Breaking news: some of the American Catholic Bishops are in disagreement with President Obama and the Democratically controlled Congress, over their proposals for healthcare legislation. Not surprisingly, the Bishops are concerned because the proposals allow for taxpayer funded abortions.
But is this the only thing that the Catholic Bishops – and other intelligent, rational people of faith – should find appalling with “Obamacare” as it is currently being formulated? In other words, if abortion funding were to be eliminated from the Obamacare plans, would the American Catholic Bishops then decide that Obamacare is great?
Last Thursday, Bishop William Murphy, Cardinal Justin Rigali, and Bishop John Wester published yet another letter urging the Congress to “improve” the current healthcare legislation. They also expressed their “disappointment that progress has not been made on the three priority criteria for healthcare reform” that they had cited in their previous letters.
Among the Bishop’s “priority criteria” for American healthcare are the following points: that no one should be forced to pay for or participate in an abortion, that healthcare should be affordable and available to the poor and vulnerable, and that “the needs of legal immigrants are met.” Taken individually, each of these “criteria” is fine, so far as it goes. But attempting to attach these agenda items to President Obama’s plans for a government take-over of the healthcare industry and the medical profession is, at best, a huge mistake, and at worst, irrational.
As for ensuring that nobody be forced to fund or participate in an abortion, the Bishops should certainly stand their ground on this. And while the Catholic Church (as well as most other Christian churches) officially states its believe in the “sanctity of the unborn” and opposes the slaughter of children, the American Catholic clergy are, nonetheless, quite inconsistent when it comes to upholding their stated “pro life” worldview.
Recall, for example, the flap that erupted last May when President Obama delivered Notre Dame University’s commencement address. Given that Obama is arguably the most ardent abortion-supporting President of record, the University fell under harsh criticism for inviting him to speak.
Yet in defending himself against the criticism, Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, claimed that President Obama had been invited to the university not because of his stance on abortion rights, but because he is an inspiring leader who has “overcome a racial barrier.”
That's a fair assessment of President Obama, so far as it goes; indeed, Obama has overcome a very significant racial barrier, and one could say that he is “inspiring” in this regard.
Yet Jenkins’ implicit message is confounding. His response to the Obama outrage implied that abortion is not a preeminent concern, that it is merely one of several issues in the realm of political leadership and public policy that Catholics are supposed to care about, and not necessarily the MOST IMPORTANT issue.
If abortion is “one of several” public policy concerns for Catholics, then that’s fine. Yet now some of the Bishops seem to be back to the “abortion is preeminent” position. My point here is that American Catholic clergy are frequently “all over the road” on the abortion issue, and this inconsistency weakens their efforts at influencing any public policy at all.
So what are we to make of the Bishops’ concern that “healthcare should be affordable and available to the poor and vulnerable?” By federal law, healthcare is already made available to anybody who enters a hospital in America and requests treatment, regardless of their ability to pay (this is why Obama changed his own rhetoric back in July, dropping his calls for “healthcare reform” and morphing the agenda into “health insurance reform”). And the lack of affordability in healthcare is, in no small part, because of a lack of a truly competitive free market for health insurance, and because those who work for a living and actually pay for their health insurance are also paying for those who don’t work and don’t pay their way.
In short, the Bishops are proposing some lofty ideals, but they seem to be ignoring the economics of it all. They seem to be ignoring the wisdom of Pope John Paul II, who eloquently taught that all of life is connected to economics – and yes, this reality even applies to healthcare.
The Bishops’ own concerns even speak to this economic reality. They are fretting over Americans being coerced by government to pay for abortions - that’s an issue regarding the “sanctity of life,” yes, but it’s also an issue of economics. The two are inextricably attached, just as all of life is attached to economic concerns.
If the Bishops took more seriously the Church’s teaching on the virtue of free markets, and the immorality and devastation brought about by economic redistribution, they would find plenty more to dislike about Obamacare, specifically, but also Obamanomics, generally.
Hopefully the American Catholic laity are seeing things more clearly, even if the Bishops do not.