I was Catholic, but only by circumstance, and that was a very long time ago. I didn’t so much leave the Catholic Church as I lost interest in all churches and in organized religion, generally. But it should be said that my experience growing up in the stultifying, boring Church didn’t exactly awaken whatever religious feeling I might otherwise have had. And my family was very low-key about it: No Catholic school, limited instruction in doctrine, little evidence of it at home. We went to Church most Sundays, unless there were swim meets in the way. But that’s about it.
For me, then, leaving the Church was easy and not even so much the product of a conscious decision. It’s more like I would have needed to decide to be a Catholic, rather than not to.
Yet growing up around all of that ritual and history had some effect on me, notably that I follow and in some way care about what the Church is doing more than I otherwise would. Most of the time, I’m either amazed or appalled (or both), but then there are the occasions when the socially progressive, charitably inclined part of what the Church is supposed to champion reminds me that it’s not all one-way traffic to Hell (to use one of their favorite scare words, among many).
Lately, the Church has been in the news and mostly for terrible reasons. The unfolding horror of the sex scandals in Ireland and Germany,1 which have — let’s face it — implicated His Holiness [sic] in the cover-up is just the most dramatic of the stuff coming through the wire. There’s also the benighted response by the Diocese in D.C. in response to marriage equality (ending health benefits to employees’ spouses, discontinuing their foster care program), and the expulsion of pre-schoolers from the Sacred Heart of Jesus (remember him?) because their parents were lesbians. Add to that the bishops’ opposition to the Senate health care reform bill on the ground that it doesn’t do enough to make abortion even more difficult to obtain, and I’m left to say: Enough already.
Just in time, other voices in the Church have come forward to call the bishops on their slick, “pro-life” (read: anti-life) rhetoric. The Catholic Health Association (CHA), which describes itself as “the nation’s largest group of not-for-profit health care sponsors, systems, and facilities,” has taken on the bishops’ abstract, disembodied, and disconnected opposition to the health care reform effort. Here’s why:
The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable. The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.
CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.
There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.
In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.
An association of nuns, representing 59,00o sisters, agrees and amplifies, from the point of view of those actually providing health services to the poor (compare the bishops):
We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.
The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children.
[T]his is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it….
Did this get Bark Stupak to rethink his position? What do you think? Perhaps because of unpleasant experiences with Catholic nuns in school (write your own joke), he blathered about getting his “pro-life” guidance not from them but from the bishops and organizations like Focus on the Family — the same group that has this advice for parents who find that spanking isn’t working: “The spanking may be too gentle. If it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t motivate a child to avoid the consequence next time. A slap with the hand on the bottom of a multidiapered thirty-month-old is not a deterrent to anything. Be sure the child gets the message….”
If health care reform doesn’t pass tomorrow, it will be because Stupak has been able to hold on to enough fellow slavish devotees of the simplistic pro-life legislators. They should listen to the people who actually deliver health care services. If they did, they might take a position that is actually pro-life; instead of “pro-life,” complete with ironic quotations.