I had some other ideas for today’s post, but feel this would be a good time to reflect on Catholicism and politics. For some months now we have been in the jaws of the healthcare “debate.” Players in this saga include politicians at its center, plus all of us on the fringe. Venues ranged from congress to the dinner table.
This bill was especially important to Catholics for two reasons: its social justice and abortion aspects. Catholics were, and will remain, an integral part of this continuing issue.
Catholic bishops have spoken clearly, repeatedly, as a group and as individuals, on the healthcare bill. Abortion is a grave evil and is not outweighed by other potential benefits. The Senate bill – which became the President’s bill – has deep flaws in abortion funding and conscience protections. It is not acceptable as is and must be modified. No one who is objectively informed doubts that it introduces serious new abortion perils nor that a presidential executive order is more than political cover.
One of the things that I noticed in various discussions is the direction people are coming from. I have often read or heard arguments that begin with political party talking points and follow with selective Church teaching to justify them. Those taking this tact are tempted to skip or reinterpret teaching that does not support their position and push it aside. In doing this, they put their political party ahead of their faith. That is a serious mistake and at times we are all tempted to loose focus and priorities.
Public Catholic political and non-political figures have been repeatedly in the news. Some Catholic politicians were in support of the Senate bill and others opposed. Those supporting expressed a viewpoint that the abortion restrictions were sufficient. Those opposed expressed the opposite viewpoint, gave detailed reasons why and supported the bishops’ priority of life above important, but lesser considerations.
It certainly was discouraging to witness politicians who, as professed Catholics, supported this bill with flaws so serious that it will ultimately expand abortion. Both the House version and Senate versions of the bill were seriously flawed in this regard. In the House, Brad Stupak was able to form a coalition of enough pro-life Representatives to force it to be corrected. In the Senate however, Ben Nelson proposed the same corrections but was defeated. To be clear, the Senate overtly and purposefully rejected these corrections. It is the Senate’s version that became the President’s version and was passed.
The bill did not pass easily and until the very end, did not have sufficient votes. In addition to every Republican Representative, a dozen pro-life Democrat Representatives held-out against the bill. Most of them gave-in to the extraordinary pressure and threats, settling not for changes to the bill or even corrections via the following “fix” bill – but simply an unsustainable Presidential order. Pro-abortion groups are sure to sue in order to neuter it. They will prevail by well established case law. Everyone knows this.
The most immediate failure of Catholic politicians was for some not to join the coalition against the bill and for others to eventually cave. The latter would not have been possible without the actions taken by two Catholic organizations that weakened their public support. First was the Catholic Health Association, hospital administrators basically, that publicly backed the bill in opposition to the bishops. Later a small group of activist sisters religious did also. Leaders of both groups met privately with the President, published press releases and gave interviews.
Other Catholic groups remained steadfast to Church teaching and the explicit guidance from our bishops. The Catholic Medical Association (physicians) and other women religious did their best to counter, but the damage was irreversibly done. The mainstream media delivered exaggerated claims and made it seem like Catholics were generally divided on this issue. We did not speak with a unified voice and our voice was therefore marginalized. Political interests had expertly played those of us who were vulnerable for their own ends.
That is what happened and there are lessons to be learned. It would lack charity to conclude that certain politicians, the CHA, or sisters acted with evil intent. It is appropriate, however, to work for change. We can support new candidates in November, regardless of their political party, who are pro-life to replace those who have been tested and failed. We can pray that the Vatican’s investigation begun last year into US women religious will bear fruitful results.
As always pray for our political leaders, that their eyes and hearts are opened to the full repercussions of their actions. Pray to Mother Mary that her Church will be strengthen and united.