Thursday, January 28, 2010

Communications Will Help Haiti Heal

One of the keys to rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the devastating January 12 earthquake will be communications. Its purpose would be to meet the spiritual needs of the people. Here, Father Andrew Small, OMI, director of the National Collection for the Church in Latin America at the USCCCB, explains:

One of the immediate concerns is the terrible sense of loss that people experience. Securing the basics for survival includes the sense of security for yourself and your family as you painfully piece life back together. Haitians have been in a similar place before, only not on such a massive scale.

Along with this loss comes a sense of isolation. On the first Sunday after the earthquake, we saw images of people attending mass amid the ruins of their former churches. They pray like the psalmist amid desolation and despair, turning to God as their only hope. Many Church personnel perished in the quake, dozens of priests and seminarians as well as many tens of religious sisters. Those left to tend to the spiritual needs of the people are themselves deeply traumatized not least by the loss of their chief pastor, Archbishop Serge Miot.

Contact and communication is vital at this stage. Coming together in prayer is a natural instinct for believers. One of the most reliable ways for Catholics in Haiti to stay in contact with each other and to received on-going faith formation was the network of Catholic radio stations operating in each diocese. The most developed was the Catholic station in Port-au-Prince, Radio Soleil. The transmitter, antenna and other equipment lie buried beneath the rubble. The station manager escaped miraculously. The local Church knows this vital means of communication needs to be reestablished so that people can stay connected to their church. The Director, Fr. Jean, was pulled from the rubble and remains injured. He gets about on crutches. However, they have begun to operate out of a van in the Petionville district - still too afraid to begin broadcasting from inside a building.

Other religious groups are already broadcasting, so the need to reach out to Catholics is an urgent one.

CLA has supported this effective form of communication in Haiti, helping to fund a specialist who could train local operators and technicians. We will immediately find ways to seek equipment in the Dominican Republic and have it sent to Port-au-Prince as soon as possible.

This is one of the many immediate pastoral needs that CLA will continue to monitor and respond to in a timely and effective way using our long-established connections with the local church.

The Complexity of Health Care Reform

The United States can handle complexity. However, this health care crisis offers a challenge on many levels. When, for example, in the land of the free, can government make someone purchase health insurance? When is it safer to provide preventive care to all to avoid the spread of communicable diseases to some?

Politics adds to the complexity, if some seek to treat the health care debate as a tool to strengthen their political party and weaken another’s.
Size shuts us down if we fear the problem is so big as to overwhelm us. We need to get tens of millions more people into the health care system, but where are the doctors to treat them and the medical schools to produce these doctors?
Yet not complex is the fact that for the common good we need health care for all. It is a matter of morality.

That Americans can look beyond themselves has shown dramatically in recent days, as citizens donated tens of millions of dollars to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti. People reach out when they see others in need. Americans watching the news are proud as they view the floating hospital USNS Comfort treat the wounded and deliver babies off the coast of Haiti.

That same spirit of caring can surely be tapped within our borders, where the moral problem of tens of millions of uninsured people faces us. Time and again people respond to others in need, even if it involves personal sacrifice.
Leaders need to inspire the rest of us to take the long view, beyond the next election, to what is good for the nation overall.

The U.S. bishops point out that health care reform must be guided by a basic principle: to protect and enhance life for as many people as possible. The bishops list four criteria toward this end: Provide quality, affordable health care for all; respect life from conception to natural death; guarantee protection of conscience; and promote fair treatment for immigrants.
Current health care proposals in Congress have taken some good and some not so good steps in this regard.

It is not good to leave between 18 and 23 million people uninsured, as current bills do. If only five percent of them get seriously sick and/or have communicable diseases, we’re talking about 900,000 to 1.15 million people exposed to serious illness or death by their inability to access basic health care when they need it. Given that we’re our neighbors’ keepers, assuring that everyone has access to health care is a moral necessity.

