Bookmark and Share
My Photo


    Opinions expressed on the Insight Scoop weblog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Ignatius Press. Links on this weblog to articles do not necessarily imply agreement by the author or by Ignatius Press with the contents of the articles. Links are provided to foster discussion of important issues. Readers should make their own evaluations of the contents of such articles.


« The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace | Main | "The anger is justifiable, but it is misdirected." »

Thursday, March 25, 2010



Does any disagreement whatsoever with the bishops constitute an affront to the teaching authority of the episcopate? Morlino writes:

...the Catholic Health Association — which calls itself “Catholic” and we had religious Sisters who call themselves Catholic, saying, “Sorry, bishops, you got it wrong, here is the teaching of the Church.”

But as far as I've understood they situation, they're not disagreeing with the bishops over the teaching of the Church... rather, they're disagreeing with the bishops over the legal effect of the bill. They may be correct or incorrect in doing this, but it hardly constitutes a rejection of the authority of the bishops!

I don't know what this is if not scare tactics. This isn't simply a response saying that the sisters were wrong about the bill... it accuses them of failing to recognize and respect the authority of the bishops.

Perhaps to look at it from another angle... what sort of statement made by a bishop does not constitute an authoritative teaching of the magisterium, if this one falls under such an authority? If a bishop decides to critique the math of a CBO report on the healthcare bill, does this constitute Church teaching? If a bishop says that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, does this constitute Church teaching?

We're quickly entering into some pretty absurd territory here. And the meaning of a conscience clause, or a designation of funding, is no different than the accuracy of a CBO report or the constitutionality of a mandate. Just because funding or exemptions concern abortion does not mean that the interpretation of their reference in civil law shares the status of abortion as a matter of Catholic teaching.



I'm hesitant to to stray into what may or may be under the authority of the bishops; however, I do know catholic doctrine. As catholic, any time we support abortion, through action or omission, we excomunicate ourself. The term is excomunicata la sensa, by the act. When we fail to oppose a law that in any way aides an abortion, we have violated the very precepts of our faith. By definition, a catholic cannot be pro-choice. Our bishop are there to help us identify those situations which could impact our faith. If the council of bishop agree that a law should be oppose because of it's ethical issues, a member a the religious (nun, monk, or brother) does not have the authority today they wrong. By our faith, every law that provides funding to, exemption for, or assistance to abortion must be opposed.


"By our faith, every law that provides funding to, exemption for, or assistance to abortion must be opposed."

Exactly, but isn't this precisely what's in question... whether or not the current bill fits such a situation? Surely bishops are "there to help us identify those situations which could impact our faith", but does this therefore fall under the purview of their authority concerning the actual teachings of the faith? Morlino's argument in this article is that CHA and the Network of failed to recognize the authority of the bishops concerning Catholic doctrine, when in fact the situation is one of CHA and the Network disagreeing with the bishops over whether a point of civil law is in fact saying what the bishops think it is. But the bishop's teaching charism (which concerns matters of the faith) is not in question, and to say that it is seems to be a twisting of the situation in order to squelch disagreement through an over-assertion of the terms of episcopal teaching authority.

And again, I'm not saying that CHA or the Network are correct in their argument (although I tend to think that they are). But even if they are wrong about the healthcare bill, they are simply in error concerning a matter of civil law, and not concerning Church teaching as established authoritatively by the hierarchy.


Additionally, Evan, the meaning of a conscience clause, a designation of funding, the accuracy of a CBO report, and the constitutionality of a mandate are each fundamentally different from one another. While the accuracy of a CBO report and the constitutionality of a mandate probably aren't with a bishop's expertise or perhaps authority, they are both procuderal part to legislation and, mostly, don't have a ethical impact. A conscience clause is nothing but ethical impact. And, any designation of funding has a direct impact on ethical issues. Since these two have a direct impact on particular ethical situations within any bill, it leaves the ethics in question up for questioning. It is not only the bishops right to address the ethical impact of such laws, it's is their role within in the church. It is a role reserved to them.


Perhaps I'm simply wrong on this, I'd love to hear others chime in... but I'm not questioning that these aspects of the bill have (or could have) a clear ethical impact, or that the bishops should be speaking to these matters. My concern is that the interpretation of civil law is now being subsumed under the "Church teaching" over which bishops have a special authority. You slide quickly from whether something is a "procedural part of legislation" or "has an ethical impact", as if this is an either/or, and as if the interpretation of legislation which has "ethical impact" is therefore an ethical question rather than, at base, a legal question with ethical implications. I don't doubt that the bishops have a reserved authority concerning the moral question of abortion... but nor do the sisters doubt this, from what I gather. Their statement urges Catholics not to fear, and to move forward with needed reform. It does not presume to question Church teaching on abortion, but rather the opinions of certain bishops on U.S. law. Furthermore, it highlights other aspects of the bill that have a clear "ethical impact", and that will work towards reducing abortions. The bishops have been much less interested in commenting on these other parts of the bill's reform measures, even though you claim that "any designation of funding has a direct impact on ethical issues."

Brian J. Schuettler

"Speaker Pelosi is not called by Jesus Christ to lead the Catholic faithful..." I don't think she was called by God to be Speaker either...I believe she was called by God to be a Catholic obedient to the Magisterium.

Previous generations have fought the same battle, and won. Liberty & Freedom are not a place to visit, or a thing to be achieved. Liberty & Freedom are a commitment, a way of life, that will endure only as long as men love it for themselves and their children, more than their weariness, or their fear, or false gods and vain comforts.

"Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the Bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst yourselves, and when you lost, you charged it to the Bank... Beyond question this great and powerful institution has been actively engaged in attempting to influence the elections of the public officers by means of its money...

You tell me that if I take the deposits from the Bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin. Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin. You are a den of vipers and thieves. I intend to rout you out, and by the grace of the Eternal God, I will rout you out."

Andrew Jackson on The Second Bank of the United States which was the Central Bank of his day

I would say that there is less risk to the US sovereign debt than there is to the US Constitution.

Carl E. Olson

Evan: Your question is a very good and fair one, and I've reflected on it a bit over the past couple of days. It's a tricky situation, and I don't say that glibly or as a means of deflection. It really is tricky, in the sense that it is undeniably the case that bishops, especially individual bishops, but even the USCCB or the bishops worldwide, do not possess, generally speaking, a unique authority when it comes to making prudential judgments about political policies, economic issues, scientific theories, and so forth. The "tricky" part is when those various areas intersect, intertwine, or apparently conflict with matters of faith and morals. Jeff Miller (aka, "The Curt Jester"), made some good remarks about Bp. Morlino's letter:

While I agree with quite a lot of what the good bishop is saying, I think the issue is not as clear as he makes out. Can a faithful Catholic in good conscience disagree with a statement by the Bishop’s Conference on legislations for good reason. I would say the answer is yes. When the bishops in union with the Pope teach on something such as abortion, contraception, etc then certainly they are acting in their capacity as the official teachers of the faith. When a Bishops Conference talks about the prudence of a piece of legislations, it is usually another matter. The prudential question in this case was whether or not this bill funded abortion – I certainly thought the evidence was quite strong that in fact it did. The bishops in this case had advisors and other help to make a very informed decision on this and so were well capable to give solid prudential advice on this matter that should have been accepted. Though I still think it was possible for someone to weigh all the evidence and come to another conclusion without sinning. I certainly don’t think this is what the CHA and the LCWR did – they were never really bothered by the possibility of Federally funded abortions and let socialized medicine trump any possibility of them being wrong. Ideology came before really looking at the bill and seeing this as a real possibility. No doubt in the future on the issue of immigration the Bishops will support a bill that includes amnesty. If so than many progressive Catholics will be demanding that other Catholics follow the bishops in this regard. As regards immigration there are certainly many prudential questions that Catholics may disagree on and other areas where they may not disagree. I bring this up because I think the bishops versus sisters meme has gone a bit far without the necessary caveats.

The March 15th letter by Cardinal Francis George indicated that he and the USCCB had made its own series of prudential judgments about the legislation, and had concluded it was seriously flawed--to the point that it, in their judgment, quite clearly would provide funding/support for abortions. Here is a key part of the text:

This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.

What is tragic about this turn of events is that it needn’t have happened. The status quo that has served our national consensus and respected the consciences of all with regard to abortion is the Hyde amendment. The House courageously included an amendment applying the Hyde policy to its Health Care bill passed in November. Its absence in the Senate bill and the resulting impasse are not an accident. Those in the Senate who wanted to purge the Hyde amendment from this national legislation are obstructing the reform of health care.

This is not quibbling over technicalities. The deliberate omission in the Senate Bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way to meet the President’s and our concern to provide health care for those millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor. As Pope Benedict told Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel H. Diaz when he presented his credentials as the United States government’s representative to the Holy See, there is “an indissoluble bond between an ethic of life and every other aspect of social ethics.”

Like the Cardinal and Cardinal George, I also believe the legislation will result in funding for abortion. But to what degree is this a matter of prudential judgment that falls outside of the clear realm of Catholic moral doctrine? It is, I think, rather tough to say. But my impression is that George, based on a variety of factors, has good reason to expect the Obama administration to be as pro-abortion in its legislative pursuits as possible. The bishops have been burned enough times by politicians (not to mention having allowed themselves to be used by various pols); it is rather heartening, in my opinion, that they are being rather chippy about it all. It is quite obvious that Cardinal George, Bishop Morlino, and other bishops are tired of groups using the name "Catholic" acting as a sort of counter-authority (especially in the press) when it comes to these loaded and sensitive issues. In the past, this impatience has largely been aimed as "traditional" or "right-wing" Catholics (I'm using the usual terms, however much I dislike them); it is now increasingly being aimed as "progressive" or "left-wing" Catholics.

In the end, I don't have a good answer for you. But this is one reason I think the bishops shouldn't have placed all of their eggs in the anti-abortion basket when it came to expressing concerns about the healthcare legislation. There are a lot of good questions that can be raised about it, and they could be raised in varying degrees of intensity or concrete assertion; that is, the USCCB and individual bishops could raise the questions and frame the debate in relation to authentic Catholic social teaching without making absolute judgments about every issue or question. Some bishops did do that, but I don't know that the USCCB did a very good job in that regard.

Brian J. Schuettler

By choosing the letter as their response and "playing all their cards", if you will, the Bishops were out-manouvered by Obama. Regardless of how you feel about him as president and what his agenda may be, his use of the executive order to pull in people like Stupak was a brilliant tactic. Legislative language cannot be trumped by the order but Obama "appears" to have addressed the abortion funding concern. You have to give this battle to him and regroup.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Ignatius Insight


Ignatius Press

Catholic World Report


Blogs & Sites We Like

June 2018

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad