Many Americans have an extremely hard time understanding, or at least accepting, the role that the United States Bishops played in the health care reform debate. The question of the separation of church and state is thrown into the conversation and the amount of shock is incredible when people found out that bishops were talking with the Speaker of the House about the bill.
There’s a fundamental point that I think many people don’t think about in regards to this topic. Yes, religion and spiritual life are matters of the individual; however, there are not held exclusively by the individual. The article seemed to imply that the Catholic Bishops were lobbying on behalf of Catholics and that since many Catholics, so they claim, are not as pro-life as the USCCB, the Bishops are lobbying without actually having any followers.
First, our faith compels us to make things right in the world. From the Catholic perspective, life begins at the moment of conception–with all rights of personhood from that moment. The Catholic faith also proclaims the dignity of the human person and the fundamental right to natural life. Life should not be taken away whether it be by abortion, by murder, by suicide, by capital punishment, by denying food or water.
Making things right in the world includes ensuring access to reasonable health care to all people. Truly, it doesn’t matter your age, income level, employement status, immigration status. Everyone should have access to and ability to receive reasonable health care. (It also includes rights of workers, environmental stewardship, respect for natural law, etc, but those are different posts).
That being said, what about the point of the bishops speaking without followers. I think more Catholics are more pro-life than what the NPR article implied. I’ll digress by asking why quote someone from “Catholics for Choice” without any other Catholic opinion? Ignoring the internal church question regarding folks who are advocating for access to abortion, how many people belong to that organization compared to the number of Catholics involved in pro-life organizations? I do not have numbers to back me up, but I don’t think the Choice organizations are as big as implied.
But, okay, let’s give NPR the benefit of the doubt. BIshops are speaking to politicians without a single member of the faithful agreeing with their position. (Not the case in reality, but let’s go to the extreme). Even if that was the case, bishops have the duty to be teachers. They are not democratically-elected leaders paid to represent their flocks. Bishops are shepherds charged with the duty of leading their flock toward Christ through the faith handed down to us from Scripture and Tradition. Bishops are human; some do this better than others, but their mission is not to represent anyone besides Christ.
I think that’s what non-Catholic America can’t quite grasp about Catholicism. We’re Americans who love the democratic governance of our great land, but our bishops are here both to challenge and lead Catholics toward a deeper understanding of God–and how to live that out in our lives–and to live out that faith themselves, which leads them to doing whatever they can, individually and with their fellow bishops, to make this world a better place for the common good of all.