Lucky Lurky Margaret Atwood Retweets On Catholic Sisters

I happen to be reading Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood right now. It’s a delightfully conniving retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, set in a maximum security prison.

Then today I was alerted that Margaret Atwood herself retweeted Developers Are Trying to Build a Pipeline Through a Watershed. These Nuns Built a Chapel in Its Path by Heidi Thompson and myself on land defenders in Lancaster County, Penn., that was posted on the Sojourners website. Wow! (Thank you, @MargaretAtwood!)

(Apparently, some people are dedicated to using their twitter powers for good, not for sowing strife!)

The update on the Catholic sisters of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Lancaster County, Penn., is the judge approved the fossil-fuel company’s right to take a portion of the nuns’ land by eminent domain, but then the nuns filed a religious freedom injunction!

This is a unique approach and I’d say this is an important case to follow. (See July 16, 2017 Washington Post article Catholic nuns in Pa. build a chapel to block the path of a gas pipeline planned for their property by Julie Zauzmer. Thank you, @JulieZauzmer!)

Now, circling back to Margaret Atwood: Hag-Seed is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series published by Hogarth Press (founded in 1917 by none other than Virginia Woolf and her husband). It includes Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (on The Winter’s Tale), Anne Tyler’s The Vinegar Girl (on The Taming of the Shrew), and Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (on The Merchant of Venice). And due out soon is Tracy Chevalier on Othello!

It’s all mixed up to quote Margaret Atwood and the land defending Catholic nuns in the same blog post. But it comes together for me in this line from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, when Cleopatra realizes that, with the death of her love, the earth shall pass away and–I would add–the icecaps will melt shedding tears across the world:

“O see, my women, The crown o’ th’ earth doth melt. My lord!”–Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (Act 4, Scene 15)
–Rose Marie Berger

Kristof: Catholic Nuns as our Best Superheroes

sister-rice-candles
Transform Now Christian anti-nuclear activists, including Sr. Megan Rice (illustration by Jeffrey Smith)

Nicholas Kristof wrote a great column in the NYT on Saturday about American Catholic sisters. Part of his op-ed focuses on Sr. Megan Rice, age 82, who is spending 3 year in the federal pen for exposing U.S. nuclear hypocrisy. Watch for Dan Zak’s new book coming out about “The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” including Sr. Megan. (Editor’s note: This Washington Post article series by Dan Zak should be a required Bible study for all U.S. Christians.)

Here’s an excerpt from Kristof’s column:

IN an age of villainy, war and inequality, it makes sense that we need superheroes. And after trying Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, we may have found the best superheroes yet: Nuns.

“I may not believe in God, but I do believe in nuns,” writes Jo Piazza, in her forthcoming book, “If Nuns Ruled the World.” Piazza is an agnostic living in New York City who began interviewing nuns and found herself utterly charmed and inspired.

“They eschew the spotlight by their very nature, and yet they’re out there in the world every day, living the Gospel and caring for the poor,” Piazza writes. “They don’t hide behind fancy and expensive vestments, a pulpit, or a sermon. I have never met a nun who rides a Mercedes-Benz or a Cadillac. They walk a lot; they ride bikes.”

One of the most erroneous caricatures of nuns is that they are prim, Victorian figures cloistered in convents. On the contrary, I’ve become a huge fan of nuns because I see them so often risking their lives around the world, confronting warlords, pimps and thugs, while speaking the local languages fluently. In a selfish world, they epitomize selflessness and compassion.

There are also plenty of formidable nuns whom even warlords don’t want to mess with, who combine reverence with ferocity, who defy the Roman Catholic Church by handing out condoms to prostitutes to protect them from H.I.V. (They surely don’t mention that to the bishops.)

One of the nuns whom Piazza profiles is Sister Megan Rice. She earned a graduate degree at Boston College and then moved to Nigeria in 1962 to run a school for girls she had helped establish in a remote area with no electricity or running water. After eventually returning to the United States, she began campaigning against nuclear weapons.

In 2012, at the age of 82, she masterminded a break-in of a nuclear complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to call attention to the nuclear threat. As she was handcuffed by armed security guards, she sang “This Little Light of Mine.” She is now serving a prison sentence of almost three years.