What’s not good is using health care to expand abortion and undermine rights of conscience. The Hyde Amendment and similar provisions, governing all current federal health programs including the federal employees’ health benefits program, bans putting federal dollars into elective abortions or health plans that cover them. Only the House version of the health reform legislation continues this ban. Under the Senate plan, someone opposed to abortion could be forced to write a check to support abortions for others, even in a federally subsidized health plan. Neither the House nor Senate bill would protect a religious institution from being forced to provide or fund services anathema to its beliefs or being penalized for its moral stand.

What’s not good is telling taxpaying residents on the way to U.S. citizenship that they have to be in the country five years before they can benefit from the programs which they help support, while they await their swearing-in as citizens.
What is good is the proposal to help pregnant women have healthy babies.
What’s good is a ban on policies that keep people with pre-existing conditions out of the insurance pool.

What’s good is getting everyone into the insurance pool, including the young professionals who think they can’t ever have a medical emergency, such as a broken bone or cancer. They can be educated to see they need health insurance, just as they need auto insurance.

Americans have handled complexity before, be it the invasion of Normandy in the 40s, the virtual wiping out of polio in the 50s, the landing of a man on the moon in the 60s. Surely the same American ingenuity, self-sacrifice, and good will make it possible to work through the current health care crisis.

originally published on

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Constancy of the Bishops on Health Care

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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Austin, Check

Speculation was rampant following the January 18 appointment of W. Michael Mulvey as the new bishop of Corpus Christi that the vacant Diocese of Austin -- where Mulvey had been serving as administrator -- would also get a new bishop soon.

Looks like that thinking was correct. This morning, Pope Benedict appointed Galveston-Houston Auxiliary Bishop Joe Vasquez the new bishop of Austin.

This shrinks the number of U.S. dioceses without a bishop-ordinary in charge to five:

Ogdensburg, New York -- since April 2009
Springfield, Illinois -- since June 2009
Scranton, Pennsylvania -- since August 2009
La Crosse, Wisconsin -- since November 2009
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania -- also since November 2009

And only four U.S. dioceses have a bishop-ordinary serving past the retirement age of 75: Lafayette in Indiana, Seattle, Spokane and Oklahoma City. (Hat tip, David Cheney)

Once again, these relatively small numbers mean the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, who oversee bishops' appointments, are close to being caught up for now on U.S. appointments. No sitting bishop-ordinaries turn 75 until April, and while it's always possible that new vacancies will be created as other bishops are reappointed and moved from diocese to diocese, it's still exciting to see them make this kind of headway, especially when so many U.S. dioceses are blessed with talented new bishops as a result.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Papal Media Mandate

Pope Benedict XVI's message for the 44th World Communications Day, which was released over the weekend, finds the pope at his most brilliant, inspiring and dynamically attuned to the ever-shifting state of the world. Okay, maybe I'm just excited as someone who works in media and for the Church, but the message really is a must read. Even though it's geared toward priests, it makes some stunning assertions about the potential for the Church and social media.

The pope makes it clear the urgency and necessity for being online, where so many people spend their time, especially young people. He quotes from Corinthians, "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel," and we immediately know the sort of stakes he associating with this.

The pope makes repeated references to social media's capacity for dialogue, which suggests social media can be a tool for lovingly bridging division between people. This is an almost radical thought when one considers the seemingly bottomless capacity of the Internet to fuel toxic exchanges that quickly devolve into namecalling and questioning the other's integrity. The Church could be a tremendous leaven in such a setting. I say could largely because so much online discourse dealing with the Catholic Church is marred by this same toxicity and absence of charity.

To that end, the pope notes that its inadequate merely to be online. He notes that the Web and social media are replete with a wide array of voices and ideas and that the Church has a responsibility not only to be present where the people are, but to make a difference by proclaiming the Word in a living, dynamic way.

Again, Pope Benedict aims his message squarely at priests. Since this is the Year for Priests, this is apparently the most important communications-themes message he currently has for the presbyterate. Coming directly from the pope to priests, some in the media have interpreted this message as something of an order: You will go online. You will blog.

