US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Twisting the tradition on health care

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Catholic opponents of health care reform seem willing to go to no ends to find some justification in church teaching for opposing it, including some bishops. Our Sunday Visitor has an online story about these few episcopal naysayers, who argue that health care isn't really a "right" (though Pope John XXIII and later Catholic social teaching says it is). The latest salvo is that a federal health care program would "violate" the principle of subsidiarity, according to a story from Our Sunday Visitor.

"The writings of recent popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care," wrote Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Kansas City, Kansas, and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Missouri in a joint pastoral statement on health care. Other bishops who have taken this line include "Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa; Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D.; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.; and Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo.," along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, according the OSV story.

I hate to be blunt, but what a load of nonsense, and a complete misunderstanding of the principle of subsidiarity, which is (1) not something that you can “violate” in the same way you can a moral law, (2) says that an issue should be addressed at the local level whenever possible, and (3) says that when the common good can’t be served best at the local level, the issue moves on up.

The U.S. health care system is hardly something that can be “solved” even at the state level it seems--if history is any indication--and I’ll bet I can find 10 references in the teachings of the USCCB that say that it should be addressed at the federal level. Is Medicare a violation of subsidiarity? Medicaid? If these bishops suggested such at thing, they’d be attacked by the seniors who still fill their churches.

And I doubt very much that these same bishops would entertain appeals to subsidiarity when it comes to issues related to the human dimension of the church.

Catholic News Service has, I think, a more representative response from the U.S. bishops that focuses on the issues Catholics should be concerned about: public funding for abortion, conscience clauses for health care providers, and access to care for immigrants, whether legal or undocumented. That's where our energy should be going, and just as much on the politically unpopular last issue as the first two.