Over the last few days there’s been some chatter (led by Terry Mattingly) about why the Catholic bishops haven’t been weighing in on health reform. This has been a big issue for them, so what’s up? Pretty clearly, they’ve been hamstrung by the abortion issue, having to deal on the right with the likes of Ave Maria Law School’s Rev. Michael P. Orsi, who thumps them as abortion-rights fellow travelers for refusing to attack health reform legislation.
Actually, Orsi’s got the full conservative ideological agenda, and so attacks the whole idea (asserted previously by the USCCB) of health care as a basic right.
Recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development released a
statement made to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate stating
that “health care is not a privilege but a right and a requirement to
protect the life and dignity of each person.” They couldn’t be more
Having made his case, Orsi smugly concludes by citing Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate: In asserting a basic right to healthcare, the bishops have violated the pope’s principle of Truth.
To promote health care as a right under the aegis of Catholic morality
by the USCCB is not the truth. As a matter of fact, it is not even
charity because, as the Pope says, “Without truth, charity degenerates
into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an
Such carelessness with the truth, whether
intentional or unintentional, by the USCCB undermines both the Catholic
Church and American society.
OK, so what does the pope himself say in that encyclical about health care?
Nowadays we are witnessing a grave inconsistency. On
the one hand, appeals are made to alleged rights, arbitrary and non-essential in
nature, accompanied by the demand that they be recognized and promoted by public
structures, while, on the other hand, elementary and basic rights remain
unacknowledged and are violated in much of the world. A link has
often been noted between claims to a “right to excess”, and even to
transgression and vice, within affluent societies, and the lack of food,
drinkable water, basic instruction and elementary health care in areas of the
underdeveloped world and on the outskirts of large metropolitan centres. The
link consists in this: individual rights, when detached from a framework of
duties which grants them their full meaning, can run wild, leading to an
escalation of demands which is effectively unlimited and indiscriminate. An
overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties. Duties set a limit on
rights because they point to the anthropological and ethical framework of which
rights are a part, in this way ensuring that they do not become license. Duties
thereby reinforce rights and call for their defence and promotion as a task to
be undertaken in the service of the common good. Otherwise, if the only basis of
human rights is to be found in the deliberations of an assembly of citizens,
those rights can be changed at any time, and so the duty to respect and pursue
them fades from the common consciousness. Governments and international bodies
can then lose sight of the objectivity and “inviolability” of rights. When this
happens, the authentic development of peoples is endangered. Such
a way of thinking and acting compromises the authority of international bodies,
especially in the eyes of those countries most in need of development. Indeed,
the latter demand that the international community take up the duty of helping
them to be “artisans of their own destiny”, that is, to take up
duties of their own. The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful
incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.
Read that carefully. The pope is saying that an asserted (or legislated) “right to excess” is wrongly made equivalent to those things that are objectively and inviolably “elementary and basic rights”–such as “elementary health care.” His point is that the affluent have to recognize that they have a duty to take steps to guarantee that the rights of the needy are not violated. Orsi may, like George Weigel, dismiss the passage as the product of social justice types in the Curia (the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace). But he has a lot of chutzpah citing Caritas’ demand for truth, as if Caritas doesn’t embrace the very proposition he is attacking.