One can only imagine how Catholic life even at the parish level would change if every priest were on Facebook, maintaining a blog or otherwise pastorally present online. Forget the bulletin column. Also, in cases where priests are generationally muddled when it comes to social media, there would be the opportunity for the stereotypically younger, Web-savvy parishioners to provide "digital catechesis" to help their pastor honor the pope's wishes on this matter.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of priests -- and the Church as a whole -- embracing the world of digital media is that this is all just the beginning, the foundation. As technology continues to evolve, the already-present Church can grow with it and continue to improve in its role as a leaven.

As a side note, we're often reminded that we can do better, even when we think we're keeping up with the curve. For instance, our office was recently made aware of a post on the America Magazine blog by Jesuit Father James Martin (a priest making exemplary use of social media) in which he expressed his amazement that the USCCB Web site offers daily video reflections on the day's readings. Of course, we all knew that the Conference has been providing these reflections for years, but it was amazing to learn that we hadn't spread the word to where Martin and others would have heard of this great digital resource.

It all goes back to the need to embrace social media and embrace it well. I'd like to make some sort of illustration about the need for the parts of the Body of Christ to communicate with one another, but Pope Benedict still said it far better. Even though World Communications Day won't be observed until May 16, the pope has given us a vision worth pursuing right now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Church Couples Emergency and Rebuilding Efforts in Haiti

When catastrophe strikes, it helps to have people already on the ground who know the territory, can report on what the most pressing needs are and aid in delivering immediate help—often through back roads—to places where people are gathering. This is especially true in a country such as Haiti, where the magnitude of the earthquake coupled with the practically non-existent infrastructure have a multiplying effect on the number of victims, and relief workers have to overcome innumerable hurdles to deliver aid.

As in many places, the bonds of solidarity and communion that are so much part of the Church as body of Christ help us to connect in a real way with our brothers and sisters in desperate need.

The official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church is Catholic Relief Services (CRS). With over 300 people already on the ground when the earthquake struck, they’ve worked night and day to provide relief to Haitians, first from their local warehouses and via the Dominican Republic, and then helping with the effort of unloading a ship containing 1,500 metric tons of supplies from USAID Food for Peace and planning for a secure and orderly distribution. CRS is also assisting the critical distribution of medical supplies and personnel., Getting St. Francois de Sales hospital back and running, for example, which has been 70 percent destroyed, was no small achievement.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the United States have been generous. Throughout the week CRS has been able to raise $19 million of the $25 million it has committed for immediate relief and recovery in Haiti, an amount that is likely to grow in the coming weeks as recovery efforts begin taking shape.

In addition to giving generously to Catholic Relief Services, Catholics throughout the country were also asked over past weekend to donate to a special collection both for immediate relief through CRS and for help to the Church in Haiti. At times of such crisis, the ability of the Church to bring spiritual and pastoral help is as important as meeting immediate material and security needs. In a country as poor and as needy as Haiti, where about 80 percent of the population is Catholic, rebuilding the fabric of the Church in the country is probably going to be critical to the recovery effort of Haiti as a whole. Haitians already expect little— if anything—from government institutions and in their times of most desperate need often turn to the churches and religious institutions both for material and spiritual help. Aid to rebuild the Church structures and pastoral programs will go to the USCCB Subcommittee on Latin America, which has been assisting the Church in Latin America over forty years.

CRS President Ken Hackett summarized it well when he told CNN Jan. 13 that the fact that Haiti is a predominantly Catholic country " us a network of effective partners in the Catholic Church in their schools and their missions and their hospitals and their health centers, so that network in Port-au-Prince is what will be activated first."

The importance of these networks of parishes and religious communities should not be underestimated. Given the needs and the dire poverty in Haiti, numerous priests, religious communities and local parish groups over the years have practically turned into small entrepreneurs for human development.

