This week’s ratification of a comprehensive health care plan for Americans has created quite a bit of furor on both sides of the political aisles, and on both sides of the pews in Catholic Churches. The debate regarding the matter of Federal Government funding for abortion services will and should always be the pivotal issue for Catholics when considering the moral implications that are part of the now Health Care Law of the Land.

Clearly though some points have clearly evolved in this entire public spectacle on health care, one of which is the place of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops as the definitive voice of Catholic moral teaching in the United States? In the days that preceded the Obama Health Care legislation, the American Bishops stated they were not in favor of the proposed legislation because it did not include safeguards against funding for abortive services and lacked a conscience clause that allowed Catholic moral teachings to be the guiding principle in Catholic health care facilities.

However, during the process of due diligence the Catholic Health Association endorsed the proposed legislation despite the reservations and the lack of approval of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Additionally other groups of women religious, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, endorsed the legislative package and clearly endorsed its ratification.

The question needs to be asked; are these organizations accurately reflective of the authentic teachings of the Catholic Church? For the most part the use of the term, “Catholic,” in the organizations title provides a somewhat tacit seal of approval which implies adherence to authentic Catholic teachings as proclaimed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

However, such an application of the adjective, “Catholic,” does not always hold true to the organizations purposes and objectives. The Catholic Health Association for example is an organization that offers a loosely held confederation of health facilities that were formerly initiated and managed by religious communities. While the facilities operate under a general charter that embraces the “Spirit of Catholicism”, there is nothing in their charter that makes them answerable to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops as it relates to their operating policies and procedures. In effect, the CHA is actually a trade organization that represents the interests of health care organizations that were formerly run by religious communities of priests or religious.

The president of Catholic Health Association was present for the public signing of the health care legislation into law at the White House this week. Sister Carol Keehan, DC. Sister Carol Keehan is a member of the religious group, Daughters of Charity. She has indeed lobbied for many years for the passage of a universal health care package that safeguarded all American citizens, especially the rights of the poor and challenged groups in American society. Sister Keehan for years has worked in the health care field and has even been recognized for her achievements by secular organizations and even Pope Benedict XVI in bestowing the papal honor, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For Church and Pope) Award. However, despite her personal achievements, the implied approval of the entire legislative package, now federal law placed the Catholic Health Association in direct contradiction and de facto in opposition with the American Catholic Bishops.

Understandably no legislation is perfect and there are many imperfections in the Obama Health Care package. The fact remains there can only be one unified voice that represents the United States Catholic Church and that responsibility resides with the American Catholic Bishops. While the American Bishops have worked consistently towards the goal of a universal health plan for all Americans with concessions made for Catholic beliefs, their voice was in fact not loud or strong enough to curtail other groups such as the Catholic Health Association or The Leadership Conference of Women Religious from usurping the mantle that rightly belongs to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.

What has really been part of the learning process throughout all of this is very simple; there are groups that represent themselves as authoritative sources of interpretation for Catholic moral and ethical teachings outside of the USCCB. While their intentions are well founded and perhaps their actions operate within the orthodox parameters of Catholic teachings…they do not reflect the Catholic Church when it comes to political and legislative actions that affect the entire Catholic population of the United States.

These groups are representative organizations that offer their organizations interpretations of events that have some effect on American Catholics. However, they do not speak for the authentic teaching authority of the United States Catholic Church in union with the Vicar of Christ, Benedict XVI.

Another lesson American Catholics have learned the hard way is that ProLife Democrats are not always advocates for the Catholic principles of the sanctity of human life from conception until end of life. The entire Stupak situation shows clearly that politicians can be made to accept compromises when they are offered in the form of an Executive Order, that circumvents and creatively disregards Catholic prerequisites that are essential to any authentic health care legislation that protects the interests of Catholic morality and ethics. The critical point that makes the Stupak Maneuver so incredibly naïve and deficient of credibility is the facts that it does not demand the legislation fix the intrinsic flaws that are now unfortunately United States law on health care.

Strong and decisive leadership on the part of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops will prevent future confusion over issues that overlap Catholic morality and theology with secular agendas of legislative intrigue. Groups however such as Catholic Health Associations and The Leadership Conference of Women Religious will continue to exist and present themselves as authoritative voices that authentically represent the teaching of the Catholic Church. The American Bishops need to solidly and loudly speak as a unified group so these misunderstandings about authentic endorsements and condemnations of politically and socially motivated platforms rise to confuse and mislead faithful Catholics.

Finally, all Catholics need to realize that the USCCB does not represent the political motivations of either the Republican or Democratic parties. They do not clandestinely represent the business interests of a conglomerate of health care organizations. They do not represent select members of religious communities that represent themselves as spokespersons for all female religious.

They simply present the Catholic Church with all of its moral and ethical teachings that are in union with Rome. You will know them very simply…they have the voice of Apostolic Authority…and it is indeed authentic and loud.

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Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com & http://nothing-left-unsaid.blogspot.com . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at http://graysferrygrapevine.blogspot.com . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Catholic Exchange, Pewsitter.com, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal and CatholicMom.com. Comments are always welcome at hjmn4566@gmail.com.

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