Wow. On Monday, Catholic Bishops released a letter opposing the Senate health care reform bill because it didn't contain the Stupak language. While they acknowledged differences with the Catholic Health Association, their message was clear: they were speaking as the official and authoritative voice of the Catholic Church.
This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by the leaders of the Catholic Health Association. They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after the passage of the final bill. The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote. Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.
In a clear break with the bishops, 60 leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 nuns have joined with the Catholic Health Association to support the Senate bill as written.
The letter says that "despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions." The letter says the legislation also will help support pregnant women and "this is the real pro-life stance."
This is huge for a number of reasons. The nuns signing this letter are the ones in the trenches, serving in Catholic hospitals and health care clinics across the nation. They represent those who see the wreckage left behind when people are denied access to care until it's too late, the damage done when poor women cannot get prenatal care, and when the sick are left to their own devices.
Even so, the word of the bishops is regarded as the word of the Church. For these nuns to stand in defiance because they are truly pro-life, before and after birth, is a stunning eye-opening development.
Politically, Bart Stupak now has political (and religious) cover to support the bill, should he so choose. It will come down to whether he stands on the side of the authoritarians or those in the trenches. Whatever he decides, I'd be willing to bet this
will undo is undoing the remaining holdouts over the abortion language. As I write this, Rep. Oberstar confirms he is a solid "Yes" vote after reviewing the Nelson language. One down, eleven (or four or whatever the real number is) to go.
Update: I just found the full text of their strongly-worded, unified letter of support.
A small snippet:
Congress must act. We are asking every member of our community to contact their congressional representatives this week. In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days. For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.
I'd say they've come out firmly behind this effort, even at the risk of opening a large, wide rift in the leadership of the Catholic church.