Bishops Letter to President-elect Barak Obama

The Honorable Barack Obama
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, D.C.  20270

Dear Mr. President-elect,

As our nation begins a new year, a new Administration and a new Congress, I write to outline principles and priorities that guide the public policy efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I assure you of our prayers, hopes and commitment to make this period of national change a time to advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially the vulnerable and poor. We continue to seek ways to work constructively with the new Administration and Congress and others of good will to pursue policies which respect the dignity of all human life and bring greater justice to our nation and peace to our world.

As Bishops, we approach public policy as pastors and teachers. Our moral principles have always guided our everyday experience in caring for the hungry and homeless, offering health care and housing, educating children and reaching out to those in need. We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth. From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to act together on issues of economic turmoil and suffering, war and violence, moral decency and human dignity.

Our nation now faces economic challenges with potentially tragic human consequences and serious moral dimensions. We will work with the new Administration and Congress to support strong, prudent and effective measures to address the terrible impacts and injustices of the economic crisis. In particular, we will advocate a clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers in the development and implementation of economic recovery measures, including new investments while strengthening the national safety net. We also support greater accountability and oversight to address irresponsible abuses of the system that contributed to the financial crisis.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have worked for decades to assure health care for all, insisting that access to decent health care is a basic human right and a requirement of human dignity. We urge comprehensive action to ensure truly universal health care coverage which protects all human life including pre-natal life, and provides access for all, with a special concern for the poor.  Any such legislation ought to respect freedom to choose by offering a variety of options and ensuring respect for the moral and religious convictions of patients and providers. Such an approach should seek to restrain costs while sharing them equitably.

On international affairs, we will work with our leaders to seek a responsible transition in an Iraq free of religious persecution. We especially urge early, focused and persistent leadership to bring an end to violent conflict and a just peace in the Holy Land. We will continue to support essential U.S. investments to overcome poverty, hunger and disease through increased and reformed foreign assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases in ways that are both effectively and morally appropriate have our enthusiastic backing. Recognizing the complexity of climate change, we wish to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world who will be the most adversely affected by any dramatic threats to the environment.

We will work with the new Administration and Congress to fix a broken immigration system which harms both our nation and immigrants. Comprehensive reform is needed to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst. It must be based on respect for and implementation of the law. Equally it must defend the rights and dignity of all peoples, recognizing that human dignity comes from God and does not depend on where people were born or how they came to our nation. Truly comprehensive immigration reform will include a path to earned citizenship with attention to the fact that international trade and development policies influence economic opportunities in the countries from which immigrants come.

We stand firm in our support for marriage which is a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law. In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent to the commitment of a man and a woman in marriage.

With regard to the education of children, we will continue to support initiatives which provide resources for all parents, especially those of modest means, to choose education which best address the needs of their children.

We welcome continuing commitments to empower faith-based groups as effective partners in overcoming poverty and other threats to human dignity. We will work with the Administration and Congress to strengthen these partnerships in ways that do not encourage government to abandon its responsibilities, and do not require religious groups to abandon their identity and mission.

Most fundamentally, we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especially unborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill. We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death. Opposed to abortion as the direct killing of innocent human life, we will encourage one and all to seek common ground that will reduce the number of abortions in morally sound ways that affirm the dignity of pregnant women and their unborn children. We will oppose legislative and other measures to expand abortion. We will work to retain essential, widely supported policies which show respect for unborn life, protect the conscience rights of health care providers and other Americans, and prevent government funding and promotion of abortion. The Hyde amendment and other provisions which for many years have prevented federal funding of abortion have a proven record of reducing abortions. Efforts to force Americans to fund abortions with their tax dollars would pose a serious moral challenge and jeopardize the passage of essential health care reform.

This outline of USCCB policies and priorities is not complete. There are many other areas of concern and advocacy for the Church and the USCCB especially: religious freedom and other civil and human rights, news media and communications, and issues of war and peace. For a more detailed description of our concerns please see Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (USCCB 2008), pages 19-30.

Nonetheless, we offer this outline as an agenda for dialogue and action. We hope to offer a constructive and principled contribution to national discussion over the values and policies that will shape our nation’s future. We seek to work together with our nation’s leaders to advance the common good of our society, while disagreeing respectfully and civilly where necessary for preserving that same common good.

In closing, I renew our expression of hope and our offer of cooperation as you begin this new period of service to our nation in these challenging times.  We promise our prayers for you, that the days ahead will be a time of renewal and progress for our nation and that we can work together to defend human life and dignity and build a nation of greater justice and a world at peace.

