The Catholic bishops’ conference has better policy expertise on the health care bill than any other Catholic organization, Richard Doerflinger has said. He warned about “reassuring” claims that prevent “honest and candid debate” 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 “billions” of dollars for abortion. It also creates a “stunning” problem by forcing health plans that cover abortions to collect a separate monthly payment from enrollees to pay for others’ abortions.
“This actually bans conscientious exemptions. It makes the situation worse than it is now,” 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 didn’t necessarily speak for all the sisters in their orders.
“59,000 is the total number of nuns in the US. There’s 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.”
In long run, he continued, Catholics have to have “a 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.”
That organization, the USCCB, also has “policy expertise” about the acceptability of legislation to the Church’s 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 “not just an interest group that has an opinion.”
“We’ve actually researched the facts. We know how bad it is. That’s something that no other Catholic organization really can do with the depth that we’ve done.”
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 “overwhelming evidence” allegedly refuting its “mistaken belief” 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 “misleading” and “confusing” 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.
“It’s not a matter of not communicating, it’s that there are things about the bill that people don’t believe or don’t want to believe. Unless they’ve been immersed in this policy work on abortion, they don’t necessarily understand that the rules on abortion are different than almost any other thing."
Supporters of the legislation “sincerely and with some reason believe that it’s going to help a lot of people,” in Doerflinger’s view, and have not let themselves focus on the abortion aspects.
“The USCCB’s focus is not to dismiss other concerns, but to say ‘you cannot do this kind of evil on this kind of level’.”
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 bill’s abortion provisions are not changed.
The USCCB official said it depends on the exact action of the Congressman. If he reviews the legislation, sees “all the ramifications” and concludes it will greatly expand funding for taking an innocent human life, that person should “morally see it as his or her responsibility to demand change.”
“It’s wrong for public figures to deliberately and knowingly promote and provide funding for that kind of taking of life.”
In response to a question from Julia Duin of the Washington Times, Doerflinger acknowledged that there have been “confusion” and “victims of confusion” 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 “really lovely” to someone without a policy background, but is “totally irrelevant” because federal statute trumps federal regulation, Doerflinger commented. Abortion has a court mandate “unless Congress stops it specifically.”
“The Hyde Amendment doesn’t 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.
“Some people are just believing statements on their face that look reassuring, but are actually being used to prevent honest and candid debate.”
Though Catholics must deal with “frayed nerves” and divisions on policy, in Doerflinger’s view divisions on moral teaching weren’t 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.
“All 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.
“Richard himself has been a victim of some of those attacks, and the USCCB certainly has been.”