One bishop on the board of the pro-ObamaCare Catholic Health Association (CHA) has contended that U.S. bishops do not have authority to state the official Catholic position on a given piece of legislation. The remarks put Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg in apparent conflict with the position of the current head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
Cardinal George has maintained the USCCB’s position against the federal health care bill and has repeatedly condemned the efforts of Sr. Carol Keehan, leader of the CHA, and other dissident Catholic groups who supported the legislation. Democrats have affirmed that the bill, widely recognized by the pro-life community as vastly expanding abortion funding in America, would have probably failed had Obama not succeeded in persuading Keehan and others to break with the bishops and lend the bill a veneer of authenticity for Catholic legislators.
George and other top bishops at the USCCB said that the CHA’s dissent weakened the moral authority of America’s Catholic bishops, and dealt a “wound to Catholic unity.”
“This may be a narrow disagreement, but it has exposed a very large principle,” George told the National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen this week.
“If the bishops have a right and a duty to teach that killing the unborn is immoral, they also have to teach that laws which permit and fund abortion are immoral. It seems that what some people are saying is that the bishops can’t, or shouldn’t, speak to the moral content of the law, that we should remain on the level of abstract principles.”
St. Petersburg’s Bishop Robert Lynch appeared to challenge George’s argument. He told Allen that despite having been associated with the USCCB since 1972, he has “never before this year heard the theory that we enjoy the same primacy of respect for legislative interpretation as we do for interpretation of the moral law.”
Lynch, a member of the CHA Board of Trustees, added that “this theory needs to be debated and discussed by the body of bishops.”
The Florida bishop also suggested that the ongoing Apostolic Visitation of U.S. women religious orders has created a perceived negative “climate we have to recognize” when dealing with nuns involved in the health care battle. “There are bishops who feel strongly that CHA somehow betrayed the church,” said Lynch, who went on to insist that the association “acted in good conscience” and that “the dust has to settle” before effective dialogue can continue.
Lynch won notoriety in pro-life circles as Terri Schiavo’s bishop who, after a prolonged silence regarding the widely-publicized fight to save Terri’s life in 2005, issued a bizarre statement urging “mediation” between Terri’s family and Michael Schiavo at the same time as the latter strove to have Terri starved and dehydrated to death by removing her feeding tube.
Terri’s brother Bobby Schindler later excoriated the bishop for failing to help the Catholic family save Terri’s life. “The bottom line is, when apostolic grace and responsibility are abdicated, innocent people die,” Schindler told the bishop in a 2007 open letter.