Healing the wounds of the soul in addition to the physical ones in the aftermath of such devastation and loss of lives is also a daunting task. With their chief pastor, Archbishop Serge Miot, dead, almost a whole generation of seminarians wiped out, many priests, religious and catechists among the dead or unaccounted for, and Catholic schools, clinics, hospitals, churches and chapels brought to the ground—including the cathedral—who is going to shepherd the flock? Who is going to provide the sacraments and consolation to so many people in grief? Already, Haitian priests from the Archdiocese of Miami are flying relief teams to care for the sick and the displaced. Catholics around the globe, especially in the United States, are called to assist with the many pastoral needs of the Church in Haiti, a country that is 80 percent Catholic.

The Collection for the Church in Latin America, which includes the Caribbean region in its outreach, will be taken up in most dioceses the upcoming weekend of January 22-23. A large portion of the funds collected will be dedicated to Haiti. The USCCB is also accepting contributions directly for rebuilding the Church in Haiti. For information and updates in on how to donate and USCCB’s efforts to help Haiti, visit

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Administratively Speaking

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 18, brought with it a bishop's appointment, in this case, that of Msgr. W. Michael Mulvey as the new bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas. As with any bishop's appointments, this one brought with it its fair share of statistical breakdowns and fascinating factoids.

First, in terms of appointments nationwide, this appointment brought the total of dioceses awaiting a new bishop down to 10, that is, six vacant dioceses and four bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

For reference, U.S. dioceses with a bishop serving past age 75 are: Lafayette in Indiana, Seattle, Spokane and Oklahoma City.

Currently vacant (i.e. without a bishop) U.S. dioceses are: Springfield in Illinois, Scranton, Ogdensburg, La Crosse, Harrisburg and Austin. (Hat tip to David Cheney.)

An interesting aspect of yesterday's appointment was that Bishop-elect Mulvey was, in effect, already in charge of one of these vacant dioceses. He'd been serving as administrator of Austin since some time after its previous bishop, Gregory Aymond, was appointed archbishop of New Orleans last June.

This raises the important point that even "vacant" dioceses aren't truly vacant in that, if a bishop retires or is reassigned without an immediate successor being named, an administrator is named to temporarily oversee the diocese, but without the canonical rights and authority that a bishop possesses. (For instance, an administrator doesn't have the authority to ordain priests, etc.)

Administrators are also needed in the short term. When a pope accepts a bishop's retirement or appoints a new bishop, the appointment takes effect automatically. But in practice, a diocese usually has to wait several weeks to a few months for a newly-appointed bishop to be installed. An administrator must serve in the gap between the time of the announced retirement/appointment and the installation.

In many cases, that administrator turns out to be the newly-retired bishop, in effect, filling in for himself after he's retired. This was recently seen when Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend served as administrator of his diocese following the November 14 annoucement of his retirement/the appointment of his successor and the January 13 installation of that successor, Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

When an administrator isn't a retiring bishop, and serves an indefinite period of time till the appointment of a new bishop, the job is frequently given to a priest or auxiliary bishop of the vacant diocese. When the new bishop is appointed, this priest may quietly return to his previous work for the diocese, or he may find out that he is the new bishop, as was the case of David Choby of Nashville in 2005.

The twist with Bishop-elect Mulvey is that he was appointed bishop, not of his own diocese, but of Corpus Christi, whose bishop was serving past retirement age. This is one of a number of factors that can make following bishops' appointments nationwide sometimes feel like a carnival shell game.

Another scenario sometimes seen in diocesan administration is that the administrator of one vacant diocese is also the bishop of another diocese. For example, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia is also the administrator of the Diocese of Scranton until a new bishop is appointed.

The appointment of Bishop-elect Mulvey creates a similar scenario since, as Church scribe Rocco Palmo has pointed out, even as he becomes bishop of Corpus Christi, Mulvey will also remain administrator of Austin. Palmo implies that this means Austin will be getting a new bishop soon. As with any bishops' appointment, however, we won't know about this one way or another until the pope actually announces his pick.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Una fórmula ganadora: que los hospitales católicos se mantengan fieles a su identidad

(This is the Spanish version of the earlier post by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh on keeping Catholic hospitals true to their identity.)

