Sisters Provide the Balance

I see from the big thread of the day at dotCommonweal that five dozen religious orders have weighed in with Congress to pass health insurance reform. CHA plus sisters on the teeter side and bishops on the totter.

That’s got to feel frustrating in some corners. David Nickol has the measure of that second movement:

If (hopefully when) the bill passes and no federal funds wind up being spent on abortion, the American Bishops and others in the pro-life movement will claim all of their protests prevented anyone from daring to implement all of the alleged pro-abortion features of the bill. After all, didn’t they stop FOCA?

O yeah, remember FOCA? We were so sure that was going to be a big problem, right?

The antics of politicians are generally juvenile these days, especially (but not exclusively because of the losing party), but it’s getting increasingly hard to give the outspoken bishops more credit than the protagonist got in this tale.

You don’t suppose the bishops ever pondered setting up their own health insurance system, do you?

About these ads

About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Sisters Provide the Balance

  1. smf says:

    What a dissaster. One so called Catholic group has been running TV ads in our local media market targeted at a certain blue dog Democrat. The ads urge passage of a reform immediately. The ads fail to mention any caveats, conditions, or objections. It fails to spell out what sort of reform should be passed. It only urges him to vote yes and for everyone to call him and demand he do so. It doesn’t even bother to specify what they want a yes vote for other than some ill defined concept of reform. The co-sponsors of this add are not in any sense Catholic, and would usually be advocating the opposite of the Catholic position on many issues. Of coarse the group with Catholic in its name tends to try to muddy the waters any time the bishops or the Pope makes an effort to clarify anything too.

    People like my father, a life long Catholic from the old days, are terribly confused and upset by things like this. When he sees such a thing it makes him think the Church has either sold itself out or been sold out. That in turn leads him to think anything he hears from a Catholic source on politics is highly suspect. I can’t say that I blame him.

    • Todd says:

      Not having viewed your local ads, I have no comment on the group you mention.

      Speaking for my family, my dioceses have been fairly good providers, insurance-wise. But not everyone is able to command decent salary and good benefits so as to support themselves and their families, especially in time of medical need. The bishops criticize, but offer no alternative, not even on the pro-life front.

      I find myself generally satisfied with the provisions of this bill. I haven’t combed through it to the extent or with the knowledge of people like Peter Nixon or Carol Keehan. But I’m satisfied this bill, while far from perfect, is the best the corporations will allow us at this time.

      As for the bishops, commentary on a specific bill for them as individual citizens strikes me as fine. I might listen to bishops as a group as I might listen to celebrities on fur or climate change: they might be right in principle, and they’re probably missing some fine details. Adding in the part about them and political pro-lifers being dead wrong on FOCA, and I don’t see the confusion. The bishops don’t seem to be players on this issue, not as much as religious orders who actually work with the people who suffer in the current corporate system.

  2. Michael says:

    That in turn leads him to think anything he hears from a Catholic source on politics is highly suspect. I can’t say that I blame him.

    Did he or you have that reaction when priests would endorse radical wingnuts from the pulpit? I learned a long time ago that priests exist to be ignored, that bishops are worthless, and that nuns, generally, are real Christians. I also learned that the denunciation of “habitless” nuns by right-wing so-called Christians says a lot about the basic viciousness and non-Christianity of those right-wingers.

    • smf says:

      I have never heard a priest endorse anyone from the pulpit.

      I don’t know about my father.

      Our priests around these parts tend not to get political in the sense of trying to get someone elected. They don’t do much with political issues from the ambo either. (I think they have some unwritten rule to only talk about money once a year, and to only talk about anything political once a year too.)

      Most of the nuns I have known were not wearers of traditional habits. They ranged from very good, to mediocre, to a bit questionable. Though they tended a bit more towards the good. I don’t think I have ever known a nun that wears a traditional habit. I have seen a few here and there, but they are about as rare as passenger pigeons in these parts.

      I will admit to making an occasional joke about pant-suit nuns (ours tended not to wear pants, more dresses or skirts or some such), but that has less to do with nuns who happen to wear pants, than it does with nuns who have decided that they will make pants wearing the halmark of their identity (there have been a few…).

  3. Michael says:

    italics off. Sorry about that.

