Bishops Abandon “a Fundamental Issue of Human Life and Dignity”


The first paragraph of this article was changed at 9:10 pm on September 3, 2009 to correct an inaccurate portrayal of Bishop Pate’s original statement, which was not against health reform per se, but against health reform that includes federal funding for abortion care.  No bill in Congress includes federal funding for abortion care.

The Catholic News Agency reports that a Des Moines bishop is the latest to join efforts to oppose any health care reform legislation that "includes abortion," despite the fact that no bill in Congress includes federal funding for abortion care.  In perpetuating these and other myths about health reform (e.g. that current bills encourage euthanasia) Bishop Pates joins various members of the Catholic hierarchy who have apparently decided to turn their backs on the sick, the poor, and other groups we often hear about in the Catholic Mass.

Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is beginning to turn against health care reform, after years of supporting universal health care. While some Catholics have strongly supported health care reform—like Bishop William F. Murphy, who stated in a letter to the President and Congress in July that “Health care…is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity”—others are more interested in fighting for their own interests than in fighting for people’s lives:

“No health care reform is better than the wrong sort of health care reform,” Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, declared in a recent pastoral letter, urging the faithful to call their members of Congress.

The Catholic News Agency’s report focuses on Bishop Richard Pates. Perplexingly, Bishop Pates speaks at length about the Catholic Church’s responsibility to provide health care. He says:

"Health is among the most fundamental of human needs – right up there with food and shelter. Yet, in many ways, we leave it pretty much to chance, to a health-care ‘system’ that may, or may not, care for us depending on our ability to pay.”

And:

“caring for others was one of Jesus’ principal commandments, and Catholics and other Christians have always been involved in providing care. The Sisters of Mercy, for example, established Mercy Hospital in Des Moines in 1893. It’s the longest continually operating hospital in the state, and provides care to people of all faiths.”

Yet Bishop Pates is not interested in continuing this tradition. Instead, he’s thrown his support behind a group of obstructionists that includes his fellow Iowan, Nickless, who explains his commitment to “no health care reform” in the following astounding way:

“The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care,” Bishop Nickless of Sioux City wrote, adding, “Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.”

No, Jesus did not say anything about whether or not we should let the 111th Congress pass health care reform. But there are many Catholics who believe that health care reform is a chance to improve the human condition. The Times quotes the acting director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which supports the health care plan. However, the article does not mention a group that has been advocating for health care reform—among many other social justice issues—for over thirty years. NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, was founded by nuns in 1971 and is now made up of men and women who take seriously teachings that other Catholics seem to have forgotten about. The group lobbies for economic justice, social justice, the environment, and peace. Their knowledgeable and nuanced treatment of health care recognizes the complexity of the issue but argues unequivocally that reform is necessary:

The current state of healthcare in the United States constitutes social sin that must be eradicated through broad and deep engagement of the public conscience.

The health care debate has made it clear—perhaps clearer than anything in a while—that some high-ranking Catholics have forgotten what conscience means. Your moral conscience is not about you; rather, it should guide the way you relate to others, including friends, strangers, and people with whom you agree and disagree. If your moral conscience doesn’t urge you to make health care accessible to these people, then your moral conscience is broken. 

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Kathleen Reeves please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • paul-bradford

    Last Thursday, the New York Times reported that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is beginning to turn against health care reform, after years of supporting universal health care.

     

    I think you misread the Times article.  They made no mention of a change in USCCB policy which continues to strongly support universal health care.  Even the bishops who expressed reservations had only one complaint: the legislation doesn’t have strong enough safeguards against using public money for abortion.

     

    You say, "Your moral conscience is not about you; rather, it should guide the way you relate to others, including friends, strangers, and people with whom you agree and disagree. If your moral conscience doesn’t urge you to make health care accessible to these people, then your moral conscience is broken."  

