As someone who taught in Catholic schools, which Washington Post writer EJ Dionne attended, I applaud him for knowing sister is usually right. I can even excuse him for mistakenly accepting as true what a few dozen nuns said in a letter that was sent to Congress by Network, a nun social justice group.
Dionne made his case in a March 18 column titled “Listen to the Nuns” in the Washington Post. However, the signers he listened to were flat out wrong in many instances.
For example, they falsely said “we represent 59,000 Catholic sisters in the United States.” There were 55 names or groups listed as signers to the letter, with one, Sister Marlene Weisenback, signing twice (Does she have Chicago roots?). Sister Weisenbeck leads both the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) as well as her own community and signed for both. However, there are 793 groups of sisters in the USA, so there is no way that the 54/55 signers represent all the American nuns.
There are also religious order procedures to consider. Many of the endorsers signed on as individual teams -- that’s nunspeak for saying they represent only themselves, not their membership. It’s a way of keeping all heck from breaking out in the convent where opposition to abortion is stronger than what Network says (or doesn’t say, since it won’t take a position and avoids the issue).
There is also confusion by those who might equate Network with the LCWR. Network is a social justice lobby. In no way shape or form does it represent 59,000 nuns. Even LCWR, the organization of major superiors of hundreds of religious orders, can no longer claim to represent that many, since a percentage of U.S. orders belong to the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR). (With a hedge-your-bets style, some mother superiors belong to both. You can never be too careful!)
The Network letter also erroneously declares that the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. That would be true if the Senate version included Hyde Amendment language, but the Senate has refused to add this language. Maybe it’s pride. The Hyde Amendment came from the House of Representatives, the hoi polloi section of Congress. It’s hard to figure out why else the Senate would balk at language that has been satisfactory to the people since it was first passed in 1976. When applied, the Hyde Amendment says federal money cannot be used for elective abortion or programs that provide them.
EJ Dionne is a great guy. I know him personally and professionally. As a good Catholic school fellow has reason to trust the teachers who gave him his educational start. They were right when they taught him that two plus two equals four, so when they said 55 translated to 59,000 he believed them. That the nuns also tried to mislead the entire US Congress similarly is an embarrassment. But such may be political warfare where, as is said, the first casualty is truth.
EJ used Network’s letter to set the nuns against the bishops. That’s unfair. The bishops want health care that preserves the status quo in abortion funding, which means does not include expansion of abortion. The Senate seems to have dug in its heels and refuses to write in language from the Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976), which says that no health care funds can be used for elective abortions or programs that provide them. That’s what the House did in its version of the health care reform legislation.
The media are having a good time with the nuns vs. bishops story. AP has called. CNN wants a Friday afternoon debate. CBS radio Boston has been on the phone. And Catholics in the pew want to know just what is going on.
All because of a letter from a group misrepresenting itself and the facts. Meanwhile the real problems with the Senate health care reform – unfair treatment of immigrants and threats to the child in the womb – get ignored.