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.

‘Shaping Our Future’: Church of England Leads on Climate Change

UK climate changeIn a recent post Outlook Good: The Shifting Sands of Young Evangelicals and Climate Change, I cited as study that shows how important it is for religious leaders to lead well on climate change issues.

In that light, I was heartened to see a release this week on how the Church of England is asserting itself on environmental issues.

The ‘third sector’ [civil society], including the Church of England, has a crucial role to play in using its voice to increase public demand for government action to make low carbon options available and attractive to the public, the Church said in a press release today.

Government and third sectors will work together over the next five years to tackle key environmental issues such as climate change and sustainable development, according to the vision set out in Shaping Our Future, a new report published this month.

Government and UK civil society and religious organizations have agreed on a joint mission statement for a 5 year plan:

“The third sector shapes the future by mobilizing and inspiring others to tackle climate change and maximizing the social, economic and environmental opportunities of action.”

Stephen Hale, writing in the Third Sector foreword to the Shaping Our Future report, says:

The future is what we make it. The third sector provides the voice for society’s ambitions about the kind of world we want to live in, and has been the engine of progressive change. We secured the right to vote for women, and have won many battles in the struggle for equality and human rights, and against poverty and injustice. Climate change is now the most pressing of the challenges facing humanity. … Climate change is not simply an environmental issue. It profoundly threatens many other causes that the sector holds dear. It threatens the struggle to defeat poverty and inequality in the UK and globally. It threatens our health, our local environment, the cohesion of our communities, and the struggle for peace and security. For all these reasons and more, it is above all an issue of social justice. A step change in our response to this threat is in our interests, and a moral imperative. The transition to a low-carbon economy and society also provides some specific opportunities for the sector; to create resilient communities, new jobs, sustainable public services and a better quality of life. It’s time to seize them.

Of course, making social change from inside the power structure always needs a multi-pronged approach. While the Church of England is working with the government to inspire society toward a lower carbon diet, the Church must also be applying effective shareholder pressure to the mining and oil companies where the C of  E holds massive investments.

St. Thomas: ‘Anticipate the Needs of the Poor’

ST. THOMAS OF VILLANUEVA DIVIDING HIS CLOTHES AMONG BEGGAR BOYS (1667) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo at the Cincinnati Museum of Art
St.Thomas Villanueva (Cincinnati Museum of Art)

“If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it.”–St. Thomas de Villanueva

Mary Ward: A Prophet Honored in Her Own Country

MaryWardJo Siedlecka wrote a nice piece on the Mary Ward celebration at Westminster Cathedral in Sunday’s U.K.-based Independent Catholic News. Ward, foundress of the Institute for the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) community of Catholic nuns, was a leader in social justice in 17th-century Protestant England. Her community marks it’s 400th anniversary this month.

As a side note, I was taught by IBVM sisters and was given the Mary Ward social justice award as a senior in high school. (I’m still working up to actually earning it.)

Here’s an excerpt from Siedlecka’s article:

History was made on Saturday, when a woman who risked her life to practice her  Catholic faith in 17th century Protestant England and was then imprisoned for being a heretic by the Catholic Church, was honored by Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral. …

During his homily, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said Mary Ward “was truly a woman of Europe”  equally at home in Austria, Italy and France.

Mary Ward walked to Rome three times. “Picture her shoes” Archbishop Vincent said. “You can tell a good deal about a woman from her shoes. Hers were tough and durable, in soft leather which fitted her individuality,” Archbishop Vincent said. …

Dr Rowan Williams  also paid tribute to Mary Ward. In his address, he said: “Mary Ward’s stubborn courage in following her calling through the most difficult of circumstances has, over the centuries, made a massive difference to the lives of countless people throughout the world, especially women.

“At a time when so many pressures combined to encourage the Church to retrench and to avoid risks, she kept a door open for a gospel-based vision for the renewal of religious life. Critical, loyal, brave and imaginative, she is a figure for all Christians to celebrate with gratitude.”

Read more here.

Burnham: The Absence of a Gender Justice Framework in Social Justice Organizing

stargirlTwo things are happening with this post. First, I’m playing with a new program – Embedit – that lets me embed marked up files. (See below. It’s ugly but it works.)

Second, I’d really like to generate some interaction on this topic of Gender Justice in Social Justice Organizing.

