In his opening address on Monday to the full assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Francis George, the president of the bishops' conference, insisted on the Church's right to speak on issues in the public debate, particularly health care reform. Remarking on the recent attempts to silence the bishops, he noted, “issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political.”
Cardinal George said that it is not the place of the bishops to speak to particular means of delivering health care, but that it is their responsibility “to insist as a moral voice concerned with human solidarity that everyone should be cared for and that no one should be deliberately killed.”
Demonstrating that the U.S. Bishops have long discussed this issue, Cardinal George quoted his predecessor Cardinal Bernadin, who stated in 1994 that concern for health care “requires us to stand up for both the unserved and the unborn, to insist on the inclusion of real universal coverage and the exclusion of abortion coverage, to support efforts to restrain rising health costs and to oppose the denial of needed care to the poor and vulnerable.”
Cardinal George went on to say that Americans are still participating in the same debate 15 years later, and that we are “most grateful for those in either political party who share these common moral concerns and govern our country in accordance with them.”
The USCCB president also commented on the presence and rights of the Church in the public square. In order for priests and bishops to be able to govern pastorally and effectively on issues such as health care, they need to be able to speak in “public without being co-opted and (be) who we are without being isolated,” he said.
“We approach every issue from the perspective of the natural moral law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” explained the cardinal, adding that “issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political.”
“To limit our teaching or governing to what the state is not interested in would be to betray both the constitution of our country and much more importantly, the Lord Himself,” he underscored.
Cardinal George also discussed Pope Benedict's “Year for Priests” and urged the faithful to reflect on the need for ordained priests both in the Church and society at large.
Ordained priests educate, govern and counsel people in the name of Christ, he said, adding that without them all of these tasks that they undertake would fall completely to the secular realm. Most importantly, Cardinal George noted, without ordained priests, the Church would be deprived of the Eucharist, making it a mere “spiritual association” or “faith community” but “not fully the body of Christ.”
The USCCB President concluded his remarks by saying, “Jesus Christ is the savior of the whole world, our public lives as well are our private lives of our business concerns and our recreational outlets of our families and our institutions of the living and of the dead, in His name and as bishops of his church we gather now to seek his will for ourselves our priests and our people, and with His authority we govern.”
Cardinal George received a standing ovation upon finishing his address.