Monday, June 21, 2010

Health Care Reform and the Magisterium [UPDATED]

In light of Cardinal George's recent statement, and in light of an ongoing combox debate I've been having with a commenter, I thought this particular post at The American Catholic was quite timely:
... In my opinion and that of numerous observers (including most of my fellow contributors here at TAC), the bishops were correct and CHA was horribly, terribly wrong.

There is another question, though… was CHA disobedient? That is, were they obliged as Catholics to accept the conclusions of the bishops conference? Was the activity of the bishops conference an act of their teaching charism which American Catholics were obliged to give their assent to?

This question strikes me as more difficult to answer than whether or not CHA was right or wrong in their conclusions, because the issue here is the competence of the Magisterium to determine the consequences of a particular legislative bill. I and many others think that the conference’s position was correct, but am I obliged to believe that because of the bishops’ authority on the matter, or because I am persuaded that their conclusions are valid? If the former, then it seems that we are saying that we are always bound to accept the bishops’ reading of any particular legislative bill. But are we?

It seems to me that in this case, the issue in question is the authority of the Magisterium to evaluate legislation, not the morality of federal funding of abortion. On the latter there is no doubt, but that is not so clear on the former...

My Comments:
My own view is that a Catholic is NOT morally obligated to accept the correctness of the Bishops' judgment and conclusions regarding the effects or consequences of particular legislation. But a Catholic DOES owe the Bishops due deference. A Catholic IS morally obligated to listen to the Bishops' voices, give significant weight to the Bishops' judgment as shepherds of the faithful against one's own personal predilictions, and tread very lightly in disagreeing with the Bishops' judgment, especially if one is PUBLICLY disagreeing with the Bishops.

Furthermore, if one is going to claim - in direct opposition to the Bishops - that one's judgment on a matter is the real Catholic position and/or the "truly pro-life" position, then one has a whale of a burden of proof to overcome. And if one is going to publicly set oneself up, or allow others to publicly set one up, as the Catholic "authority" in favor of a particular position on which the Bishops have taken the opposite view, then, at the very least, as Cardinal George notes in his recent remarks, one puts the Bishops' authority and Catholic unity at significant risk of lasting damage.

But the question remains whether "disobedience" was involved in the calculus of the various "so-called Catholic groups" (as Cardinal George has referred to them) in deciding to publicly disagree with the Bishops over health care reform - and, specifically, doing so with their Catholic identity front and center. In answering that in the affirmative, I think my friend Michael Denton hits the nail squarely on the head:
Can one be disobedient and not violate the Magisterium? If so, I think that happened here.

I don’t think there was anything close to dogmatic in the bishops’ evaluation of the bill (other than abortion funding is wrong). That said, even in non-dogmatic matters deference is owed to the bishops. If one disagrees with them, one must do so after prudential consideration. Furthermore, I think one ought not to be actively campaigning against them.

So while the CHA could disagree with the bishops, I don’t think they cared one hoot about what the bishops thought. Indeed, many of the liberal Catholics started painting this picture of the bishops as silly old buffoons easily misled by the NLRC and other Republican groups masquerading as pro-lifers. Worse, the CHA and others went out of their way to show their Catholicism in support of the bill, clearly frustrating the bishops message.

Nothing the left did shows any support or obedience to the bishops, even if dogma did not require them to agree with them.
Exactly. Well put, Michael.

UPDATE (22 June)
Interesting developments on this front, as reported by Fr. Z:
Before proceeding, you might want to review my post "Magisterium of Nuns".

Remember: In direct opposition to the US Catholic bishops, the Catholic Health Association (CHA), run especially by liberal Catholic women religious, backed the "health care" reform legislation of the Pres. Obama, Sen. Reid, and Speaker Pelosi, et al. The backing of the CHA gave "cover" to Catholics to vote in favor of legislation which does not have adequate assurances that taxpayer money will not be used to pay for abortions.

The bishops warned against this. The CHA and a coalition of liberal Catholic women religious defied the bishops.

What we are seeing, as I have written here numerous times, is a battle over who gets to speak for the Catholic Church in the USA.

Will it be the liberal Catholic women religious who compromised on the abortion issue in order to get the rest of their agenda and solidify their power or the Catholic bishops? Though in many ways they are not above criticism, the bishops are nevertheless the duly appointed shepherds of the Church in the US and teachers concerning faith and morals...


Now read this from CNA with my emphases and comments:
Helen Osman accuses CNA of fabricating report on Cardinal George and CHA

Denver, Colo., Jun 21, 2010 / 06:04 pm (CNA).- After CNA published a report on remarks Cardinal Francis George made about the disagreement between the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. bishops, [Cardinal George: Sr. Keehan chose Obama over Catholic bishops] Ms. Helen Osman, the Secretary of Communications for the bishops’ conference denied the accuracy of the article. Nevertheless, the news agency stands by its report and maintains that it was corroborated by several bishops.