  4. Todd:

    Your use of the phrase “sisters provide the balance” seems to imply that somehow the sisters and the bishops are equipoised groups with differing opinions. You seem to regard the differing positions of the bishops and the sisters as having equal weight.

    They don’t.

    The bishops have teaching authority.

    The sisters, whether regarded individually, or in their respective orders, or even collectively, as the LCWR, have NO authority.

    • Fr. Rob

      You are confusing teaching authority here; their authority is limited, so they cannot say “peas taste good” and expect people have to believe that. When dealing with their authority we have to remember there are many levels of teaching authority, and when dealing with a topic out of their competence (such as interpretation of legal legislation), while the people in question have real world experience there (as the CHA does), then one can say the issue is of competence, not authority.

    • Harry says:

      Father, I would also like to point out that during the last presidential election, there was a movement on part of a cadre of conservative bishops to replace the U.S. Bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document with Catholic Answers “Serious Catholic Voters” guide and it’s five “non-negotiable” issues, which just so happened to fit the Republican agenda to a T.

      So I find it rather odd that some bishops would cede at least some of their teaching authority to political operatives, but of course, never to “nuns.” Or at least to those pesky “liberal” ones.

  5. Todd says:

    I wasn’t trying to cover all bases with this post. A few things:

    - Where particular prudential choices exist, the bishops have no more authority than any other public individual representing a group. My analysis of their stance on the current Senate bill is that its faulty, so it’s not a matter of teaching but of intelligence.

    - It’s clear that the discussion in church circles has migrated (or descended, if you prefer) to the political. Given that, the credibility of women religious supercedes that of bishops for millions of Catholics, if not most of them.

    - For Catholic politicians or voters, moral authority is less of a selling point than credibility.

    That said, I’m not advocating the present situation as a good thing. I’m just commenting on what I see happening politically within the Church. And as a human social body, the Church cannot escape politics.

    For those who stand with the bishops on health insurance reform, I would ask: Do you see them helping the issue? In other words, has the political situation within the Church gotten as bad as it was for the GOP in 2008 when few enough Republicans running for office didn’t want the president to associate with their campaign?

    I will add my own unease with the way bishops have inserted themselves into this issue. Teaching that funding abortion is wrong: no problem there. But an analysis of a piece of legislation moves them pretty close to the sphere of the laity. It is the task of Catholic lay people to influence the world, not our bishops.

  6. Dave says:

    The Bishops are supposed to be more than just teachers – they are to be shepards as well.

    • Harry says:

      And some of them certainly do try to act like shepherds, beating their flock into line and hooking the strays around the neck with their croziers.

      Time to find a new analogy. I never did like being compared to a sheep.

  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    “When the hierarchy is faced by a conflict of opinions in the church, it does not always succeed in achieving a perfectly adequate response. Broadly speaking, two kinds of mistake are possible – excessive permissiveness and excessive rigidity. It is hard to know which of the two errors has done more harm.”

    “We must recognize, therefore, that there can be such a thing in the church as mutable or reformable teaching. The element of mutability comes from the fact that such teaching seeks to mediate between the abiding truth of the gospel and the socio-cultural situation at a given time and place.”

    “Did Vatican II teach the legitimacy of dissent from non-infallible teaching? It did so implicitly by its action, we may say, but not explicitly by its words. The theological commission responsible for paragraph 25 of the Constitution of the Church refused to make any statement, one way or the other, about dissent.”

    “A step beyond the council was taken by the German bishops in a pastoral letter of September 22, 1967, which has been quoted on several occasions by Karl Rahner. This letter recognized that in its effort to apply the gospel to the changing situations of life, the church is obliged to give instructions that have a certain provisionality about them. These instructions, though binding to a certain degree, are subject to error. According to the bishops, dissent may be legitimate provided that three conditions are observed. (1) One must have striven seriously to attach positive value to the teaching in question and to appropriate it personally. (2) One must seriously ponder whether one has the theological expertise to disagree responsibly with ecclesiastical authority. (3) One must examine one’s conscience for possible conceit, presumptuousness, or selfishness. Similar principles for conscientious dissent had already been laid down by John Henry Newman in the splendid chapter on Conscience in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874).”

    “There is always a temptation for church authorities to try to use their power to stamp out dissent. The effort is rarely successful, because dissent simply seeks another forum, where it may become even more virulent. To the extent that the suppression is successful, it may also do harm. It inhibits good theology from performing its critical task, and it is detrimental to the atmosphere of freedom in the church. The acceptance of true doctrine should not be a matter of blind conformity, as though truth could be imposed by decree. The church, as a society that respects the freedom of the human conscience, must avoid procedures that savor of intellectual tyranny.

    Where dissent is kept within the bounds I have indicated, it is not fatal to the church as a community of faith and witness. If it does occur, it will be limited, reluctant, and respectful.”

    Avery Dulles http://www.vatican2voice.org/8conscience/dulles.htm

    “Authority resides in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence. It rests neither on external legitimization nor on power but on trustworthiness, or in Augustine’s words, on truth. Its purpose is to clarify and illuminate, i.e., to aid understanding, and its instrument is argument, not coercion. The first question a Christian intellectual should ask is not “what should be believed” or “what should one think,” but “whom should we trust?”

    Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, The Christian Intellectual Tradition (article), First Things, June/July 1991.

    “It is not so much the AUTHORITY one questions in the Roman Catholic church as the lack of the qualities of good leadership, including respect for the persons involved, the efforts at persuasion, and the explanations to which associates and subordinates are entitled – in fact, the lack of ordinary good manners.”

    Abigail McCarthy, Mending Catholic Manners/Of Several Minds (article), Commonweal, January 11, 1991.

  8. Henry wrote:

    …the people in question have real world experience there (as the CHA does)…

    I suppose one might describe the CHA’s position as founded in “real world experience”.

    However, it now appears that the CHA gave its endorsement to Obamacare as a result of a personal lobbying effort of the President, specifically intended to use Sr. Keehan and the CHA to undermine the bishops’ teaching, and so put the White House in the position of telling us what Catholic teaching is. Also, it is now apparent that the CHA has a significant financial interest in seeing Obamacare pass (can you say “thirty pieces of silver”?).

    In light of these revelations, I’d say one might legitimately suspect that other motivations than “real world experience” are at work here.

    • Todd says:

      If we are cultivating a hermeneutic of suspicion, in ourselves and in our church, then we could rightly call into question many things.

      The reality seems that many individuals and groups have desires not directly tied up in health insurance reform that touch on seeing political pro-choicers or pro-lifers embarassed or discredited. We do know that both political parties have a great deal at stake in whether this bill passes or not. No doubt there are players on both sides who care less for the pro-life aspects of this legislation and more for making a political point.

      The reality is that if expert judgment suggests this bill is or isn’t an enabler of abortion on demand, that’s not a matter of church teaching. The bill will fund and encourage abortions: that’s a legal judgment. That a bill should’n’t fund and encourage: that’s a properly moral judgment the bishops can advise us on. But either way, it’s a secular piece of legislation crafted for a large and diverse nation: ultimately the people and their representatives will decide.

      Your argument about the WH catechizing us is pure fluff. We don’t listen to bishops all that much; why do you think a prominent non-Catholic will be received with open ears?

      As for the president’s lobbying interest groups, my understanding is that we live in a free country. Lobbying is a two-way street. I suppose my question, Fr Rob, is why you don’t see this as an exercise in freedom and democracy? People are free to speak with and persuade whomever they choose.

  9. Todd wrote:

    I suppose my question, Fr Rob, is why you don’t see this as an exercise in freedom and democracy? People are free to speak with and persuade whomever they choose.

    Most certainly, people are free to speak with and persuade whomever they choose. And I, and others, are also free to point out when those efforts at persuasion, and the results thereof, are dishonest, self-serving, and aimed at undermining the teaching authority of those who legitimately have it.

    Your argument about the WH catechizing us is pure fluff. We don’t listen to bishops all that much; why do you think a prominent non-Catholic will be received with open ears?

    If the sisters’ and CHA pronouncements had no effect, you might have a point. But they did: at least two representatives (Cuellar and Kildee) have mentioned either the sisters statement or the CHA as influencing their “Yes” vote. And if you don’t think the Obama administration and the CHA had that effect in mind when crafting this strategy, then I have some swampland in Florida to sell you. This is exactly the same kind of methodology that “Catholics” For Choice and similar organizations use to claim that there is a plurality of “Catholic” voices on abortion, in order to cloud and undermine the authentic teaching.

