Last week, Dan debunked the latest attack on health care reform using false information about abortion funding. Today, health law expert Timothy Jost elaborates on that argument in a detailed rebuttal to health care critic Helen AlvarÃ©. After refuting each of AlvarÃ©’s claims, Jost asks a larger question:
“I ask Professor AlvarÃ©, What purpose does your argument actually serve? What AlvarÃ© has written is essentially a brief that could be used by an abortionist claiming that community health centers must cover abortions. This is a very strange argument for a prolife advocate to be making. It is an argument that seems to have more to do with opposition to the Affordable Care Act than with opposition to abortion.”
Jost is right. The issue of federal funding has already been resolved. It’s hard to imagine why anybody would seek to re-litigate other than to stir up tired culture war fights to distract from and demonize successful implementation of the reforms so many people of faith worked tirelessly to achieve.
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Deal Hudson, the editor of InsideCatholic.com and George W. Bush’s former Catholic outreach advisor, specializes in slicing and dicing Catholic social teaching to serve his partisan agenda.
Earlier this year, he called for a Catholic Tea Party movement. In this scenario, “real” Catholics – Hudson demeans those who disagree with him as “fake” Catholics – should challenge the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a big-government style bureaucracy Hudson and other arch-conservative Catholics believe has drifted to the political left over the last three decades. This logic may seem bizarre given the bishops’ high-profile opposition to abortion, gay marriage, President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame and, most recently, the final version of health care reform. But welcome to the Catholic right subculture, where the only explanation for the USCCB’s focus on poverty, nuclear weapons, immigration and climate change is that a lay staff of liberals has hijacked the conference and distracted bishops from their true priorities.
Now Hudson is using the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” to do political cheerleading for New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie. In a column earlier this week, he praises the Christie administration for reigning in spending and touts his administration’s plans to privatize many state functions. He argues that Christie’s agenda of limited government and free-market solutions reflect the essence of subsidiarity, which prioritizes local institutions and smaller agencies over a centralized authority. “Gov. Christie represents a pro-life, pro-family Catholic politician drawing upon the principle of subsidiarity to make budgetary and policy choices that look to the private sector, not the federal government, for solutions to pressing problems,” Hudson writes.
As Vox Nova points out, touting the notion that “subsidiarity” is a blanket Catholic endorsement of anti-government sentiment and free-market fundamentalism is a favorite tactic of many Catholic conservatives. It’s also a profound misreading of Catholic teaching, which highlights the essential role of government and the perils of economic systems that put profits before human dignity. Ever since Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labor, the Catholic Church has advanced a positive vision of government serving the common good. In 1919, U.S. Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John A. Ryan, a priest whose analysis of social inequality was widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction. The program called for what at the time were radical measures: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly and unemployed. Many of these ideas helped inspire Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Just last summer, Pope Benedict XVI released a timely encyclical responding to the global economic crisis that offered a sober critique of unfettered capitalism that left some Catholic conservatives scrambling to downplay passages that take a skeptical view of unregulated markets. Indeed, the Pope goes where many U.S. politicians fear to tread in his call for a more just distribution of wealth and robust protections for workers against the whims of market excesses. If the Pope were running for political office in the U.S., you can imagine Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck slamming him as a socialist.
Hudson has every right to be a fan of Gov. Christie. Neither political party is aligned perfectly with Catholic teaching. But it would be easier to take Hudson seriously as a commentator if he didn’t dress up his Republican cheerleading in Catholic clothing.
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An old journalism professor once barked at my class: “If your mother tells you she loves you… Check it out.” Catholic News Agency, which often operates more like a conservative propaganda outlet than a legitimate news source, has been called out for fabricating quotes attributed to Cardinal Francis George in this article describing a closed meeting at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ recent spring assembly. The executive session included discussions about the Catholic Health Association’s high-profile rift with the USCCB over health care reform legislation.
Helen Osman, the Secretary for Communications at the bishops’ conference, writes in the USCCB blog that the Catholic News Agency simply “cobbled together its own fabrication of the session.” Osman, who attended the executive session closed to reporters, also went back and reviewed the transcript to verify the errors. In contrast to CNA’s report, Cardinal George “never used the phrase ‘so-called Catholic,’ accused the Catholic Health Association of creating a ‘parallel magisterium’ or said the meeting of the three bishops with Sr. Keehan had ‘frustrating results,” Osman writes. Disagreement between the USCCB and CHA over health care legislation has been well documented. But, as Osman points out, to “confuse the situation with quotes that aren’t true is just plain dishonest.”
Even worse, CNN picked up Catholic News Agency’s flawed report in this online story. Many of us who work at the intersection of faith and politics have come to expect spin from outlets like Catholic News Agency or Raymond Arroyo’s segments on EWTN. CNN should know better than to use CNA as a credible news source. CNN would have been better off doing their own digging or calling John Allen, a National Catholic Reporter correspondent regarded as one of the most respected chroniclers of Catholicism in the world. Allen covered the same meeting and got on-the-record quotes from Cardinal George that offered a conciliatory tone toward CHA. He also included a quote from Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., that could be read as thoughtful criticism of the bishops’ conference approach to health care legislation. “I’ve been associated in one way or another with the Episcopal conference of the United States since 1972,” Bishop Lynch said. “I have never before this year heard the theory that we enjoy the same primacy of respect for legislative interpretation as we do for interpretation of the moral law.”
