Not all Catholic groups are created equal

usccbThe Senate’s passage of health care reform legislation was a major victory, though there’s a big difference between winning a battle and winning the war. There’s no solid evidence as of yet that the House is going to accept the Senate’s legislation as it’s written. The President appears to concede the issue may not be resolved into February.

And of course a major sticking point for the passage of health care reform is abortion funding. The House passed its own version of the health care bill by 220-215, and that was only after pro-life Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak led a revolt to ensure that the legislation didn’t use tax dollars to fund or subsidize abortion. The Senate bill contains no such guarantee, although Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska did force the inclusion of some other abortion language.

You can see what kind of pickle this has created. Even with language explicitly removing abortion funding from the House bill, health care legislation barely squeaked through the lower chamber. Switch three more votes and it won’t pass, and the likelihood of three pro-life Democratic holdouts given the way the Senate bill handles abortion is awfully high.

So that’s the legislative sitrep. There’s a lot of tension over whether the abortion issue can be resolved. Yesterday’s New York Times looked at one important development in the abortion impasse with “Catholic Group Supports Senate on Abortion Aid“:

In an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul, the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise on the issue, raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and stirring controversy within the church.

Further, here’s the Times’ description of the abortion, ahem, “compromise” in the Senate bill:

The Senate bill, approved Thursday morning, allows any state to bar the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion and requires insurers in other states to divide subsidy money into separate accounts so that only dollars from private premiums would be used to pay for abortions.

Technically, that’s accurate — but it doesn’t at all spell out what’s particularly controversial about the Senate’s abortion language, and as we all know the unintended consequences of a piece of legislation often outstrip what it was meant to do. Stupak sure isn’t happy about the Senate’s abortion language. Then in an interview early this week Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave to a feminist blogger, Sebelius essentially admitted that language in the Senate bill means that everyone in government insurance exchanges will be forced to pay for abortion. The Times should really be a bit more explicit about what’s going on here and exactly why people object.

That objection aside, the thrust of the Times piece is contrasting the stance of Catholic hospitals and Catholic bishops on Democratic health care legislation:

Just days before the bill passed, the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals across the country, said in a statement that it was “encouraged” and “increasingly confident” that such a compromise “can achieve the objective of no federal funding for abortion.” An umbrella group for nuns followed its lead.

The same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the proposed compromise “morally unacceptable.”

The divide frames one of the most contentious issues facing House and Senate negotiators as they try to produce a bill that can pass in both chambers.

One big thing that the Times article gets right, is that the fact that it makes it pretty clear Catholic hospitals and Catholic bishops aren’t on equal footing when it comes to speaking with the authority of the church:

And in practical political terms, some Democrats — including some opponents of abortion rights — say that the Catholic hospitals’ relative openness to a compromise could play a pivotal role by providing political cover for Democrats who oppose abortion to support the health bill. Democrats and liberal groups quickly disseminated the association’s endorsement along with others from the nuns’ group, other Catholics and evangelicals.

The key phrase here is “providing political cover for Democrats who oppose abortion to support the health bill.” There’s no split on doctrine or confusion over who has more authority to speak for the church here, it’s just a matter of practical politics. Allegedly pro-life Democrats may welcome a “Catholic group” to point to as backing their decision if they decide to vote for the bill.

In that sense, however, the Catholic hospitals and Catholic bishops are decidedly not dueling moral authorities on the same footing. Fortunately, near the bottom of the article we do get this quote:

After the Catholic Hospital Association’s endorsement of the proposed compromise, Catholic conservatives and some abortion opponents accused the group of selling out to the Democrats.

“The Catholic Health Association does not represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life,” the conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson said in a statement, calling the association’s move “utterly offensive.”

stupakBut the way this characterization is presented it seems to be more of an opinion. Certainly, the the “utterly offensive” statement certainly is Deal Hudson’s opinion and it doesn’t help that Hudson is viewed by many as a Republican mouthpiece. However, that the Catholic Health Association is not in a position to “represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life” is pretty much a fact. At the same time, the perspective that Catholic hospitals are acting out of moral concern is explicitly presented:

“We have known for quite some time that the Catholic hospitals and also the nuns are really breaking from these hard-line bishops and saying, ‘This really is our goal: to get more people into health care coverage,’ ” said Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado.

DeGette’s position as a leader of the abortion rights contingent of the House is not mentioned in the article. Which brings us to the final thing I wanted to note about the article. It is perhaps the most egregious:

Catholic scholars say their statement reflects a different application of church teachings against “cooperation with evil,” a calculus that the legislation offers a way to extend health insurance to millions of Americans. For the Catholic hospitals, that it is both a moral and financial imperative, since like other hospitals they stand to gain from reducing the number of uninsured patients.

