Tag Archives: Health Care

Catholic hierarchy out of touch

While watching the Republican primary season play out, one exit poll item caught my eye.  Rick Santorum, the self-avowed Roman Catholic traditionalist, repeatedly lost the Catholic vote … to a Mormon!  Similarly, during the flap over contraception coverage in the Affordable Health Care Act that riled up the Catholic Bishops, public polls showed 60% of Roman Catholics supported the provision.  Clearly, there appears to be a disconnect between the hard-line conservatism of the bishops/hierarchy and the folks in the pews.

Recently a gay man who served on the board of Catholic Charities quit in a highly-public rebuke of Cardinal Dolan of the archdiocese of New York.

A day before Easter, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic archdiocese faced a challenge to his stance on gay rights: the resignation of a church charity board member who says he’s “had enough” of the cardinal’s attitude.

Joseph Amodeo told The Associated Press on Saturday that he quit the junior board of the city’s Catholic Charities after Cardinal Timothy Dolan failed to respond to a “call for help” for homeless youths who are not heterosexual.

Today, Amodeo, the gay man, speaks out in a Huff Post blog entitled “The Pulpit vs. the Pews”.  He basically makes the case that there is strong and widespread support for gays within the Catholic laity and the hierarchy is simply out of touch.  His post begins with a personal story from a few years ago; his role as a Christian educator was questioned and resulted in a public hearing in the church.

The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception.

Amodeo also blames the press for assuming that bishops speak for the people.

It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.

How is it that the Catholic hierarchy has lost touch?  Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of graduate studies with the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and University School of Theology.  Over lunch or coffee, I heard a recurring lament from the Catholic grad students … that the current pope was appointing reactionary bishops and the progressive spirit of Vatican II was being reversed.  That process has continued under the current pope.  Thus, since 1978, there has been a remaking of the entire episcopate under two conservative popes.

Conservative Lutheran denominations such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) have stridently anti-Catholic histories.  During her failed campaign, Republican Michelle Bachman resigned from her Wisconsin Synod congregation over the embarrassment that it remained WELS official policy that the papacy was the anti-Christ.  Thus, it is a fascinating sign of the times that a group of Missouri Synod pastors, congregations, the LCMS district superintendent, and a seminary professor will march to the steps of the Fort Wayne Cathedral to show support for the local Catholic bishop and diocese in their opposition to the contraceptive portions of Obamacare.

Right wing politics makes strange bedfellows.

Critique of Paul Ryan

Here are a few political stories and opinions that appeared this weekend, and I’ll conclude with a video of Ronald Reagan … arguing for the Buffett principle, believe it or not.

National columnist EJ Dionne and New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman have similar opinions about the Paul Ryan budget.

Here’s a sample of Dionne op-ed piece from the Washington Post.

Obama specifically listed the programs the Ryan-Romney budget would cut back, including student loans, medical and scientific research grants, Head Start, feeding programs for the poor, and possibly even the weather service.

Romney pronounced himself appalled, accusing Obama of having “railed against arguments no one is making” and “criticized policies no one is proposing.” Yet Romney could neither defend the cuts nor deny the president’s list of particulars, based as they were on reasonable assumptions. When it came to the Ryan budget, Romney wanted to fuzz things up. But, as Obama likes to point out, math is math.

And, from Krugman’s NY Times’ piece:

The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” — that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”

The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.

 

 

Bringing down the “fat man”

Maltese FalconHumphrey Bogart, reprising the role of detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, battled evil in the Sidney Greenstreet character of Kaspar Gutman, aka “the fat man”.  Though bested by Bogart’s character, “the fat man” slipped away to Istanbul, no doubt to prepare for a sequel.

What about real life?  Can college coed Sandra Fluke bring down the fat man of conservative radio: the bombastic, foul-mouthed, mean-spirited Rush Limbaugh? Have his comments degenerated beyond chronic bad taste into the legal realm of slander?

Sandra Fluke is the law student from Georgetown University who was prepared to offer testimony before the Issa Committee on contraception, but she was excluded and only five conservative men were allowed to speak.  Later, she was invited back and offered testimony to a House Democratic committee.  She testified in favor of health insurance coverage that included contraceptives without a co-pay.

