It shouldn't have been too surprising, in the wake of the confusion on health care following the special Senate election in Massachusetts (Will the House pass the Senate version? Will the Senate pass the House version? Is the legislation dead? Will President Obama tell Congress to hurry up and pass it now? Will he abandon the bills and pursue a bi-partisan path?), that among the first voices to speak out clearly on the issue were those of the U.S. Bishops.
In a January 26 letter to both houses of Congress from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Bishops William Murphy and John Wester, the bishops made clear where they stand on the issue. They urged Congress to return to the work of passing health care reform that would provide access for all, protect human life at all stages and preserve conscience rights.
What's striking about the message of this latest letter (despite how some of the media portrayed it) is that it’s the same message the bishops have been communicating to Congress in letter after letter since the start of this debate.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Catholic hierarchy is the one fixed point of reference amid a swirling political whirlwind. We are, after all, talking about an institution that endured the fall of the Roman Empire. The shifting of the balance of power in Washington by a single Senate seat isn't going to rattle people who look to eternity on a daily basis.
In fact, it just brings into sharper focus the commitment to health care reform held by the U.S. bishops for decades. Bishops wrote to President Harry S Truman urging him to pass health care reform. Eleven administrations and eight transitions of power later, the bishops still hold this position. It transcends politics and drills down past ideological divides to statements of basic principle.
That is, the bishops see their work as advocating for the common good. In the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI arguing against moral relativism, the bishops see numerous aspects of the health care debate -- including the need to reform health care -- as objective moral principles that serve the wellbeing of everyone.
It's in the common good that millions of uninsured Americans be covered.
It's in the common good that health care be affordable.
It's in the common good that health care reform respect life at every stage, and does not force people to pay for abortions through their tax dollars or premiums.
It's in the common good that health care reform respect people's consciences.
It's in the common good that immigrants should be able to purchase health care with their own money.
That is why the bishops have viewed, and continue to view, health care with such great urgency. It's a moral issue, one that should transcend politics for the greater good. That's what the bishops have always believed. If Congress now needs to step back and ask what’s really important in health care reform, what are the basics that are worth fighting for, the bishops want to offer some time-tested but up-to-date ideas on where to begin.