     

    Do you mean to suggest that Catholics, either in the hierarchy or in the pews, have flagged in our support of Universal Health Care and that our ‘moral conscience is broken’?  I think that would be unfair.  We Catholics are sincere in our support of Health Care Reform but are lobbying hard to prevent taxpayer’s money from being used for abortion.

     

    That’s hardly the stance of people with a broken moral conscience. 

     

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • colleen

    Even the bishops who expressed reservations had only one complaint: the legislation doesn’t have strong enough safeguards against using public money for abortion.

    First, perhaps it was you who failed to read closely. When he says: ““The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care, any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.” Bishop Nickless does not appear to be objecting to the notion that some women would be able to access abortion services they’re legally entitled to. Indeed Bishop Nicklass in a fit rare honesty from the clergy sounds very much like a ideological republican opposed to any real reform.

    That’s hardly the stance of people with a broken moral conscience.

    It sounds like religious conservatives, anxious to force all women to conform to their twisted notions of morality and who just happen to own about 1/3rd of the hospitals in the country using abortion as an excuse to refuse basic health care to millions of (born) people.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • diocese

    Kathleen Reeves posted a column based on inaccurate information sent out by Catholic News Agency. I have sent the agency a letter asking for a correction. Diocese of Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates supports with his fellow bishops comprehensive health care reform according to Catholic principles, which would mean no funding or mandates for abortion. Reeves noted that the CNA story was perplexing, particularly in light of the length at which Bishop Pates talked about the Catholic Church’s efforts to address the needs of the poor, including health care. Anne Marie Cox, Director, Office of Communications, Diocese of Des Moines

  • colleen

    Diocese of Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates supports with his fellow bishops comprehensive health care reform according to Catholic principles, which would mean no funding or mandates for abortion.

    So, then Bishop Nickless did not say, ““The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.” ?

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • paul-bradford

    colleen,

     

    I’m inclined to agree with you that Bishop Nicklass is an ideological Republican.  In fact, his comments come closer to an endorsement of the Republican platform than they do to faith in the gospel of Jesus or the doctrines of the Catholic Church.  

     

    My comment, after reading the CNA article and the NYT article, is that neither Richard Pates nor the USCCB were voicing concern about proposals for Health Care Reform for "Republican reasons".  Unlike Nicklass, their only objection had to do with abortion.  

     

    It’s my opinion that if Obama is able to keep his own party in line and get them to support modifications in the legislation that will guarantee that no taxpayer money will be used for abortion, he’ll get widespread support from the Catholic community for his reform measures.  Regardless of what is done about abortion, however, the Republicans and the insurance companies will work hard to scuttle reform, so it’s pointless to make compromises to please them.

     

    Speaking of ideological Republicans in the episcopacy, did you read about the resignation of Scranton’s bishop Joseph Martino? That story made my day! Martino’s take-no-prisoners approach to dialogue did more to set back the Pro-Life movement than practically anything I can think of. Martino was more of a menace than Randall Terry, because he actually had some power.

     

    It sounds like religious conservatives, [colleen is talking about the American hierarchy of the Catholic Church] anxious to force all women to conform to their twisted notions of morality and who just happen to own about 1/3rd of the hospitals in the country using abortion as an excuse to refuse basic health care to millions of (born) people.

     

    colleen, if you would be willing to move past your black-and-white approach to assessing the Catholic Church, you and I could have some fruitful discussions.  I am by no means blind to the fact that the Church has flaws, but you seem to believe that it is a force of pure evil.  That’s not true.  The Church’s commitment to health care for the poor is genuine and long lasting.  It’s as old as the Church itself.

     

    By the way, what would someone say if he believed in the intrinsic worth of the life of a fetus but had no desire to ‘force women to conform to his twisted notions of morality’?  I wonder if you believe that there’s room on the political spectrum to do that. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • paul-bradford

    collen,

     

    It’s Nicklass, not Pates, whose conservative politics are getting in the way of his discipleship. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • colleen

    Why would you think I didn’t understand that, Paul?

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD