By Phil Lawler, Director, CatholicCulture.org
February 12, 2010 (Catholicculture.org) - In the continuing debate about Obamacare—a legislative proposal which is still very much alive—the American bishops continue to play a very dangerous game.
For months the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) energetically promoted the concept of sweeping health-care reform, while just as energetically opposing any legislation that would offer subsidies for abortion. The net result was confusion. Both proponents and opponents of Obamacare claimed the support of the US bishops, and both sides could cite statements to back up their claims.
Politics is by nature a partisan business. Lawmakers want to know whether or not they can count on your support. When the debate is heated—and the health-care debate has been very heated—politicians want an answer to a very simple question: Are you with me or against me? Subtleties ("I'd be with you if…" or "I'd be against you but…") are not appreciated when it's time to count the votes.
In this very important political battle, the USCCB devised a strategy that made it impossible to build up an effective alliance. The bishops' conference consistently sided with the advocates of health-care reform in their broad policy statements, thereby alienating the conservative lawmakers who would be their best allies in pro-life battles. Then they pressed for an abortion-neutral bill, thereby annoying most of the Democratic advocates of Obamacare, who are generally sympathetic to the abortion lobby. Neither side saw the USCCB as a reliable friend.
Very early on in this debate, other pro-life organizations in Washington recognized what the American bishops could never bring themselves to admit: that any health-care reform proposal brought forward by President Obama and his legislative allies would look favorably on abortion (not to mention contraception, sterilization, and embryo research). With the very conspicuous exception of the USCCB, the pro-life movement was firmly united in opposition to Obamacare.
The pro-life movement rejoiced, therefore, when the election of Senator Scott Brown ended any realistic hopes for a quick enactment of the Obama proposals. But again the US bishops were the exception. Rather than heaving a sigh of relief and recognizing a setback for the culture of death, the leading spokesman for the US bishops' conference issued a fresh call for health-care reform, calling it "a public good, moral imperative, and urgent national priority." David Gibson, a reliable and astute liberal commentator, reported:
One churchman I spoke with said the bishops were surprised at Brown's victory and were alarmed at the speed with which Democrats appeared to abandon the effort to pass some version of health care reform.
So while other pro-life activists were celebrating a narrow escape, the USCCB was ready to plunge right back into the perilous straits.
In their plea to legislators to keep up the battle for health-care reform, the chief representatives of the US episcopal conference urged Congress to "set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures." They seemed oblivious to the fact that most observers see the bishops themselves as representatives of a "special interest." In calling upon politicians to accept compromises, the bishops were virtually inviting the response that they too should accept compromise, and support a bill that allowed for abortion subsidies.
The USCCB has tried to take a nuanced position on the most divisive public debate of our day. That's like bringing a fly-swatter to a knife fight: it's a guarantee that one way or another, you'll lose.
Republished with permission from Catholicculture.org
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