closer to victory will be around the abortion issue.

All sides agreed to abide by the spirit of the Hyde Amendment, which for more than 30 years has banned federal funding of abortion. But the Hyde Amendment applies to government programs only, and trying to fit its stipulations to a private insurance marketplace is a bit like putting a potato skin on an apple. Pro-choice advocates could not understand why a government that currently subsidizes abortion coverage through the tax code should balk at subsidizing private plans that cover abortion in the insurance exchanges the bill establishes. They have a point. Pro-life groups understandably worry that opening the door to federal funding of abortion, even indirectly, risks further encroachments on Hyde. They have a point, too.

NCR also addresses the diverging opinions this week between the pro-passage stance taken by Catholic Health Association and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby representing more than 59,000 Catholic sisters and the anti-passage stance taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I appreciated NCR delineating the different roles each sector plays.

[The Catholic Health Association] actually knows how health care is provided at the ground level. The USCCB’s inside-the-beltway analysis is focused on possible scenarios, many of them worst-case scenarios. The U.S. bishops’ conference is right to worry about such things and the sisters are right to put those worries in perspective.

In the final analysis, NCR reiterates that the current legislation is not “pro-abortion,” and there is “no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill.”

What is being debated is not the morality of abortion but the politics of abortion, concludes NCR, and there is plenty of room for honest and respectful disagreement among Catholics about politics. Amen to that!

Healthcare: Catholic Nuns Pick Up Where Bishops Fall Down

Sr. Carol Keehan, Catholic Health Association president
Sr. Carol Keehan, Catholic Health Association president

This week as seen a bizarre split in Catholic allegiances on passing the health care bill. On Monday, 15 March, U.S. Catholic bishops, who have been a strong, clear, and powerful advocate for health care reform have backed off from it over concerns that the language written by pro-life Dems Ben Nelson and Bob Casey doesn’t go far enough in preventing federal funding for abortion.

The bishops announced that they must “regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed.” Yesterday, Catholic commentator E.J. Dionne wrote in his Washington Post column:

Yet on the make-or-break roll call that will determine the fate of health-care reform, bishops are urging that the bill be voted down. They are doing so on the basis of a highly tendentious reading of the abortion provisions in the Senate measure. If health reform is defeated, the bishops will have played a major role in its demise.

What a shame! But, where the Catholic bishops have dropped the banner, American Catholic sisters have picked it up.

Sister Carol Keehan, President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association (the largest Catholic health organization in the country, representing 1200 Catholic health facilities and 800,000 employees), issued a statement (The Time is Now for Health Reform) on Monday, maintaining support for the health care bill and explaining how the current provisions will work:

The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.

Two days after Sr. Keehan’s statement of support for the health care bill, more Catholic sisters representing hundreds of communities sent letters to Congress also in support of passing the health care bill.

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, headed up by Sr. Simone Campbell, released the text of the letter they delivered to each member of Congress on St. Patrick’s Day. NETWORK represents 59,000 Catholic sisters and more lay Catholics.

We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming “yes” vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week. We join the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which represents 1,200 Catholic sponsors, systems, facilities and related organizations, in saying: the time is now for health reform AND the Senate bill is a good way forward.

As the heads of major Catholic women’s religious order in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation’s hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country. …

The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And 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.

Of course, as all this plays out, conservatives against health care reform — including Americans United for Life, which is running a $350,000 ad campaign aimed at eight Democratic lawmakers who supported the Stupak-Pitt’s amendment which prohibited federal funding for abortion and allowed individuals to purchase private insurance that may or may not cover abortions — are cranking back up their machines and may be strong-arming behind the scenes to push House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (also a Catholic) toward the “deem to pass” or “self-executing” option.

CHA president Sr. Keehan wrote for Sojourners last November. I appreciated her clear, concise, and profoundly educated approach when she said:

“Health care must respect and protect human dignity from conception to natural death. In that spirit, coverage for everyone is a moral imperative and a matter of social justice.”

Once again, I’m proud to see Catholic women leading the way toward sane and humane governance and policy.