Archive for March, 2010
Theology on Tap is a program for interested Catholics who wish to know more about their faith. While it was begun for and principally attracts twenty and thirty somethings, it is open to any interested Church member. They are held in bars and restaurants so that those attending can combine post-wok relaxation and dining with learning more about their Church. This Spring’s four weeks of Theology on Tap are ended and since most of us missed the occasion of hearing the presentations, I wish to draw your attention to the podcasts of the speakers which can be accessed by going to our diocesan podcast http://blogs.dosp.org/podcast or to the iTunes store where you can download or subscribe for no charge. Apropos of this week, you might especially like to listen to Father John Tapp’s presentation on the Sacred Triduum.
Tomorrow at St. Jude’s Cathedral at 1130am is the annual Chrism Mass, a liturgy which takes it name from the fact that the Sacred Oils of the Sick, the Catechumens, and Chrism are blessed and consecrated during the ceremony. However, it is also the annual occasion for the priests to renew the promises and commitments which they made on the day of their ordination and they turn out in great number for this lovely liturgy. Delegations from all the parishes and missions in the diocese accompany the oils so the Cathedral is fairly full but there is always room for some more so if you have nothing to do and would like to experience the Church at its best, please join us. If, however, you are unable to be physically present, you can join us by tuning into Spirit FM 90.5 [WBVM] for a live broadcast.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II (on Good Friday, April 2nd) and last week was the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador who was wantonly murdered in his own Cathedral. We should pray for them both. The Holy Father is well along in the process of beatification prior to canonization as a recognized saint by the Church and the latter should be further along than he is but that will come in time.
Finally, this is the last blog posting of Holy Week although my homilies throughout the week will be posted here. Easter week I am retreating “into my shell” for some R&R but will be back on the blog on or around the First Sunday of Easter (April 11th). I take this moment to extend to all my readers my prayers for a most blessed Triduum and Easter joy. Welcome to our near 1500 catechumens and candidates who will be entering the Church at the Easter Vigil and the love of Christ and my own to all of you.
Bishop Robert N. Lynch (aka “+RNL”)
Homily for Palm Sunday Mass
“He was like us in all things save sin.” This brief description of Jesus found in St. Paul and in the writings of the early Church is nowhere more aptly applied than in today’s Palm Sunday liturgy. For Jesus, not unlike for ourselves, life was a roller coaster running between triumph and tragedy, joy and sorrow, exhilaration and pain. Our Liturgy of the Word today began even before we entered the Church, at the blessing of the palms. The deacon read the Gospel account of the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He hear the “hosannas”, we can almost sense the crowd pressing in on the now well-known teacher from Galilee, full of adulation, desirous of touching him or being touched by him. It was a moment of seeming triumph, a penultimate moment of huge success or, in other words, a moment of triumph.
Within minutes, however, we hear the passion account of St. Luke. The cheering crowds have been replaced by jeering crowds. The cloaks spread on the road before him now wrap him as a mockery. Chants of “hosanna” are replaced by chants of “crucify him.” His closest friends who prepared the way for his Palm Sunday moment of triumph are now nowhere to found during his moment of tragedy. One has betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver coin and another has denied him to save his own skin. Beaten, scourged, humiliated, he stands before Jerusalem not as Christ the King but rather as the dangerous “carpenter’s son from Nazareth who needs not to be welcome but to be eliminated.
Cannot life be like that for us at times, albeit without the high drama? Do we not move through life experiencing and balancing moments of joy and happiness with moments of sorrow and uncertainty? Can it not be said that we have had our share of Palm Sundays and Good Fridays? Jesus experienced in his life all the highs and lows that are ours in this life. The question for ourselves, however, is how do we cope with, how do we deal with, how do we make use of the inevitable moments of pain that blot out the bright light of our joys?