Read the whole article here.

Timothy Shriver: ‘The Next Pope Should Be a Mystic’

An excellent reflection on the sede vacante, the vacant seat of St. Peter.

Mother Teresa's feet and sandals. A reminder to the next pope.

“There’s no need to rehash the recent disastrous track record of the all-male Roman Catholic hierarchy. The sordid abuse of children by priests, the sinister coverups, the callous treatment of nuns, the deaf ear turned toward Catholics who happen to be gay or divorced — it’s all on the front page. The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging moral authority.

What’s much more devastating is that it is losing believers, too. If you can’t trust the messengers, why trust the message? It is not too much to say that the crisis in the church is contributing to a crisis of faith in the Gospel itself.

This is a crisis not of management nor of theology. This is a crisis of the spirit. But before the church can address its great moral collapse, it will have to recover its spiritual bearings. The next pope should be a mystic.

A mystic? Absolutely! Contrary to popular perception, a mystic is not a magician or a crystal-ball-gazer. A mystic is rather a person who has had an experience of God’s love so unmistakable that it changes him or her forever, imparting a confidence that cannot be shaken, a humility that cannot be doubted, a freedom that exudes love and gentleness and authenticity. A mystic knows from experience, not books, that we are each beautiful beyond our understanding, loved beyond our capacity to love, united beyond our perceptions of difference and division.” —Timothy Shriver is the chairman of Special Olympics.

Read the whole column.

Why Does a Yemeni Woman Have Pictures of Gandhi, King, and Mandela?

Tawakkol Karman in Saana, Yemen.

“Tawakkol Karman sat in front of her laptop, her Facebook page open, planning the next youth demonstration. Nearby were framed photos of her idols: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These days, though, Karman is most inspired by her peers. ‘Look at Egypt,’ she said with pride. ‘We will win.'”

When I read this in Sudarsan Raghavan‘s Washington Post article yesterday on Yemen’s women activists, I was reminded that America’s very best export is the civil rights movement.

There is an intellectual and spiritual lineage from the 20th century that is being played out on the streets of Cairo, Sanaa, Riyad, and elsewhere today.

In the 1850s, Russian aristocrat Leo Tolstoy became disgusted with violence after doing tours of duty in Chechnya and after seeing a public execution in Paris. His conversion toward nonviolence and Christianity led him to write The Kingdom of God Is Within You (published in 1894).

In 1908, Tolstoy wrote A Letter to the Hindoo laying out a plan for a massive nonviolent civil resistance campaign to free India from British imperialism. The letter fell into the hands of Mohandas Gandhi who was working as a lawyer in South Africa at the time and in the beginnings of becoming an activist. This prompted an exchange of letter between the two that was foundational for Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy. Gandhi listed Tolstoy’s seminal work The Kingdom of God is Within You as one of the top three influences on his life. He called Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced.”

Less than 10 years after Gandhi was assassinated, a young American conscientious objector named James Lawson went as a Methodist missionary to Nagpur, India, where he studied satyagraha, the principles of nonviolence resistance that Mohandas Gandhi and his followers had developed.

In 1955, Lawson returned to the United States and was introduced to Martin Luther King Jr., who had also studied Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance. King told Lawson to come South, telling him “Come now. We don’t have anyone like you down there.” Lawson began implementing large-scale strategic nonviolent civil resistance training that was deeply rooted in Christian faith and spiritual principles. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States became one the most massive civil resistance movements in U.S. history.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, South African freedom leader Nelson Mandela was entering his fourth year of his life-sentence for “sabotage.” It took awhile for the news of King’s murder to reach Mandela in prison. Over the course of his 27 years in prison, Mandela studied deeply the work of Gandhi and King. Mandela was uncertain that the tactics of either would work in the South African context.

But the church leaders leading South African freedom movement outside of prison – particularly Archbishop Desmond Tutu – were highly motivated by both Gandhi and King. South Africa’s freedom struggle became known for taking the power of song to the streets. It became an image iconic of the freedom movement to hear South African children singing “We Shall Overcome” – an anthem of the American civil rights movement – and dancing the Toyi-toyi.

