US Catholic Faith in Real Life

UPDATE: U.S. bishops still mad about health care reform

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

UPDATE: A USCCB media blog post by Helen Osman has rejected as inaccurate the Catholic News Agency account linked to below. I admit I was a little surprised that Cardinal George would have been so personal in his criticism of Carol Keehan. It seems the USCCB Executive committee has a mole, since George's report was not for public consumption and the USCCB is not releasing the transcript. Osman seems especially incensed that CNN basically picked up the story without any fact-checking.

Something's definitely fishy here: Did CNA completely fabricate the story? The media blog argues that CNA breached the bishops' confidentiality. More likely they spun the cardinal's remarks to suit their own editorial agenda, as Osman doesn't seem to dispute the topic and direction of the conversation. Wish the USCCB would release the transcript to really set the record straight.

ORIGINAL POST: With health care reform passed months ago, I was surprised to see this story from the Catholic News Agency, detailing Chicago's Cardinal Francis George's withering criticism of the Catholic Health Association and its president, Sister Carol Keehan. CHA disagreed with the USCCB's final opposition to the legislation, which leads George to accuse “the Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups [of providing] cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration.” George noted that the USCCB's May 21 statement "Setting the Record Straight" remains the USCCB's official position, according to CNA.

Commonweal's most recent editorial seems alarmed at this turn of events: "It has long been the position of the USCCB that, while bishops must provide moral guidance, lay Catholics are fully competent to make decisions in the public sphere, whether in the workplace or in politics. Is it now the USCCB’s view that the laity has lost that competence? If that is the case, real confusion will surely ensue." This is especially true of a piece of legislation as complex as health care reform.

I tend to agree that the bishops are overreaching here: They are indeed our teachers in matters of faith and morals--that is, in what pertains to the deposit of faith--but they do not have unquestionable judgment on matters of legislative policy. Quite frankly, I personally found their demands so absolute and unreasonable that I fear no health reform legislation could ever pass in this democracy if they were all met.

Further, since most of these statements come ouf the executive committee of the USCCB, of which George is head as president, or the conference committees, or from the loudest voices among the U.S. bishops, I fail to see how they somehow speak for everyone. It is quite frankly canonically problematic. I find this especially disturbing because many opponents of the legislation seem willing to question the good will of those on the other side, as if they were somehow in favor of abortion. I for one found Keehan quite compellingly pro-life in her U.S. Catholic interview on health care reform.

I still think it a tragedy that the bishops have been unable to at least acknowledge that we have taken one step closer to one of their long-sought policy goals: universal health care for all as a human right. I find it doubly unfortunate that now they are pointing fingers a Carol Keehan or anyone else, as if she or "other so-called Catholic groups" are to blame for the bishops' loss of credibility in the public square, the cause of which is known to all.