Editorial in Nashville diocese’s newspaper accuses US administration of hostility to Catholic values

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AFTER President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, the Catholic bishops of the United States applauded the historic nature of the election of the first African-American as president while at the same time expressing fear that the new president would pursue an aggressive pro-abortion agenda as part of efforts to reform the nation’s health care system.

Despite protestations from the president and his administration, it’s becoming ever clearer that that is exactly what is happening.

But it’s not just on life issues that the president is so out of step with Catholic teaching.

On immigration reform, protecting the poor and vulnerable from carrying the burden of the recently enacted budget cuts, and defending the integrity of marriage, the president has done little to nothing.

For all those Catholics who convinced themselves to vote for Obama despite his aggressive pro-choice positions because they believed that on balance he would pursue policies that would protect the poor, improve access to health care for all, bring sanity to the country’s immigration system, the first three years of this administration must be more than disappointing.

Viewed through the lens of the full breadth of Catholic social teaching, this administration must be seen as a disaster. In fact, its positions have been openly and aggressively hostile to our values.

Funding abortion

Choices that the administration made during the health care reform debate forced the bishops to oppose an initiative – making the health care system more fair, more just and more efficient – that they had been working toward for decades.

Instead, they felt compelled to speak against a bill that forced American taxpayers to pay for health insurance policies that will fund abortions and other procedures that violate the dignity of life.

Some argued that the bishops had it all wrong, but recent developments have made it abundantly clear the bishops’ concerns were more than legitimate.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of the health reform act, has implemented rules requiring that all insurance policies must provide coverage for a variety of preventive services, at no cost to the patient, including contraceptives and surgical sterilisation.

HHS officials pointed to clauses in their mandate that would provide conscience protections for religious agencies who believe such services are immoral.

But a closer look at the conscience protections reveal they are so narrowly defined that they would not apply to Catholic hospitals, schools and social service agencies.

“Under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics,” said Cardinal Daniel N DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“Could the federal government possibly intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public?” Cardinal DiNardo asked.

Apparently, the answer is a resounding yes.

Poor hit hard

In the recent budget and debt-ceiling debates, the bishops urged the president and Congress not to pass budget cuts that would hit hardest the poorest and most vulnerable.

But, eager to make a deal, the president and the majority of Congress ignored the bishops’ pleas and passed a plan that will lead to cuts in programmes that help those who need it most. Even some in the president’s own party objected to the deal as inadequate and unfair.

On same-sex marriage, the president has stood silent while courts and state legislatures render the definition of marriage meaningless.

There have been promises of needed reforms to the immigration system; something the Catholic Church has vigorously supported for years, yet no action.

The Obama administration has turned on the spigot of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, again ignoring the sanctity of life by engaging in research that sacrifices lives unnecessarily and immorally.

Some might argue that the president’s political opposition has blocked his efforts to pursue some of the legislation and policies that hew more closely to Church teachings.

But others might ask where has the president’s soaring rhetoric been when it comes to so many issues that are vital not only to the Church but to the entire country? Is it that he has lost his renowned power of persuasion or that he has no interest in fighting for the things Catholics believe are so important?

If he has no interest, then those Catholic voters who ignored his clear position on life issues and put faith in the rhetoric of his campaign trail stump speech were simply duped. – CNS