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Why There is No Church Teaching On the Health Care Bill

By Deal Hudson

Even I was surprised a few weeks ago at the strength of the positive response to my column asking, “Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party?” There’s considerable unrest among faithful Catholics who differ with the USCCB on some of its major policy positions as well as its mistakes in funding pro-abortion groups through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Part of the turmoil, I think, stems from a basic misunderstanding on the part of the Catholic laity concerning the lobbying effort of the USCCB to pass legislation.  Many Catholics I have talked to assume they’re obliged to support the legislative recommendations of the USCCB whether they agree with them or not.

For some reason many Catholics do not realize these recommendations – with the exception of those on non-negotiable life issues – require respectful consideration rather than obedient acceptance. Frustration, even consternation, follows for Catholics who don’t realize they are free to differ, and to say so.

Unfortunately, there are clergy who not only contribute to the misunderstanding but also treat respectful disagreement with condescension. The following e-mail was passed along to me by an acquaintance who wrote to his parish priest to question the wisdom of placing the nation’s health care system in the hands of the federal government.  (I’ve edited the email to protect the identity of its author.)

The priest’s response:

“It is so unfortunate that you have such a myopic vision and have made the conscious decision to NOT learn anything about Social Justice, that you would rather listen and believe the words of Hannity and Limbaugh rather than [local bishop’s name] or any Roman Catholic authority on the teachings of the Catholic Church especially in the area of Social Justice and the Social gospel.

I was contacted by Bishop _____ and [another bishop’s]   Secretary.  They both were disappointed in your mindset and your refusal to learn what the Catholic Church actually teaches. I pray that someday you will spend the time and effort to learn, understand and comprehend the Church’s view on Health Care Reform, Immigration Reform, and the understanding that the Body of Christ isn’t made up of only those people you believe to be given the recognition. With that being said, I do not want you to send me any E-Mails or forward any articles that are contrary to the teachings of the Church.  I pray that God may have mercy on you.” (Emphasis added)

The lack of pastoral courtesy requires little comment, except to say, this sort of demeaning clerical tone pushes the suppliant further away and exacerbates the discontent.

More disturbing than the tone is the false claim that there is a “Church’s view on Health Care [and] Immigration Reform.” To substitute “Church” for USCCB is to infuse legislative priorities with the aura of Episcopal authority about the teaching of faith and morals.

Catholics need to realize there is no “Church’s view” on the present health care bill, but there is a position being taken by the bishops’ conference. The Church teaching Catholics are obliged to consider comes in the form of moral principles that must be applied prudentially to the legislation under consideration.

Catholic leadership at all levels could help stem the rise of mounting concern with the USCCB by clarifying the mission of the conference and the ecclesial rationale of its role as a Catholic lobby to the U. S. Congress.

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12 Responses to Why There is No Church Teaching On the Health Care Bill

  1. Pingback: Catholic Advocate’s Health Care Reform Central : Catholic Advocate

  2. Adrienne says:

    Our “social justice” group was looking for help based on the USCCB position on immigration reform. When
    I read the one page blurb I had to walk away … I was outraged. ALL recommendations were how we, the US should help illegal immigrants. Why should a Mexical bishop- or anyone else- tell us to spend more tax dollars on that nonsense??? I am happy to help them safely back across the border, help them get into the legal queue to come to our country, and perhaps even work to reform the legal immigration process if it needs it.

    Similar with healthcare… was given the long version of woes by someone in our church after teaching PSR Sunday about how much insurance costs so we need the healthcare reform intervention. I can sympathize with the costs and that won’t change quickly… but we need to fix the reason healthcare insurance is expensive – not add more of the same (ie govt).

    After weekend soup supper I was mentioning to folks at my table how proud I was that my little ones (8, 10 and 13) wanted to go to see Sarah Palin at the Ohio Right to Life…. I was shot down – she is not a good person type comments.

    It is getting harder and harder to feel like a part of the catholic community.

    (ps. if my pastor had written to me like that my next move would have been right to his office– how rude.)

  3. Mark Medwig says:

    There may not be Church teaching specifically on the current House and Senate health care bills, but the Church’s existing social teaching can be applied to these bills and a judgment can be made regarding how consistent the bills are with that teaching. Of course, reasonable (and faithful) people can disagree in their judgments.

    I am opposed to the current health bills based on the principle of subsidiarity. See for example #186 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (quoting Quadragesimo Anno):
    “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.”

    Paragraph 186 further states, “Subsidiarity…entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted.” Based on what I’ve read about the current health bills, they would seriously supplant the freedom and responsibility of millions of Americans.

    The Senate passed its health care bill in December (over 2 months ago), and the House passed its version in November (4 months ago), yet to my knowledge the USCCB has not issued a comprehensive analysis of the bills from the perspective of the Church’s social teaching. What I have heard from the US Bishops focuses solely on the abortion issue, specifically taxpayer funding of abortion. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I would argue that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

    I suspect that most Catholics go about their daily lives without giving much thought to the Church’s social teaching. Here is a great opportunity for the Bishops to highlight the relevance of the Church’s teaching on a matter of great importance. More importantly, it is a chance for these shepherds to protect the Lord’s sheep (John 21:15-17).