We would do well, today and throughout this week, to look to Jesus for a “hint of an explanation” in the words of the British author, Graham Greene. Today it is to be found in the example of the Lord’s life. He knew he was never alone. Abandoned, denied, sold out, yes, but that was all by weak humanity. Jesus knew that his Father, our Father, was always with him and would in the end turn this passing theatre of tragedy into an eternity of triumph. That insight, that belief, is called faith. And when he felt that by sacrificing at least his life, our own might someday be spared as well, that belief is called hope. And when he laid down his life for his friends (Peter, Paul, Andrew, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary, his own mother, Martha and Mary and for ourselves), that belief is called love. What he did by enduring the worst moment of tragic pain and suffering was to make us sharers in his triumph. But do we truly believe this or do we always want more from God? Can we take what has been promised or do we wish more of our Lord?
On Palm Sunday he entered Jerusalem knowing full well that the human folly of the entry would soon give way to the realities of life – jealousy, anger, resentments. Where do we fit in this collage of human conditions? Are we lining the street yelling “Hosanna” today only to be found in the modern courtyards of Pilate yelling, “crucify him” tomorrow? Are we fair weather friends of God like Peter or are we in it for the long haul with God like Mary Magdalene? In our lives of faith do we wallow in triumph, ascribing everything to our own initiative, or to ourselves or do we wallow in tragedy, blaming it all on God or others?
During this Holy Week and in this Cathedral I will attempt to reflect on life’s triumphs and tragedies based on the life and teaching of Jesus in his final hours as a “man like us in all things save sin.” I invite you to walk with me through his week, using the most beautiful liturgies of our Church to gain perhaps a new perspective in what it all meant and what it all means. Come to the Upper Room Thursday night for the institution of the Eucharist, to Golgotha on Friday for the best lesson of how only God can make something good come from something awful and to the tomb at the Easter Vigil to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, life over death. Experience perhaps in a new and different manner the tragedies and triumphs of Holy Week.
Today’s newspapers from the West Coast to the East Coast as well as along the Gulf Coast are carrying stories again of sexual misconduct by the Roman Catholic clergy against minors. Part of the present interest is the growing awareness in Europe and South America that their clergy were also deeply involved in this sinful activity after years of either denial or suggesting that it was mostly a North American problem or an English-speaking country problem. Also part of the present media interest is that they are trying to connect Pope Benedict XVI to the issue either when he was Archbishop of Munich or as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which for a number of years has had “competency” in dealing with these matters on appeal of the decisions of local diocesan bishops. There is arising today a long known case from Milwaukee about a priest who abused multiple young boys at a school for the deaf in that archdiocese who was early-on discovered, transferred by his bishop to another diocese, and allowed to complete his ministry through natural death without sanction or penalty. It was a horrific situation which makes every good priest and many bishops blanch.
Most of the bishops of the United States have long ago affirmed that we did a very poor job, if any job was done, dealing with the sinful actions of a few clerics. While I would like to add that so did (and sometimes do) other entities which deal with children, we should have known better as a Church, we should have responded better at the time as a Church, and we should have followed our natural instincts of revulsion and protection for the vulnerable as a Church but we did not always do so. Sadly, it took the focus of an aggressive media to make us look inwardly and ask, “My God, how could all this have happened?” Tales of terror and a form of torture for the victims will continue to turn up from time to time, causing us once again to be embarrassed and ashamed but it will be a long time, longer than I have to live, before the acknowledgment that the Church’s response, at least in the United States, and I would say in all English speaking countries in the world, has brought a level of protection to children that is so far not present in the rest of their young lives.
In this diocese we spend about $300,000 each year on child protection alone. This includes criminal level background screening of all employees and volunteers who work with children. Our seminarians are much more carefully watched and evaluated for any warning signs of future potential problems in this regard. A code of professional conduct requires that we monitor one another and if there is a suspicion of inappropriate behavior, it is to be reported and evaluated. We teach the children themselves to know the warning signs of inappropriate behavior and tell their parents, their teachers, their supervisors of any thing which even approaches forbidden misconduct. In this diocese we have not had a serious accusation against a newly accused priest for an action which falls within the ambit of sexual misconduct in about five years while I am certain we still have not been able to help all those whose lives were changed and who were hurt in the ’60’s’, ’70’s’ and early ’80’s.’
