The bishops pull in their horns

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Yesterday Thomas Reese, S.J., sometime editor of America, gave the Catholic bishops some unsolicited advice on how they should respond to passage of the health care bill that they opposed. Today they issued their response–and it tracks the advice pretty well.

Reese urged them to praise the good things in the bill, and they do. He said they should express hope for the effectiveness of the restrictions on abortion funding negotiated by Rep. Bart Stupak and his fellow pro-life Catholics, and they nod in that direction. He also said they could make clear that they’ll be monitoring the situation, and they do that too. They even follow his prescription to acknowledge that their disagreement with the Stupak group has to do with prudential judgment about legislative language rather than pro-life principle–but you have to read the relevant paragraph really closely to understand that:

As bishops, we wish to recognize the principled actions of the pro-life
Members of Congress from both parties, in the House and the Senate,
who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the
principles outlined above. They have often been vilified and have
worked against great odds.

This must be taken to include Stupak & Co. They were harshly criticized by the pro-HCR forces, and the bishops are saying that they acted out of principle, and on behalf of their principles. With the vilification now coming from the other side, the bishops must be understood as standing up for them. It would have been nice if they had they taken their stand more forthrightly.

It would also have been nice if they hadn’t felt compelled to reiterate their deceptive claim that the new statute departs from existing principle in the way it enables some women to obtain abortions. As they know full well, Medicaid engages in “funding and facilitating plans that cover abortion” by providing health coverage for poor people–insofar as states can (and many do) supplement it by providing abortion coverage. The new statute merely permits subsidized individuals to do with their own money what states do with theirs, in a program that the bishops support.

But all in all, it’s a pretty good statement, especially if you compare it to the feverish denunciation of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. What really gets to Chaput is the determination of some groups of his co-religionists to support HCR in the name of their faith, thereby “undercutting the leadership and witness of their
own bishops.” These he calls “self-described ‘Catholic’ groups.” (By him, a group of nuns that dares to disagree with the bishops is not Catholic but “Catholic.”

To its credit, the USCCB does not make the claim that its members possess “special charism when it comes to interpreting legislative language or
guessing how the courts will interpret it.” As Tom Reese put it.