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Archbishop Chaput (Denver) on the cost of discipleship

What the hell don’t you understand about the term separation of Church and State. Keep your evil hands off of our Health Care Bill. Mind your own business. We don’t care about your beliefs, and if you want to meddle in our affairs, we will be coming for you. If that’s how you want to play, we will come for your pedophile priests, your ill-gotten money you stole for decades. The Catholic church is just another organized crime syndicate that should be put out of business. Get the f–k away from Congress, or you will regret it … .

That’s a real e-mail from a real person. The man who sent it last week was either very candid or very foolish about his anger: he added his real name and e-mail address. I’ve withheld them here because I like to hope that most people, or at least many of them, are better than the poisonous things they sometimes write. But this e-mail does teach a useful lesson, because it’s not just a case of a random bigot getting in touch with his inner bully. Instead, it’s a snapshot of the anti-Catholic bitterness that drives some of the loudest voices in the current health-care debate.

Let’s remember that the Founders encouraged an active role for religion in the nation’s public life. Let’s recall that freedom of speech for Catholics, their leaders and their Church is constitutionally protected, just as it is for all citizens. Let’s also finally remember that Catholic-baiting is one of America’s oldest and most favored forms of hatred. The irony is that some of today’s ugliest bigots posture themselves as socially “progressive” and work in politics or the mass media, or both.

Catholics entered this year’s national health-care discussion with good will and a long track record of public service. Catholic medical care is a national network. Most Catholics, as part of their Christian faith, see decent health care for all persons as a social obligation. They’re eager for some form of good health-industry reform. But “reform” isn’t a magic word. It isn’t an end in itself. The content of the reform matters vitally.

For months Catholic leaders have worked vigorously with congressional and White House staff to craft sound health-care reform legislation. Service to the poor, the sick and the suffering is part of the Church’s Gospel vocation. The bill passed by the House on Nov. 7 was a step toward a goal that is shared, in principle, by most Catholics. Like most bills, it was a mixed success. Critics argue that it lacks adequate conscience protections; that its penalties are extreme and largely unknown to the public; that it’s too complex; that it violates the Catholic principle of subsidiarity; and that it’s financially damaging and unsustainable.

These concerns are serious; they demand our reflection. There is nothing “mandatory” for faithful Catholics about supporting or opposing this legislation in its current form. That’s a matter for personal decision. But the House bill does seek to address the health-care crisis in a comprehensive manner; and it does —at least, so far—meet a minimum moral standard that makes Catholic support possible.

Those two words, “so far,” bring us back to the point of this column. The House health-care bill—the Senate will now develop its own version—meets the minimum threshold for Catholic support for one simple reason: Catholic pressure forced abortion and abortion funding out of the legislation. Abortion has nothing to do with advancing human health. Abortion and public funding for abortion, no matter how discreetly it’s hidden, have no place in any genuine health-care reform. This has been a key moral principle for Catholics every step of the way in the health-care discussion. With Roe v. Wade likely to be secure under this president, excluding abortion and its funding from reform legislation would be a modest, sensible compromise for “pro-choicers.” It might prove that something like common ground on abortion policy really is achievable in a Washington that describes itself as post-partisan.

Instead, the opposite has happened. The abortion-driven anger dumped on Catholic beliefs, leaders and the Church at large since Nov. 7 would make the Know-Nothing bigots of the last century proud. We’ve seen it from members of Congress, the news media, the abortion industry, and sad, deluded people stuck in their rage like the man quoted at the beginning of these remarks.

Here’s the moral of the story: Catholic witness has a cost. When we’re willing to pay it, we prove who we are as disciples—and the nation benefits. When we’re not, life’s a lot more comfortable. But that was never the point of the Gospel.


  1. Thanks for passing along the good word! All of Archbishop Chaput's recent reflections on the health care reform debate can be found here:


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