A March 4 piece in Newsweek, When Bishops Play Politics: a New Generation Gets Righteous, by Lisa Miller, doesn't have too much to recommend it.
The article follows a predictable narrative, saying that the U.S. Catholic Bishops are meddling in the politics of health care reform. The article suggests that, because of their opposition to abortion funding, health care legislation in its entirety might fail.
This is problematic on several levels.
First there's the presumption that the bishops, who are after all private citizens, somehow shouldn't speak freely on civil matters, as if the First Amendment didn't extend to them. It's part of a pattern of thought recently described by USCCB President Cardinal Francis George as seeking to relegate religious values to the place of private devotion, with no place as a voice for good in the public square.
The article couples its criticism of the bishops' speaking out with the assertion that their voices don't represent anyone significant because 1. clergy sexual abuse et al has stripped them of their moral authority and 2. polls allege that a majority of U.S. Catholics don't even agree with the bishops on abortion.
As it attempts to undermine the bishops rather than engage them, the article ignores polls that show that the bishops are actually more in touch with the U.S. public on the issue of abortion funding in health care reform. As the bishops' Director of Media Relations, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, commented on the Web version of the story:
Polls show bishops are in touch with U.S. citizens. Few people want to pay for someone else's abortion. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey last November indicated 61 percent of the public opposes using public money for abortions; a Quinnipiac University poll in December found 72 percent of Americans oppose paying for abortions with their tax dollars under the health care bill in Congress.
The Hyde Amendment enacted in 1976 bans federal money from going for abortion or programs that provide them. The bishops want the same restriction in the health care reform legislation.
The article closes with the emotional appeal of how bad it will be for Americans who don't have health insurance if health care reform fails, casting the blame on the bishops and other pro-life figures who've decided to stand their ground.
Nevermind that the bishops have advocated for health care reform since the days of President Truman. It shows tremendous hubris on the part of people who insist that health care reform "isn't about abortion" while they demand expansion of abortion funding. It's as if it never occurred to them that this whole confrontation could be avoided, that health care reform could be saved, if they wouldn't insist on pushing the envelope on this one issue.
And it's not like it's any eleventh-hour surprise that the bishops oppose abortion funding in health care. Between the Church's teaching on abortion and the fact that the bishops have had a consistent message since this Congress first took up health care reform, the bishops have been trying to communicate their vision of health care reform that protects everyone -- including the unborn, the elderly, the immigrant, the poor -- all along.