Friday, November 13, 2009

What's What at the Bishops' Meeting

If you've been following the media lead-up to the fall 2009 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, you know that the bishops will be voting on several documents over the course of their November 16-19 gathering. You also know that it can be a chore to keep all of the information straight, as documents, their names, subject matter and purpose they serve can run together.

This post is an attempt to stave off any such confusion.

The (relatively) easy-to-remember items are the liturgy items. The bishops are voting on five separate pieces of the Roman Missal at this meeting. These are the final pieces of the puzzle, as it were, of the larger project of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which have been going up for votes by the bishops, piece by piece, for several years now.

These final pieces just happen to be the Proper of Saints (prayers for Masses in observance of saints' feast days), The Commons (prayers for Masses in observance of saints for whom there are no proper prayers), Roman Missal Supplement (containing some extra material added in the 2008 reprint of the Missale Romanum), U.S. Propers (prayers for Masses in observance of feast days of Saints for the dioceses of the United States, e.g., St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann), and the USA Adaptations (a number of adjustments and additions to the rubrics for use in the dioceses of the United States).

Once these are passed by the body of bishops, they go to Rome for recognitio, or approval, and then the implementation of the new translation will begin.

Another area that is getting some attention at this meeting, albeit in unrelated documents, is marriage. The the Pastoral Letter on Marriage: "Love and Life in the Divine Plan" goes up for a vote during the meeting and is an important part of the Bishops' National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, begun in 2004.

Another document that deals with marriage, but is actually a Pro-Life Committee document is "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology." This is a document on reproductive technologies (in vitro, surrogacy, egg and sperm donation, etc.) that is something of an echo of the 2008 Vatican document, Dignitas Personae.

Also taking into account recent Catholic teaching is the proposed revision of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The directives in question concern medically-assisted nutrition and hydration. The current passages on this issue speak cite on documents from state Catholic conferences, individual bishops, and the bishops' Pro-Life Committee. Since those directives were published, however, both a 2004 speech from Pope John Paul II and a 2007 document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed this issue much more definitively and stating more strongly the obligation to provide medically assisted nutrition and hydration even to someone in a persistent vegitative state.

Also on the bishops' agenda is a report on vocations and another on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse.

In one final, but significant bit of voting, the bishops will also elect the chairs-elect of five of their committees. Chairs-elect serve in a sort of apprentice role for one year after their election before taking over as chairman of their respective committees the following November. Bishops serve for three years as chairs.

Of course, all the agendas, rubrics and plans in the world can't predict what will actually be said and done at the bishops' meeting, so everyone is encouraged to follow the meeting on television, on the Web, including Facebook and Twitter, and of course in the reports in various media outlets as they appear.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Obama Should Value Stupak Amendment

You would think Roe v. Wade itself had been overturned from the cry that's gone up from pro-abortion advocates in the wake of the passage of the House health care bill with the Stupak (-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith) Amendment included.

Leaders of Planned Parenthood, members of Congress and others have made the rounds on cable news and even the floor of the House, decrying the Amendment with such claims as that of Rep. Nita Lowey, who asserted that the language of the Stupak Amendment "puts new restrictions on women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market even when they would pay premiums with their own money." This claim has been rejected as false by

In the midst of this hysteria, National Public Radio (NPR) has done a fair job of breaking down the language of the Stupak Amendment. The quote from Rep. Stupak in the story underscores an essential point about the Stupak Amendment, that it's merely an application of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion and has been attached to appropriations bills since 1976. One question the NPR summary doesn't answer is whether or not the Hyde Amendment also forbids funding entire benefits packages that include abortion. The answer is yes.

In this case, the provisions of the Stupak Amendment are very much in continuity with federal law as it stands now and has stood for decades. It isn't some case of overreaching on the part of pro-lifers, as its opponents are now depicting it.

One voice that has joined the fray of speaking against the Stupak Amendment in the House bill is President Obama himself. The President, as is his style, took a cooler approach, as quoted here from the Washington Post:

"I laid out a very simple principle, which is this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill," Obama said. "And we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions. And I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made in that same speech was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change." He added: "There are strong feelings on both sides, and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."
ABC News also quotes the President as saying he's confident the final legislation will ensure that "neither side feels that it's being betrayed."

It's striking that this language is President Obama's argument against the Stupak Amendment. He reiterates here what you could call his pledge from his September 9 address to Congress on health care, that federal funds would not go to abortions, a pledge that the U.S. bishops held Congress to over the course of the health care bill's passage.

