Thursday, October 10, 2013
Time to Listen to the Bishops On The Shutdown
By Sister Mary Ann Walsh
As the government shutdown continues, it may be time to listen to another body – the U.S. bishops. Recent statements from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offer significant points worth considering.
They are neither Democratic nor Republican positions. They are simply principled.
Consider, for example, an October 1 letter from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, Chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, chair of the Committee on Domestic Policy and Human Development, and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace. The letter urged Congress to fulfill the role of government and meet the basic needs of people. The bishops told Congress that they “welcomed earlier bipartisan action which averted a federal government shutdown and the hardship that would have come with failure to reach agreement."
They added that "The Catholic bishops of the United States stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a budget that reduces future unsustainable deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, advances the common good, and promotes human life and dignity."
The bishops noted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says it is the proper role of government to "make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life," including food, clothing, heath care, education and culture.
The Church is a voice for the poor. It’s often the only lobby for people in desperate need. In that regard, the church has argued for universal health care for about a century.
The church has also asked Congress to protect rights of conscience as a part of the same legislative process. A September 26 letter from Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, called for respect for religious freedom. They did so as a January 1 deadline approaches for beginning to impose the HHS contraceptive/abortifacient mandate on many religious institutions that serve the needy. As the bishops’ October 1 letter pointed out, threats to conscience rights undermine access to needed health care by driving people of faith out of the system.
Some have falsely interpreted this as a call for the government shutdown or a default on our nation’s debts. The bishops have done nothing of the kind. The bishops have been urging Congress to enact legislation like the Health Care Conscience Rights Act for two and a half years. Since July 2012, the bishops have been asking that this protection be included in “must-pass” bills such as the appropriations bills funding the government, which have long been vehicles for a number of important federal policies on conscience rights.
The bishops offer principles that uphold rights for all people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Good government protects its citizens. When it shuts down, it protects no one; and when it runs, it must be sure to respect their fundamental rights. The bishops have emphasized all of these concerns together. In this way, they offer a voice of reason.