Una amiga mía acaba de conseguir un trabajo en un hospital católico. Le encanta el trabajo y yo le escucho con deleite hablar sobre el programa de capacitación para empleados y la misión de proporcionar los mejores cuidados médicos en un ambiente católico.

Es recepcionista y los responsables del hospital saben que los valores de éste deben ser comunicados por todo el personal, desde la primera persona con la que se uno encuentra a los profesionales que tienen vidas entre sus manos.

Los valores que ponen de relieve que cada persona es sagrada, ya sea rica o pobre, esté llegando a la vida o saliendo de ella, son primordiales en los hospitales católicos y en estos momentos los obispos estadounidenses están trabajando duro para asegurarse de que estos valores todavía existan en la reforma de salud.

La red de salud católica abarca más de 600 centros; el costo de este ministerio es de aproximadamente 6.700 millones anualmente. Y sin embargo, aunque los hospitales católicos son una fuerza esencial, su singular naturaleza se podría ver amenazada si los proyectos de ley de reforma de la salud desestiman las preocupaciones de los obispos.

Los obispos de Estados Unidos no quieren una expansión del aborto y exhortan con insistencia a los legisladores para que las provisiones de la Enmienda Hyde se mantengan. La Enmienda Hyde, que se aprobó por vez primera en 1976, prohíbe el uso de fondos federales para pagar por abortos electivos o planes de de seguro médico que incluyen cobertura de los mismos. Esta es la política vigente en estos momentos para varios de los principales programas de salud federales. El principio subyacente es que la reforma de salud no debería forzar a nadie a pagar por los abortos de otros.

Los obispos también quieren protección de conciencia para individuos e instituciones. Entre otras cosas, les gustaría ver que el lenguaje de la Enmienda Weldon se incorpora a la reforma de salud.

La Enmienda Weldon, aprobada en 2004, prohíbe que los cuerpos gubernamentales discriminen en contra de hospitales y otros centros de salud que no practican, remiten a otros o pagan por abortos. Los centros de salud y sus empleados tienen derecho a proporcionar atención médica de acuerdo a un sistema de valores que respete cada vida humana. El lenguaje de la Enmienda Weldon está contemplado ahora en el proyecto de ley de la Cámara de Representantes y debe retenerse en la versión final de la legislación.

Como empleadores, los obispos no están obligados por ley federal a pagar por planes de salud que incluyen procedimientos tales como el aborto y la esterilización y ellos desean retener ese derecho. La Iglesia cree que éstos no son moralmente aceptables y que el obligarla como empleadora a pagar por ellos viola los derechos de la Iglesia. Se trata de un asunto de conciencia, de ser fieles a la propia identidad.

El cuidado caritativo forma parte de cualquier hospital católico pero estos hospitales también deben seguir buenas prácticas de empresa. Las salas de urgencias deben servir tanto a quienes tienen seguro como a los que no. Los proyectos de ley actualmente ante el Congreso, mantienen la legislación que prohíbe que los inmigrantes legales puedan tener acceso a programas de salud federales, como Medicaid, por un periodo de cinco años, aunque éstos trabajan, pagan impuestos y pronto serán ciudadanos. Tampoco permiten que las personas indocumentadas puedan comprar seguros médicos en el nuevo intercambio, forzándolas así a permanecer sin seguro y dependiendo de las salas de emergencia para su cuidado. Esto es una mala política, pues los costos de su cuidado recaerán sobre los contribuyentes. Bajo estas regulaciones, los hospitales están obligados a servir a los enfermos, lo cual es bueno, pero no pueden ser reembolsados por un seguro porque a algunos pacientes se les niega el acceso al sistema gubernamental de salud incluso cuando puedan permitirse pagar por ello.

