Bishops Ready for "Formidable" Health Care Fight

Statement Aims to Set Record Straight on Teaching

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WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 25, 2010 ( The U.S. bishops’ position on health care reform for the nation has been “misrepresented, misunderstood and misused for political and other purposes,” according to a statement from three prelates most directly involved in the debate.

The bishops who lead the respective committees on pro-life advocacy, justice and human development, and migration released a statement Thursday called “Setting the Record Straight.”

They affirmed their position over the course of the year of debate was “unified and consistent.”

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the Committee on Migration, signed the statement.

They began with a review of their position, elaborated not just during the debate in Congress, but rather over “decades of advocacy.”

“We called for reform that would make health coverage affordable for the poor and needy, moving our society substantially toward the goal of universal coverage,” they wrote. “We were equally clear in stating that this must be done in accord with the dignity of each and every human person, showing full respect for the life, health and conscience of all.”

These principles had the specific effect of the bishops’ support of the Hyde amendment and other laws “which forbid federal funding of abortion and of health plans that cover abortion.”

Another key principle they supported was respect for conscience rights, the bishops recalled.

“Americans must retain in new legislation the rights they had before its enactment. These include the full range of protections regarding the right to provide and purchase health care in accord with their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” they wrote.

Finally, reiterating that “basic health care is a right inherent in each human person, as acknowledged both in Catholic social teaching and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” they affirmed that legislation must not “unfairly exclude immigrants from health coverage.”

Standing strong

The three prelates noted that some people expected political pressure to bring the bishops to abandon one or another of their principles.

That will never happen, they declared, and affirmed their rejection of “any idea that the weakest or ‘disposable’ members of society must be forgotten to serve alleged ‘greater goods.'”

The prelates recalled how the House version of the bill — which they supported as “substantially meeting most of the principles and goods we were espousing” — was rejected in the Senate, along with these “foundational principles.”

“From that moment on, the bishops were clear and consistent in saying that this ‘take it or leave it’ offer was morally unacceptable and politically divisive,” they said. “Whatever might be the positive aspects of the Senate bill, we had no choice but to oppose the Senate version as a matter of principle. As bishops we must faithfully proclaim the truth. We must defend the rights of the unborn and the weakest and most vulnerable among us.”

The resulting law that emerged from so much debate, the bishops contended, “implements many needed reforms, and provides welcome support for pregnant and parenting women and adoptive families. Unfortunately it also perpetuates grave injustices toward immigrant families and makes new and disturbing changes in federal policy on abortion and conscience rights.”

Wounded Catholic unity

The bishops went on to lament the reactions that have come after legislation passed.

“Our clear and consistent position has been misrepresented, misunderstood and misused for political and other purposes,” they said. “Our right to speak in the public forum has been questioned. Our teaching role within the Catholic Church and even our responsibility to lead the Church have come under criticism.”

Some of this uproar has come from those who lack an understanding of the issues, the bishops noted. Others, they said, were accepting an inaccurate reading of the law.

“We regret that this approach carried the day, as some overlooked the clear evidence or dismissed careful analysis and teaching on the morality of these matters,” the prelates stated. “But making such moral judgments, and providing guidance to Catholics on whether an action by government is moral or immoral, is first of all the task of the bishops, not of any other group or individual.”

Catholic organizations that opposed the bishops showed more that a “difference of analysis or strategy,” the three committee chairmen affirmed. “Rather for whatever good will was intended, it represented a fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain, but with the bishops themselves. As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.”

Road ahead

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishops Murphy and Wester considered the task the bishops face now that the legislation has been enacted, saying the “challenge remains formidable but in some ways is simpler.”

“Since the battle over the bill is over, the defects can be judged soberly in their own right, and solutions can be advanced in Congress while retaining what is good in the new law,” they proposed. “Indeed, any failure to do so would only leave these genuine problems as ammunition for those who prefer total repeal of the law. In this context we do not need agreement among lawmakers that the problems are serious enough to oppose the legislation — we only need agreement that the problems are real and deserve to be addressed.”

This situation is a “new opportunity” for Catholics to defend life, conscience and fairness to immigrants, they said, “so we will have a health care system that truly respects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”

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On the Net:

Full statement:

Bishops’ analyses of flaws in the health care law:

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