Not surprisingly, there is more to this unfolding story than you’re ever going to be reading about in Catholic News Agency.
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Numbers USA, an organization whose goal is “lower immigration levels,” is encouraging their members to take action to stop passage of comprehensive immigration reform, including putting pressure on clergy who speak out in favor of reform. The action alert they sent Friday included the following:
On Tuesday, leaders from a majority of the country’s largest churches held a
meeting in Washington announcing their support for a mass illegal alien amnesty. It’s a sad fact that most of America’s religious leaders hold completely different political views than their members…
…go to your Action Board and send any faxes of protest you’ll find there to your religious leaders.
The premise of this call to action–that there is a divide between the pews and the pulpit on support for reform–is false. Recent nationwide polling shows that a broad range of people of faith overwhelmingly support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Public Religion Research Institute’s national poll released this spring demonstrates that Catholics, white evangelicals, and white mainline protestants all support comprehensive immigration reform— including an earned path to citizenship– by two-to-one margins over an enforcement-only policy. In fact, the poll showed that these three groups favor immigration reform even more than religiously unaffiliated Americans. (The full report is available here.)
Furthermore, PRRI’s research demonstrates that a majority of regular worship attendees approve of clergy speaking out on the issue immigration reform from the pulpit, and Â¾ of regular attendees approve of clergy speaking about the issue in the media and in other public forums such as community meetings.
Also, Numbers USA’s claim that the clergy who spoke out last week support “amnesty” is disingenuous and misleading. What faith leaders mean by comprehensive immigration reform is basically the opposite of “amnesty”–reform would require immigrants who are here illegally to pay fines and any back taxes they may owe, hold jobs, pass background checks, and study English in order to earn citizenship. “Amnesty” might be Numbers USA’s buzzword of choice, but it’s not a remotely accurate description of the policy.
Numbers USA’s false claims and loaded language may motivate their base to attack pastors for standing up for their principles, but we know that clergy leaders won’t back down in fighting to keep families together and fix a system that doesn’t protect our interests or our values as a nation.
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Michael Sean Winters had a thoughtful post at America last week reflecting on a recent petition campaign by Catholics United in response to the news that a Catholic elementary school in Massachusetts denied admission to a student because his parents are in a same-sex relationship. The petition quickly amassing over 5,000 signatures (including mine) encouraging Archbishop O’Malley to affirm a diocese-wide policy preventing this kind of discrimination.
While affirming that he appreciates Catholics United’s general work providing a counterweight to conservative Catholic groups who treat GOP talking points as religious doctrine, Winters sees this petition as misguided:
“But, the school case in Boston is not about politics. Better to say, the most important thing is to make sure that it doesn’t become about politics. I am sure that for every one of the 5,000 signatures Catholics United got for its petition, a conservative group can marshal an equal number of signatories urging Cardinal O’Malley to take the opposite course and ban the children of same-sex couples from attending catholic schools. A pastor has an obligation to keep his flock together as much as possible. I do not see how petition drives, the counter influences they elicit, or any of the accoutrement of contemporary politics will advance the cause of unity among the faithful.”
Winters’s concern about stoking culture war flames is reasonable, but I think he misses the forest for the trees in this particular instance. Catholics United didn’t politicize this issue; that happened the instant it hit the national media, where years of conservative Catholic politicization of LGBT issues has portrayed the Church as a monolithically conservative institution pitted against liberal secularists. Moreover, the school incident fit into an existing political context because of its similarity to a recent case in Colorado, which garnered national attention and galvanized the Catholic right, ultimately prompting Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to issue a statement defending the policy of expelling children of same-sex parents.
I share Winters’s concerns that political efforts can threaten the unity of the faithful, but I think responsibility for divisiveness lies with advocates of “litmus-test-Catholicism” who use disagreements like these to separate the Church into good and bad Catholics. The way to change this narrative isn’t to sit quietly and hope — hesitation to speak out against partisan polarization in the Church is exactly what got us here in the first place. There’s no going back to a time when events like this school’s decision escape media attention or go un-remarked upon by conservative partisans. To be an effective counterweight, groups like Catholics United need to stand up and demonstrate that the Catholic Right does not speak for the whole Catholic church.
Regardless of whether the petition influenced Archbishop O’Malley, it certainly had an effect on the media coverage of the story and disrupted the idea that the school pastor or Chaput’s previous statement spoke for all Catholics on this issue. Combined with Archbishop O’Malley’s ultimate decision to help place the child in another Catholic school, I think the story stood out as a welcome change in Catholic coverage, showing a compassionate, reasonable side of the faith over a politicized, divisive one.
To be clear, I don’t mean to read Winters’s post as a general dismissal of progressive faith work. Fair with both his support and critiques, I think his opinions are valuable insights for progressive groups, and I’d be interested to hear more of his thoughts on how they can best make an impact in the Church and the public square.
Full disclosure: I previously worked for Catholics United
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