Catholic bishops and health care reform

Posted: 28 August 2009 in Uncategorized
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The U.S. Catholic bishops are at it again, in this case opposing health care reform. According to today’s NYT, some leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—such as Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa—are arguing that “no health care reform” is better than any of the current proposals. Here’s Nickless:

The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.

Fortunately, there are other Catholic voices, at least in other countries. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the UK Tablet:

It is unfortunate that the one body that could turn out to be a decisive strategic force in his favour, the US Catholic bishops, have so far concentrated on a specifically Catholic issue – making sure state-funded health care does not include abortion – rather than the more general principle of the common good.

The opponents of change are largely funded by the operators of the health insurance industry, which, as in the early 1990s, sense a threat to their profits. They are the robber barons of their age. All the dark arts of media misrepresentation have been deployed to turn public opinion against Mr Obama’s policy. Through their greed and inefficiency, America spends something like double per head on health care compared with a country such as France, whose state-run health system is acknowledged as one of the world’s best. Even at the level of spin and sound bites, the bishops could make a difference. They could refute the constant slur of “socialised medicine” that opponents throw mindlessly around, simply by saying that health care for all is in fact “Catholic medicine”. Once they began to introduce reason and truth into the debate, they could also point out that what Mr Obama is proposing is in principle no different from extending Medicare – which brings affordable medical treatment to America’s elderly – to everyone.

When Britain’s National Health Service was set up in 1948, the Catholic hierarchy led by Cardinal Griffin was also preoccupied with its own Catholic agenda, not abortion but winning an opt-out for Catholic hospitals. So the birth of the National Health Service, one of the great forward strides for social justice, had no Catholic blessing. The bishops failed to put the promotion of social justice above their churchly priorities. It is a mistake the American bishops may be about to repeat.

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