That last sentence is the only mention in the entire article of motivation that Catholic hospitals might have to support the Senate’s health care legislation other than the moral considerations over abortion. This is a 2,000+ page piece of legislation that could potentially dictate how trillions of tax dollars are spent for health care in perpetuity. We should probably take a much, much closer look at what hospitals — many of which are deeply in the red right now — have to gain financially by supporting this legislation. Without going into particulars, it’s a lot.

In light of that, readers deserve a clear and compelling idea of what’s at stake for hospitals materially to help judge for themselves what exactly is motivating Catholic hospitals’ support of Democratic health care legislation. And it’s nowhere to be found in the Times piece.

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  • dalea

    tmatt asks:

    In light of that, readers deserve a clear and compelling idea of what’s at stake for hospitals materially to help judge for themselves what exactly is motivating Catholic hospitals’ support of Democratic health care legislation. And it’s nowhere to be found in the Times piece.

    First of all, it is not only Catholic hospitals that support the bill. Support comes from almost all hospitals and other medical organizations.

    Secondly, the benefits are difficult to explain because it involves finance and accounting terminology. Having worked in hospital finance and accounting, I can attempt to explain part of it. One major issue is the inability of medical providers to forcast Accounts Receivable. IE they don’t know when they will be paid for what. Or even if they will be paid. Hospitals are obliged by law to treat anyone who shows up at an emergency room. The uninsured present one issue; many hospitals have social workers who try to find programs to enroll uninsured people in. This is hit or miss. Insurance companies pay erratically and frequently with long delays. One effect is that Accounts Payable is thrown into disarray when it is not clear what monies they will have to put out. This then ratchets into Purchasing where there is a constant drive to keep supplies on hand at a minimum. Then, as I have seen happen, in a real emergency people die.

    One major effect of the Democrats’ reform is that it will stabilize forcasted revenues. Which by a real boring chain of accounting reasoning reduces costs. Most reporters are not knowlegable enough about the subject to explain it in detail.

  • http://N/A Thomas Hopkins

    Good content. But one must be aware that Catholics owe obedience to their Bishop(s), not to their hospital administrators. Thanks.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Be it ever thus—bureaucracies-even Catholic ones like one of Catholic hospitals-frequently have only one simple value or ethic–its own beastly well-being in money, power, or influence to the disregard of all else. And leave it to The Times to make a bureaucracy whose distortions they like into a new Church Magisterium or Church teaching authority over that of the bishops.

  • Michael Pettinger

    “However, that the Catholic Health Association is not in a position to “represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life” is pretty much a fact”

    This quote, as well as the title of Mark’s post, are very problematic. As far as the press is concerned, all Catholic groups do have to be treated equally. The only issue of “fact” here is that the Catholic hospitals are at variance with the bishops on this particular issue.

    Clearly it is the duty of the press to remind readers that the Catholic bishops claim the exclusive right to “represent the teaching of the Catholic Church on the non-negotiable defense of innocent life.” But a non-Catholic press has no business trying to decide whether they have this exclusive authority or not. That is a matter to be sorted out by individual Catholics (including bishops who may or may not choose to use the disciplinary powers granted them under Cannon Law.)

  • AntonioSosa

    Not all “Catholic” groups are really Catholic. Several “Catholic” groups are funded, used, and manipulated by an enemy of Catholics — George Soros.

    U.S. Catholics/Christians have no greater enemies at this time than the Chicago Marxist thugs and their Marxist SCAMS, mainly Obamacare and cap and trade, which seek to force Marxism on us. Marxism is anti-Christian and anti-American.

    Using “help-the-poor” scams like the Obamacare, the Castro brothers transformed an imperfect but happy and prosperous island into a GULAG of abject misery, where the only hope for most is being able to escape.

    They also infected their Marxist virus to other countries (Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua…), causing tremendous suffering everywhere.

    The Castro brothers have probably caused more suffering than Hitler, and now Obama and his comrades are working hard to spread their virus to the U.S.

    Where will our children and grandchildren be able to escape if Obama succeeds in transforming the U.S. into another Cuba?

  • Michael Pettinger

    BTW, that should read “Canon Law.” My bad.

  • Jerry

    description of the abortion, ahem, “compromise” in the Senate bill:

    Calling a compromise a “compromise” is a tactic of those who don’t have a lot of respect for the English language due to a political predisposition, in this case from the right.