With a few decades logged now in the faith-based social justice scene, I’ve noticed that gender justice has fallen by the wayside as a core component of faith-based social justice work. There’s been a resurgence of misogyny – especially in conservative Christian rhetoric (which has seeped into popular cutlure). There’s been a resurgence of the teaching  called “complementarianism” (as opposed to egalitarianism) among many mainstream evangelical churches. (As one blogger puts it: “Complementarianism is a complicated series of intellectual gymnastics justifying the assignment of authority to men on the grounds that authority is but one among many roles played by human beings.”) And my beloved Catholic church still can’t accept that Mary Magdelene was the first apostle and should be the model for women in the priesthood.

Many of the younger folks I meet really have little-to-no gender justice analysis – and find no need for any. But as the young women get a little older and begin to encounter patriarchal power resistance, then they are totally confused about what they are experiencing.

I found Linda Burnham’s paper – while inadequate on the faith perspective – to be insightful and challenging. What do you think? (See some of her key quotes at bottom.)

QUOTES THAT I FOUND SIGNIFICANT:

“I have observed, over many decades of activism, that it is possible today to consider oneself a committed social justice organizer or human rights advocate yet have no functional understanding of how sexism operates.”

“I have witnessed the frustrations of women who are working in the context of mixed-gender organizations, networks or coalitions. Too often their efforts to introduce gender issues are resisted or undermined, or, despite their interest in incorporating a gender lens, they can’t figure out where to begin.”

“Staff and leadership development are rarely conceptualized or implemented in gender sensitive ways.”

“The presence of women in leadership is no guarantee that a gender justice framework will be in play.”

“For the purpose of this project, my working definition of a social justice organization is one whose social change work is based on the presumptions that:
(1) Problems of inequality, injustice and discrimination are not primarily individual and attitudinal but are based, more fundamentally, on structural, systemic and institutional inequities.
(2) Visions and strategies for change have to target the structures, systems and institutions that sustain and reproduce these inequities.
(3) This means directly challenging the power(s) that is vested in the status quo.
(4) A core strategy for doing so is to empower, mobilize and organize grassroots constituencies, implementing a bottom-up theory of change.”

“Several of those interviewed felt either that gender was rarely, if ever, incorporated in their organization’s work; or that it was incorporated in unsophisticated, unskillful ways; or that it was only brought up for consideration in relation to potential sources of funding.”

Interviewee: Gender is generally not incorporated. We have a highly developed race analysis and training for members and staff in race analysis. It’s constantly integrated into our framework and analysis of issues, not just a matter of strategy and tactics. But this level of analysis doesn’t exist in terms of gender.

“Two respondents mentioned that gender had come up in terms of funding strategy. When organizations approached women’s foundation they would emphasize the inclusion of women in a particular programmatic initiative, while having no functional analysis of gender, no gender-specific programming, and no gender-specific measures of evaluation. In other words, gender was used as a “funding hook” without any organizational commitment to developing consistent gender politics.

Interviewee: When women operate in an arena where there are women and men, women don’t control the discourse; we’re the add-on. At the same time, women-only spaces are marginalized. Gender is still regarded as a special interest; it’s dismissed into the gender ghetto.

Interviewee: We’ve made it to the first stage: There’s more women’s leadership and a rhetorical commitment to gender equality and against patriarchy. But, we haven’t figured out how to navigate the second stage. How do we lead on gender issues in multi-gender, multi-racial formations?

Interviewee: In the older generation, there was a lot more identification with feminism, along with a critique of mainstream feminism. No one really identifies as a feminist anymore. Some people think there’s already a level of equity and there’s no need to struggle over it anymore.

Interviewee: My generation has a set of cultural politics with no structural analysis, either on race or gender.There’s nowhere for folks 20-35ish to get that. It’s all about culture and identity and the oppression Olympics. Cultural and representational issues become a stand-in for structural analysis. We have to identify interventions that match the scale and nature of the problems.

“Male dominance was expressed by men calling the shots,bypassing the process and speaking on behalf of everybody. When women raised objections to this behavior they were in turn criticized for being out of touch with their own ethnic culture.”

Interviewee: When people don’t handle it [bad gender dynamics and practices], it backfires into the organization and we have no analytical handle or tools to figure out how to deal with it. As with race, if you don’t handle it, it will handle you.