Thirty-one years after being imprisoned, Mandela was elected president of a free South Africa. Coretta Scott King was in the audience for Mandela’s acceptance speech as the new president.  He looked at her and said: “This is one of the most important moments in the history of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy–pride in the ordinary humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm patient determination to reclaim this country as your own, and now with joy we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops–Free at last! Free at last!” Mandela quoted the famous lines from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech.

Somewhere in Yemen today, Tawakkol Karman is sitting in front of her laptop. She’s received death threats. She fears for the life of her three children. And she is determined to shatter perceptions of women in Yemen’s conservative society (and around the world), while emboldening a new generation of Yemenis to demand an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 30-year grip on his country.

Inspired by civil resistance in Tunisia and Egypt, Karman said upon her release from detention, “We will continue this struggle and the Jasmine Revolution until the removal of this corrupt system that looted the wealth of the Yemenis” Karman spoke these words to hundreds of protesters who were demanding the release of other detainees.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with her are Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. They’ve all been where she is now. They are cheering her on. And so are we.

For more information:
Tolstoy and Gandhi: Light as Darkness Approached by Rene Wadlow

An excerpt of the exchange of letters between Tolstoy and Gandhi

Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s D.C. Homicide Blog

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I was asked this weekend why I write so much about the dead. The combination of an earlier article on the bodies of 9/11 victims left in the Fresh Kill Landfill on Staten Island (At the Hour of Our Death), my book Who Killed Donte Manning?, and my recent column for Sojourners Rachel’s Wail for a Murdered Teen appeared to set a pattern.

While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.

Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:

On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.

But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.

Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …

Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide

Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”

When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However,  new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.

Cindy Sheehan Says “Don’t Go, Don’t Kill”

A few weeks ago I ran a commentary on Huffington Post titled Christian Support for DADT is a Double Edged Sword. This week anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan added her twist on this same theme with a piece on Al Jazeera titled Don’t Go, Don’t Kill. She says:

Some of us in the peace movement work really hard to keep our young people out of the hands of the war machine that preys on disadvantaged young people in inner cities and poor rural settings.

To see a demographic that is (without appearing to stereotypes) traditionally better educated, more politically progressive, and economically advantaged fight to join this killing machine is very disheartening.

I can see how one could view the repeal as a step forward, framed in the context dictated by the political elites of the Washington beltway. I can imagine much displeasure amongst the military brass – but I cannot reiterate enough how this is not a progressive moment in the social history of the United States.

The US military is not a human rights organisation and nowhere near a healthy place to earn a living or raise a family. My email box is filled with stories of mostly straight soldiers and their families who were deeply harmed by life in the military.

I also appreciated the response from Hank Stuever, a Washington Post writer and author of the book Tinsel, to Sheehan’s piece:

Here’s something you would never hear from the gay-rights crowd about DADT, certainly not here in the epicenter of defense spending and military careers, but nevertheless, I find it curiously spot-on: Just because you CAN join the military, is it the morally just thing to do? Cindy Sheehan (remember her?) making a very good point in an essay for Al Jazeera — THAT’s how fringe this thinking is. But it begs the question: Are there ANY peace activists in the gay-rights movement?

Authentic movements for social justice build allies across lines promoting human dignity.  As Dr. King said in Montgomery, “This is a conflict between justice and injustice.” The only real question is which side are you on.

“CO2 is Green”: More Big Oil Propaganda

Big oil and big coal are worried about the upcoming climate change legislation. They’re especially worried about what it will do to their bottom line. So worried, in fact, they’re willing to set up faux non-profits to try to “educate” us into believing rising levels of CO2 are okay – and that the overwhelming consensus of the world’s scientific community is wrong.

Some might call that a difference of opinion – but really, it’s just propaganda for profit.

The front group “CO2 is Green” launched an advertising campaign this week with a half-page ad in The Washington Post urging people to pressure their senators to vote against the Senate’s “cap and trade” bill because, the ad says, “The bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change.”

Anne Mulkern, who writes for Greenwire, has a great article in the NYT about the fossil fuel industry’s latest foray into wishful thinking:

“CO2 is Green spokesman H. Leighton Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at the industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to a biography on EOG’s website. …”

EOG Resources goes farther to describe Mr. Steward, a graduate of Southern Methodist University, as:

“former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association … and currently an author-partner of Sugar Busters, LLC, a provider of seminars, books and products related to helping people follow a healthy and nutritious lifestyle, and Chairman of the non-profit foundations Plants Need CO2 and CO2 Is Green, providers of information related to carbon dioxide’s impact on the global climate and the plant and animal kingdoms.”

Additionally, David Di Martino, a spokesperson for Clean Energy Works, a coalition of about 80 faith and environmental groups who support climate legislation, told Mulkern, “CO2 is Green is bankrolled by Corbin J. Robinson, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources.”

According to a Mother Jones article from September 2009, “Natural Resource Partners is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the scandal-plagued coal front group currently under investigation for its role in the forged letters sent to members of Congress criticizing the House climate bill.”

Steven Mufson at The Washington Post also wrote about these guys in back in September 2009, saying:

Steward has joined forces with Corbin J. Robertson Jr., chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources that lets other companies mine in return for royalties. Its revenues were $291 million in 2008. They have formed two groups — CO2 Is Green designated for advocacy and Plants Need CO2 for education — with about $1 million. Plants Need CO2 has applied for 501(c)(3) tax status, so that contributions would qualify as charitable donations, said Natural Resource Partners general counsel Wyatt L. Hogan, who also serves on the group’s board.

(If you want to read more on the “populist” uprisings against climate change regulation and who’s bankrolling  them, see Greenpeace’s excellent report “Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine”.)

So it looks like the oil, coal, and natural gas corporations have developed two new front organizations: “Plants Need CO2” is the 501-c-3 (education) nonprofit and “CO2 is Green” is the 501-c-4 (advocacy) nonprofit.

These two “not-for-profit” organizations are rolling out propaganda advertisements that are bankrolled by oil company profits (“I’m not getting a penny for this,” said Steward, who said he owned oil company stocks but no coal stocks, according to the Washington Post. “It’s just something I thought people should know.”) in order to influence votes in the Senate on climate legislation that will directly impact the financial bottom line of those same oil companies.

There is something wrong with that. Maybe it’s the “lying to people for profit” -angle.

In the interest of using this column to educate rather than obfuscate, however, let’s quickly review the climate change facts as laid out by the world’s best scientists (see The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report):

1. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” (It’s happening.)

2. “Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750.” (It’s happening because of high concentrations of CO2.)

3. “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [human-induced] greenhouse gas concentrations.” (It’s happening mostly because of  CO2 waste produced by us, not trees.)

4. “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible.” (It’s happening and if we don’t do something we are really, uh, up a galaxy without a planet.)

5. “A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change.” (It’s happening and we could do something to slow it down, but our most effective legislative options are being eaten away by the greed of the energy companies.)

Let me be clear. I’m sure that Mr. Steward and Mr. Robinson feel morally justified in what they are doing. I’m sure that they deeply believe that they are correct in informing the public to their way of thinking. But that is why we have ethical codes, particularly business ethics, to safeguard the societal common good from the egoistic self-interest of the corporate few.

If energy, oil, and coal companies – and the people who run them – want to critique climate change legislation, then let them do it openly – not from behind a curtain of green smoke. I suggest they fund a new ad for The Washington Post:

“Climate change is not our problem — satisfying our stockholders is. Won’t you vote ‘no’ on climate change legislation? Because when Papa’s happy, everybody’s happy.” This ad is brought to you and paid for by Big Oil and Sons.

Rose Marie Berger, an associate editor at Sojourners, blogs at www.rosemarieberger.com. She’s the author of Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood available at store.sojo.net.

Links:
Senate’s climate change legislation (Kerry-Lieberman bill)
Ads Backed By Fossil-Fuel Interests Argue “CO2 is Green by Anne Mulkern
Greenwire
C02 is Green
Ad in The Washington Post
EOG Resources
Plants Need CO2
Clean Energy Works
New Front Group: CO2 is Green by Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (motto: “Clean Coal USA”)
New Groups Revive the Debate Over Causes of Climate Change by Steve Mufson
Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine, Greenpeace
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007 report

‘Defensiveness and Self-Protection Are Not Gospel Values’

benedictOn Saturday’s Weekend Edition, NPR host Scott Simon talked with John Allen, who reports on the Roman Catholic Church as a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter on the Vatican facing renewed pressure amid charges that Pope Benedict XVI mishandled priest sex abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Munich in the 1980s. Allen calls the scandal “unprecedented” and a “global crisis.” (Listen to the interview here.)

When Simon asked how this scandal has affected Mass-going, financial donations, or dioceses spinning off from the Roman church, Allen responded:

From the beginning of this crisis there has always been the fear that this is going to cause some kind of fundamental rupture that is that it will cause the large number of people to stop going to Mass, it will cause large numbers of Catholic to stop making financial contributions to the church, and that some of them may decide to opt out of the system all together and create a parallel church.

To date the empirical evidence that we have is that really has not happened. At the end of the day the reason for that is fairly simple: Most typical Mass-going Catholics learned a long time ago to make a distinction between what their faith is really based on — which is God, the encounter with Jesus Christ, the supernatural dimension of the church — to distinguish between that and the very fallible human beings who at any given time may be running the show.

Additionally, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote How the Catholic Church Could End Its Sex Scandal in which he said:

The church needs to show it understands the flaws of its own internal culture by examining its own conscience, its own practices, its own reflexives when faced with challenge. As the church rightly teaches, acknowledging the true nature of our sin is the one and only path to redemption and forgiveness.

Of course, this will not be easy. Enemies of the church will use this scandal to discredit the institution no matter what the Vatican does. Many in the hierarchy thought they were doing the right thing, however wrong their decisions were. And the church is not alone in facing problems of this sort.

But defensiveness and institutional self-protection are not Gospel values. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.

Read Dionne’s whole article here.

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.

T.R. Reid: Universal Health Care Reduces Abortion Rate

reid-healing-of-america150T.R. Reid, a longtime correspondent for The Washington Post and regular commentator for NPR, published a great Op Ed in Sunday’s Post (Universal health care tends to cut the abortion rate) on why people who want to lower abortion rates in the United States should be 100% in support of universal health care.

Writes Reid: The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.

Reid, who is also a Catholic, has been researching health-care systems in industrialized countries for several years in preparation for his book The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care. Reid includes has a very lovely story in his commentary about Cardinal Basil Hume, who was the senior Roman Catholic prelate of England and Wales when Reid lived in London.

Writes Reid: In Britain, only 8 percent of the population is Catholic (compared with 25 percent in the United States). Abortion there is legal. Abortion is free. And yet British women have fewer abortions than Americans do. I asked Cardinal Hume why that is.

The cardinal said that there were several reasons but that one important explanation was Britain’s universal health-care system. “If that frightened, unemployed 19-year-old knows that she and her child will have access to medical care whenever it’s needed,” Hume explained, “she’s more likely to carry the baby to term. Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, I take a little issue with Reid when he argues “The failure to recognize this plain statistical truth may explain why American churches have played such a small role in our national debate on health care. Searching for ways to limit abortions, our faith leaders have managed to overlook a proven approach that’s on offer now: expanding health-care coverage.” From my location, American churches have been extremely involved in our national health-care debate, especially the Catholic church. But I appreciate his summary of why universal health-care is an issue rooted in basic moral values that nearly everyone can support for the common good.

Writes Reid: When I studied health-care systems overseas in research for a book, I asked health ministers, doctors, economists and others in all the rich countries why their nations decided to provide health care for everybody. The answers were medical (universal care saves lives), economic (universal care is cheaper), political (the voters like it), religious (it’s what Christ commanded) and moral (it’s the right thing to do). And in every country, people told me that universal health-care coverage is desirable because it reduces the rate of abortion.

It’s a great piece, read the whole thing here.