Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Stupak's enablers?" -- Edward Feser on the USCCB and health care reform

Pertinent to recent discussions of Stupak and the role of the USCCB in advancing the health care bill, he offers his reflections on Bart Stupak, the USCCB and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity:
... before the health care bill vote, the USCCB urged Congress either to alter the bill to prevent federal funding of abortion or to vote the bill down. (The USCCB also objected to the bill’s failure to extend coverage to illegal immigrants.) But the letter in which this request was made also emphasized that “for decades, the United States Catholic bishops have supported universal health care,” that “the Catholic Church teaches that health care is a basic human right, essential for human life and dignity,” and that it is only “with deep regret” that the bishops must oppose passage of the bill “unless these fundamental flaws are remedied” (emphasis added).

Needless to say, the impression these words leave the reader with – whether the bishops intended this or not – is that, were abortion (and coverage of illegal immigrants) not at issue, the moral teaching of the Catholic Church would require the passage of the health care bill in question, or something like it. In fact the teaching of the Church requires no such thing. Indeed, I would argue that while the Church’s teaching does not rule out in principle a significant federal role in providing health care, a bill like the one that has just passed would be very hard to justify in light of Catholic doctrine, even aside from the abortion question. Nevertheless, as I say, the bishops’ language would surely leave the average reader with the opposite impression. And as the bishops themselves remind us, they have “supported universal health care” for “decades,” in statements that also would leave the unwary average reader with the impression that Catholic moral teaching strictly requires as a matter of justice the passage some sort of federal health care legislation. On the day Obama signed the bill into law, Cardinal Francis George, a bishop with a reputation for orthodoxy, urged vigilance on the matter of abortion while declaring that “we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.” [Read the rest]


  1. So few seem to be willing or able to see that the Bishops seriously dropped the ball on this issue. Apparently the Bishops sought to avoid the appearance of partisanship (that is the kindest spin I can put on it) in restricting their concerns to the abortifacient aspects of the legislation. But --even after recent episodes that saw the Church defending the right of conscience and curtailing social services so as to protect the Church's integrity against an overreaching state-- the Bishops ignored the fact that this bill cedes enormous powers to govenment. They also ignored the issue of the unconscionable debt being imposed upon future generations --to which this legislation adds substantially-- gravely impacting American demographics, as young couples find it difficult to afford children, and undermining everything the Church has said about the central importance of families. This is social justice?

  2. Feser's comments raise a question that has been in my mind during much of the healthcare debate. Feser seems to make the claim that the USCCB's public support of the recent bill (provided the treatment of abortion and illegal immigrants were changed) is not a judgment binding on the conscience's of Catholics but is rather a non-authoritative, prudential judgment with which faithful Catholics can disagree.

    This is a plausible claim, which squares with what I know about the differing authority of differing ecclesiastical statements. Yet, by the same logic, was not the USCCB's opposition to the bill in its final form (with abortion funding, etc.) also a non-binding, prudential judgment with which faithful Catholics can disagree?

    If the bill had been solely designed to fund abortion providers, then clearly it would constitute support for an intrinsic evil and a faithful Catholic could not endorse it. As it was, the bill contained elements that supported intrinsic evils and other elements that were certainly open to debate but were not intrinsically wrong. Is not the question of whether the good elements outweighed the evil elements one on which faithful Catholics can legitimately disagree with the USCCB (and each other)?

    I hasten to add that I am not arguing in favor of the recent healthcare bill; I am disappointed by the funding for abortion and am otherwise agnostic on the bill's (de)merits. I wonder, however, whether Catholic opposition to the bill in its final form is as clear-cut as some make it out to be.