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Moral Principles for Health Care Reform

As the U.S. Senate begins to discuss health care reform, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., and Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin provided moral principles to help guide policymakers in their deliberations.
 
In a letter sent on June 1, the chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops stressed the "grave obligations" that Senators have "when it comes to policy that affects health care." While commending the bill passed by the House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act, for its protections for unborn children, the Bishops emphasized the "many serious flaws" in the AHCA, including unacceptable changes to Medicaid.
 
"The Catholic Church remains committed to ensuring the fundamental right to medical care, a right which is in keeping with the God-given dignity of every person, and the corresponding obligation as a country to provide for this right," the Chairmen wrote. "[T]hose without a strong voice in the process must not bear the brunt of attempts to cut costs."
 
Cardinal Dolan is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Lori chairs the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, Bishop Dewane heads the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Vásquez is the chairman of the Committee on Migration.
 
The bishops outlined key principles for senators such as universal access, respect for life, true affordability, the need for high quality and comprehensive medical care and conscience protections.
 
If the Senate takes up the House bill as a starting point, the letter urges that lawmakers "must retain the positive elements of the bill and remedy its grave deficiencies." Specifically, the chairmen called on the Senate to: reject dramatic changes to Medicaid; retain the AHCA's life protections; increase the level of tax assistance, especially for low-income and older people; retain the existing cap on costs of plans for the elderly; protect immigrants; and add conscience protections, among other things.
 
The full letter to Congress can be found at: usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Senate-Principles-letter-Health-Care-Reform-2017-06-01.pdf.
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Bishops: Congress must consider budget's moral dimensions

The chairmen of six U.S. bishops' policy committees March 3 told members of the House and Senate that every decision they will make on the federal budget "should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity."

"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the least of these' (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, vulnerable and at risk, without work or in poverty should come first," the six chairmen said.

They pointed out that the government and other institutions have "a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."

The letter said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits and believes the country has an obligation to address their impact on the health of the economy but that a "just framework for the federal budget cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons."

They also warned that cuts to domestic and international poverty-reducing and refugee-assisting programs would "result in millions of people being put in harm's way, denying access to life-saving and life-affirming services."

The bishops said they have devoted their efforts to addressing the "morally problematic features of health care reform while insuring that people have access to health care coverage."

They noted that the Catholic Church -- in its work across the country caring for the poor, homeless, the sick and refugees -- often partners with the government. "Our combined resources allow us to reach further and help more," they said.

The bishops urged federal lawmakers to recognize that the "moral measure of the federal budget is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless, exploited, poor, unborn or undocumented are treated."

"Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources," they said.

The letter was signed by: New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, chairman of the Committee on Communications; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education; and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration.
  • Published in Nation

US bishops support Conscience Protection Act

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to both Houses of the United States Congress on February 8, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 644, S. 301).

The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”

“While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice,” the bishops noted, citing recent examples in which the federal government has refused to enforce these laws.  “The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws,” they said, “most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”

Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government… mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”

The full text of their letter to the Senate.
More information on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights.
 
  • Published in Nation

Sanctuary of the womb

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

"Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother's womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?" he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb "a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother's tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity."

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States -- first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but "clinging within to that 'pearl of great price,' their faith," and today's immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, "should it shock us" that "such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth's environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers," Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine's Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year's March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of "several hundred" seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington received hearty applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included "senior White House officials and a special guest." No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court. 

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond's homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan's in terms how acceptance of abortion is "used to justify" other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day's Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, "Jesus says, 'Let them come to me, let them come to me.'"

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed "the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade." Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but "one was not" mention.

That reason was "the witness of so many people for life," he said. "Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church," he added to applause. "You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life," the archbishop said to still more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers' parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, "we will continue to witness, and with God's help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life."
  • Published in Nation
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