A major portion of the struggle over the legislation was that the Capps Amendment, the earlier abortion amendment in the House bill, was essentially what President Obama describes above, a "way of sneaking in funding for abortions." The Stupak Amendment rectifies this.

The President also cites his pledge that "if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change." As the NPR breakdown explains, the Stupak Amendment "does not apply to private insurance bought with private money." So anyone who currently has a private plan with abortion coverage is going to be able to keep her plan with abortion coverage under the House bill and Stupak.

It seems President Obama simply doesn't appreciate how well the Stupak Amendment meets the goals he's put in place for this legislation.

The President's quote about "this is a health care bill, not an abortion bill" really drives this point home. Health care reform simply isn't the appropriate forum for advancing one's agenda on abortion. The President and the opponents of the Stupak Amendment would quickly use this same argument against the current bill, but the argument falls apart once it's made clear that Stupak merely preserves the status quo. It's the opponents of the Stupak Amendment who, whether they realize it or not, are saying, "We're reforming health care -- while we're at it, let's change long-standing laws so we can finally federally fund abortion."

The President suggests that the "strong feelings" surrounding the current bill mean that it somehow alters the status quo. A more accurate reading would be that current outcry means that proponents of abortion weren't ready to support a bill that reformed health care without expansion of abortion funding.

More interesting, and more challenging, is Obama's assertion that the final bill won't leave anyone feeling "betrayed." Once again, the Stupak Amendment gives him exactly what he asks for, whether he realizes it or not. If one side of the debate wants all women to continue to have access to and coverage for abortions and the other side wants to ensure that federal funds continue to be kept from abortions and abortion coverage, the Stupak Amendment covers both of these bases.

Already Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to Politico, is willing to work with both sides to find a compromise on abortion. Referring to the Hyde Amendment, he asserts, "The one thing we are certain to do is to maintain what we have had in the past."

Like President Obama, Senator Reid needs to look no farther than the Stupak Amendment.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We need Tim Russert for health care reform. Russert could cut through bureaucratic nonsense. On the show he simplified complex matters and defended everyone’s right to speak. I’m sure he would be fascinated by the efforts of Representatives Stupak (Michigan), Ellsworth and others to get their amendment to the floor to clear up the abortion morass in the health care reform bill. The issue? A House rule that could close the bill to amendments. The reason for invoking the rule: the amendment would likely pass.

The health care reform bill as it is without the amendment would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate unlimited provision of federally funded abortion coverage in the "public option" (government-run health plan that will compete with private plans nationwide). And it allows federal funds to subsidize private health plans that cover unlimited abortion. The Stupak-Ellsworth amendment, in line with the Hyde amendment and similar language in other federal programs (e.g., federal employees health benefits program), prevents both these results.

The amendment would write into the health reform bill language that says health care reform money cannot be used for elective abortions, much as the Hyde Amendment has done for federal money from the Health and Human Services/Labor appropriations bill. Some politicians say such an amendment is not needed because the Hyde Amendment already exists. Others say it is needed and point out the contradictions between the proposed legislation and the Hyde Amendment. The simplest way to settle the matter is to write in language that says health reform legislation cannot be used for elective abortions, which is what the Stupak-Ellsworth Amendment proposes.

I think of Russert now because he objected 17 years ago when Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania was prevented from speaking at the 1992 Democratic Party convention because of his pro-life views. Russert challenged the fairness of that on Meet the Press shortly afterwards. I asked Russert what the reaction had been to his challenge.

“They ‘outed’ me,” he said. Those who would silence Governor Casey dismissed Russert’s argument saying, “Well, you know, he’s Catholic.” The implication annoyed Russert, who was a lawyer as well as journalist, because it suggested that he couldn’t defend Casey’s right to speak simply on the merits that all Americans have freedom of speech or that it denied that Russert might be pro-life from a basic moral conviction transcending any religious denomination.
People do not want to pay for other people’s abortions so accepting the Stupak-Ellsworth Amendment seems like a no-brainer politically. That is unless leaders have been made tone-deaf by the clamoring of those who want expanded abortion even at the cost of a much needed reform of health care, something the U.S. bishops have been working towards for decades, back at least to the days of President Harry Truman.

It would be unfortunate if Stupak, Ellsworth and others cannot be heard. It would be a blow to our fundamental right to speak out, perhaps a blow only exceeded by the loss of the opportunity to reform health care because some insisted on clinging to a minority’s wish to expand abortion rights. What a loss for everyone.


WASHINGTON—The U.S. bishops November 7 urged members of the House of Representatives to vote for the Stupak-Ellsworth Amendment to the health care reform.