“The absence of a gender justice lens means that the leadership of women and women of color is not identified as an explicit goal; those organizations that are using a gender lens are marginalized; and the case for gender sensitive organizing has to be made over and over again, with little momentum gained.”

“Two of those interviewed spoke to age as a complicating factor in addressing gender dynamics. Specifically, as young women they had encountered situations in which older men used their extended experience and status as quasi elders as a cover for undermining the work of younger women or shielding themselves from criticisms of sexism. One activist tagged this as “patriarchy 2.0,” i.e., not a blatant violation of gender practice, but a way to maintain their status and take up space while undermining the women who were doing the work. In this dynamic, younger men were paralyzed. They saw it, raised it to the women, but said nothing to the group or to the older men. They were complicit in sexism because they valued their strategic relationships with the older men and didn’t want to be on their shit list. It was confusing and silencing.”

Wow! Let me know what you think by sending me your comments.

‘When Fortune Turns Against One of Us …”: In Defense of Liberalism

cardboardcityorigLast night, at the end of his health care speech, President Obama gave one of the great defenses of the modern Liberal political tradition — the important role that government has to play in defending liberty and providing for the common good.

He layed out a healthcare reform platform that sets in place a cushion for those times “when forture turns against one of us.” It’s an organized way of making sure that we are “there to lend a helping hand.” We do this because it is right, because it makes us better human beings, because it’s spiritually enlivening, because it is fiscally appropriate, and because it’s what we want someone to do for us and our kids if we ever need it.

In some ways, the reactionary town-hall tiffs orchestrated by a few folks on the Far-Right forced Obama to teach a national civics lesson. Sixth grade civics covers the meaning of citizenship; how citizens exercise roles, rights, responsibilities of civic duty at local, state, and national levels; how power, responsibility, and authority are distributed, shared, and limited; the purpose, organization, and function of local, state, and national government, etc.

Obama framed the end of his speech with excerpts from a letter from Ted Kennedy: “What we face,” Kennedy wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

Here’s the last section of Obama’s speech:

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed — the ones who suffer silently, and the ones who shared their stories with us at town halls, in e-mails, and in letters.

I received one of those letters a few days ago. It was from our beloved friend and colleague, Ted Kennedy. He had written it back in May, shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal. He asked that it be delivered upon his death.

In it, he spoke about what a happy time his last months were, thanks to the love and support of family and friends, his wife, Vicki, his amazing children, who are all here tonight. And he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform — “that great unfinished business of our society,” he called it — would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days — the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and, yes, sometimes angry debate. That’s our history.

For some of Ted Kennedy’s critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government.

But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here — people of both parties — know that what drove him was something more. His friend Orrin Hatch — he knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient’s Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.

On issues like these, Ted Kennedy’s passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick. And he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance, what it would be like to have to say to a wife or a child or an aging parent, there is something that could make you better, but I just can’t afford it.

That large-heartedness — that concern and regard for the plight of others — is not a partisan feeling. It’s not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character — our ability to stand in other people’s shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it. In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

That was true then. It remains true today. I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term.

But that is not what the moment calls for. That’s not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard. I still believe — I still believe that we can act when it’s hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.

Because that’s who we are. That is our calling. That is our character. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Read the whole transcript here.

Review: “Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me A Saint”

dday-filmDirector Claudia Larson’s DVD documentary Dorothy Day: Don’t Call Me a Saint is a “must see” because Day, Catholic anarchist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, is no ordinary saint.

Based on 14 years of research, Larson presents the intimate Day through private writings, interviews, and compelling images of her life and times. Day, currently under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican, was inspired by the gospels, the lives of the saints, and the teachings of her Roman Catholic faith.

SYNOPSIS: Tells the story of the New York writer and Catholic anarchist who at the height of the Depression unwittingly created what would become a worldwide peace and social justice movement. The Catholic Worker persists to this day in over 180 houses of hospitality and soup kitchens across the United States, in Europe, Australia, Canada and Mexico. Their tenet is based on doing works of mercy and living in voluntary poverty with no attachments to Church or State.