The very integrity of Roman Catholic ministry has been on the line since the first reports of clergy sexual misconduct arose in the mid-eighties. The morale of our good priests is shaken every time we go through a period of reopening the wounds as is happening now. The trust of people in their bishops is shattered and the Church suffers. Perhaps during Holy Week there is no better time that we can again confess our sins, amend our ecclesial lives, and promise to do everything in our power as Church to sin again no more in this manner. Speaking for myself, I hate what happened, I think we have done our best to preclude it happening again (although no bishop or organization can claim to see inside the hearts and minds of those who work for it), and I hope that one thing which can be said about my episcopal ministry is that I worked hard to see that victims had the help they needed to recover from the unspeakable and my assurance that I would do whatever to see that it never happens again. I am not alone in this pledge. The priests of the diocese would say the same, the diocesan Review Board for Clergy Sexual Misconduct (made up mostly of lay women and men) would say the same and those employed in the diocese to protect children would say the same.
We will not have a “go again” at what happened years ago no matter how often we are reminded of our recent darkest past. We are today more accountable, more transparent and more effective in addressing this as the recent report of the evaluation of the various dioceses and religious communitiesr released earlier this week says we are. It is the Church’s commitment to the abused who understandably doubt our sincerity and to our members who want and expect better from their Church and its leadership.
Update: For assistance or more information about the programs in place in the Diocese of St. Petersburg to protect children and the vulnerable, please contact our Safe Environment Program Office.
At almost the same time that President Obama was signing the house passed Health Care bill yesterday (Tuesday), the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was meeting in Washington for their three times yearly meeting (March, September and the Saturday prior to the November meeting). The Administrative Committee consists of approximately thirty-five bishops who head standing committees, represent the fifteen regional groupings of bishops and the Eastern Rite bishops, the elected officers of the Conference and the Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services. Their primary task is prepare the agenda for the plenary or general meetings that occur in June and November when all the bishops gather. But they also may address issues which come up between General Meetings and were either unforeseen at the time or discussed in general at the previous meeting.
Yesterday morning they met for their scheduled meeting and authorized Cardinal George, our elected President, to make the following statement on the passage of health care reform. I offer it below in its entirety and hope you will take time to read it. It will take some time for all that happened this week-end to be digested, finally analyzed, and its application made clearly known. Most of the health care reform bill does not take effect until the year 2014. But it should not take that long for constitutional scholars to unpack the issues and pro-life forces to monitor its implementation. This matter is far from concluded. It is not over. The coming days I hope will be more informative than the days just past with regard to the reach and impact of all this legislation and I hope and pray we move from an environment of a lot of heat and sometime insufficient light to a better understanding. The statement of our president (Cardinal George), unanimously supported by the members of the Administrative Committee, begins the Church’s contribution to the post-enactment analysis. My guess would be that most bishops felt that a lot of good was done last Sunday afternoon and evening but we also worry about how much harm might also have been done.
For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so that all may have access to the care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity” (United States Catechism for Adults, page 454). Included among those elements is the provision of necessary and appropriate health care.
For too long, this question has gone unaddressed in our country. Often, while many had access to excellent medical treatment, millions of others including expectant mothers, struggling families or those with serious medical or physical problems were left unable to afford the care they needed. As Catholic bishops, we have expressed our support for efforts to address this national and societal shortcoming. We have spoken for the poorest and most defenseless among us. Many elements of the health care reform measure signed into law by the President address these concerns and so help to fulfill the duty that we have to each other for the common good. We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.
Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.
We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.
The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context). As well, many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money.
Many in Congress and the Administration, as well as individuals and groups in the Catholic community, have repeatedly insisted that there is no federal funding for abortion in this statute and that strong conscience protection has been assured. Analyses that are being published separately show this not to be the case, which is why we oppose it in its current form. We and many others will follow the government’s implementation of health care reform and will work to ensure that Congress and the Administration live up to the claims that have contributed to its passage. We believe, finally, that new legislation to address its deficiencies will almost certainly be required.
As bishops, we wish to recognize the principled actions of the pro-life Members of Congress from both parties, in the House and the Senate, who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the principles outlined above. They have often been vilified and have worked against great odds.
As bishops of the Catholic Church, we speak in the name of the Church and for the Catholic faith itself. The Catholic faith is not a partisan agenda, and we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to working for health care which truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.
