Thursday, September 24, 2009
A group of clergy known for their strong opposition to abortion, led by the head of the evangelical, pro-life Church of God in Christ, will endorse the President's health care plan, reinforcing his assertion that taxpayer dollars won't pay for abortions.
Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., a Los Angeles minister who heads the massive Church of God in Christ -- are scheduled to announce their support for the legislation at a news conference this morning. And they will offer a full embrace of the government-run insurance option that some Republicans have claimed opens the door to taxpayer-funded abortions.
"In accord with our commitment to Christian teaching, we wholeheartedly affirm the president's position that medical costs related to the abortion of fetuses shall not be covered by healthcare plans funded by this initiative," Blake will say today, according to an advance copy of his remarks.
The abortion issue is, admittedly, complicated. Under the plan, millions of Americans currently uninsured will purchase insurance from the private market. An estimated 2 million could receive insurance from their employer without any government subsidy. As is the case now, private employers and not the government will decide if abortion is covered. Pro-life leaders are divided if it is really appropriate to oppose employers providing insurance just because some of them may adopt plans that cover abortion. About 2/3rds of private plans cover abortion but this has never been a major issue for most right-to-life organizations.
In other cases, workers will be able to buy private insurance on exchanges. This gets more complicated. The government will help set up the exchange. Some private insurance companies may choose to cover abortion but consumers would be guaranteed a pro-life option. Consumers may receive tax credits depending on their income, to help purchase insurance. If there is a public option, it would function like Medicaid does now. The underlying law allows abortion coverage in Medicaid, but an appropriations rider passed every year known as the Hyde Amendment prohibits abortion funding. Democratic leaders have promoted a compromise that leaves the status quo in place. Abortion would be prohibited based on the annually renewed Hyde Amendment.
The Church of God in Christ is one of the world's largest Pentecostal denominations, with an estimated 6 million members. Its leadership, including Blake, has been heavily courted over the years by Republicans including former President George W. Bush, who viewed them as potential conservative allies because of their views on abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
NCAA basketball coaches who are sometimes rivals on the court came united to Congress on Tuesday to push for quick approval of health care reform.
"Now is the time to press full court," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said on Capitol Hill.
Coach John Thompson III of Georgetown University, the country's first Catholic college, joined with Coach Brey along with fellow coaches Ed DeChellis of Penn State, Oliver Purnell of Clemson and Tubby Smith of Minnesota.
The event, hosted by Minnesota Senators Al Franken (DFL) and Amy Klobuchar (DFL), was a push to guarantee health coverage for all, regardless of preexisting conditions, and require minimal or no deductibles for cancer-screening procedures.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Now, feuding factions in the opposition to Notre Dame have turned on each other. One group -- NDResponse -- seeing that the critics of the President's address at Notre Dame were becoming their own worst enemy -- stepped in to take control of the messaging shortly before the President's visit. Probably a smart move giving how off the wall the protesters were becoming.
NDRespone cut a deal with the University that they would be the sole and exclusive campus protest group. They and anyone they declared part of their group had permission to be on campus the day of the President's address. They were clear what conditions had to be met to be part of their group. They sent this message out:
Concerning Signs and Graphic Images:
Any person willing to respectfully and constructively demonstrate their disapproval of the University’s decision to honor President Obama at commencement is welcomed to stand alongside students at this rally. Graphic images and signs not in keeping with the tone of this rally will not be permitted on Notre Dame’s campus. ND Response reserves the right to have individuals who do not follow student requests escorted from campus by security personnel.
In other words, you play by their rules or not at all.
Well, about 88 protesters were too extreme for NDResponse. They were arrested and now they want amnesty. This has now become a cause celebre for them. One faction of the Right Wing arrested and expelled from campus by another faction of the Right wing. The Right is turning in on itself.
It gets worse. Tomorrow, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry and his supporters are staging a protest outside the offices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to dissuade them from their support of health care reform. They will be rallying against the “temptations of Socialism” and threatening that bishops who support reform may “lose their souls.”
Monday, September 14, 2009
WASHINGTON—Calling it an important contribution to a crucial national debate, officials speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed President Obama's September 9 address on health care reform, particularly his statements regarding abortion and the uninsured.
"We agree that 'no one should go broke because they get sick,'" said Kathy Saile, Director of Domestic Social Development at the USCCB. "That's why the U.S. Bishops have worked for decades for decent health care for all. The Catholic Church provides health care for millions, purchases health care, picks up the pieces of a failing health system, and has a long tradition of teaching on ethics in health care. Health care reform that respects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and urgent national priority. We welcome the President's speech as an important contribution to this essential national debate and task."
