Via Vox Nova we learn the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops seems to have let go of the erroneous notion that community health centers provide abortions and is now opposing the GOP’s proposed funding cuts for these crucial facilities:
The USCCB has long called on Congress to work to ensure adequate and life-giving health care coverage to those in need. The proposed cut to Community Health Centers will deny health care to nearly eleven million poor and vulnerable people including mothers and children at risk. These centers are often the only access to health care for tens of millions of people in our country.
As CHC’s funding and other key protections of health care reform are under attack, this is a very welcome development from the USCCB, and yet another sign of the decidedly more constructive stance the conference has taken since the bill’s passage almost a year ago.
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Given that a sizable segment of the Catholic hierarchy has lurched right in recent years, it’s not always easy to find bishops showing prudent leadership on prickly political issues. Headline grabbing prelates such as Archbishops Charles Chaput and Raymond Burke politicize the communion rail and have publicly denounced pro-choice Catholic public officials during the heat of presidential campaigns. Many bishops blasted the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give a commencement address. It’s an understatement to say this is a group not always inclined toward finding common ground and embracing engagement over confrontation in the public square.
So it’s noteworthy that one of New York’s leading Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday that he disagreed with a Vatican consultant who called for denying communion to Gov. Andrew Cuomo because he lives with his girlfriend outside of marriage. This may seem like rather mundane news, but in Catholic political circles Bishop Howard Hubbard’s stance is significant because it demonstrates at least some healthy fatigue with communion politics or “wafer wars,” as headline writers dubbed it during the 2004 presidential election. Here are Bishop Hubbard’s comments as reported in the New York Times.
“There are norms for all Catholics about receiving communion and we have to be sensitive pastorally to every person in their own particular situation,” Bishop Hubbard said. “And when it comes to judging worthiness for communion, we do not comment on either public figures or private figures. That’s something between the communicant and his pastor personally. It’s not something we comment on.” Bishop Hubbard also distanced New York bishops from bishops in other states who have sparked controversy in recent years by calling publicly for communion to be denied to elected officials who disagree with church teachings on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. “Some bishops have done that but not all bishops have done that,” Bishop Hubbard said. “Quite frankly, there is a disagreement among bishops about using the communion line as a place for a confrontation. And I don’t think that the bishops of New York State feel that’s appropriate.”
I bolded those words because it’s not every day that bishops speak, to use Hubbard’s word, “frankly” about disagreements with other bishops on controversial issues. Moderates in the hierarchy who emphasize pastoral sensitivity and the full spectrum of Catholic teaching are often drowned out by those who prefer throwing sharp elbows over abortion. Perhaps Hubbard and other New York bishops can broker a ceasefire in the wafer wars. Let’s also hope that conservative Catholic bloggers, including Thomas Peters – whose father is the Vatican consultant who urged denying communion to Governor Cuomo – will take a cue from Bishop Hubbard the next time they consider playing Catholic orthodoxy police.
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This week as Congress debates deficits and spending, faith leaders are speaking up to make sure our elected leaders remember that budgets are moral documents.
Today, a group of prominent evangelicals held a teleconference announcing their statement outlining principles for moral budget decisions. The statement, “A Call for Intergenerational Justice: A Christian Proposal on the American Debt Crisis,” calls for “fiscal frugality and compassionate action” and proposes concrete ways of cutting the debt while protecting the poor and making moral investments for the future of our nation and world.
Speakers on the call included Shane Claiborne, Michael Gerson and Jonathan Merritt, as well as Dr. Gideon Strauss and Stephanie Summers of the Center for Public Justice and Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.
Today’s call comes in the wake of larger religious mobilization around the budget debates. On Monday, a group of Christian leaders led by Sojourners took out a full-page ad in Politico imploring legislators to ask themselves “What Would Jesus Cut?” and saying:
The deficit is indeed a moral issue, and we must not bankrupt our nation, nor leave a world of debt for our children. But how we reduce the deficit is also a moral issue. Our budget should not be balanced on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.
And Wednesday, Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, published an opinion piece in The Hill scolding representatives who identify as pro-life but support budget cuts that would harm women and children:
As a Catholic sister committed to defending the sanctity of human life, I support common ground efforts to protect life by helping pregnant women and preventing abortion. But it’s hypocritical and just plain wrong for lawmakers who tout their pro-life bona fides to then blatantly undermine life with budget proposals that will hurt pregnant women, mothers and children and likely lead more poor women to end their pregnancies.
As Congress moves forward in this debate, hopefully they will heed the advice of these faith leaders and keep the poor and vulnerable in the forefronts of their minds as they make tough decisions.
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Gerald Beyer, a professor of Christian social ethics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, gets my award for the most clever framing on the Wisconsin showdown. His comparison of Gov. Scott Walker’s tactics to those used by Polish communist bosses who fought the Solidarity movement in the 1980s is sure to irk conservatives. Here’s Beyer stirring the pot over at Politics Daily:
Mentioning the campaign against unions by a Republican governor in 2011 in the same breath as the anti-labor repression by Communist authorities in Poland in 1980 is sure to raise eyebrows. Yet as Mark Twain supposedly said, if history doesn’t repeat itself, it sometimes rhymes. And there are some striking similarities between that Communist-era episode and the ongoing standoff between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s public employees. For one thing, both Walker and the Communist leaders targeted unions. And in both cases, we see the Roman Catholic Church supporting organized labor. Led by the gutsy electrician Lech Walesa, workers of the Solidarity trade union movement went on strike in August 1980 to regain their freedom and their rights. Over 18 days, they negotiated with Communist party officials, who were actually more willing to make concessions than Walker has been to this point.
Prominent Catholic politicos like Newt Gingrich (who has made a documentary about Pope John Paul II’s role in sweeping the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history) should keep this legacy in mind as they cheerlead for Governor Walker’s assault on workers’ rights.
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Last Friday, in response to his state’s budget deficit, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker proposed to raid the pension funds of public employees and strip them of their collective bargaining rights. These extremist proposals have been met by massive protests, with over 30,000 workers and allies rallying at the state capitol.
This week, local faith leaders joined the efforts. Inspired by the moral clarity of their faith traditions on the rights of workers, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church stood for unions and collective bargaining, and over 50 faith leaders sent a letter to Governor Walker yesterday opposing his proposal.
Now, religious leaders from the surrounding area are joining in. In response to the news that 14 State Senators have fled to Illinois to prevent a vote, area clergy are offering them sanctuary–inviting them to places of worship for hospitality and support until the state can find a fairer solution to their budgetary woes.
Listen to the faith leaders on a press teleconference call talk about their offer here:
Participants on the call:
- Rabbi Renee Bauer, Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of South Central Wisconsin
- Reverend Kurt Anderson, Pastor, First Congregational Church, Madison, WI
- Father G. Simon Harak, S.J., Director, Center for Peacemaking, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
- Reverend Amanda Stein, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Madison, WI
- Rabbi Bruce Elder, Congregation Hafaka, Glencoe, IL
- Reverend Jason Coulter, Pastor, Ravenswood United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL
State workers across the country engage in work serving humanity, teaching children, guarding prisons, caring for the mentally ill, and other essential services. A moral budget must not be balanced at their expense, and deficits should not be used as a pretext to take away workers’ rights to negotiate for fair wages and working conditions.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons contributed to this post.
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