A Bad Bill and How We Got It

As current federal health-care legislation moves forward toward law, we need to draw several lessons from events of the last weeks and months:

First, the bill passed by the House on March 21 is a failure of decent lawmaking.  It has not been “fixed.”  It remains unethical and defective on all of the issues pressed by the U.S. bishops and prolife groups for the past seven months.

Second, the Executive Order promised by the White House to ban the use of federal funds for abortion does not solve the many problems with the bill, which is why the bishops did not — and still do not – see it as a real solution.  Executive Orders can be rescinded or reinterpreted at any time.  Some current congressional leaders have already shown a pattern of evasion, ill will and obstinacy on the moral issues involved in this legislation, and the track record of the White House in keeping its promises regarding abortion-related issues does not inspire confidence.  The fact that congressional leaders granted this one modest and inadequate concession only at the last moment, and only to force the passage of this deeply flawed bill, should give no one comfort.

Third, the combination of pressure and disinformation used to break the prolife witness on this bill among Democratic members of Congress – despite the strong resistance to this legislation that continues among American voters – should put an end to any talk by Washington leaders about serving the common good or seeking common ground.  Words need actions to give them flesh.  At many points over the past seven months, congressional leaders could have resolved the serious moral issues inherent in this legislation.  They did not.  No shower of reassuring words now can wash away that fact.

Fourth, self-described “Catholic” groups have done a serious disservice to justice, to the Church, and to the ethical needs of the American people by undercutting the leadership and witness of their own bishops.  For groups like Catholics United, this is unsurprising.  In their effect, if not in formal intent, such groups exist to advance the interests of a particular political spectrum.  Nor is it newsworthy from an organization like Network, which – whatever the nature of its good work — has rarely shown much enthusiasm for a definition of “social justice” that includes the rights of the unborn child.

But the actions of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) in providing a deliberate public counter-message to the bishops were both surprising and profoundly disappointing; and also genuinely damaging.  In the crucial final days of debate on health-care legislation, CHA lobbyists worked directly against the efforts of the American bishops in their approach to members of Congress.  The bad law we now likely face, we owe in part to the efforts of the Catholic Health Association and similar “Catholic” organizations.

Here in Colorado, many thousands of ordinary, faithful Catholics, from both political parties, have worked hard over the past seven months to advance sensible, legitimate health-care reform; the kind that serves the poor and protects the rights of the unborn child, and immigrants, and the freedom of conscience rights of health-care professionals and institutions.  If that effort seems to have failed, faithful Catholics don’t bear the blame.  That responsibility lies elsewhere.  I’m grateful to everyone in the archdiocese who has worked so hard on this issue out of love for God’s people and fidelity to their Catholic faith.  Come good or bad, that kind of effort is never wasted.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput


Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011

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  • magdala616

    We are bless to have such a courageous archbishop in our country at this time and the Archdiocese of Denver is even more blessed to have such a courageous leader. I pray that all the bishops find the courage to speak so honestly and eloquently.

  • Joe DeVet

    I add my voice to the praises of Archbishop Chaput for straightforward, principled, and truthful observations, such as this one, on the intersection of public policy and Christian belief.

    He identified by name some culprits in the undercutting of the USCCB bishops’ efforts to defeat the bill. However, he did not mention one important culprit: the USCCB itself, and its bishops.

    An example of the problem can be seen in the post-passage commentary by the USCCB president, Cardinal George. The Cardinal praised the advent of socialized medicine, on nominal Christian grounds, praised those who “courageously” campaigned for it, criticized us who opposed it, and pretended that the executive order (which Chaput correctly identifies as a ruse) can be enforced. He promised that the bishops would monitor the implementation of the bill, and ensure that the President’s promise is kept. What he left out of this promise was the fact that neither he, nor the USCCB as a whole, nor any other body has any leverage to ensure any such thing. The President’s executive order banning federal abortion funding is dead on arrival, and everyone of at least nominal intelligence knows it. Cardinal George is no fool. He knows it too. He chooses to pretend that he doesn’t know it. Shameful.

    George identified the abortion-funding feature of the bill that passed as a “concern.” I call it an abomination. Anything less than a full-throated denunciation of this evil bill and all the lies which were told by its advocates, and all the crooked machinations involved in its passage is absolutely unacceptable. Do our bishops expect us to fall in behind this kind of leadership?

    The USCCB fumbled the ball early on in declaring this principle: that “health care reform” must be abortion-neutral. Abortion neutral! When the status quo is abortion-on-demand by law, and abortion is institutionally encouraged by elements of government and many other entities. “Abortion-neutral” is the principle on which our bishops purport to lead us.

    The problem is, the bishops actually believe in and lobby for socialized medicine. Thus, they are willing to compromise. They are wrong about socialized medicine and they are very wrong to compromise.

    Blind Guides!