"We especially welcome the President's commitment to exclude federal funding of abortion, and to maintain existing federal laws protecting conscience rights in health care," said Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of Pro-Life Activities at the USCCB. "We believe that incorporating essential and longstanding federal laws on these issues into any new proposal will strengthen support for health care reform. We will work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that these protections are clearly reflected in new legislation, so no one is required to pay for or take part in abortion as a result of health care reform."
"We agree with the President that there are details that need to be ironed out," said Saile. "And with his address last night, we see the opportunity to work towards a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity, access for all with a special concern for the poor, and inclusion of legal immigrants. We also see the possibility of meeting the bishops' goal to pursue the common good and preserve pluralism, including freedom of conscience and a variety of options, and restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers."
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Joe Wilson in the Cathedral?
Saturday evening, September 12th and the faithful gathered at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC for the annual Mass for the Blessing of Human Labor, which has been held on or around Labor Day for better than fifty years. The Archbishop was presiding and in attendance were leaders and rank and file members of the labor movement. Entering the Cathedral , I joked with my companion that some of the people participating in the anti-tax/anti-Obama rally earlier that day might inadvertently be attending.
Maybe not as much as the more high class Red Mass that will be celebrated next month for the legal profession and the judiciary, but it was a solemn affair – the Archbishop incensing the altar, the deacon singing his parts, the choir at its best. Yes, some of the union members in attendance came in their work clothes as is custom, but it was no clown Mass with liturgical dance during the canon.
All was good until around the middle of the Mass, when one person decided some “audience participation” was needed. On my part, first shock, and then hearing whispered to me “Is Joe Wilson in the Cathedral?”
Is this where we have come? First during a presidential address to a formal joint session of Congress and now at Mass in the Cathedral?
After the first outburst (there would be more), my stomach knotted and I became more sensitive to my surroundings. Yes, it did seem some of the congregation were from the tax protest but I could not tell if the “Wilsonista” I noticed was. When the Archbishop called forward the union stewards present for a special blessing, I heard murmurs from a pew back about the “SEIU” t-shirts some wore.
After Mass, the Archbishop hosted a pleasant reception for the union officials and others present and over some food, drink and fellowship, the tension passed away. I started to take even some amusement about some well-intentioned conservative protesters fulfilling Sunday obligation and by chance exposed to the Labor Mass. But I am seriously disturbed that Congressman Wilson’s action on the floor of the House has now emboldened others to misbehave at serious events, even Holy Mass.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Dear Mr. President,
I wanted to write a few final words to you to express my gratitude for your repeated personal kindnesses to me - and one last time, to salute your leadership in giving our country back its future and its truth.
On a personal level, you and Michelle reached out to Vicki, to our family and me in so many different ways. You helped to make these difficult months a happy time in my life.
You also made it a time of hope for me and for our country.
When I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the President who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me-and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination.
There will be struggles - there always have been - and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat - that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.
And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family's health will never again depend on the amount of a family's wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will - yes, we will - fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.
In closing, let me say again how proud I was to be part of your campaign- and proud as well to play a part in the early months of a new era of high purpose and achievement. I entered public life with a young President who inspired a generation and the world. It gives me great hope that as I leave, another young President inspires another generation and once more on America's behalf inspires the entire world.
So, I wrote this to thank you one last time as a friend- and to stand with you one last time for change and the America we can become.
At the Denver Convention where you were nominated, I said the dream lives on.
And I finished this letter with unshakable faith that the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.
With deep respect and abiding affection,
Friday, September 4, 2009
Georgetown University Grants Highest Honor to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
by Tula Connell, Sep 4, 2009
It’s rare for a major university like Georgetown to grant honorary degrees. But rare are individuals like AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Last night in a formal robe and gown ceremony followed by a celebration with Archbishop Donald Wuerl in Georgetown’s elegant Riggs Library, Georgetown University President John DeGioia conferred upon Sweeney the degree, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Sweeney has dedicated his life to improving the lives of America’s working families, motivated in large part by his religious faith, one infused with the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Recognizing how Catholic doctrine influenced Sweeney’s life-long quest for justice and fairness for working people, DeGioia explained the importance of honoring Sweeney:
Saying faith “has been the bedrock of my life,” Sweeney said at the ceremony the “Holy Father [Pope Benedict XVI] reaffirms our belief in government as a legitimate tool for correcting injustice and inequality, and for regulating business. He writes: ‘The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.’
He also reinforces the spiritual teaching that society should honor work—work is a way of worshipping God and participating in God’s ongoing act of creation. Honoring the dignity of work is the core of our shared support for free labor unions, for the absolute right of workers to join together and bargain collectively, and the absolute obligation of corporations to honor those rights and hold themselves to higher standards of social responsibility.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Over the years we Americans have redefined the summer by making Labor Day the“extra day of vacation” that recognizes the work we do throughout the year. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact looking at the history of the struggle for wages and benefits, I think that an extra “day off” for all Americans fits in with the spirit of the whole American experience of the meaning of work. It is a moment to recognize the value and dignity of work and the contribution and rights of the American worker. It is time well spent.
