By Kathleen Gilbert

CHICAGO, March 16, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), hit back hard Monday against the Catholic Health Association's (CHA) endorsement of the abortion-expanding health care bill.

George's statement came only days after CHA president Sr. Carol Keehan issued a letter to lawmakers urging them to "move quickly to enact health care reform," and the same day that Keehan characterized the legislation as "a major first step" - despite not being "perfect" on life issues.

The Chicago cardinal emphasized that, while bishops support health care reform as such, they "were left disappointed and puzzled" when the Senate bill, which lacked the hard-won abortion funding ban of the House bill, emerged as the only bill considered for final passage.

George pointed out the slew of flaws that the U.S. bishops find "deeply disturbing" in the Senate health bill, including its lack of conscience protections, Hyde-amendment protections against federal abortion funding, and the millions in new funds for Community Health Centers which will be available to fund abortions.

"It expands federal funding and the role of the federal government in the provision of abortion procedures," he explained. "In so doing, it forces all of us to become involved in an act that profoundly violates the conscience of many, the deliberate destruction of unwanted members of the human family still waiting to be born."

The cardinal directly disagreed with the Catholic Health Association's favorable assessment of the bill.

"This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association," stated George. "They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill.  The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote.

"Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke."

While White House and Democrat officials continue to dismiss pro-life concerns over the bill by claiming the current Hyde amendment would apply to the measure, George noted that it was no "accident" that the House bill contained Hyde amendment language, while lawmakers in the Senate stubbornly refused to include the same language.

"The House courageously included an amendment applying the Hyde policy to its Health Care bill passed in November. Its absence in the Senate bill and the resulting impasse are not an accident," said the cardinal. "Those in the Senate who wanted to purge the Hyde amendment from this national legislation are obstructing the reform of health care."

George emphasized that the bishops' insistence on pro-life language is "not quibbling over technicalities."  "The deliberate omission in the Senate Bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way to meet the President’s and our concern to provide health care for those millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor," he said.

"Because these principles have not been respected, despite the good that the bill under consideration intends or might achieve, the Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed," the cardinal concluded.

Catholic commentator Thomas Peters noted that "it’s very rare for the USCCB to name names when they take a position contrary to another visible Catholic organization, but Cardinal George did so today."

"In this battle, the stakes are simply too high to have the message confused," said Peters.


See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

Catholic Health Assoc. Health Bill Support 'Utterly Un-Catholic': HLI President
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/mar/10031508.html