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Politics vs Principle

May 13, 2010, 12:00 pm | Posted by Beth Dahlman

Wanted to flag this post by Michael Sean Winters on the continuing fallout of the healthcare debate in the Catholic community, because he raises an extremely important yet seldom-raised point:

Bishops, of course, have unique authority when they teach on faith or morals. But, they have no such authority regarding the interpretation of civil legislation or their best guesses as to how market forces will respond to that legislation. … the USCCB also has no divinely guaranteed authority when it comes to intelligently awarding grants through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. We Catholics are not automatons. We can disagree with bishops about such matters. Our differences may be stupid, they may be short-sighted, they may be based on a difference in perspective, but they are not grounds for a charge of disloyalty (emphasis added).

What Sr. Carol Keehan and other Catholic supporters of the health care bill did was exercise their best judgment on how to apply Catholic moral principles (like opposition to abortion) to complex legislation. Based on expert legal analysis, they came to a different factual, not moral, conclusion than the USCCB — that the health care bill did not, in fact, fund abortion.

This, however, does not stop people like former Republican operative Deal Hudson from attacking Keehan. Hudson alleges Keehan had no other option than to fall in line with not just the USCCB’s moral claims, but also their legal claims about the healthcare bill.

All this is a bit rich coming from Hudson, who is quick to ignore the USCCB himself when it suits him. He recently called for Catholics to “tea party” the USCCB, and has himself made Winters’ point about the differences between the bishops’ authority in moral vs legislative matters:

Catholics need to realize there is no “Church view” on the present health-care bill, but there is a position being taken by the bishops’ conference. The Church teaching Catholics are obliged to consider comes in the form of moral principles that must be applied prudentially to the legislation under consideration.

I guess in Hudson’s mind, the USCCB has no authority on healthcare reform, unless that authority could help the GOP.

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