It would be hard to think of a single American outside of government who in his or her lifetime has been more instrumental in shaping public policy than Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame. His contributions to American life in the latter half of the last century, especially in the area of civil rights are nearly unparalleled and so it was with great interest that I read the following article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal. I offer it to you for your own thoughtful analysis.
A Setback for Educational Civil RightsWall Street JournalMarch 18, 2010Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC
When President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked me to become one of the founding members of the newly formed U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, African-Americans drank at separate water fountains and our schools were segregated. A decade later, when people came together to march against these injustices, the idea that a black man could ever be elected president of the United States was still something for dreamers. My experience with that great movement gives me a particular appreciation for the historic importance of the presidency of Barack Obama—and the new dreams that his example will inspire in our young.
If Martin Luther King Jr. told me once, he told me a hundred times that the key to solving our country’s race problem is plain as day: Find decent schools for our kids. So I was especially heartened to hear Education Secretary Arne Duncan repeatedly call education the “civil rights issue of our generation.” Millions of our children—disproportionately poor and minority—remain trapped in failing public schools that condemn them to lives on the fringe of the American Dream.
For all these reasons, I was deeply disappointed when Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) successfully inserted a provision in last year’s omnibus spending bill that ended one of the best efforts to give these struggling children the chance to attend a safe and decent school.
That effort is called the Opportunity Scholarship program. Since 2004 it has allowed thousands of children in Washington, D.C., to escape one of the worst public school systems in the nation by providing them with scholarships of up to $7,500.
Despite its successes, it is now closing down. On Tuesday the Senate voted against a measure introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.) that would have extended the program. Throughout this process Mr. Duncan’s Education Department and the White House raised no protest.
Much has been written about the crisis in education, and the effective resegregation of our public schools. It’s clear who is paying the price. A study a few years ago from Johns Hopkins University highlighted the terrible disparity of the current system: Nearly half of our nation’s African-American students, nearly 40% of Latino students, but only 11% of white students attend high schools in which graduation is not the norm.
Many of the parents using Opportunity Scholarships chose Catholic schools for their children even though they are not Catholic themselves. That’s no coincidence. When others abandoned the cities, the Catholic schools remained, and they continue to do heroic work.
At Notre Dame we launched our own efforts to bolster this mission. Our Alliance for Catholic Education, for example, takes talented young men and women, trains them to see teaching as a career, and then sends them into struggling inner-city schools such as Holy Redeemer in Washington, D.C.
But these inner-city schools can’t do it themselves. Recently the archdiocese of Washington announced that Holy Redeemer would be forced to close its doors at the end of the year because the families who send their children to the school are unable to afford it without the financial aid they receive from this program. The archdiocese stated that “decisions last year by the U.S. Department of Education and by Congress to phase out the federal D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program . . . negatively impacted Holy Redeemer’s financial situation.”
Of Holy Redeemer’s 149 students, 60 were on Opportunity Scholarships. Unlike so many of their peers, these kids were on their way to college. Now they have to find some other safe haven. Others will never get the chance at all.I know that some consider voucher programs such as the Opportunity Scholarships a right-wing affair. I do not accept that label. This program was passed with the bipartisan support of a Republican president and Democratic mayor. The children it serves are neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal or conservative. They are the future of our nation, and they deserve better from our nation’s leaders.
I have devoted my life to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of skin color. I don’t pretend that this one program is the answer to all the injustices in our education system. But it is hard to see why a program that has proved successful shouldn’t have the support of our lawmakers. The end of Opportunity Scholarships represents more than the demise of a relatively small federal program. It will help write the end of more than a half-century of quality education at Catholic schools serving some of the most at-risk African-American children in the District.
I cannot believe that a Democratic administration will let this injustice stand.
Father Hesburgh is the former president of the University of Notre Dame.
This morning (Saturday) we held the annual deacon recommitment Mass at the Bethany Center for our 125 “permanent deacons” and their wives. It is always a very pleasant moment in the life of the diocese and it is followed by a luncheon and a report from Father Ralph Argentino on the state of the diaconate in the diocese. He told me that forty dioceses are represented among our deacons on assignment or with faculties. These men were all trained elsewhere and eventually moved to the central west coast of Florida and sought permission to minister (“faculties”) from the Diocese of St. Petersburg. In addition, we currently have forty-three active deacons who have studied here and been ordained for service here. No matter where they are from, they are an impressive group.
