Head Catholic Bishop Defends Criticism of Health Care Reform

The head of America's Catholic bishops' Conference asserted that church leaders had it right when they opposed the president's health care plan during a speech Monday in Baltimore.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Cardinal Francis George defended church critics who opposed President Barak Obama's health care bill because of concerns that it would federally fund abortion.

"Our analysis of what the law itself says was correct and our moral judgments are secure," proclaimed George.

The Chicago bishop made the remarks in response to an August 13 article in the commonweal magazine, "The Limits of Authority." In the magazine, Professor R. Gaillardetz, the Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo, said that because of the complexity of the issues in the recent health care debate, various judgments could be made. He also said that the USCCB overstepped its authority by insisting that all Catholics and Catholic organizations must agree that the bill does not sufficiently protect the lives of the unborn.

In his speech, George acknowledged that he could not speak for all Catholics. Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, broke with abortion opponents and advocated for the bill. Keehan said the association had "major concern" about abortion and said the plan was not perfect, but supported it because it was a major first step in providing health care for all. Several other women's religious orders also backed the bill.

But George declared that bishops have a right to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church and what it teaches. He denounced the comments as an effort to silence the public voice of the church and commended the bishops who criticized the plan for holding true to their morals and religious beliefs.

"Throughout this public debate, the bishops kept the moral and intellectual integrity of the faith intact," he observed.

The USCCB has been very outspoken throughout the debate. The organization launched a letter writing campaign to Congress and offered legal analysis and reform bill fact sheets.

Similarly, Protestants and evangelical groups have been outspoken about the bill and lobbied Congress to disallow federally funded abortion.

George made the remarks as part of his final address as president of the group at its annual fall assembly this week in Baltimore.

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