    A compromise is a situation in which people accept something slightly different from what they really want, because of circumstances or because they are considering the wishes of other people.|en&hl=en&q=compromise

  • Ed

    Catholic hospitals are…raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and (hopes of) stirring controversy in the church? A comma after Congress, or an ellepsis or em dash is needed. Unless, of course, in fact, Catholic hospitals are

  • Peter

    The Catholic Hospital Association is more than happy to play pro-life hardball when it’s to their benefit–conscience clauses–so the fact that they are wiling to accept this compromise may have significance, as the Times piece points out. CHA may give some pro-life Democrats the cover they need to support the Senate compromise. While it may not appease Stupak–whose staff has been working with Repulbicans in the Senate to kill the bill under the guiaw of abortion–it’s not clear that all pro-life Democrats are Stupak acolytes.

  • Peter

    readers deserve a clear and compelling idea of what’s at stake for hospitals materially to help judge for themselves what exactly is motivating Catholic hospitals’ support of Democratic health care legislation. And it’s nowhere to be found in the Times piece.

    Well, that’s a lot more complicated story to tell and is worth a follow-up. But the news, for now, is that there may be a split in the Catholic-wing of the pro-life movement holding the health care reform bill hostage. That’s a story worth telling, as the Times did, and they can get to the alleged motivations of the CHA–and the motivations of the Bishops being largely silent on health care reform except on abotion–in later stories.

    Legislating is about compromises. Every interest group has motivations–both overt and covert–for backing or opposing legislation. The fact that hospitals have a financial interest in a health care bill is not shocking to a single person who reads the NYT or any newspaper in America.

  • Dave

    This story is the media breathlessly chronicling each step of the caged squirrel, without mentioning that the squirrel cage is only going round and round, not getting anywhere.

    The Stupak language will be retained because Pelosi need the bloc of pro-life Democrats. The public option is out because Reid needs all 60 Democratic votes. The action is in whether the package will be financed by surtaxes on the wealthy or on “cadillac” insurance plans; that’s worth covering.

  • Ted

    Our Bishops are intransigent on respecting, and defending the inalienable Human Right to Life. As it should be for all mankind.

    Our fundamental human right to life being inalienable, is continuously declared non-negotiable by all sane human beings. Here we have American hospital wolves disguising themselves in the morally positive clothing of the Catholic mantle, while at the same time they actively support putting the non-negotiable on the negotiating table.

    They are not of God.

  • Chip Smith

    How does this story not get religion?

    Here is way the story deals with the theological dispute:

    Catholic ethics experts said the groups evidently disagree about how far to go in avoiding even remote complicity in abortion.

    “The Catholic Health Association seems to be using traditional principles of cooperation with evil,” said Prof. M. Cathleen Kaveny of the Notre Dame University Law School.

    Such principles, she said, could permit support for “imperfect legislation,” as long as one’s intent was not to “further abortion,” one made every effort to “minimize the harm,” and one achieved “an extremely important good that can’t be achieved any other way.”

    In contrast, she said, “some bishops have adopted a prophetic stand against abortion that wants to eliminate any form of cooperation with evil no matter how remote.”

    Any question about how the article does or does not get religion ought to center on whether or not the above passage is accurate.

  • John Rivera

    It would appear that the premise of this article is wrong. The CHA statement was released on Dec. 17, well before Sen. Reid released his manager’s amendment that the USCCB was reacting to. Sr. Carol Keehan of the CHA said today that “There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops.” See this Catholic News Service article.

  • Mollie

    I was just going to provide a link to that CNS story as well. Here’s the lede:

    Despite a New York Times report to the contrary, the Catholic Health Association and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are working together to achieve health reform legislation that does not expand federal funding of abortion, according to the CHA president and CEO.

    Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Dec. 28 that her organization has never wavered in its commitment to health care that protects “from conception to natural death,” as outlined in the CHA document, “Our Vision for U.S. Health Care.”

  • Nancy Reyes

    It’s not in the Times piece because the Times misstated their opinion.

    “There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops,” Sister Carol said. “We believe there is a great possibility and probability that in conference committee we can work toward a solution that will prevent federal funding of abortion.”

    She said the CHA, which represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., “brings a lot of expertise with funding structures in the marketplace” to the debate and hopes to “bring that to bear” during the conference committee’s work.

  • Peter

    That of course, assumes the CHA and the nuns haven’t change positions under pressure from the Bishops. What lobbyists tell reporters and what spokespeople tell reporters are often different things. What Catholic spokeseople tell the Catholic press may be quite different than what lobbyists are telling members of Congress who are speaking to the NYT.