Nuns, bishops, abortion, and politics…a combustible mix, for sure. And several bishops have lit the match over the past month. In the aftermath of the bloody health care battle, I wrote about the “Catholic” problem—how politicians and certain advocacy groups routinely claim to represent Catholicism even as they oppose the Church’s moral teachings on abortion and other life issues. My bottom line: “It’s up to the bishops to deny the moral credentials of Catholic politicians and ‘self-described Catholic groups’ who supported abortion funding. As the legitimate voice of Catholicism, the bishops can take a step towards solving the ‘‘Catholic’ problem.”
Well, two bishops have done just that. Bishop Lawrence E. Brandt of Pennsylvania issued a letter denying the use of parish and diocesan facilities to any religious community that promoted the health care bill. Further, he refuses to support any vocational campaigns by those orders within his diocese. His target? The Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, PA. The New York Times now whines that the bishop is “punishing” the nuns for their “courage and compassion.” Jerry Zufelt, the diocesan spokesman, asserts that the sisters brought these consequences on themselves: at a pivotal point in the health care debate, their leaders signed a public letter in open revolt against the U.S. bishops’ leadership on the abortion-funding issues. Bishop Brandt’s decision responded to the order’s “public stance in opposition to the Church’s teaching on human life…Furthermore an environment of dissent and public opposition to the positions of the U.S. Catholic bishops does not provide an appropriate seedbed for vocations.” Exactly right.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., known for challenging Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s claim that Catholics may, in good faith, support abortion, has now drawn the line with the Catholic Health Association. The CHA, an organization of over 1200 Catholic health care providers, not only lobbied hard for the health care reform bill—in defiance of the bishops’ leadership—but also celebrated its passage as a life-saving measure (in spite of the abortion funding issues). Writing to Sister Carol Keehan, the CEO of the Catholic Health Association, Bishop Tobin withdrew the two Catholic hospitals in his diocese (operating under St. Joseph Health Services) from membership in the CHA. His reasons are clear: The CHA’s “enthusiastic support of the legislation, in contradiction to the position of the bishops of the United States, provided an excuse for members of Congress [to vote for the legislation], misled the public and caused serious scandal for many members of the church.”
I hope their brother bishops are taking note of the courageous actions of Bishop Tobin and Bishop Brandt. This is what taking control of the Catholic brand looks like. More importantly, this is leadership we can be proud to follow.
Two strong bishops….but just two. Where are the rest? Over 1200 Catholic health care providers belong to the CHA. When will their bishops step forward? The lay faithful are waiting.