“The Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment will keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections in the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962),” they said.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development

The letter follows.

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge you to vote for the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment and to support a fair process in the House of Representatives to consider this essential improvement in health care reform legislation. The Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment will keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections in the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962).

Despite some claims to the contrary, H.R. 3962 does not reflect the status quo on abortion. It fails to explicitly and clearly include the longstanding policy prohibiting federal funding of elective abortion and plans which include elective abortion (Hyde Amendment). Medicaid, Medicare, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and other federal health legislation include this provision. Currently H.R. 3962 has some helpful provisions on conscience protection and non- preemption of state laws, but it utterly fails to maintain current prohibitions on abortion mandates and abortion funding. Instead it creates elaborate measures requiring people to pay for other people’s abortions with their taxes, private premiums or federal subsidies. Significantly, the Federal Employee Heath Benefit Program, which covers all members of Congress and their families, has long been governed by the Hyde amendment in all its aspects and is widely seen as a model for reform.

Additionally, H.R. 3962 allows the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate that the “public option” will include unlimited abortions. Millions of purchasers will be forced to pay an “abortion surcharge,” which requires purchasers of many plans to pay directly and explicitly for abortion coverage. This is unprecedented in federal law.
The Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts-Kaptur-Dahlkemper-Lipinski-Smith Amendment will not affect coverage of abortion in non-subsidized health plans, and will not bar anyone from purchasing a supplemental abortion policy with their own funds. Thus far, H.R. 3962 does not meet President Obama’s commitment of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws.
If the Motion to Recommit focuses on denying immigrants needed health care, as reported, we strongly urge Members to oppose the Motion to Recommit.
Our Bishops’ conference has been working for many years to support health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all. Adopting this amendment will help move us move toward this essential national priority and moral imperative.
Bishop William Murphy Cardinal Justin Rigali
Diocese of Rockville Centre Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Chairman Chairman
Committee on Domestic Justice and Committee on Pro-life Activities
Human Development

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Numbers Among the Bishops

It's that time of year again -- preparing the official U.S. bishops statistics, this time for the media's consumption at the 2009 Fall General Assembly (Nov. 16-19) in Baltimore.

Given the "circle of life" equilibrium that follows the usual trickle of new appointments, reassignments, promotions, retirements and deaths, these numbers don't really fluctuate that much. But they did it enough to matter. And they've done it recently.

To review, there are currently 429 active and retired bishops in the United States.

Of these 258 are active bishops:
-- 5 Cardinal Archbishops
-- 29 Archbishops
-- 1 Coadjutor Archbishop
-- 153 Diocesan Bishops
-- 70 Auxiliary Bishops

And 171 are retired bishops:
-- 8 retired Cardinal Archbishops
-- 19 retired Archbishops
-- 94 retired Diocesan Bishops
-- 50 retired Auxiliary Bishops

The recent fluctuation in these figures has come almost entirely from the spate of bishops' appointments that have rolled out of Rome since early October.

To recap, on October 7, the pope accepted the retirement of Gaylord, Mich. Bishop Patrick Cooney and named Msgr. Bernard Hebda as his successor. This meant one new retired diocesan bishop, one new bishop overall and a net of zero in the number of active diocesan bishops.

On October 15, the pope named three brand new bishops, sending one to the vacant Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, a second to replace retired Bishop Arthur Tafoya in Pueblo, Colorado, and a third to be auxiliary of Providence, Rhode Island. The end was result was one more retired bishop, one new auxiliary bishop, a net of one new diocesan bishop, and -- as said before -- three new bishops overall.

On October 19, the pope named Indianapolis pastor Father Paul Etienne the new bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, which has been vacant for some time. This was a gain of one active diocesan bishop and one bishop overall.

On October 21, the pope accepted the retirement of Boston auxiliary Bishop Francis Irwin, meaning one less active auxiliary and one more retired auxiliary overall.

On October 28, the pope named Joliet pastor Father Joseph Siegel an auxiliary bishop of his diocese, bringing the number of active auxiliaries back up by one and the total number of bishops up by one.

With the dust settled somewhat, this means that in the month of October, the U.S. bishops gained a whopping six new members. The U.S. bishops also mourned the loss of retired Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli in October, meaning their total membership increased by five. Given the three retirements in October, it means their active membership went up by three.

Even though a number of these newly-appointees aren't even slated to be ordained bishops till after the new year, the prospect of six new bishops in just a month is an exciting sign of life in the U.S. Church.