It was her testimony before that committee that caused Limbaugh to become ballistic.

Sandra FlukeWhat does it say about the college coed Susan [sic] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

In my former law practice, I never handled a slander case, but I know they are generally very difficult to pursue, especially against public figures.  But I hope she does it.  I hope she sues the blathering idiot.

We could echo journalist Edward R. Murrow’s ringing challenge to a fat man bully of an earlier time, Joseph McCarthy–Have you no decency?— but in the case of Rush Limbaugh, the answer is only too clear.

Obama at mid term

Here’s a Winston Churchill quote:

Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

And another:

The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.

It should be remembered that following Churchill’s historic and inspired leadership during WWII, the British voters turned him out in the first election after war’s end.

In the recent midterm elections, it would seem that the voters rejected President Obama.  Six fewer Democratic Senators will serve in the new Congress.  Speaker-to-be John Boehner and the Republicans wrenched control of the House from the Democrats.  According to the voters, it would appear that Obama’s first two years have been an abysmal failure.

Did the voters choose wisely?  Was their judgment sound?

Of course, the party in power always loses Congressional seats in midterm elections.  Of course, the party in power always loses seats when the economy is bad, and this economy has been very bad.  Yet, the recent election is more ironic than historic.

It is ironic that voters blame the Democrats for the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, but it is clear that the economy collapsed in the late months of the Bush administration.

It is ironic that the voters blame the Democrats for a bleak employment/jobs situation when the independent Congressional Budget Office reports that Obama’s stimulus saved 3.6 million jobs.

It is ironic that the voters blame the Democrats for government gridlock, but it is clear that it was the Republicans, the “party of no”, that went went all-in and resisted at every turn, choosing politics over policy.  With cries of “socialism” and “government takeover of the health care system” (chosen the “biggest lie” of the year by a Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking organization), the traditional notion of the “loyal opposition” seems rather hollow.

Finally, the biggest irony of all, that sums up all the rest, is the perception that President Obama and the current Congress have failed, and that their performance should be judged by the results of the recent election.  In a posting in the popular First Read political website/blog of MSNBC, Mark Murray called this the “do-something” Congress, and makes this observation:

Smiling President[L]ost in the poll numbers and the voters’ message in November is this one unmistakable fact: This Congress, which likely will come to a close this week, accomplished more, legislatively, than any other Congress since the 1960s (the Great Society) or the 1930s (the New Deal).

In the past two years, it has:

– expanded the safety net with the health-care law;

– invested billions in the nation’s roadways, airports, schools, and green technologies with the stimulus;

– reformed the nation’s financial system with financial reform;

– passed billions in tax cuts for Americans with the stimulus and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts

– expanded civil rights with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

And in its final piece of business, the Senate is currently working on one of the White House’s top foreign-policy goals: ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. Then throw in all of the other legislation enacted this Congress, like credit-card reform and the Lilly Ledbetter anti-pay-discrimination act.

Murray then quotes Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein:

“I would probably rank the New Deal [Congress] first,” congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told First Read. “I think this one edges the Great Society. It is at least on par with the Great Society.”

“For all the dysfunction, it was just astonishing what they were able to get done,” Ornstein added.

One thinks that history will judge President Obama and the 111th Congress more favorably than did the electorate.

Starring John Boehner

With violent and threatening placards bobbing amidst the tea party protesters, the “N” word shouted at civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, the “F” word shouted at Congressman Barney Frank, news that the FBI is investigating vandalism against the families of Democratic members of Congress–and the list goes on—the question must be asked: is the Republican leadership part of the problem or part of the solution?

Is Sarah Palin’s website graphic that puts gunsights on the districts of certain Democratic Congressfolk evidence of clear-headed, responsible leadership?  Is Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s recently repeated rant that our President is un-American the rational voice of the loyal opposition?  And what about that angry, defiant speech of House Minority leader, John Boehner, just before the passage of health reform legislation?

Here is a Youtube video that is going viral starring the esteemed minority leader, the voice of the party of No, cheering Americans to a higher calling.