    But either way, it’s a secular piece of legislation crafted for a large and diverse nation: ultimately the people and their representatives will decide.

    This is a political truism, but what is your point? You almost seem to be dismissing the moral issue here. If this bill provides federal funding of abortions (and it will), then it is a massive violation of the common good and the moral order. To say that it was passed democratically does not sanitize it, indeed, it makes those who voted for, supported, and agitated for it complicit in the evil.

    The reality is that if expert judgment suggests this bill is or isn’t an enabler of abortion on demand, that’s not a matter of church teaching. The bill will fund and encourage abortions: that’s a legal judgment. That a bill should’n’t fund and encourage: that’s a properly moral judgment the bishops can advise us on.

    Strictly speaking, you are correct in saying that whether a certain piece of legislation will do X or Y is not properly an exercise of church teaching. But you also seem to be saying that the bishops are not permitted to reason from a cause to its effect. Furthermore, to condemn an act that will fund abortions, and thus extend the abortion license in this country, seems to me to pretty clearly fall under the category of “faith and morals”, regarding which, if I recall correctly, the bishops do have a charism to teach.

  10. Todd says:

    I confess I see nothing undermining the teaching office of bishops so much as their own attempt at passing off political analysis as pro-life teaching.

    I don’t see why the CHA or the religious sisters or any other public commentator shouldn’t wish to influence politicians. Again: these people are all American citizens.

    It’s really irrelevant that pro-choice groups use the same methodology. You yourself, Fr Rob, eat many of the same foods, shower and shave, and drive a car just like pro-choice citizens. Your argument has no point.

    We get back to the basic issue: Does this bill fund or support abortions? There seems to be a significant debate on that point. The bishops’ charism as bishops would seem to end with the premise, “If this bill fails the test …” As citizens, they are free to pursue whatever line of argument (however flawed) on whatever soapbox (even if pro-choicers use the same methods) as they wish.

  11. Todd:

    If you don’t see a problem with the CHA and the LCWR working with the Obama administration using the same dishonest tactics as Catholics for Choice to obfuscate and undermine the bishops, then I really don’t know what to say in response. It seems clear to me that you hold the bishops’ teaching and the statements of the CHA and LCWR as being of equal weight and authority, and that therefore one can simply pick and choose which magisterium you find more congenial.

    • Harry says:

      Do you really believe Catholics are so dumb and uneducated that they don’t know the difference between a nun and a bishop, or a Catholics for a Free Choice and the USCCB?

      • Harry:

        I don’t necessarily think that Catholics “are so dumb and uneducated that they don’t know the difference between a nun and a bishop…” But it seems to me pretty clear that at least some Congressmen (Kildee and Cuellar, et al.) might be that dumb.

        Or, it could be that some politicians and other Catholics have been looking for an “out” that provides them with cover to support something which is contrary to Catholic morals. The CHA and LCWR conveniently provided them with that. So just who or what have they shown themselves faithful to?

      • Harry says:

        Well, Father, here is where our problem lies.

        You read the bill (and I assume you have, rather than merely somebody else’s analysis of it as Gospel truth) and reach the conclusion that it is “contrary to Catholic morals” based on a single issue.

        I read the bill and I conclude that it is perfectly in line with Catholic morals, including and especially on abortion.

  12. Todd says:

    Fr Rob, I don’t think you’re reading me right here.

    There’s nothing dishonest about lobbying. It’s legal and it happens all the time.

    The bishops teach that pro-abortion funding is morally wrong. But they have yet to prove that this bill advances abortion any more than it already is. The CHA is made up of pro-life health professionals who are convinced this bill isn’t a problem for an anti-abortion effort. Thus, this political discussion doesn’t touch on matter of the magisterium.

    You accuse me of choosing a magisterium. But there is none on this political issue. A magisterium comes into play as much as baseball bats are used in football.

    • Harry says:

      Todd, couldn’t the argument also be made that the bill will also provide pre-natal, delivery and post-natal health insurance coverage to millions mothers and infants who are now uncovered, that it would actually REDUCE the pressure to abort?

      If one looks at what the abortion rate did in the mid-90s after the passage of CHIP, one might fight evidence to support that argument.

      So instead of being a bill that will increase the abortion rate, this could be a bill that might have a dramatic effect in reducing the abortion rate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s