Labor Day this year comes at a time when we face a number of challenging problems, many of which cause us to reflect and ponder on what the future will bring. As complex andchallenging as the current economic situation is and the new elements that challenge us all,Americans are still fundamentally an optimistic people. We have an abiding faith in the values that have shaped our nation and an ongoing commitment to work together to address the problems and build on the strengths of who we are. This attitude mirrors the deep and powerful virtue of hope that our Church and, in a special way, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, have emphasized as a mark of all the faithful disciples of Jesus.
We are called always “to give an accounting of the hope that is in us.”(cf. 1Pt 3:15) This is especially true in difficult times that can try our spirits and test our wills.
A New Encyclical
Earlier this summer, Pope Benedict XVI published his long awaited encyclical, Caritas inVeritate. This teaching of Benedict brings together a whole range of theological and social issuesin a perspective that is in some ways very new and challenging. The Holy Father covers a wide gamut of subjects that reflect many of the Church’s traditional concerns in the social field while placing them in broader anthropological and cultural context. In this way the encyclical reflects questions that have long been central to the theological reflections of this Pontiff who constantly plumbs the implications of understanding of the human person before God.
The Pope reminds us,“the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is…the human person in his or her integrity: Man is the source, the form and the aim of all economic and social life.” (#25)
The Pope revisits the traditional teachings of his predecessors on the value of the human person, the dignity of every human being, and the integral development of human society to promote human flourishing. His reflections reaffirm the teachings of Leo XIII on labor and PiusXI on subsidiarity. With John XXIII and John Paul II, he insists on the value of solidarity and focuses with a special emphasis on Paul VI’s passionate commitment to the Third World and the development of peoples.
In the new encyclical, the Holy Father affirms and extends traditional Catholic teaching on the centrality of work to the whole human experience. Decent work, according to the encyclical, “means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for children, without the children themselves beingforced into labor; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for re-discovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.”(#63)
Pope Benedict renews and reminds us of the Church’s classic support for the right of workers to choose freely to form or join a union or other types of workers’ associations. Pope Benedict endorses this and adds to it the responsibility of workers and unions “to be open to the new perspectives that are emerging in the world of work.” (#64)
This Labor Day statement is not the place to give a complete overview of the newencyclical. It remains, however, a major point of reference for us all as we give thanks to God forthe meaning with which God has endowed work as a reflection of the dignity of every worker, a“co-creator” with God in this world of human endeavor. That vision of cooperation with God inbuilding up this world through our work underscores the need for us all to cooperate andcollaborate with one another in making work and the workplace a project of human solidarityand mutual respect.
An Example of Respecting the Rights of Workers
In this Labor Day reflection, permit me to call your attention to a positive step forward inrespect for workers in one crucial area of our life: health care.
This year, after years of discussions, leaders in Catholic health ministry, the labor movement, and the Catholic bishops sought to apply our traditional teaching on work and workers and to offer some practical alternatives on how leaders of hospitals, unions, and others might apply our principles as an aid to reaching agreements in their own situations.
The principal participants— the Catholic Health Association (CHA), the AFL/CIO, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—reached agreement that offers guidance and options on how workers can make a free decision about whether or not they want to be represented by a union. They agreed on basic principles including mutual respect and open and honest communication as ‘guides’ to appropriate conduct for both employers and union representatives. This paves the way forworkers to make informed decisions without undue influence or pressure from either side.
Thebasic elements of such an approach include mutual respect, truth, and a commitment to let the workers decide whether or not they want to be represented by a union. This was not easy or simple. There were many different points of view and perspectives that at times seemed irreconcilable. The dialogue was long, candid and constructive. It led to a significant consensus statement entitled, Respecting the Just Rights of Workers: Guidance and Options for CatholicHealth Care and Unions.
This project achieved a significant accomplishment: a consensus among all the parties on a set of principles, processes, and guidelines for a respectful and harmonious approach to let workers in Catholic health care facilities make free choices about unionization. This is offered for voluntary use to help facilitate worker’s choices in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation for the good of the workers themselves.
Special thanks are due to the leadership of the CHA, AFL/CIO, and SEIU. All involved join me in special appreciation for the patient and wise leadership of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Thanks in no small measure go as well to the guidance of the Feerick Center at Fordham law School under the direction of Dean John Feerick. The dialogue tried to look at real situations and genuine differences in light of some basic themes in Catholic social teaching. The document offers some practical guidance and alternatives on how leaders of hospitals, unions, and others might apply these principles by adapting them to their own situations.