Sincerely yours,

Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

Francis Cardinal George, OMI


Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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  • jamespereira

    It’s pertinent that Cardinal Farncis George refered to health care being a basic human right.

    There are 43 million Americans who cannot afford health insurance benefits. If you are in this category, you may want to visit this site for details.

    God bless.

  • aorosco

    It is even more pertinent that those who say they cannot afford health insurance place this as a priority in their life style. So often those who cry they cannot afford health insurance can still afford cell phones, media centers, boats and toys of recreation, un-necessary wardrobe spending and many other un-necessary and un-affordable vices.

    Everyone can afford health care if health care is their priority, however they chose to listen to the rhetoric of health care being a basic human right, It is not, Life is not Free, someone has to pay for everything we say, do, eat and drink. I work hard and spent thriftily to afford my health care and lifes necessities for now and the future. I pray that everyone else would do the same.

    Our Lord did not come to make things free or fair, he became one like us so he could bring New Life abundantly through his suffering and love for US!


  • Mary Kochan

    I would have preferred use of the language of obligation rather than of “rights.” Jesus said we are to care for the sick and he demonstrated this through many of his own compassionate miracles. We as a society and the Church, especially, have an obligation to see to it that mere poverty does not keep people from access to health care.

    It also is simply not true that everyone can afford to pay for health care if it is their priority. It depends on the care needed, and who ill and who is paying. When the bread winner of a family becomes seriously ill, the family may not be able to afford food, not to mention doctor bills. On the other hand there are a lot of safety nets available for the very poor. The problems of access really are for the lower middle class, where a serious illness can quickly wipe out the resources because the family lives so close to the economic edge all the time.

    The problem of making it a “right” is that there is no limit to it from the demand side, once you use that language. Just because we have an obligation to care for the victim of a car accident, doesn’t mean we have an obligation to provide funds for sex change operations or abortions. But once you start using “rights” language you get infinitely expanding “needs.”

  • goral

    I doubt that Obama will read this statement. Just in case he does, he’ll be very comfortable with it. It’s as mediocre as I expected.

  • GaryT

    I have some misgivings about calling health care a “right” as well. A right, especially an intrinsice human right must be true for all people throughout all time. If a “right” is dependent on a certain technology, political system, or economic environment, then it clearly cannot be a universal right. I would propose instead we call these what they are: entitlements. There is no way health insurance could be construed as a right since this would mean people who lived prior to insurance had their rights denied simply because they lived at the wrong time or place.

    Jesus said we should care for the sick, yes. I believe it is a fundamental right to be cared for when you are sick or dying. But there is no right to be cured. Mother Teresa cared for the sick even when she could offer no cure, but could only offer her love. Are we to say she was wrong because she did not demand universal health care for those sick she cared for? Is she not a saint (if not a Saint yet)?

    Entitlements deny the possibility of love. Hospitals were originally Catholic charitable organizations with the goal of caring for the sick out of love for them, in accordance with the second greatest commandment. For-profit hospitals who treat patients whose coverage is paid for by taxes are doing so out of profit motive, not love, and the funding for these profits – taxes – are mandatory, so are also not gifts of love.

    Which is not to say we shouldn’t consider health care an entitlement. But we should consider:
    – will this pay for immoral activities such as abortion?
    – can we fund it now or will we be sticking our kids with the bill from deficit spending (which is clearly an evil)
    – will entitlements such as this cause more people to become dependent on the government?
    – will such a program encourage people who have not healthcare to covet the healthcare others possess and be willing to vote to get access to other people’s money to pay for their healthcare? (There are one or two commandments against this).
    – will healthcare ultimately be rationed by simply killing off the sick and elderly?
    – are there no other means to accomplish this?

    I am in favor of universal health care. But this does not require government intervention. For those who can afford it directly of via insurance, they pay for it. For those who cannot, the care is given them as an act of love (meaning funding willingly through charitable contributions and time given by healthcare professionals). This would properly fulfill the second greatest commandment in a way that a government paid-for program could never do. This places a greater obligation on those of us who can afford to help – that we do so!

    The entitlement culture turns the gospel on it’s head. Instead of helping those in need willingly as an act of love, people demand certain benefits that must be forcibly funded through taxation of others – which is really a legal form of theft. The gospel of “I give” turns to “I want”.

    To see what popes think about this, be sure to scan through Rerum Novarum. You might find it eye-opening.