Health Care Reform: conservative contrarians

Of the myriad news reports and blog posts about the passage of Health Care Reform, here are a pair of my favorites because they each swim against the tide of their own natural constituencies.  One comes from David Frum, an avowed conservative and former speech writer for George Bush the latter, and the second is from Vox Nova, a Catholic blog generally pro-life.

Frum writes a scathing attack against those responsible for the health care bill in its current form—the Republican leadership.

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: … we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

But Frum reserves his harshest criticism for the Rush Limbaugh types, the “conservative entertainment industry”, that lathers up the froth-jawed tea partiers for their own ratings.  When Rush’s listeners “are less angry, they listen to the radio less, and hear fewer ads for Sleepnumber beds.”

Frum also dissents from the after-the-loss talking points of the Republican leadership that all will be well for Republicans after the next election cycle.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

Much as I disagree with Frum’s policies, I think his political intuition is right on.  “It’s Waterloo all right: ours,” Frum concludes.

The Vox Nova article, Stop the Pro-Life Pity Party, chides the pro-life movement for being all whine and pretense.  Here is a list of critical comments:

the pro-life movement turned its back on health care reform.

With leadership like this, the unborn don’t need enemies.

their initial demand is still largely met, and the caterwauling commences that they aren’t being respected.  Grow up for crying aloud.

Your agenda never included supporting health care reform.  Remember, Scott Brown, a pro-choice Republican, was your savior when he was elected in Massachusetts because he was going to stop the health care bill.  You opposed health care reform and didn’t really care about abortion, and you know it.  (emphasis mine)  Stop blaming others for your faults.  Stupak was handy when you didn’t just want to sound like another shrill partisan.  Stupak managed to give you legitimacy.  You didn’t give Stupak anything. Who was using who here?  That’s right, Stupak was used by the pro-life movement.

Again, I think the political intuition of the blog writer is right on.  He correctly understands that much of the pro-life rhetoric was mere cover for deeper political motives—whether Republicanism or conservative fiscal policies–or even darker visceral eruptions such as anti-Obama racism.  The blog post concludes:

Of course, health care reform is a great thing too, unless you are a pro-life activist in which case it was a bad thing due almost wholly to things having nothing to do with the unborn.

Sometimes, conservatives can shine with brilliant insight.

Open Tabernacle: First week

The collaborative progressive catholic blog, Open Tabernacle, has now completed its first full week with resounding readership success.  Since each of the contributing bloggers brought their own following, there was a built in readership for this new blog of Catholic (catholic with a small “c”?) themes.

Here are the top five most popular progressive catholic postings from the first week. 

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) Needs Our Help.

For the last 21 years SNAP has been a voice for Catholics seeking answers and reform from the hierarchy on pedophilia. In that time it has bravely demanded an end to the shell game of moving predatory priests as well as the seemingly endless series of cover-ups of incidents of sexual abuse.

Frank Cocozzelli and Maggie Gallagher: The Voice(s) of American Catholicism.

On 20 April last year, Frank Cocozzelli published an interesting essay entitled “Who Speaks for American Catholics?” at Talk to Action’s website (here). Cocozzelli notes the wide diversity of viewpoints of American Catholics on social and political issues, including issues with connections to Catholic moral teaching. As he notes, American Catholics frequently disagree with each other (and with official church teaching) on issues such as stem-cell research, abortion, and gay and lesbian rights.

Many of us find the political and moral positions of our brothers and sisters of the Catholic right morally repugnant precisely because of our commitment to Catholic moral teaching about economic and social justice and war and peace. As Cocozzelli rightly notes, “A strong case can be made that these icons of the Catholic Right are using abortion and LGBT rights as wedge issues primarily to elect laissez-faire economic conservatives.”

The Canonization of Pope John Paul II: I Dissent

Vatican journalist Andrea Torniello has recently reported that the cause for the beatification of John Paul II has advanced. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has cleared the way for the previous pope to be declared “blessed,” the initial step on the path to sainthood.

Since reading this announcement, I’ve been giving thought to my reaction, which is, on the whole, strongly negative. As I think about it, I’m opposed to the canonization of John Paul II, and I’d like to think out loud here about my reasons for this opposition.

