.- Stressing that “there is very little time to act,” Bishop James Conley, the Auxiliary Bishop of Denver, told CNA in an exclusive interview on Monday that now is the time for President Obama to prove his critics wrong and show them that he really meant it when he said abortions would not be funded in the health care reform bill.
Bishop Conley added, “If we don't demand honesty from our public officials and responsiveness to the serious concerns of the Catholic community, nobody will do it for us -- and we, our beliefs and our institutions will be the losers.” The full interview between CNA and Bishop Conley follows.
CNA: The U.S. bishops are now calling on Catholics around the country to immediately contact their federal representatives and senators to demand changes in the health-care bill. Why the urgency?
Bishop Conley: There's very little time to act. Congress could try to push legislation to a vote within days. All of the five main proposals currently under congressional discussion as of today, November 2, are fatally flawed.
CNA: Why did the bishops wait so long to act?
Bishop Conley: It depends on what you mean by "wait." Keep in mind that the bishops have been urging health-care reform for decades. And they've been vigorously engaged, personally and through their staffs, with informing their people about the key issues involved in reform this year. They've also been active in trying to collaborate with Congress and the White House. The Church wants to work with the president and Congress in ensuring basic health care for everyone in our country. I think the bishops waited so long to turn to their people because they believed Congress would act responsibly. They believed the president would keep his word about excluding abortion and abortion funding from any plan he signs. That may still happen. But I wouldn't count on it... It's clear that not everyone we tried to work with in Washington was acting in good faith.
CNA: How could you summarize the USCCB's position on health care in general, and on the bills currently being discussed in Congress?
Bishop Conley: The Church regards basic health care for everyone as a right, not a privilege. That's the principle, and it applies especially to the poor, the unborn child, the immigrant and the elderly. Of course, those services can legitimately be delivered in many different ways. That's a matter for elected officials to resolve. That's their job. The Catholic preference in approaching social problems is always toward subsidiarity. In other words, problems should be handled by the people and resources closest to the problem, at the lowest possible level. Government can certainly play a role in helping to solve the problems, and at times government involvement may be the only way to ensure justice. But for Catholics, government action is never the first, or even the preferred way, of resolving a social problem.
Regarding the bills currently in Congress: The bishops have stressed all along that health-care reform needs to exclude abortion and its funding. It needs to provide strong conscience protections for medical professionals and institutions. Despite all the claims to the contrary, none of the bills currently facing Congress adequately addresses these needs.
Obviously, we also need a system we can pay for. It needs to be grounded in economic reality, and financially sound. That's also a moral issue, and every parent knows it from experience. We can't help anyone if we're insolvent.
CNA: President Obama, during his September 9 address to Congress on health care, promised that abortion would not be covered with federal tax dollars and that strong conscience protection would be included in his bill. Isn't this time for Catholics to address especially President Obama, as much as they should address Congress, to deliver on his promise?
Bishop Conley: I think many Catholics listened to the president back in September during his congressional address and were moved to believe in his good will, even if they hadn't voted for him. The president's critics have claimed all along that he tells people what they want to hear, then finds reasons to do something quite different. This is the moment when the president will prove his critics wrong -- or right. The president is the leader of his party, and his party controls both houses of Congress. It would use up very little of the White House's political capital to meet the health-care concerns of the Catholic community. If the effort isn't made by the White House to meet our concerns, then we'll know the difference between shrewd marketing and real commitment when it comes to public eloquence about the "common ground."
CNA: Some Catholics suggest that health care reform should be supported even without the conditions proposed by the USCCB, since the goal of universal health care is a greater good. What would you answer to that?
Bishop Conley: The health of a society is never served by allowing or funding the killing of innocent life, beginning with the unborn child. The common good is also never served by abusing the conscience rights and religious freedom of individuals and institutions. A good end never justifies morally compromised means. Good intentions are the first victims of bad choices, and that applies just as forcefully to public policy as it does to personal behavior.
CNA: What would be the "worst case scenario" on this crucial issue and what are the Bishops considering doing?
Bishop Conley: I think the bishops are doing everything they can do. The "worst case scenario" in the current health-care debate is faithful Catholic laypeople doing nothing, or underestimating the gravity of the problems in the pending federal health-care legislation. If we don't demand honesty from our public officials and responsiveness to the serious concerns of the Catholic community, nobody will do it for us -- and we, our beliefs and our institutions will be the losers.
Unless and until these very reasonable Catholic concerns are met, Catholics need to treat this legislation as dangerous and inadequate; work to defeat it; and failing that, press the president to veto it.