Are the Bishops ‘Advancing the Republican Agenda’?

Deal W. Hudson
April 5, 2010

Regular readers may be taken aback by the question, but I ask it seriously. In fact, I am repeating a question put to Francis Cardinal George by a reporter for the Catholic News Service.

March 23 story from CNS, written by Nancy Frazier O’Brien, featured an exchange with Cardinal George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in the aftermath of the health-care bill’s passage in the House. Cardinal George registered his concern about the abortion funding in the bill and the inadequacy of an executive order to remove that funding.

O’Brien, who proposed a question to the cardinal about the USCCB’s motives with regards to the health-care debate, wrote, “Cardinal George also rejected claims by some that the USCCB had allied itself in the health reform debate with groups that were primarily interested in advancing the Republican agenda.”

No parallel suggestion was made regarding the possibility that the USCCB was trying to advance a Democratic Party agenda – this despite the USCCB’s strong support for universal coverage.

Indeed, given the visibility of the bishops’ overall support for the bill, I can only conclude that those who accuse the USCCB of advancing a “Republican agenda” must have only the abortion issue in mind. Why? Because the only parts of the bill the bishops objected to were those allowing abortion funding and the lack of conscience protection for medical workers.

I also find it ironic that the implication here is that the pro-life cause is being led by the Republican Party rather than the Catholic bishops.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the question. During the 2008 election, a number of bishops who questioned the pro-life claims made by President Barack Obama and his Catholic surrogates were accused of being “partisan” or Republican.

This points to one aspect of the tragedy of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI). Stupak could have carved out a proud place in the history of American politics as the man who broke the abortion advocates’ stranglehold on the Democratic Party. America could have once again had a two-party system, from a pro-life point of view.

Returning to Cardinal George and whether or not the USCCB supports the GOP’s agenda on healthcare: “I really don’t think that’s true,” he said. “The principles are twofold – everybody’s taken care of, nobody killed. And I think that moral voice, while it doesn’t correspond politically to either party, has been consistent.”

True, the principles don’t correspond to either political party, but the two principles are not equal in moral weight. The aim of universal health care does carry with it a non-negotiable obligation for Catholics – the protection of innocent life. Both Cardinal George and the USCCB have been pointing to this throughout the health-care debate.

But, as the CNS article demonstrates, the pro-life principle has become so identified with the Republican Party that many people regard the bishops’ own pro-life effort as partisan, rather than simply Christian.

The sad state of affairs seems to be this: When Catholics object to abortion funding in health-care reform, they are accused of being Republican shills. But when Catholics ignore the presence of abortion funding in health-care reform, they are applauded for their commitment to universal coverage.

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