|This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
After months of political machinations, things are moving extremely quickly and we are at an advanced and critical point with regard to our discussion of healthcare legislation, to the point that, as of this writing, the House has passed the terribly deficient Senate Bill, as well as a bill making a few changes (which do nothing to help in key matters). The Senate has yet to approve these few changes and all that is really left is the President’s signature. Much can happen between my writing and your reading this, so I’d like to take a look more at what has happened, and why it is not a good thing. What will happen is still yet to be seen.
There remains a tremendous amount of confusion. The context for the health care legislation discussion has been made very strange and confused — so much simply does not make sense.
In the “Catholic world” there is, at present, another issue, and while it may not seem to have anything to do with our healthcare debate, in a sense it does. I’ll mention it and make a bit of the connection later. As the Church in Europe now uncovers some of the sins committed by its clergy members, the mass media are trying, with every fiber of their being to make Pope Benedict XVI look guilty. Their big line is, “what did the Pope know and when did he know it?” That is, “he’s to be treated like any other politician; he’s probably corrupt, and it’s our role to uncover his corruption.”
Of course, many see their role as to destroy the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church. They want us out of the way. So, a very good way to attack the Church is to attack the Holy Father himself. These same people who demand to know what the Pope knew and when he knew it want to place the responsibility for the acts of others (undertaken far away and in different time periods), at the feet of the Pope and make him responsible.
In order to be responsible for something, one has to have the authority to do something about it. And the very people who want to make the Holy Father responsible for everything heinous in the sexual misconduct scandal are the least likely to accept the Pope’s authority in any matter. They are the most disobedient people, in general. Yet they want to lay all the responsibility at the Pope’s feet. That simply makes no sense and we should not be fooled.
With regard to the healthcare legislation matter, there is the same confused discussion going on. One congressman pointed out this weekend that from the time of Roe vs. Wade, there have been certain people, including certain Catholics, who have said over and over again, “We have to protect the right of women over their own bodies.” The same people who have been saying that for 30 to 40 years are now saying, “We need our healthcare legislation package to pass, so that no one will have control over his or her body.” We can’t have it both ways. We’re into a discussion where contradictions abound. Be careful as you listen to this discussion, because it is loaded with contradictions and it’s very, very hard to sort out the truth.
What should be clear, though, is that the Catholic bishops have said that the legislation which has passed does not work for people who are of the Catholic faith and for people who follow the natural law (for all people of good will) in terms of preventing government/taxpayer funding of abortion. The Senate healthcare bill, passed by the House, with additional changes, and even with an “Executive Order” pending does not cut it — the bishops have been clear on this.
Beware of backdoor approaches
The reason is that there are “backdoor” ways in which the passed legislation continues to force taxpayers to fund abortions. There are very apparent “backdoors” in the legislation and there are not adequate and deliberate bars on those “backdoors,” and thus the legislation will very easily be manipulated to force taxpayer funding for abortion. The legislation which has passed also does not provide adequate protection for individual conscience, individual freedom, and our religious liberty — it simply doesn’t.
This legislation also does not provide, properly, for immigrants. For immigrants who are documented — immigrants welcomed legally into our country — there is a five-year wait period before they can get health insurance. How could that be fair? Documented, legal immigrants to this country have to wait here for five years before they can get health insurance coverage. And illegal immigrants are not allowed to have any health insurance, even if they can pay for it out of their own pockets.
In so many cases, in this legislation, individual freedom goes right down the tubes. The legislation is very inadequate with regard to abortion, it is very inadequate with regard to conscience protection, and it’s very inadequate with regard to care for immigrants. That is why Catholic legislators and others of good will, who understood this bill, were bound to oppose it.
Stopping the confusion
The bishops were very clear on this and it seemed that there were some Catholics, including some Catholic Democrats who were going to stand up — even in the face of almost unbearable pressure — for the Truth, for the protection of every human being. Clearly, that did not turn out to be the case. And here, too, there was an attempt to confuse. At the last minute, some Catholics and some people who seemed to be of good will were either confused themselves, really believing that an Executive Order from President Obama would work to protect innocent human life, or were hoping that the fog of confusion would conceal their real intent.
