We've been complaining a bit about the meager inclusion of religion angles in some of the political coverage of the various legislative efforts to reform health care and health insurance. So David Kirkpatrick's piece in the New York Times this week was welcome. Headlined "Some Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan," here's how it began:
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying for three decades for the federal government to provide universal health insurance, especially for the poor. Now, as President Obama tries to rally Roman Catholics and other religious voters around his proposals to do just that, a growing number of bishops are speaking out against it.
Except the story never shows that the bishops changed their position on universal health insurance. Some bishops are simply being quite vocal about the way abortion would be funded in the current legislation. Others are concerned about the premium government efforts might place on efficacy at the expense of the chronically ill.
The story quotes from Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput's newspaper column and other letters and statements from Catholic leaders around the country. He explains that the opposition of bishops has already been getting around and will be reported in a Catholic newspaper being distributed this weekend at churches throughout the country. He calls it another setback for President Obama and says it reflects a struggle and tension within the church over how heavily to weigh opposition to abortion against other concerns.
Kirkpatrick puts that question in context:
The same question, [Notre Dame] Professor [Cathleen] Kaveny said, set off the debates over whether conscientious Catholics could vote for Mr. Obama despite his support for abortion rights, whether he should be invited to speak at Notre Dame, or whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, like Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., should present themselves for Communion.
I wanted to highlight this to point out how well Kirkpatrick handled the Communion issue. So many times this issue is discussed in terms of barring abortion rights communicates from Communion. But when the bishops speak about it, they tend to discuss it in terms of whether someone who publicly supports abortion rights should present themselves for Communion. Kudos to Kirkpatrick for phrasing that more accurately.
The article discusses some of the debate over how abortion would be paid for under various legislative proposals. That could -- and will -- be another post entirely.
But there was another problem with the piece. It comes in the section where Kirkpatrick tries to balance out the abortion concerns with the support of various "liberal" Catholic groups. He quotes the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and others:
On its Web site this summer, the bishops' conference published a commentary by the Rev. Douglas Clark of Savannah, Ga., arguing that the country now rationed "health care on the basis of wealth." Father Clark cited an encyclical last month from Pope Benedict XVI about the evils of global economic inequality.
Catholic Charities and the Catholic Health Association endorsed the president's plan without reservation.
The only problem is that neither Catholic Charities nor the Catholic Health Association have endorsed the particular legislation currently under debate. As Our Sunday Visitor's Daily Take blog report, they both have, well, reservations. This is from a July 31, 2009 letter written by Father Larry Snyder, the president of Catholic Charities:
I am writing to clarify that Catholic Charities USA does not support any plan to reform health care and/or any proposed legislative provision that allows or promotes the funding of abortions or compels any health care provider or institution to provide such a service. In fact, Catholic Charities USA will continue to work with the Catholic Health Association and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ensure that any health care reform legislation will not include such provisions.
Catholic Charities USA will continue to work to reform health care in a way that is consistent with the teachings of our faith.
And here is the statement on the Catholic Health Association website:
CHA has not endorsed any of the health care reform bills, but our message to lawmakers is clear: health care reform should not result in an expansion of abortion, and it must sustain conscience protections for health care providers who do not want to participate in abortions or other morally objectionable procedures.
Looks like a correction is in order.