Caridades Católicas proporciona 3.500 millones de dólares anualmente en servicios. La mayoría de este dinero va destinada a socorrer a personas a las que no les alcanza para sus necesidades. Las actuales propuestas de reforma son, cuando menos, gravosas. Una familia de cuatro que gane 29.500 dólares al mes tendría que pagar el cuatro por ciento de sus ingresos para comprar un seguro médico y tendría una protección inadecuada con deducibles y copagos altos. Esto supondría unos 2.000 dólares anualmente. Los gastos que tendrían que poner de su bolsillo para cuidados de salud podrían aproximarse al 20 por ciento de sus ingresos.

Mi amiga piensa que está teniendo una probadita de cielo al trabajar en un lugar que respeta a las personas, ya sean ricas o pobres, que apenas estén llegando a la vida o ya partiendo de ella. Se siente parte de algo importante para la Iglesia y para la sociedad. Millones de personas que han sido pacientes en hospitales católicos pueden dar testimonio de esto. Si el Congreso trabaja con los obispos para mantener este don para nuestra nación, todos ganamos.
La Hna. Mary Ann Walsh es directora de prensa y medios de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Keeping Catholic Hospitals True to Their Identity: A Winning Health Care Proposal

A friend just got a job in a Catholic hospital. She loves the work, and I hear with delight about the employee training program and the mission of top-flight care in a Catholic setting.

She is a receptionist, and hospital leaders know values must be conveyed by all the staff, from the first person you meet to the professional staff who hold lives in their hands.

Values that emphasize the sacredness of every person, rich or poor, coming into life or leaving it, are paramount in Catholic hospitals and right now the U.S. bishops are working hard to make sure these values will still exist under health care reform.

Catholic health care encompasses more than 600 facilities; the ministry costs about $6.7 billion annually. Yet, although Catholic hospitals are a major force, their unique nature could be threatened if the health care reform bills dismiss concerns of the bishops.

The U.S. bishops do not want an expansion of abortion and urge that the policy of the Hyde Amendment be preserved. The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, precludes federal money from being used to pay for elective abortions or plans which provide coverage for them. This already is policy for several major federal health programs. The underlying principle: health care reform should not force anybody to pay for another’s abortion.

The bishops want conscience protection for institutions and individuals. Among other things, they would like to see the language of the Weldon Amendment incorporated into health care reform. Weldon, passed in 2004, prevents government bodies from discriminating against hospitals and other health care providers that do not perform, refer for or pay for abortions. Health care facilities and personnel have the right to provide care according to a value system that respects each human life. Language from the Weldon Amendment is now in the House health care reform bill and needs to be retained in final legislation.

The bishops as employers are not forced by federal law to pay for health plans that cover such services as abortion and sterilization and they want to retain that right. The church does not believe these are morally acceptable and it does violence to the church to force it as an employer to pay for them. This is a matter of conscience, of being true to one’s identity.

Charity care is part of any Catholic hospital but these hospitals also have to follow sound business practices. Emergency rooms must serve both insured and uninsured. The bills before Congress preserve current law that prevents legal immigrants from accessing federal-health care programs, such as Medicaid, for five years, even though they work, pay taxes, and soon will be citizens. They also prevent undocumented persons from buying into a newly-created health-care exchange, forcing them to stay uninsured and dependent on emergency room care. This is bad public policy, since the costs of their care would be borne by taxpayers. Under these rules, a hospital is forced to serve the sick, which is good, but can’t be reimbursed by insurance because some patients are denied entry into the government health care system even when they can afford to pay for it.

Catholic Charities provides about $3.5 billion annually in services. Much of it goes to people who can’t make ends meet. The health care reform proposals are burdensome at best. A family of four earning $29,500 would have to pay four percent of its income for health insurance and would have inadequate protection on high deductibles and co-payments. That’s almost $2,000 annually. Out-of-pocket expenses for health care could be near twenty percent of their income.

My friend feels she’s glimpsing heaven, in a place that respects people, rich or poor, coming into or leaving life on earth. She is part of something important to both church and society. Millions who have been patients in Catholic hospitals can attest to that! If Congress works with the bishops to uphold this gift to our nation, everybody wins.