First, some provisos. I take it that Catholics may validly criticize popes. In fact, I take it that Catholics may have a strong obligation at certain points in history to stand against the actions, example, or even teachings of a given pope at a given time. Those of us who believe that this is the case have historical warrant for such actions: exemplary Catholics, including Catherine of Siena, a saint, have spoken out to call the pope to fidelity to the gospel, and to express concern when a pope seemed to be leading the church in a direction contrary to the gospel. And Paul stood in opposition to Peter when Peter wanted to make the gospel hinge on the purity laws of Judaism.

“Why the Church Must Change “

At the Belfast Telegraph, the columnist Sharon Owens has a heartfelt piece in which she describes all the things that she thinks are wrong with the Catholic Church, ranging from the insistence on Catholicism as the only valid route to salvation, through the incomprehensible difference in response to matters of abortion as compared to other offences, to the appalling record of the Irish church, on clerical abuse and on the treatment of women in the Magdelene laundries.

Catholic Remonstrance Now!

Lately, the Catholic Right has unabashedly sought to impose its will on society. From its recent advocacy against marriage equality in Maine; to the inquisition of American nuns who challenge Vatican hard-liners; and now the U.S Bishops who have threatened to sabotage health care reform unless they got their way on abortion policy in the House version of the legislation.

As a Catholic, I am beyond frustration with Church leaders and lay persons who seek to replace American pluralism with an ultra-orthodox form of Catholic morality. I say it is time for remonstrance from mainstream Catholics.

Will health care be skewered by Catholics? UPDATED

Word out of Washington this morning is that progressive and moderate Democrats have fashioned a compromise on health care reform acceptable to both camps.  The odds for passage of a health care reform bill just went up.  Yet, a formidable hurdle remains, and that is the Stupak amendment in the House version and the whole issue of abortion politics.  A day earlier, the Senate voted to kill a similar amendment, but the 54-45 vote is considerably less than the 60 votes the Dems may need for ultimate passage of health care reform.

Should abortion politics factor into the debate at all?  Majority leader Harry Reid apparently gave an impassioned floor speech, suggesting this bill is about health care access and is not, and should not be, about abortion rights or restrictions.  It appears those crafting the legislation are bending over to ensure the bill will be abortion neutral: access to abortion is neither expanded nor restricted relative to the status quo, which begs the question:  Is this the time and place for the pro-life movement to attempt inroads against Roe v Wade?

Front and center is the American Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops, who have historically been for health care reform but against abortion rights.  Here is where the rubber meets the road.  Will the bishops sacrifice universal health care on the altar of pro-life?

In a hard hitting post in National Catholic Weekly, Joe Ferullo blasts single-issue Bishops.

U.S. Catholic bishops are in danger of finding themselves on the sidelines of history, regarded as a single-issue constituency with no view toward the greater good … the bishops have the influence to help push through a change in public policy they have sought for decades: universal health care coverage. Instead, they have become enmeshed in abortion politics, threatening to undermine a bill that would help ten of millions.

The blog post refers to an column in the Los Angeles Times, which quotes Kathleen Kennedy Townsend:

“As Catholics, are we so laser-focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join the ‘tea-partyers’ and the like to bring down the healthcare reform bill? And at the enormous expense of million of Americans who suffer every day” without healthcare?

Thomas Rutten, the LA Times columnist, offers this summation:

[If the bishops] abandon their church’s historic support for universal healthcare, rather than accept an abortion compromise that preserves a 33-year-old status quo, they’ll have done more than turn themselves into a single-issue constituency. They’ll have broken with a long tradition of not disdaining what is inarguably good in pursuit of unattainable perfection, which has been a hallmark of modern Catholicism’s contribution to American politics.

The tea party rabble can be dismissed as unthinking know-nothings (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”)  We expect more reasoned pragmatism from an esteemed body such as the Conference of Bishops.

UPDATE:

Congresswoman Lois Capps is right in the middle of the efforts to keep the health care reform bill “abortion neutral”.  Today she offered an op-ed piece to suggest the bill (read Stupak amendment)  has been hijacked by those with a pro-life agenda to add restrictions to abortion access beyond what exists in the current status quo.  Here is a portion, but I commend her entire piece.