Deacons are members of the Roman Catholic Clergy, hence the teaser in the title. Their wives are an important part of their ministry, both supporting their husbands in their initial choice to pursue the diaconate and in assisting in many instances in the performance of the service which their husbands give to the Church. Some of the wives have taken all the courses that their husbands were taking in preparation for their ordination (and it has been said that the wives would outshine their spouses sometimes on tests and papers). Once ordained the deacons mostly work in parishes, baptizing, witnessing marriages, preaching on Sundays and weekdays, preparing parents for the baptism of their children, adults and children for Christian initiation, and readying confirmation classes. They also preside at wakes, graveside services and really help the priests out in many ways. Some are involved in special ministries such as prison, hospital, port chaplaincy, etc. Roman Catholic ministry in the United States would be generally bereft without these good men.
At the time of their ordination, the deacon understands that should their spouses die, they are restrained by the law and practice of the Church from getting married again so in addition to the sacrifice of time (we ask 10% of their waking hours each week as a minimum) they also must be ready to embrace celibate chastity as well. Our new class ordained last October was present today and all those to whom I had an opportunity to speak reported that they were happy in their ministry. So is the Church of St. Petersburg, gentlemen and ladies, and thanks for the gift of your time and talent in your ministry of service.
I spent the last two days visiting the diocese’s twenty seminarians currently attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. It was something of a “homecoming” for me as I spent five years of my early priesthood on those grounds and to this day believe that there is no more beautiful worship space than the Chapel of St. Raphael found there. I found our men to be quite content, challenged (by both academic requirements as it should be and their wrestling with their vocation) and coherent in sharing where they are at this moment in their journey to priesthood. To a man they expressed admiration for their faculty and spiritual directors, gratitude to the diocese for its support of both place and persons and a growing sense that they are now only three weeks from completing an academic year and returning for the summer. For me it was an “elixir” far better than any medicine.
We have two categories of study at St. John Vianney. The first is called “pre-theology” and it is a program tailored to those candidates who have completed their college education in an institution other than a seminary. It is a two year program of integration into the spiritual life and the study of philosophy as a predicate for moving on to study theology. I am always amazed at the generosity of these men who are in the pre-theology program. It is a requirement of the Program of Priestly Formation which is required by the Holy See of every country in the world. In Miami, the pre-theologians now live adjacent to but off of the campus of the seminary while at the same time taking all classes, meals, and prayer moments with the whole seminary community. Thus, these older men have a quiet place to retire to for study and discernment. We have three men from this diocese in this special program of preparation prior to moving on to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach for their theological education.
St. John Vianney opened this school year with a record enrollment of seventy four seminarians in six years of education. Nine have subsequently left the seminary since the start and there are currently sixty-five seminarians finishing their course work. All of the men do one afternoon each week of apostolic work (teaching in parish CCD, RCIA programs or working at places like a nursing home to name just a few) and they spend a second afternoon each week in what is called “Work List” or keeping the seminary clean and the grounds immaculate. Often I hear when I visit St. John Vianney how pressed some of the seminarians feel by the demands placed on them for their class work, their spiritual direction, their apostolic and work list time, their prayer time, etc., etc. I am not a particularly receptive audience for such comments as I think that is precisely the life of a priest and lots of other people – too much time and too many expectations. However, this time none of our seminarians complained, at least to me.
The majority of the men are in a typical four year program which leads to a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in philosophy. Philosophy often deals with the world of the abstract and it is always enjoyable for me to engage the men in conversation about how they are faring in this special preparation for the study of theology. All start off skeptical of both the value and their ultimate success in philosophy but as the years go by, almost invariably that grow to appreciate their somewhat unique undergraduate education. They need to be reminded, however, that apart from moving on to theology and priesthood, a major in philosophy and a dollar bill won’t buy one a cup of coffee in today’s world. It is a part of the sacrificial nature of today’s call to priesthood. Happily, St. John Vianney has a great philosophy faculty who make their subjects real, applicable to our theology, and enjoyable to learn. Here is a picture of the men studying at St. John Vianney and their names but not in the order in which they appear in the picture:
Curtis Carro, Chris McBride, Ernest Cannon, Elixavier Castro, Bob Angel, Ryan Boyle, Dan Darmanin, Alex Padilla, Karl Schmidt, Anthony Ustick, Jackson Reeves, Imad El Chiti, Felipe Gonzalez, Chuck Dornquast, Jason Priela, Joseph Plesko, Gregory Visca, Elbert Ballado, Jonathan Stephanz, Sergio Fernandez.
