.- The Catholic bishopsâ conference has better policy expertise on the health care bill than any other Catholic organization, Richard Doerflinger has said. He warned about âreassuringâ claims that prevent âhonest and candid debateâ on abortion provisions that Congressmen have a moral responsibility to change.
Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said that the present Senate version of health care reform frees up âbillionsâ of dollars for abortion. It also creates a âstunningâ problem by forcing health plans that cover abortions to collect a separate monthly payment from enrollees to pay for othersâ abortions.
âThis actually bans conscientious exemptions. It makes the situation worse than it is now,â he continued.
His remarks came at a Friday press conference with several pro-life leaders. Multiple questions centered upon Catholic groups which support the legislation despite the well-known opposition of the USCCB.
CNA asked him about a letter endorsing the Senate bill which was wrongly reported to represent 59,000 religious sisters.
Doerflinger said many of the signatories, organized by the group NETWORK, were religious superiors who later clarified they didnât necessarily speak for all the sisters in their orders.
â59,000 is the total number of nuns in the US. Thereâs already another major organization, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which represents many orders, that has put out a statement defending what the bishops are doing on this bill.â
In long run, he continued, Catholics have to have âa lot of discussions in the Church about how to stand together on these things, rather than trying to neutralize each other. Especially when one organization in particular has the role of speaking for the moral voice of the Church in these matters.â
That organization, the USCCB, also has âpolicy expertiseâ about the acceptability of legislation to the Churchâs convictions in matters of life and justice. The Conference has focused on explaining the flaws of the Senate bill, documenting its case in order to show it is ânot just an interest group that has an opinion.â
âWeâve actually researched the facts. We know how bad it is. Thatâs something that no other Catholic organization really can do with the depth that weâve done.â
While Doerflinger did not mention Catholics United by name, the pro-Obama group has charged that the USCCB is opposing the Senate bill legislation despite âoverwhelming evidenceâ allegedly refuting its âmistaken beliefâ that the bill expands public financing of abortion.
Catholics United is also running advertisements that pressure Congressmen to vote for the Senate bill. Its campaign in a West Virginia district was criticized by the local diocese for âmisleadingâ and âconfusingâ Catholics.
At the Friday conference one questioner pressed Doerflinger about whether the Catholic bishops have capably informed Congress and other Catholic groups about the effects of the Senate bill.
âItâs not a matter of not communicating, itâs that there are things about the bill that people donât believe or donât want to believe. Unless theyâve been immersed in this policy work on abortion, they donât necessarily understand that the rules on abortion are different than almost any other thing."
Supporters of the legislation âsincerely and with some reason believe that itâs going to help a lot of people,â in Doerflingerâs view, and have not let themselves focus on the abortion aspects.
âThe USCCBâs focus is not to dismiss other concerns, but to say âyou cannot do this kind of evil on this kind of levelâ.â
In a prior question at the conference a reporter from CNSNews.com asked whether a member of Congress can morally vote for health care reform if the Senate billâs abortion provisions are not changed.
The USCCB official said it depends on the exact action of the Congressman. If he reviews the legislation, sees âall the ramificationsâ and concludes it will greatly expand funding for taking an innocent human life, that person should âmorally see it as his or her responsibility to demand change.â
âItâs wrong for public figures to deliberately and knowingly promote and provide funding for that kind of taking of life.â
In response to a question from Julia Duin of the Washington Times, Doerflinger acknowledged that there have been âconfusionâ and âvictims of confusionâ in the debate.
He noted that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had reassured some supporters that regulations were in place and that the Obama administration did not want to fund abortion.
That sounds âreally lovelyâ to someone without a policy background, but is âtotally irrelevantâ because federal statute trumps federal regulation, Doerflinger commented. Abortion has a court mandate âunless Congress stops it specifically.â
âThe Hyde Amendment doesnât cover this bill, so it is irrelevant. But you have to have a certain amount of background and training and experience in this to know that.
âSome people are just believing statements on their face that look reassuring, but are actually being used to prevent honest and candid debate.â
Though Catholics must deal with âfrayed nervesâ and divisions on policy, in Doerflingerâs view divisions on moral teaching werenât at the root of most of the differences in the present debate.
Tom McClusky, the senior vice president of the Family Research Council (FRC), who also addressed the press conference, was less conciliatory.
He charged that some advocates of the Senate health care bill were repeating 2008 election tactics to attract support from undecided Christians.
âAll they needed to do was plant the seeds of doubt and not worry about the facts so much, and attack those who disagree with them.
âRichard himself has been a victim of some of those attacks, and the USCCB certainly has been.â