I didn’t believe that health reform legislation was the place to promote either a pro-choice or anti-choice agenda. The focus needs to be on getting insurance to the nearly 50 million Americans without it and ensuring stability of coverage for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, the Stupak-Pitts amendment that replaced my amendment during House Floor consideration goes well beyond the status quo and is in no way the simple extension of the Hyde amendment its proponents claim. It would result in a major step backwards for women’s control over their reproductive lives.

We need to strike a balance on this issue so health reform isn’t a casualty of divisive abortion politics. That’s what my amendment did and that’s what the Senate bill proposes. Congress would be wise to send the President a bill reflecting this common ground approach and I will work hard to see that happens.

ELCA Social Statements including Health and Healthcare

Bishop Hanson breaking bread With the adoption of the Social Statement on Human Sexuality at the recent ELCA 2009 Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA now has ten social statements.

Social statements are major documents addressing significant social issues. Typically, they provide an analysis and interpretation of an issue, set forth basic theological and ethical perspectives related to it, and offer guidance for the corporate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its individual members . . . . In all cases social
statements are the product of extensive and inclusive deliberation within this church, a process that is an integral part of their educational purpose. Because of the considerable resources and care that this church invests in them, and because of the participatory process used in their development, social statements are the most authoritative form of social policy and are adopted only by the Churchwide Assembly.”

Here is the list; each statement may be reviewed and downloaded from the ELCA website:

  • Abortion
  • Church in Society
  • Death Penalty
  • Economic Life
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health and Healthcare
  • Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
  • Peace
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

The 2009 Convention also called for the study process to begin on another possible social statement entitled “Justice for Women”.  The process of study and creation of a social statement takes years and resources (about a million dollars).  The recommendation that was adopted calls for Churchwide assembly action in 2015.  Two other study processes are already underway based upon earlier Churchwide authorizations—Genetics and Criminal Justice.

As I write this, Air Force One is approaching the MSP Airport about 40 miles up the road from Northfield.  The President is on board, and he will take his campaign for health care reform to a local venue later today, which begs the question for me: “What does the ELCA say about health care?”

At the 2003 Churchwide Assembly, the voting members passed a social statement on Health and Healthcare by a margin of 935-34.  The full document extends for 32 pages, but the sense of the document is set out in the introduction (emphases are mine):

Health is central to our well-being, vital to relationships, and helps us live out our vocations in family, work, and community. Caring for one’s own health is a matter of human necessity and good stewardship. Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbors and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.

And, in the statement of crisis:

Health care in the United States, its territories, and Puerto Rico suffers from a prolonged crisis. People unnecessarily endure poor health. Rising health care costs leave a growing number of people without adequate health care. Health care resources often are rationed based on ability to pay rather than need. Finding access to quality health care services is difficult for many. The growing number of elderly people adds another stress on health care resources. Fear and self-interest defeat social justice in the political processes of health care reform.

The stress on individuals and families because of society’s inability to fashion an adequate health care system makes action increasingly urgent. The breadth and complexity of the challenges require serious conversations and bold strategies to establish the shared personal and social responsibilities that make good health possible. The health of each individual depends on the care of others and the commitment of society to provide health care for all.

For the ELCA, as for many religious groups in the US, health care is a matter of right and justice and not merely a scarce market commodity allocated by ability to pay rather than by need.  It is first and foremost a moral issue and only secondarily economic.  The social statement is constructed around the concept of “shared endeavor”. 

Hear the words of Ted Kennedy, in his death bed letter to President Obama as reported by the President in his recent address to a Joint Session of Congress:

He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that “it concerns more than material things.” “What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

A few weeks ago, Lavonne Neff offered commentary on T.R. Reid’s book, The Healing of America in a blogpost on Sojourner’s website.  Here is what she says about the book:

“The primary issue for any health care system is a moral one.” If we believe no one should die for want of access to health care, we can find a way to provide care for all. If we believe health care is a commodity like TVs and automobiles, we can continue to exclude those who can’t pay. “All the developed countries I looked at provide health coverage for every resident, old or young, rich or poor. This is the underlying moral principle of the health care system in every rich country — every one, that is, except the United States.”

A shared endeavor.

Is there a Christian view toward health care reform?