[But wait! The nearly-ubiquitous fair-minded] John Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the [sadly] National Catholic Reporter, published a story on the same day as CNA’s report, in which he spoke with Cardinal George about the meeting he had just held with the bishops and the disagreement with CHA.

Cardinal George told Allen, “the dispute with the CHA involves a core ecclesiological principle ‘about the nature of the church itself, one that has to concern the bishops’ – namely, who speaks for the church on faith and morals?[That sounds consistent with what CNA said.]

“The bishops have to protect their role in governing the church,”’ the cardinal said.

Alejandro Bermudez, the director of Catholic News Agency, stated that “Allen’s report validates CNA’s reporting of the remarks made by Cardinal George at the executive meeting.”


“I challenge the Ms. Osman to release the audio recording of Cardinal George’s remarks to the bishops.”
(emphasis and commentary are Fr. Z's)

[Definitely read the whole thing]
(Hat tip: Opinionated Catholic)

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Cardinal George: Sr. Keehan Chose Obama Over Catholic Bishops

American Papist: Obama an Enemy to Catholic Unity

The Catholic Health Association and the Future of Catholic Unity

Sister Carol Keehan Misrepresents Her Support of the Health Care Bill

The Bishops Strike Back Against Dissenting Women Religious [UPDATED]

Bishop Tells Pro-Life Democrat: Nuns Can’t Absolve ObamaCare Vote

Bishop Morlino: “Speaker Pelosi is Not Called by Jesus Christ to Lead the Catholic Faithful”

Sister Carol Disinvited from D.C.-Based John Carroll Society Speaking Gig

Establishing the "Alternative Magisterium"

The Smear, Part 2: Stupak Attacks Catholic Bishops

Archbishop Chaput: A Bad Bill and How We Got It

Archbishop Chaput: Those Confusing the Catholic Stance on Health Care Will Bear the Blame for Anti-Life Effects of Heath Care Bill

Catholic Obama Supporters More Interested in Providing Cover Than Holding Obama's Feet to the Fire

Catholic Nuns Urge Passage of Obama's Health Bill

Obama's Catholic Strategy: Divide and Conquer

Newsweek: Obama More Catholic Than the Pope

Pope Hope I (a.k.a. "The Great")

Pope Greets "Hope"?

Of "Neo-Caths" and "Sharia Catholicism"

Notre Dame's President Jenkins: "We Are Tremendously Proud" to be Acting in Defiance of the US Catholic Bishops

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At 6/21/2010 11:18 AM, Blogger Rick said...

I think this is the critical issue for Obama Catholics and won't be surprised if it lingers until election day. Here's another exchange about it.

And the liberals have their say at

You may need to revisit this later to refute all the sophistries that will justify the disobedience.

At 6/21/2010 1:17 PM, Blogger Rotundo said...

Don't forget the sophistry that attacks the "disobedience" - which I have be complaining about in my comments.

At 6/21/2010 1:29 PM, Blogger Rotundo said...

My only complaint, and this exists on both sides of this issue, is the crazy assumptions and name calling. I have very little knowledge of the Catholic pres / blogosphere until very recently, and yet I can't seem to find a sound place in it. All I see are people on the so-called 'left' complaining about out of touch bishops or mishandling of so-and-so crisis without looking into any actual facts, and people on the so-called 'right' claiming they know what people on the left are thinking, what their motivations are and that they are completely disrespectful of the magisterium.

Are there any people who supported the healthcare bill because with considerably, careful reading of it they determined the abortion funding was a NON-ISSUE? or are the CHA all liars? I think if they honestly disagreed with the Bishops on the effect of the law they would have a responsibility to come out and say so, since they are ostensibly 'experts' on health issues, and the other aspects of the law were a definite positive.

Why does the line have to fall so that you either support very 'catholic' social policy AND ignore the abortion issue, or you are correct on the abortion issue and you are anti-any other good social policies? Where are the people that side with the church on both issues?

I have seen this strange divide on a lot of issues since I've started perusing the catholic blogs.

At 6/22/2010 1:49 PM, Blogger Rick said...

These nuns think they can speak for the Church. So, they offer an alternate teaching. And the media whores quickly pick up on the scandal that they're causing. They're applying American principles of independence and feminism in places where those do not apply. The community of faith is not a democracy even if they want to make it such and have themselves voted into power. The community of believers are not independent from their traditional and historical origins and an American revolution will not change that nature. But deluded with their degrees and having too much time in their hands plus the limelight of a secular press, these women forge on and wound the very people that they pretend to serve.

At 6/22/2010 7:07 PM, Blogger Rotundo said...

You sir sound very angry, bitter, and hate filled. It is not appealing, nor does it strike me as very christian.


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