  4. b'ham says:

    The USCCB has largely ignored the principle of subsidiarity. The secular definition of “social justice” seems at odds with the Church’s teaching. Instead, the USCCB negotiates with moral relativists and frequently gets burned. Popes JPII and BXVI have voiced warnings in encyclicals about the evils of collectivism. Church teaching is there if one looks.

  5. Jackie says:

    The Constitution of the United States does not allow for the federal government to involve itself in social issues of this sort. In belongs with the States. The Federal Government has been passing legislation for years that are unconstitutional. Most people against the healthcare bill do not want to see poor people without help. But it shouldn’t be the federal government in charge of it. The larger you allow the federal government to be and the more you entangle yourself with their entitlements, the more of a slave you will be.

  6. Kevin Orlin Johnson says:

    It’s socialism. Socialism is sin. It’s completely inimical to every principle that Christ ever taught. Our bishops don’t see this? Don’t know this? They certainly don’t teach it.

    Benedict XVI himself, as Cardinal Ratzinger, said outright that America’s bishops are in schism. I am deeply disappointed that he has done nothing about it. How far in schism do they have to be before we demand action from the Vatican to replace each and every one of them? I really wonder.

    But on this topic, government-mandated health care is socialism pure and simple, and nothing else. We need no specific statement from these men. It’s socialism, and it is wrong. it’s that simple.

  7. Harley says:

    Seems to me that christians, and especially we Catholics, have forgotten the difference between Ceasars work & God\’s work. The state/nation needs to enforce it\’s own laws lest they become meaningless. The governments role is not compassion, but justice. The Church must stop lobbying for governmental change, and return to it\’s role of active compassion to help those in need and instruct those on a self destructive path. Too many christians would rather keep their hands clean with political commentary, instead of working with those in need as Jesus did.

  8. Ed Q says:

    Although I agree we as Catholics can have differing opinions regarding the legislation, we should always be careful that our political views aren’t trumping the moral principals involved. It is way too easy for us to pick and choose (ala cafeteria :>) which moral principals to apply based on the political outcome we want. For example, if we don’t like health care reform for political reasons (however good and true they may be), we might find ourselves trumping social justice with subsidiary principles. I’m just saying we should be extra careful when we find ourselves explaining away teachings or quotes from the church (encyclicals/CCC/even USCCB). We might be correct but our faith comes first…

    Just my two cents…

  9. James A. Kliewer says:

    The Church, in the form of a papal encyclical, has already spoken quite directly on the issue of national healthcare. This is socialism; if you like it, say that you like socialism. Otherwise, I agree with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical on socialism, and with Pope Pius IX and his condemnation of socialism and communism. I have heard people argue that this is not socialism, and that the presence of a “private insurance option” makes it “free-market competition.” National control plus the guarantee of coverage for those who, for whatever reason, do not pay, makes it socialism. Another specious argument is that health-care [itself] and not simply “access to health-care” is a right. However, all truly valid rights have to flow from the law of God (divine law) and/or from natural law. We can clearly see that there is no natural law provision for health-care. Also, God does not give us health-care Himself, so it is not derived from the Divinity. Therefore, the “right” originates only and totally in and from human law. We all know what a farce human law has become. I just want to note one other item unrelated to Church teaching. If health insurance is “portable” across state lines, then the individual states’ Boards of Insurance rules and regs will have no force. New rules and regs will have to be written, and for them to be enforced across state lines, they can only come from the federal government. In other words, this seeming benefit of “health reform” becomes the lynchpin of nationalization/socialization, since it will immediately void all state law on health insurance. Do your own research, or trust me, but nobody should desire that. The good Boards, such as in Texas, protect the purchaser and investor by requiring certain backing that proves the insurance company can meet its obligations. I doubt the Federal Government can do the same, since it is irretrievably in debt.

  10. Jess says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve been at wit’s end wondering whether I could in good conscience continue my path to come into the church in a few weeks (I’m an RCIA candidate in vigorous disagreement with the bishops on both national health care and immigration reform). This is a tremendous help.

  11. Ron Kircher says:

    Subject Heath Care
    Where Catholic to look to study Church Social Doctrine? The best guide I found Father Social Doctrine is Holy Father Pope LeoXIII ,Rerum Novarum. I would any Bishop or clergy and Faithful can\’t oppose it.. Holy Father Pope JohnXXIII would agree with that by he quoting the Holy Father in his Encyclical Mater ET Magistra ?

  12. Hope Frost says:

    We must stand for life from conception to natural death. When we pass laws, or even just considering passing law that does not protect and acknowledge the sanctity of life, then we have lost our faith in God. When we stand for what is right – ie life, God will take care of the rest. We continue to push God and the power of God out of our culture. This whole discussion confirms it. Even our church leaders, USCCB and more, have lost faith in his divine Providence. True Social Justice is taking a stand for what is right, even if means or appears that some other good will be compromised. True, solid faith says no other good will be compromised because we know God provide when we trust in his ways.

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