Imad El Chiti will be leaving our diocesan seminarian contingent upon the completion of the academic year for an interesting reason. Imad was born in Lebanon, baptized as a Melkite Rite Catholic but raised in the Maronite Rite. After a year of seminary studies, he approached Father Len Plazewski and asked if he might be released to study for the Diocese of St. Maron of the Maronite Rite. I gave this permission and he will be starting his theology studies at the Catholic University of America this Fall. I am happy that we were able to assist a sister diocese of the eastern rite in securing the vocation of a very fine man and all his peers and I wish Imad well in the years ahead.
Finally, this morning I celebrated the community Mass for the seminary at 7:15 a.m. in that beautiful chapel. It was an emotional moment for me as I felt especially blessed by the Lord to have been allowed to live, recover and return to a place where in 1984 I left a part of my heart. It was the Solemnity of St. Joseph and I shared these three special qualities of St. Joseph that we would do well to imitate in our lives and ministry: St. Joseph was a man deeply steeped in and committed to the demands of his Jewish faith; St. Joseph was a man willing to take significant risks for the sake of his wife and child, like taking them back into hated Egypt to escape the jealousy of Herod; and St. Joseph was a man who was willing to put others before himself in a simplicity of life style. No wonder he is the patron of the Church Universal. It was a lovely liturgy as the sun was rising in the east bringing all the promise of yet a new day.
After our private meetings, we all went out to break bread together last night and it was enjoyable to see our seminarians as they took an evening off from the good but institutional food of the seminary. Congratulations are due to Monsignor Michael Carruthers, the Rector-President and to his faculty and staff. They will soon close the book on another year of service to the dioceses of Florida. Finally, some other pictures of this beautiful campus.
Last night I received an e-mail from Sister Carol Keehan whom I had tried to reach by phone prior to writing the previous blog. She was flying and I was busy so we never connected. Sister Carol is a good woman of the Church, no liberal trouble-maker by any stretch of the imagination and a woman who as CEO turned Providence Hospital around from certain bankruptcy and closing to a viable facility in the northeast section of the District serving an increasingly poor and marginalized community. She is worthy of being listened to and the other members of the CHA (Catholic Health Association) board respect both her experience and her wisdom. She writes and I believe I owe it to her to place here: “I need to tell you that the information about our position [in your blog] is incorrect. I know that it is what Cardinal George’s statement says but that is not our position. We believe that the Senate bill as written now, meets the test of no federal funding for abortion. We said that we wanted that preserved in the reconciliation bill not fixed. That is a misrepresentation of our position. We would not have taken the position we took if we were hoping for a fix. It had to be already in place and it is. Many legal scholars, the ABC News “Fact Check” also same the same thing. The provisions were negotiated by Senators Casey and Nelson, two of the most ardent pro-lifers out there.”
I must also include for your thinking that several very reliable sources have said the same thing as Sister Carol above. The position of the bishops, which I embrace until I have some certainty that we are wrong, is being refuted by usually reliable sources and last night, Congressman Thomas Perriello, a conservative pro-life Catholic, said that he was convinced that the Senate version would guarantee that no federal funds would find their way to abortion services. If he moves to accept the Senate version, that will be a major moment for the pro-life movement given his past perfect record.
Passions run high in this matter, sometimes at the expense of rational analysis. I will try and keep myself informed of the developments throughout this week and continue to share my thoughts with you here. Now it is off on AMTRAK again, this time to Miami, for a visit with our twenty college seminarians and a funeral in Lake Worth tomorrow.
Those of you who might be expecting some narrative of my weeks of confinement at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, are bound to be disappointed. My purpose today is to address the recent statements of two organizations within the Church seemingly at loggerheads on the matter of health care reform.