Because Catholic health care is a ministry, leadership must reflect in its own operations the words and example of Jesus. For the Church, health care is a continuation of the healing mission of Jesus. This is a gift to both the Church and to society at large. In our nation, one person out of six receives care at one of more than 600 Catholic hospitals or 1,200 other Catholic health care ministries. In the past, tension and misunderstandings too often marred relations between Catholic health care and labor. In an effort to look at that and move beyond it, the participants in the dialogue sought to find alternatives that would structure and guide a positive process with the good of the worker as the centerpiece.
This group of leaders, representing all the principal entities involved, affirmed two key values: (1) the central role of workers themselves in making choices about representation and (2)the principle of mutual agreement between employers and unions on the means and methods to assure that workers could make their choices freely and fairly. The document calls for civil dialogue between unions and employers focusing on how the workers’ right to decide will be respected. The heart of this consensus is that it is up to workers—not bishops, hospital managers,or union leaders—to decide “through a fair process” whether or not to be represented by a union and if so, which union.
It is our hope that this voluntary guidance and process agreement willprove to be a significant help for greater respect for workers on behalf of all interested parties now and in the future.
Other Issues in Health Care Reform
This Labor Day comes as our nation is engaged in a wider debate on reform of the healthcare system. As Congress discusses various proposals, the USCCB is committed to bring to this challenging issue the principles of Catholic social teaching as important truths that have the capacity to analyze and measure each serious proposal brought forward. The Catholic bishops continue to work for health care that is accessible, affordable, and respects the life and dignity ofevery human being from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. To cite Pope Benedict, “A society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as thedignity of the human person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to thecontrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued andviolated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.” (#15)
Health care is an essential good for every human person. In a society like ours, no one should lack access to decent health care. Perhaps no other topic has engaged such a large number of citizens or produced such a wide range of opinions and points of view. This can help us avoid the pitfalls that occur when legislation passes without enough dialogue and reflection. I urge you to join the bishops in advocating for health care reform that is truly universal and protects human life at every stage of development. We must remain resolute in urging the federal government to continue its essential and longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding and abortion mandates.
Our government and laws must also retain explicit protection for the freedom of conscience ofhealth care workers and health care institutions. For more on USCCB advocacy on health care reform see our website, http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/.
Somewhat different but still a matter of basic human dignity is the challenge ofimmigration reform. This too has a part in the current health care debates. As a nation we have to be concerned about the integrity and safety of our borders. But that cannot overwhelm issues of respect for the dignity of immigrants who come to our country for so many varying political and economic reasons. We are a nation of laws. We as a people respect the laws of our country and state and local municipality. New peoples also are expected to do the same as good citizens or as good people desirous of becoming citizens. Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes, contribute tosocial security, and are valuable members of our society.
Yet too often these same immigrants, including legal immigrants, are denied access to health care services. This should not happen in asociety that respects the rights and dignity of every person. For all these reasons our immigration law and related laws must guarantee fair treatment to the millions of immigrants in our countrywho contribute to our economy and the common good. This is not an issue of “us” and “them.”
They, the new peoples among us, are an integral part of the “us” that constitutes the greatdiversity that is our nation. In that context, we bishops are convinced that it is imperative that legal immigrants be included in any fair and just health care legislation that seeks to offer adequate care that is universal and advances the common good of all in our country. An adequate safety net should remain in place for those who still remain without health care coverage. (Formore information on the bishops’ efforts on immigration see:http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/)
As we seek to rebuild our economy, produce a better health care system, and improve theimmigration system, we are presented with unique opportunities to advance the common good.
Pope Benedict’s new encyclical insists that the ethical dimensions of economic life begin withprotecting the life and dignity of all, respect for work and the rights of workers, and a genuinecommitment to the common good. As the Holy Father points out: “it is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only reallyand effectively pursue their good within it. To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity.” (emphasis in the original, #7)
On this Labor Day, let us remember those without work and without hope. Too often in our public discourse anger trumps wisdom, myth outweighs fact, and slogans replace solutions.We can work together and rebuild our economy on the moral principles and ethical valuesoutlined by Pope Benedict in his new encyclical. This Labor Day, we should take a moment topray for all workers and all those without work. We should also ask God’s help in living out theChurch’s call to defend human life and dignity, to protect workers and their rights, and to standwith the poor and vulnerable in difficult economic times. In his new encyclical, Pope Benedict challenges and reassures us: “As we contemplate the vast amount of work to be done, we aresustained by our faith that God is present alongside those who come together in his name to work for justice.” (#78)
May God bless you this Labor Day and may God watch over and bless those who are committed to the care and protection of all the members of our nation who share the Americandream of “liberty and justice for all.”