Monday, March 15, 2010

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput: "Catholics, Health Care, and the Senate’s Bad Bill"

I reproduce in its entirety Archbishop Chaput's essay that was published this morning on the First Things website:
The Senate version of health care reform currently being forced ahead by congressional leaders and the White House is a bad bill that will result in bad law. It does not deserve, nor does it have, the support of the Catholic bishops of our country. Nor does the American public want it. As I write this column on March 14, the Senate bill remains gravely flawed. It does not meet minimum moral standards in at least three important areas: the exclusion of abortion funding and services; adequate conscience protections for health care professionals and institutions; and the inclusion of immigrants.

Groups, trade associations, and publications describing themselves as “Catholic” or “prolife” that endorse the Senate version—whatever their intentions—are doing a serious disservice to the nation and to the Church, undermining the witness of the Catholic community and ensuring the failure of genuine, ethical health care reform. By their public actions, they create confusion at exactly the moment Catholics need to think clearly about the remaining issues in the health care debate. They also provide the illusion of moral cover for an unethical piece of legislation.

As we enter a critical week in the national health care debate, Catholics need to remember a few simple facts.

First, the Catholic bishops of the United States have pressed for real national health care reform in this country for more than half a century. They began long before either political party or the public media found it convenient. That commitment hasn’t changed. Nor will it.

Second, the bishops have tried earnestly for more than seven months to work with elected officials to craft reform that would serve all Americans in a manner respecting minimum moral standards. The failure of their effort has one source. It comes entirely from the stubbornness and evasions of certain key congressional leaders, and the unwillingness of the White House to honor promises made by the president last September.

Third, the health care reform debate has never been merely a matter of party politics. Nor is it now. Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak and a number of his Democratic colleagues have shown extraordinary character in pushing for good health care reform while resisting attempts to poison it with abortion-related entitlements and other bad ideas that have nothing to do with real health care. Many Republicans share the goal of decent health care reform, even if their solutions would differ dramatically. To put it another way, few persons seriously oppose making adequate health services available for all Americans. But God, or the devil, is in the details—and by that measure, the current Senate version of health care reform is not merely defective, but also a dangerous mistake.

The long, unpleasant and too often dishonest national health care debate is now in its last days. Its most painful feature has been those “Catholic” groups that by their eagerness for some kind of deal undercut the witness of the Catholic community and help advance a bad bill into a bad law. Their flawed judgment could now have damaging consequences for all of us.

Do not be misled. The Senate version of health care reform currently being pushed ahead by congressional leaders and the White House—despite public resistance and numerous moral concerns—is bad law; and not simply bad, but dangerous. It does not deserve, nor does it have, the support of the Catholic bishops in our country, who speak for the believing Catholic community. In its current content, the Senate version of health care legislation is not “reform.” Catholics and other persons of good will concerned about the foundations of human dignity should oppose it.


Keith DeRose said...

I am very saddened by the Catholic vs. Catholic nastiness recent politics engenders -- especially when it's phrased (as, sadly, in the case of this letter) with scare quotes around the designation of "Catholic" for one's opponents.

The archbishop is certainly right about this (and God bless the bishops for this!):

First, the Catholic bishops of the United States have pressed for real national health care reform in this country for more than half a century. They began long before either political party or the public media found it convenient

, though the impugning of the motives of those who try to actually enact reform through our nation's legislative process (always a messy business, but esp. so when very powerful and rich interests are lined up against you) is certainly unfortunate. Some may just find it convenient to take the positions they have, but is it beyond imagination that some of those who have a different view from the archbishop might be doing what they actually believe is right? ...

Keith DeRose said...

But it must also be acknowledged that the kind of reform that the bishops advocate, at least judging by their recent letter, but also by previous actions, would be far *stronger* than the Senate bill, in ways that would surely inflame reform's many opponents. Interpreting the bishops' joint communications is tricky territory, of course: the bishops are many, and there is no doubt diversity of opinion among them on these matters, while the letter they sign must represent a united front, so to say. But the bishops' letter calls for universal coverage, and the archbishop seems to endorse that goal as well. As he writes, though, the devil's in the details, and, in our society, so very far from the goal, that means *very* strong measures of some objectionable-to-many sort or other. The bill being discussed now falls far short of the laudable goal of, as the archbishop puts it "making adequate health services available for all Americans" -- largely because even the tiniest baby steps in that direction meet with great (& often shrill) resistance. It is a bit strange then for the archbishop to cite, against the bill: "Nor does the American public want it." That is certainly half-true, I'll admit. As the archbishop must know, there's all sorts of polling results out there, and as things currently stand, after all the demagoguery, the public is about evenly split. But, yes, there certainly is a lot of resistance. But surely he realizes that any concrete attempt to go far beyond what's currently being advanced, especially if it went so far as to have a prayer of achieving universal coverage ("real reform," as I'm inclined to use the term), would have met with even more public resistance?

So, yes, those who want "real reform" would have to classify this as at the very least not a very good bill. I know I do. I want *much* more -- as do at least many bishops – with some wanting much more in the same general direction as I do, & others wanting to take a very different direction. Whether to compromise and support what's presently on offer is a tricky call for advocates of reform. And the abortion issue adds other complexities in the calculation of many, and I can certainly understand the position of those who take any of a variety of positions on how to calculate here. ...

Keith DeRose said...

I just wish Catholics would advocate their various positions without calling into question whether their fellows are real Catholics.

I live in the northeast, not all that far from Boston (which seems to be ground zero of a certain kind of Catholic unrest). And I have fairly progressive political views myself, so that might give some idea of the kind of Catholic friends I'm likely to have. And I go to an Episcopal church, so life-long Catholics who are despairing and thinking of jumping ship often want to talk about that possibility, since I know a little bit about the territory they might be landing on if they made such a jump. I don't advocate one way or the other -- though I usually find myself actually silently rooting for these folks finding some way to stay in the church they still obviously love. One issue (though this is often just a side-issue) for many of these is their sense that, after they've spent their whole lives being part of and strongly supporting in many ways the Catholic church and Catholic institutions, many within that church now consider them to be less than genuine Catholics. This of course is only one strand -- and usually not the major strand -- of their problems, but it's often a significant one.

So that's why my eyes fixed right on the archbishop's use of scare quotes in

those "Catholic" groups that by their eagerness for some kind of deal undercut the witness of the Catholic community

Look, I realize that this is American politics, so there likely are kinda made-up-for-the-purpose-of-political-advocacy groups that should be referred to with scare quotes around "Catholic." But in the current context, the archbishop's statement will of course, and as he must realize, be taken to apply to those groups that have most prominently come out in favor of the reforms currently on the table. And many of these groups, however far they may be from the position of the archbishop, are genuinely Catholic (no need for scare quotes), right? Because if they're not genuinely Catholic, then, for the most part, neither are my Catholic friends (who are often associated with such groups!).