On Saturday, the Catholic Health Association of the United States of America announced that the Senate health care reform plan enjoyed that association’s blessings, with some minor difficulties which needed to be fixed prior to passage or before enactment.
On Monday, Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on behalf of the bishops saying that the Senate Health Care plan, while containing many admirable features is unacceptable because of far too generous abortion provision language and, sadly, its passage would have to be opposed by the bishops of the United States.
There you have it, two highly respected organizations representing the same Church of Jesus Christ on opposite sides of the street during this seemingly final week of deliberations and action. What should a serious Catholic make of all of this?
First, in the interest of full disclosure, I ask that you recall that:
- I am an elected member of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Health Association, serving the first year of my second three year term. Because of my well known illness, I have been unable to attend any CHA board meetings since last June and until only the last few days have been either unable or unwilling to read Board documentation. Therefore, as I write this¸ I have no personal knowledge of any discussions held and/or actions taken by the governing board prior to last Saturday’s press conference by Sister Carol Keehan, our president, and a woman whom I deeply admire for her history both in Catholic health care provision and pro-life advocacy.
- I am also a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Again because of my lengthy and well publicized illness, I have been unable to attend or participate in any USCCB plenary meetings since November 2008 and until the last few days have been either unable or unwilling to read Conference documentation as well.
- Finally, for nine years I served as either Associate General Secretary for Public Policy Advocacy of the old NCCB-USCC or as General Secretary of the same, acting as the Chief Operating Officer for six years.
During the time of my confinement, I have been led to believe that CHA and USCCB were working together to eliminate any language in the health care proposals which threatened the effectiveness of the long standing Hyde amendment which prevents federal monies (your tax dollars and mine) from providing abortions. The USCCB skillfully acted as a major player in gaining the Stupak amendment to the House passed Health Care Reform Bill last Fall. CHA in the end supported the Stupak language.
CHA prefers the health care reform vision of the Senate bill as they deem it ultimately more successful, more efficient, and more effective than the House passed version. USCCB has no major objections to the language in the Senate bill as it relates to the delivery of services except for the need of greater inclusion of immigrants and its abortion language. CHA agrees that there are problems with the abortion language (or in some instances the lack thereof) in the Senate bill but offers that it can be fixed in the “reconciliation” process or after enactment. The bishops say in response to this basically, “that will be far too little and much too late.”
CHA says that general access to health care benefits is a right of all citizens and every effort should be expended to see that it is made available. USCCB agrees but says nothing in the law can or should either extend abortion “rights”, use taxpayer monies to pay for abortions through new insurance possibilities, or in any way infringe on the right of conscience of those opposed to participating in what they believe to be morally illicit procedures.
At the very beginning of this national debate, CHA and USCCB had a long record of working together for genuine, real health reform so that remains and does not divide.
So today, the Catholic Health Association says we are willing to accept the Senate version of health care reform with the understanding that the less than perfect working document must and will be improved later in the process.
And also today, the elected leader of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George says passing the Senate bill will produce too large a loss of moral integrity and the Conference can not risk fixing things outside of the legislative process. He wants health care but finds the Senate bill requires too high a price with woefully inadequate abortion language and conscience protection proposals. The bishops want the Hyde amendment to apply fully which the House bill does and the Senate bill does not.
As a member of the Board of the Catholic Health Association, I too want universal access to health care in this country to all our inhabitants. But I do not wish it through a vehicle that expands abortion rights or weakens conscience clause protection. So I side with the USCCB on this one. Were the bishops’ conference asking for new legislation, further tightening access to abortion or writing new abortion language law, it would have trouble. From the beginning the bishops have said only we must insure that we keep what we have.
I hope and pray that in these final decisive days, the Congress will see the wisdom of the Church’s position on abortion in health care as articulated by the bishops and the experience and wisdom of the Catholic Health Care providers who yearn for a reform of a system which is failing and becoming incredibly expensive – to maintain and to access.
If this were a tennis match, it would not yet be “game” but “advantage bishops.” However, the game is still not over although it is approaching match point. I would hope that Congress will see the wisdom and find the ways to fully apply the Hyde amendment so that both CHA and the USCCB can unite in general support of health care reform that protects the life and dignity of all.