Over the years I have tried on many occasions to understand the apparent disconnect between the bureaucrats at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic magisterium that the act of abortion is a heinous crime, frequently defined by the popes as murder.
We know, for example, that during the debate regarding health care reform, the USCCB coined the term “abortion neutral,” and most recently, according to the New York Times, explained their current dilemma in a rather odd way.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which has lobbied for decades to persuade the government to provide universal health insurance, says it opposes the bill unless it bans the use of subsidies for plans that cover abortion.
“We have said to the White House and various Senate offices that we could be the best friends to this bill if our concerns are met," Richard M. Doerflinger, a spokesman for the bishops on abortion issues, said in an interview. "But the concerns are kind of intractable.”
This statement present the same challenges that many USCCB statements have over the years. The first is the suggestion that if a version of Obama’s health care reform proposal “bans the use of subsidies for plans that cover abortion,” the USCCB will be so happy it will apparently cozy up to the Obama forces and be “friends.” If that has not troubled your ulcer, perhaps this will.
What exactly does it mean to refer to a public policy in preborn child killing as “kind of intractable?” Is that in the same category as “a little bit pregnant?”
Merriam-Webster tells us that “intractable” is defined as “not easily governed, managed or directed.” So can we presume that the USCCB is “kind of” stubborn about this matter of abortion? Is the USCCB attempting to help the Obama administration understand that when it comes to aborting a child, they just want to make sure that taxpayers don’t have to pay for them, or at least not all of them.
Don’t forget, the USCCB is on record with an “abortion neutral” statement, explaining that it supports Hyde-type language, which means that in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, abortion would be covered by tax dollars.
Where exactly is that permitted in Catholic teaching? Or are we witnessing a pattern of behavior that equates USCCB positions with political principles rather than Catholic principles? Albeit a “realistic” approach for a political organization, how can it be so for the organization that allegedly represents more than 200 men, ordained into the Catholic priesthood, and following in the footsteps of the Apostles?
A good friend and fellow Catholic, Tom Longua, a pro-life pioneer and apologist, sent an e-mail in which he provided his perspective. It is certainly worth repeating: “It's possible that Doerflinger himself may be ‘absolute’ about the principle of not accepting the funding of baby-killing, but having dealt with so many American bishops for so many years, he knows only too well that many of them are not absolute [on] any principle, so he inserted the words ‘kind of’ to hedge his bet here.”
Either way, it occurs to me that the USCCB spokesman and the ordained priests, each of whom has now been elevated to the office of bishop, archbishop or cardinal, should not be lobbying one way or the other for this sort of health care reform. The USCCB should be using its influence and platform in the public square to teach the principles of Catholic doctrine. Period. The preborn, the elderly and the infirm don’t need the same old, same old rhetoric that we have grown so accustomed to from the USCCB.
I must say though, before leaving this subject, that Mr. Doerflinger is no stranger to the controversy caused by strange comments made by the Catholic bishops he serves in his post as associate director of the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Many of these comments are a bit off-key, if one listens to the harmonious teachings of the Catholic church versus the USCCB’s bishops and their individual rendition of those teachings.
Take, for example, the question of human personhood, a fundamental philosophical position of the Catholic Church that is also provable by science and logic. As Pope John Paul II explained in 1996 when speaking of the rights of human embryos, “a problem which directly concerns the discussion between biologists, moralists and jurists is that of the basic rights of the person, which must be recognized in every human subject throughout his life and, in particular, from his moment of origin.”
This is not a lofty ideal, but rather a fundamental truth regarding existence from the moment of his or her biological beginning. And yet, the bishops disagree, at least when devising statements to address the human personhood initiatives in the various states.
The Conference, which serves as the official public policy voice of the Florida bishops, released an email alert Friday afternoon, alerting supporters that, "although the bishops of Florida clearly share the desire for our state laws to recognize all life from its very beginning to natural end, after careful consideration and deliberation with legal counsel, the bishops do not support this current amendment effort."
The same e-mail noted that signature collection would not take place in any parish or diocesan entity in the state.
The same correspondence included a link to a more thorough statement by the bishops, which may be accessed on the Conference web site. The statement, dated September 19, affirms the bishops' collective commitment to "the full legal recognition of the right to life of every unborn child and the defense of human life in all its stages, from conception to natural death."
However, the statement continues, "it is our opinion, and that of the legal experts with whom we have consulted, that passage of this amendment would not achieve the goal of overturning Roe v. Wade."
The bishops first note the unlikelihood of such an amendment passing, given Florida law's stipulation that constitutional amendments be approved by at least 60% of voters. Furthermore, the federal courts would almost certainly strike down such an amendment as unconstitutional, and the bishops express fear that, should the case be heard by the United States Supreme Court (which is presently dominated by pro-Roe justices) it might well "lead to a reaffirmation of Roe."
The bishops go on to reaffirm their view "that it will be more prudent to pursue incremental measures that add to existing protections in law and help change hearts and minds."
What sort of prudence is it that opposes an effort to teach citizens the humanity of the preborn? Catholic bishops have publicly opposed state personhood efforts in state after state for what I perceive to be purely political reasons. As American Life League Executive Director Shaun Kenney suggested, is such a statement a type of “false prudence?” Or is it that the political agenda of the USCCB, in concert with the various state Catholic conferences, is not well served by finally standing up and saying that Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are evil decisions, in direct violation of the natural law and therefore invalid? Should the USCCB and its state equivalents make such a bold statement, only God knows what might happen, but it certainly would not be the fulfillment of a political agenda that appears to be leaving human personhood behind.
When I examine the facts, comparing the devastating blow various bishops have delivered to state personhood efforts with a national spokesman of the USCCB’s sort of, kind of, maybe policy on health care, I am left with a sick feeling in my extremely conservative Catholic heart. It is with the greatest sorrow that I witness this ongoing debacle being perpetrated by the Catholic apostles of our day. I fear that, perhaps, human respect has overtaken many of them. I worry that pollsters, lawyers and politicians may have distracted them from Christ’s ever timely reminder, uttered to His first apostles (Matthew 10:32-33):
Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.
In this year of the priest, I believe it is time for each of us to pray for the current day apostles of Christ, our Catholic bishops, and to entrust them to the patron saint of priests, Saint John Vianney, who once so very wisely wrote,
Do you know what the devil’s first temptation is to the person who wants to serve God with dedication? It is human respect.