The American Catholic Church is fractured and splintering with a deep ideological divide separating the camps. This is not news. But what had been common knowledge in Church circles in private conversations is now in the headlines of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
This has come about because of the intense national debate about health care reform. The American Catholic bishops don’t like the bill (the Senate version) in its present form because it expands abortion coverage, does not cover immigrants, and does not offer enough conscience protections.
Recently, the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) both came out publicly in support of the Senate version of the bill. Some of their comments even went so far as to characterize the bishops’ stand, especially on abortion, as “false.” So now we have some nuns accusing the bishops of lying about abortion. Are you shocked? Don’t be because this has been going on for a long time.
For years, most of the leadership of the LCWR and the Catholic hospitals (most of which are owned by these very same LCWR leaders) have been advancing a view of Catholic social teaching that reflects a vision that they learned in the 60s and 70s – a tired feminism that distorts the role of women and has at its center the freedom of women to “choose” to kill the infants in their womb if they so desire.
This view rightly offers deep concern for justice for the poor and vulnerable, but like so many in this age-group, minimizes or trivializes the unborn. “Network,” the Washington, D.C. lobbying arm of the LCWR does not include pro-life legislation as part of its work. If it does at all, it distorts the term “pro-life” to be so ambiguous and far-reaching that it includes everything. Thus, the sisters can say with a straight face that the current health care legislation is “life-affirming.” They ignore or claim as “false” what the bishops and every pro-life institution in the country has recognized as a flawed bill that will advance abortion.
Some have said that the sisters are taking this position because they have deep economic interests because of their hospitals. I disagree. Their rationale is ideological. I believe that they truly believe in health care reform…so much so that they are willing to trivialize the abortion issue and throw in their lot with the Obama administration.
There is a value in having this private tension now public. Like an angry boil, it is better to break open than to keep festering and growing.
Fortunately, as pointed out by Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, Director of Media Relations for the USCCB, the group of sisters making these statements is relatively small in comparison to the number of sisters and communities of women religious in the U.S. Read Sister Walsh’s comments here: http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2010/03/and-then-there-were-nun.html.
The 103 other sister communities came out with a statement in alliance with the bishops: http://o.b5z.net/i/u/10060511/f/march_19.pdf.
Director, Office of Public Policy, Archdiocese of San Francisco