Tug of War: ‘Do not be Fooled’ by Catholic Groups’ Health Bill Support, Say Bishops

The Catholic bishops of Denver have sent out an urgent message to members of their flock, warning that Catholic groups that have come out in favor of the abortion-expanding Senate health care legislation are “undermining the leadership of the nation’s Catholic bishops” and “sowing confusion among faithful Catholics” in doing so. The statement came just before White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday used the support of such groups as testimony to the bill’s good standing with Catholics.

“In the past two days, congressional leaders and the White House have brought tremendous pressure on prolife Democratic members of Congress to support a fatally flawed Senate version of health care reform,” states the brief alert signed by Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop James Conley.

“Regrettably, groups like Network and the Catholic Health Association have done a grave disservice to the American Catholic community by undermining the leadership of the nation’s Catholic bishops, sowing confusion among faithful Catholics, and misleading legislators through their support of the Senate bill,” they continue.

“Do not be fooled. Nothing has changed.

“The Senate bill remains gravely flawed on the issues of abortion funding, conscience protections and the inclusion of immigrants. Unless seriously revised to address these issues, the Senate version of health care is unethical and should be firmly opposed.”

CHA, a trade association of Catholic hospitals, and Network, a liberal group of religious sisters, both recently flouted the U.S. bishops to throw their weight behind the bill that the National Right to Life Committee, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and countless high-profile pro-life leaders and organizations have condemned as the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.

“This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it,” wrote Network.

Taking up that line, White House Press Secretary Gibbs in a press conference Thursday alluded to the groups’ support as indication the bill had cleared the hurdle for Catholic acceptability.

Even more “Catholic” support for the health bill is expected to emerge in the coming days: this week, a group of 25 “pro-life” Catholic and Christian leaders issued a letter urging Congress to pass the bill “as Christians committed to a consistent ethic of life, and deeply concerned with the health and well-being of all people.”

Yet the ranks are swelling of U.S. bishops stepping up to the epic tug-of-war for the Catholic name.

In a speech in Minneapolis Wednesday, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph called on CHA to “loudly and publicly” reverse their stance, which destroys the power of Catholics standing together against anti-life provisions in health care reform.

“Their recommendation to allow the passage of the critically flawed Senate bill is clearly at odds with the U.S. Bishops Conference and every pro-life group in this country,” said Finn, as reported in the diocese’s Catholic Key blog. “Their permissive stance diminishes the potential that Catholic solidarity might have in requiring the abortion prohibition and other essential elements in a morally sound proposal.”

“If the Catholic Health Association claims to represent Catholic Hospitals they should keep in mind that, as a bishop, so do I represent the Catholic Hospitals within my diocese,” he added.

InĀ remarks published by the Washington Post Tuesday, USCCB Pro-Life chair Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop William F. Murphy, chairman of Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop John Wester, chairman of Committee on Migration, explained their reasoning for opposing the Senate health care bill.

“We as bishops continue to insist that health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all is a moral imperative and urgent national priority,” they wrote. “We are convinced that the Senate legislation presented to the House of Representatives on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis sadly fails this test and ought to be opposed in its current form.”

The Post also published a piece by USCCB media relations director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, exposing the coercive abortion funding embedded in the bill.

“Why has the Senate designed a system that lets insurance companies force people to pay for abortion services they do not want and find morally repulsive – and gives federal subsidies to those companies to help them do it?” wrote Walsh. “That could happen under the Senate bill, if your child has asthma and the best specialist is not in the one health plan in your state that excludes abortion services.

“To get your child to that specialist, you’d have to ante up for the abortion fund in the plan.”

“Why anyone in Congress would want to hide from Hyde is astounding,” Walsh concluded. “This is legislation that has had bipartisan support since it was first passed more than three decades ago. … A wise leadership would adopt Hyde in a minute, and move on to creating a reformed health care plan with an abortion position people already have shown they can live with.”

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