The USCCB and Obamacare

For the past couple of days, we have heard rumblings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, starting with a very curious article in Politico.  David Rogers interviewed Richard Doerflinger, the USCCB’s associate director of pro-life activities, who apparently made the comment that if the House of Representatives agrees to what Stupak is asking for in the Obamacare bill, then the USCCB will work on the U. S. Senate to go along with the same language. The report does not say that the USCCB will generate advocacy from the Catholic laity, but rather that the organization itself will throw its weight around, which sounds a whole lot like lobbying and not much like holding the line for truly Catholic principles in health care reform.

The story continues,

“With a large network of Catholic hospitals and the [C]hurch’s gospel of social justice, the bishops have long called for expanded health coverage. As Kathy Saile, director of domestic policy for the conference, said last fall, ‘The bishops see it as a moral imperative and national priority.’

“But abortion has been a stubborn dividing point with the two sides fighting over how tight to make the ban on federal funding.”

It is of the utmost importance to clarify for the unsuspecting or uncatechized  that the Catholic Church does not teach that the killing of a child prior to birth by an act of abortion is the only intrinsically evil way to rob a person of  his or her life. There is also human embryonic stem cell research, many types of contraceptives, euthanasia and infanticide … each of which is equally evil, equally deadly and equally unmentioned by the USCCB in connection with Obamacare.

That is perhaps troubling enough, but there is more. We cannot help but think that the politics of so-called progressivism has become more important at the USCCB than the wishes of the Catholic faithful, who like the majority of Americans, don’t want Obamanomics shoved down their throats. Why is there such a rush to sate the liberal elements of the Democratic political machine and so little time to consider what is (as one Catholic cardinal explained to me) the job of the laity, not the hierarchy? As I recall, he told me that bishops are charged with preaching truth, and it is the people in the pew who are supposed to do the political work. However, apparently he, like so many of his peers, does not really believe that for a second. What a shame.

Oh, but let us not overlook the engagement with the laity that the USCCB did invite just this past weekend. At every door of my Catholic parish this weekend, after every Mass, we were invited to sign postcards that the parish would then mail, on our behalf, to our two U.S. senators and our congressman. The postcards, however, were not about the unprincipled “health care reform” proposals that are being discussed night and day. No, the postcards dealt with immigration …

Justice for Immigrants is a USCCB-sponsored web site on which one can find the same postcard that was distributed in my parish on Sunday, March 7. The text of the postcard reads,

I am a concerned constituent and agree with the U.S. Catholic bishops that the U.S. immigration system is broken and is in need of repair.

I ask that this year you support immigration reform legislation that keeps immigrant families together, adopts smart and humane enforcement policies, and ensures that immigrants without legal status register with the government and begin a path toward citizenship. Our families and communities cannot wait!

What occurred to me as I listened to the announcement about these postcards was not that there was anything wrong with such a lobbying campaign, but the question of why the focus had moved away from getting the “health care reform” mess clarified first. It should also be pointed out that, in every one of their pastoral letters to elected officials, the bishops have placed the future standing of immigrants on the same level as the murder of preborn persons. And why is the USCCB focusing on immigration reform now, at such a critical point in this nation’s legislative history?

Well, maybe my new favorite, the “pugilist priest” has the right idea. Opining on his personal blog on the very same article in Politico that troubled me so much, he expresses his frustration like this:

There are a plethora of reasons why a Catholic citizen may choose not to support a government reform of health care. He might consider it a statist provision which robs him of his self-determination and chips away at his individual liberties. He may believe that it’s financially irresponsible. Maybe he’s lived for a time in a country that has government administered health care and knows, first hand, the disaster it is. He may be a small business owner who knows how it will destroy what he’s spent his life building. He may even have his own moral reasons for fearing it: the marginalization of the handicapped and elderly; government bureaucrats deciding what is or is not appropriate medical care, etc. All concerns that the bishops—God alone knows how—have determined don’t matter to them, and which they have decided that we, as Catholic citizens, don’t have a right to be concerned about ourselves as they decree otherwise.

And what’s wrong with that, you ask? Simply put, it is none of the bishops’ business to support or oppose a piece of legislation. Oppose abortion? Certainly. Point out the dangers in some proposed legislation if it does violence to the moral teaching of the Church and has the potential to compel Catholic citizens to violate the prescriptions of the Gospel? Without a doubt. But to embrace a particular political point of view because they have concluded that it, somehow, expresses in secular terms what they believe? Not on your life!

The Second Vatican Council is clear: the duty of injecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ into secular society is the job of the laity, not the clergy. The bishops are right to object to language in the bill which would direct our tax dollars into paying for the murders of the innocent; but to press the resources of the Catholic Church into assisting in the passage of other provisions of the bill in some kind of back-room deal to achieve that goal is meddling in matters in which they have no purview.

To be fair, I’m reasonably sure that no Catholic bishop—except for the most strident of bleeding heart liberals (and there are some)—would tell me that they have a right to compel me to support legislation simply because they support it. What they don’t seem to understand is that, in supporting it themselves, they not only violate their [d]ivine mandate, but also trivialize their moral authority. A bishop does not belong in politics, even when he thinks being political serves the cause of Christ. And if the USCCB is going to use the money that it collects from Catholic lay people to support the agenda of a political party…well, what’s the difference between that and a labor union using the dues it collects to donate to a candidate for whom some of its members do not intend to vote?

So, the bishops believe that, aside from abortion, health care reform is compatible with the social teaching of the Church. That’s nice, but so what? It’s none of their business. It’s the laity’s business. It’s just another example of the hierarchy’s selective reading of Vatican II.

Wow! Though this priest and his fellow priests choose to remain anonymous, and thank God they do, what he has to say is extremely insightful and, to my mind, on the mark. Every Catholic bishop does indeed have a charism that, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is not only rich in grace but imbued with holiness, which he has a solemn duty to use to sanctify the Church:

893 The bishop is “the steward of the grace of the supreme priesthood,” especially in the Eucharist which he offers personally or whose offering he assures through the priests, his co-workers. The Eucharist is the center of the life of the particular Church. The bishop and priests sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and of the sacraments. They sanctify her by their example, “not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.” Thus, “together with the flock entrusted to them, they may attain to eternal life.”

And the Catechism says this about the special grace that comes from the Holy Spirit:

1586 For the bishop, this is first of all a grace of strength … the grace to guide and defend his Church with strength and prudence as a father and pastor, with gratuitous love for all and a preferential love for the poor, the sick, and the needy. This grace impels him to proclaim the Gospel to all, to be the model for his flock, to go before it on the way of sanctification by identifying himself in the Eucharist with Christ the priest and victim, not fearing to give his life for his sheep.

What America’s Catholics, not to mention her entire citizenry, need right now is the united voice of “stewards of grace,” not political lobbyists.

In the coming weeks, this nation will witness either the collapse of the most treacherous, deadly proposal ever to come out of the U.S. government or the passage of a dastardly program. One or the other will occur.  I would hate to think that, at a crucial moment, it was the bureaucrats supposedly representing the U.S. bishops who gave the winning edge to the most pro-abortion, pro-culture-of-death administration in this nation’s history. That is not a legacy I would want to bestow on this nation, and it is my hope that the Catholic bishops feel the same way.

Please let your bishop know you are praying for him, and hoping that he stands in the gap for the babies, the elderly and the infirm—and for justice.

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