Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 9, 2009
POLITICS/RELIGION: A Kennedy Tries To Tell The Bishops How To Be Catholic
For all their protestations to the contrary, liberals have an awful habit of trying to tell people of faith, notably the Catholic Church, what their faith means and how it should apply in the political sphere. If you can stomach the irony, let's take a look at the latest example of this genre, an opinion piece in the Politico by Robert Kennedy's daughter, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Kennedy (I use her maiden name because it's the only thing that gets her published) starts off well enough, with the title "On health care, the bishops have lost their way". There, we agree; the Bishops have inserted themselves into the health care debate by calling for a national health insurance scheme - including their call for it to cover illegal aliens - that may be well-intentioned but will have many dire practical consequences, and which confuses the individual duty of Christian charity with the power to compel others to give to Caesar. These are not problems of Catholic doctrine, they are problems of practical economics and practical politics, two areas in which the Bishops do not have the most sterling record. Worse yet, as far as their purely political judgment, the Bishops seem unable to understand that positive aspects of the proposed bills - restrictions on funding for abortion, conscience protections for Catholic hospitals - may be necessary for their passage into law, but will forever be subject to unilateral renegotiation by Congress, which when it comes to massive entitlement programs always operates on the principle of Darth Vader at Cloud City: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."
But of course, Kennedy wants the Church to agitate for precisely this program; what she objects to is that the Church, having come this far in support of the bill, insists that it can't support a bill that doesn't include the Stupak Amendment's restrictions on abortion funding.
Kennedy can't resist dripping scorn at the sorts of folk the Bishops have associated themselves with:
As Catholics, are we so laser focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join tea partiers...
Presumably, tax collectors and prostitutes would be even worse. No, on second thought, considering who supports this bill, perhaps not. But in making an argument about how the Bishops should prioritize their moral teachings, Kennedy makes not the slightest effort to explain why the Church shouldn't be "laser focused" on abortion, given that the Church teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil that entails the willful taking of a human life. That failure to consider the core nature of the Church teaching at issue vitiates the entirety of Kennedy's argument.
Kennedy goes on to defend the weaker provisions of a substitute provision that would not include the Stupak Amendment's bar on the use of federal dollars to purchase any insurance that covers abortion. As I have explained previously, the intrusive nature of the bill makes any such "middle ground" wholly illusory; either you accept the Stupak Amendment's functionally pro-life provisions, or you accept a bill that is functionally pro-abortion; the bill leaves no room for a middle ground on this issue. But in doing so, she adds calculated insult to injury:
Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for nonreligious services as long as those funds are separated from religious work. If this solution is good enough for Catholic organizations, then it is certainly good enough for health care reform.
So, now she just told the Catholic Church that it should regard the work of Catholic Charities as equivalent to the work of abortion mills. I'm sure that's an applause line at MSNBC and the New York Times, but if it's supposed to persuade the Bishops, she should maybe consider also comparing them to the Nazis.
If Nelson's amendment is a Senate version of the Stupak amendment, as expected, it will ban abortion not only in the public option but, effectively, throughout the exchange created by health care reform.
This is the point by which she has completely forgotten that she's still putatively talking to the Bishops, who obviously regard such a ban as a very good thing, perhaps the best thing the bill could do.
There are millions of pro-abortion rights Catholics who understand that women faced with unintended pregnancies or complications in wanted pregnancies have to make difficult, complex decisions for themselves and their families.
By now, the pretense of talking to the Bishops is completely gone, as she's instead pitching for the support of Catholics who reject the Bishops' teachings on a core issue. There are also millions of Catholics who are adulterers, drug addicts and hoodlums. The Bishops are supposed to minister to them and seek correction and forgiveness of their sins, not accomodate their embrace of sin.
The U.S. Senate recently took an important vote toward improving women's access to preventive health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The women's health amendment would guarantee health insurance coverage, at no cost sharing, for women's preventive care, including lifesaving screenings, well-woman exams and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.
Again, Kennedy ignores here the possibility that perhaps the Bishops don't consider access to artificial contraception to be a good thing either.
I want Catholic bishops to heed the Vatican's call for charity and justice for all, not just for the wealthy and well connected.
The irony of this last coming from a Kennedy is staggering. Ted Kennedy, in his dying days, managed to get the ear of the Pope himself, and to get a Catholic funeral despite not only his personal sins - which after all, may be forgiven - but more importantly his lifelong, public and utterly unrepentant advocacy of legal abortion. There is perhaps no greater stain on the American Catholic Church's commitment to any sort of egalitarianism than the persistent favor and preferential treatment it has showered on the Kennedy family. There can be no less persuasive messenger to make such a claim than a Kennedy.
The Catholic Church is a human institution. As such, has been slow, terribly slow, to recognize the practical dangers presented by the healthcare bill. But even its belated efforts to avoid lending its support to a pro-abortion bill are apparently too much for Kennedy-style "Catholics" to bear. They have the right, of course, to reject the Church's teachings. But the last thing the Catholic Bishops need is a lecture on moral judgment by a Kennedy.