Aside from the fact that most can now see that this Executive Order would have no effect at all, much less a potentially lasting effect, there remains the truth that the right to life comes from God. Only God can give it and only God can take it away. The right to life does not come from the state. The state is obligated to uphold the natural law and to protect life, but it does not confer that right to life to us. We as Catholics, and people of good will, were asking the legislature to uphold, and to protect, that God-given right to life.
If government and if the legislature do not wish to recognize the God-given right to life, we certainly can’t rely on the President of the United States, by an Executive Order, to protect life — as if somehow the right to life comes from him. The President of the United States can take away the Executive Order next week that he mandated this week, but neither he, nor the Congress, nor the Supreme Court can take away the right to life. An Executive Order is much too weak a support for the protection of human life, and in the end, it would give the President of the United States the power to give and take away the God-given right to life. That would be far more monarchical than most Americans could handle.
I cannot pass over the actions of the Catholic Health Association and an organization called Network, a lobby of American religious Sisters, who said, quite publicly, that what the bishops have taught is false. They said that the legislation does provide an adequate framework for a Catholic to follow his or her conscience about abortion. So, we had a trade organization — the Catholic Health Association — which calls itself “Catholic” and we had religious Sisters who call themselves Catholic, saying, “Sorry, bishops, you got it wrong, here is the teaching of the Church.”
The Lord Jesus Christ, unworthy though the bishops are, called the bishops to lead the people in faith; He did not call anybody in the Catholic Health Association and he did not call any of the Sisters in Network. To boot, those Sisters who signed the Network document said that they speak for 59,000 American Sisters — that would be every last Sister in the U.S. Yet, another grouping of Sisters came out publicly expressing their disagreement with Network. Unfortunately, the claim that these Sisters in Network represent all Sisters is actually what is false, not the teaching of the bishops.
And, of course, people like Speaker Pelosi could not do enough to wave the letter from the Catholic Health Association and the letter from Network to provide cover for Democratic legislators who wanted to waffle in protecting innocent human life. Speaker Pelosi is not called by Jesus Christ to lead the Catholic faithful, any more than the religious Sisters in Network are, any more than the leadership of the Catholic Health Association is.
The bishops are called to teach, sanctify, and govern. But, as I said before, with regard to the Holy Father, if people will not recognize authority, then they cannot lay responsibility at the feet of those to whom they are disobedient. The pope and the bishops are only responsible when their authority is accepted. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger himself has said, in our contemporary world, the word “obedience” has disappeared from our vocabulary and the reality of obedience has been anathematized.
In this way, very serious harm is being done to the Church because people in the Church wonder, “Who speaks for Christ? Does the Catholic Health Association speak for Christ? Does Network, an organization of religious Sisters, speak for Christ? Do they teach with the authority of the bishops? Is the bishops’ teaching just another opinion?”
Importance of Apostolic succession
If we go down this road, the teaching authority of the bishops will be further eroded and with it, the authority of Christ’s Church. Bishops are sinners, they’re not perfect; neither were the Apostles perfect at all times, they were sinners, too. In His wisdom, which we can’t understand, Jesus calls the bishops, the successors of the Apostles today, to teach the word of Christ to the people and He calls them in a way that He doesn’t call others, including priests. That’s what we mean when we say that the Church is Apostolic. The bishop is a true Apostle insofar as he teaches with the Holy Father, and the priest is a true Apostle insofar as he teaches with the bishop — that’s how it works.
Please don’t let the current discussion and certain politicians get you confused about that. And don’t let these contradictions and confusions keep you from jumping right into the discussion and speaking the truth with love. There is no more basic human rights issue for Catholics and for people of good will than the necessity of the government to protect human life from conception to natural death.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please continue to pray for me and know that I am praying for you and your loved ones as we come upon Holy Week and Easter. Praised be Jesus Christ!