And although the Vatican is currently considering Dorothy Day for canonization, she is no ordinary saint. Caught up in the Bohemian whirl of 1917 Greenwich Village, Dorothy wrote for radical papers, associated with known Communists, attempted suicide and had an illegal abortion, a doomed common-law marriage and a child out of wedlock. The birth of her only child led to her religious conversion.

The film takes us through Dorothy’s protests of the 1950’s air-raid drills, her last arrest in 1973 with the United Farm Workers and to her death on November 29, 1980 at the home she founded for homeless women on New York’s Bowery.

Interviews with Dorothy, her daughter, and close intimates coupled with never-before-seen family photographs, personal writings and powerful archival footage paint a dramatic picture of Dorothy’s most difficult journey to create and live out a vision of a more just world.

This is a really fantastic film that gives an inside look at the grittiness of Day’s life, which makes her compassion and courage shine all that more brightly.

Take a look at the newly launched Web site promoting the film. Show it in your church and have a lively discussion. A book supplement to the film should be out soon.

(NOTE: This film is not just for Catholics. Everyone will appreciate Dorothy’s feisty engagement with faith and life.)

Cardboard City Catholics

cardboardcityorigThirty-two teens from a west London Catholic parish became homeless for a day as part of their preparation for being “confirmed” (making an adult commitment) in the Catholic Church. I LOVE this as a way of practicing living out the gospel and embodying the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Some find it easy to dismiss this kind of symbolic action, but I have to say that it’s this kind of experience that shapes and forms the individual conscience. It’s not that this particular action will be effective in ending homelessness (though they did raise £1000 for the local shelter), but it will convert a whole generation of Catholics sensitive to the issues.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Annette Brazier, who leads the catachetical programme at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Acton, explained: “our young people have a real concern for social issues. They often challenge us to look after the environment, speak out for the poor and needy and challenge racism. The project started with a reflection on the gospels and the call to reach out to the marginalized in our society. A number of the sessions focused on social justice and how as Christians we are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The group responded well to the challenge presented to them and after a talk from Ian Breen, the director of the local charity Acton Homeless Concern, they decided to go homeless for a day and to do a sponsored fast during this time.”

One of the local schools, St. Vincent Catholic Primary, offered their grounds on a Saturday and the group of 32 confirmation candidates, plus their catechists gave up their usual comforts and lived on the school grounds for the day.

Many of the young people found bits of cardboard to sit on or make temporary shelters so that they could gain a better understanding of what it must be like to be homeless.

Parish Priest, Fr. John Leahy, said he was really impressed by their efforts. He said: “the group have really thought about those who are marginalised in our society.”

The project, which was called, Cardboard City, raised over £1000 for Acton Homeless Concern.

Read the whole article here.

CJR Gives Sojourners Kudos

soj0904There’s a nice mention in the Columbia Journalism Review‘s blog written by Katia Bachko about Sojourners magazine’s April 2009 issue.

Like most great journalism efforts Sojourners editorial staff is a mixture of editors and writers with academic journalism degrees and others with 35 years of experience “just doing the work.” It’s nice when the arbiters of journalistic integrity at least know you exist!

Here’s a clip from CJR’s comment:

Sojourners is a Christian magazine, and, according to its cover, it’s interested in “faith, politics, and culture.” In tone and subject matter, Sojourners often feels like the magazine embodiment of NPR’s Speaking of Faith, only slightly more preachy, and more narrowly Christian.

The magazine is strongest when covering social justice issues, illuminating topics frequently neglected by mainstream outlets.

Read the whole piece here.

Mark Up the Bail-Out Budget Yourself

Congress is moving rapidly to enact a gigantic taxpayer bailout of the financial sector, with a potential cost of $700 billion or more than $2000 per American citizen. The folks at PublicMarkup.org believe, as Justice Brandeis said, that “Sunlight is the best of disinfectants,” and that all legislation ought to be open to public comment and consideration in real-time, not just after the fact.

So, as a public service, they’ve posted for public comment the 44-page proposal currently in front of Congress from Senator Chris Dodd (Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) and the eight-page text of the “Legislative Proposal from Treasury Department for Authority to Buy Mortgage-Related Assets.”

Section 8 of the Treasury Department documents states: “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

Isn’t it this lack of oversight and “just trust me” attitude that got us into this mess? “Budgets are moral documents” as we say at Sojourners, repeating the Hebrew prophets..