Twelfth century Hippocratic Oath in form of a cross What do Christians think of health care reform?  Well, different things apparently, depending upon one’s brand of Christianity.

Does Blogger Kathy Escobar reflect the teachings of Jesus?  In a recent post, Escobar states:

Jesus calls us to care for the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the rejected, the oppressed, the unprotected. what this means is we are supposed to give some of ours to help.  we are supposed to make sacrifices that we don’t necessarily want to make but are willing to because Jesus reminds us of that  life-here-on-earth-is-not-about-gathering-wealth-and-taking-care-of-only-our-own-needs.  it’s about sacrificial love.  it’s about taking care of others needs.  it’s about seeing gaps and filling them.  it’s about humbling ourselves for the sake of others.  it’s about offering our coats, our food, our hands and our feet in a tangible way even when it costs us time & money & energy.

Seems pretty clear, and Austin Texas Presbyterian pastor Jim Rigby would agree, yet he throws up his arms in exasperation as he laments:

I can’t believe I am standing today in a Christian church defending the proposition that we should lessen the suffering of those who cannot afford health care in an economic system that often treats the poor as prey for the rich. I cannot believe there are Christians around this nation who are shouting that message down and waving guns in the air because they don’t want to hear it. But I learned along time ago that churches are strange places; charity is fine, but speaking of justice is heresy in many churches. The late Brazilian bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said it well: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." Too often today in the United States, if you talk about helping the poor, they call you Christian, but if you actually try to do something to help the poor, they call you a socialist.

Roman Catholics have a long and admirable record of defending the poor.  The latest policy statement from the United States Council of Bishops advocates for these points:

    • a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity
    • access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants
    • pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options
    • restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

    Yet, the rigidity of many Bishops, priests, and lay persons in their opposition to abortion rights seems to be stronger than their advocacy for universal health care.  Unless health care reform precludes coverage for abortions, many Catholics stand against a truly universal health policy with access for all.  Ok, we get that many Catholics vehemently disagree with Roe v Wade, but it is the law of the land.  Is the health care reform debate the proper platform to fight that battle?  Should universal health care be sacrificed just to make a point? 

On the other hand, many progressive Catholics are able to see the forest and not just the trees.  The Consortium of Jesuit Bioethics Programs has issued a policy statement entitled “The Moral Case for Insuring the Uninsured”:

As health care ethicists, we believe providing universal access to health care is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it. Much like our commitment to providing universal access to K-12 education, the reasons for doing so are both pragmatic and moral. And these reasons are so compelling that they require us to do what it takes to overcome obstacles.

Each year, according to a report of the prestigious Institute of Medicine, approximately 18,000 Americans die prematurely because they lack health insurance. Persons who lack insurance typically do not seek medical care until their illnesses have progressed to the point when they can no longer be ignored. Then the illness is far more difficult (and expensive) to treat.

We believe that thinking about our values—values of justice, solidarity, and compassion—changes our perspective on health care reform. Currently, support among the public is wavering because of concerns about cost, funding mechanisms, and what is in it for the person who currently has private health insurance. From the point of view of our common values, the final concern is the most relevant. A just and
compassionate society is obligated to try to meet the basic needs of all members of the community—not every imaginable desire, but our most basic needs such as food, a foundational education, and basic health care.

Political leadership, if it is to be true moral leadership, must have the courage and will to push forward legislation that may not please everyone, but will give all persons access to an acceptable level of health care services. We become better people when we respond to the arbitrary and capricious threats to life and the pursuit of happiness that afflict our neighbor. And, of course, when we guarantee justice for our neighbor, we do so for ourselves and our families as well should disaster befall us.

My twenty five year old son has a full time job, but it does not provide health benefits.  Last spring, he caught pneumonia and he resisted medical care because he couldn’t afford it; finally, he made a single visit to a local emergency room and antibiotics were prescribed.  He recovered nicely, but he now faces a bill that is nearly ten percent of his net annual income for his single emergency room visit. 

Hmm.  For many, the issue is bankruptcy or ill health–which to choose?

The system is broke, folks, and it’s time to fix it.  It’s the pragmatic, responsible thing to do.  For some of us, it’s the Christian thing to do also.