Wacky 'Catholic Social Justice' Groups? Or Worse?

September 21, 2009 09:00 AM

Sometimes e-mail provokes deeper reflection about a pro-life subject. I don’t like to rush to respond when there are layers of meaning in the comments being made. In this case, I think the final result of my reflections needs to be stated publicly.

My correspondent wrote,

Have you been following this story – “‘Social Justice’” Catholic groups protest Cardinal Rigali for Opposition to Health Reform over Abortion”?

Doesn’t Cardinal Rigali and these social justice Catholic groups see how flawed the health care reform bills are, with or without abortion? Is this why the bishops have been so silent – to see this very flawed bill be passed? Or are they helpless?

The article mentioned reports on a protest planned by the Catholic Peace Fellowship, the House of Grace Catholic Worker and the Philadelphia Catholic Worker, to pressure Justin Cardinal Rigali, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, to explicitly endorse a version of Obamacare. According to the report, these groups claim that “abortion funding is not included” in the health care “reform” proposals. This is a claim that we know is false, misleading and utterly ridiculous.

Such organizations fear that if the bishops persist in their demand that taxpayer funding not be used for most abortions, then people will be driven to oppose health care reform because of what the bishops are saying. Such organizations want to see universal health care reform legislation passed now and then, supposedly, worry about abortion later.

Based on what the USCCB has been saying, however, I have the impression that there is a growing element within its bureaucracy that wants to see health care reform now, whether or not it conforms to Catholic health care principles. For example, just recently, Archbishop Donald Wuerl wrote a commentary for Politics Daily in which he told his readers, “Our nation has the capacity and the resources to ensure that all have access to health care coverage.” He goes on to explain that the Catholic Church offers “a safety net for many who fall through the huge cracks of a failing health care system.”

Archbishop Wuerl then presents his vision of the basics of health care reform: “It is essential that reform include long-standing and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates and uphold existing conscience protections for health care providers.” He continues, stating that in addition to its defense of Catholic principles regarding abortion funding and conscience protection, the Church, or rather the USCCB, urges that health care coverage include “the immigrants in our midst” who are here legally and do pay their taxes, but frequently do not have health care coverage.

In other words, the archbishop is asking the federal government to pick up the slack, and do for the poor and the needy in our midst what charity alone used to accomplish in days gone by. To some Catholics, federal tax dollars appear to be necessary for the Catholic charitable works of our present age, regardless of the strings that are or will be attached to those dollars. To my mind, such Catholics are not very forward-thinking.

First and foremost, the USCCB should see it as crucial to ensure that there is absolutely no funding for abortion – or any other tentacles of the culture of death – in any health care legislation. Thus, how can it be that the USCCB would sit back and welcome a federally mandated health care “reform” program before the fundamentals of such a program have even been worked out? Am I being too judgmental? Could it be that the Church has come to a point in its history wherein federal funding is a necessity for charitable works?

Within 24 hours of Archbishop Wuerl’s column being published, the USCCB issued a news release stating that the Hispanic Catholic bishops met with Latino lawmakers and others in Congress to discuss policies that affect the Hispanic community. The release explains that the four topics discussed included the following: 

The U.S. [b]ishops have for decades been in favor of health care reform that is truly universal and respects the life and dignity of all, including the poor and legal immigrants. Health care legislation must allow all legal immigrants, regardless of income level, to participate in any new health care system and oppose any ban that would prevent them from participating for five years. Such legislation must also support the inclusion of pregnant women and children, regardless of their legal status.

Here again, we find the USCCB making a sincere effort to win over Democrats by enunciating a goal of caring for the poor, immigrants,  expectant mothers and immigrant children, including those who may not have legal status in this country. While this is laudable, it is also unrealistic. The Democratic Party is now, more than ever in its history, the party of death. It is led by a man who is committed to abortion, contraception, sterilization, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human embryonic stem cell research and therapies derived from that research.

This is perhaps why Cathy Ruse, formerly the spokeswoman for the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, opined in Human Events,

The tragedy, and what astounds observers of what Father Richard John Neuhaus called The Catholic Thing, is that the Democratic party is so beholden to the abortion industry and its ideology that it is willing to turn its back on its great friend, the Catholic Church, to risk an embarrassing defeat for its new leader, and to squander the opportunity to realize the shared dream of providing access to quality health care for all, especially the poor.

Ruse knows of what she speaks. There was a time when the Democratic Party was the party of the most needy and helpless in our midst, but that is history. It is definitely not now, nor will it ever be again, barring a miracle. But let’s set this aside for a moment.

There remains the fundamental question that my friend asked and that has not been addressed at all in the lofty statements and recommendations of many at the USCCB, and that is this: Does Cardinal Rigali and these so-called social justice Catholic groups see how flawed the health care reform bills are, with or without abortion? 

Could it be that any federally funded, federally controlled health care program, regardless of its stated intentions or promises, is fatally flawed by the very nature of the operatives in charge, be they Democrats, Republicans or otherwise? Is it really government’s proper role to control health care and health insurance coverage?

Should the USCCB be pushing for health care reform at the federal level and insist on its “abortion neutral” requirement? As the liberal commentator Peter Steinfels wrote in the New York Times,   “Abortion neutral may be an elusive concept, but it remains very much alive if Congress, the White House and supporters of the overhaul effort want it to be.”

Is it really enough for the USCCB to argue that Catholic bishops would be happy if health care reform only permitted abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is endangered? That is, after all, what “abortion neutral” means, according to the USCCB’s web site.

U.S. News & World Report’s religion reporter, Dan Gilgoff, has put the matter in the proper context, answering questions that have troubled many of us when he wrote, 

One of the most prominent voices in the antiabortion movement, however, has carved out a much different position in the healthcare debate. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while fiercely opposed to abortion rights, has lobbied for decades for universal healthcare coverage as a fundamental right. “We think the right to have basic healthcare is corollary to the right to life,” says Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the bishops’ conference, which represents the Roman Catholic Church’s roughly 270 American bishops. “And that society has some obligation to help provide it.”

Yes, apparently, the USCCB does believe that society’s obligations to the less fortunate are the same as the federal government controlling health care coverage, health insurance and simultaneously providing something called “abortion neutrality.”

That same government need not address the fact that health care “reform” could end up rationing care, financing euthanasia and assisted suicide, funding contraception or bankrolling Planned Parenthood, according to what the USCCB has been saying lately. Apparently, that same government need only promise that it will pay for only a few abortions (in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life), and everything will be hunky-dory in USCCB-ville!

Hark! Listen up! Society is not the federal government. Society is individuals, families and communities that can and should strive to reach out to those in need. A federal government bureaucracy is not in this equation. In 1887, when President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill to give disaster relief to farmers in Texas, he wrote the following:

“The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the [g]overnment and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Something’s definitely wacky, but I don’t think the wackiness is confined merely to certain “Catholic social justice” groups.

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