Some onlookers might find it problematic or even scandalous that a group of nuns supported the current health care reform bill whereas the U.S. Catholic bishops opposed it in pursuit of stronger protections against the possibility of abortion coverage and worried about costs. Some news reports seemed to position the nuns over against the bishops, as though there was some sort of internal rift going on or a battle over authority, neither of which is the case.
Surely it is obvious that on health care, these nuns have special expertise, having founded and operated some 600 U.S. Catholic hospitals and entire hospital systems for decades. Both the nuns and the bishops speak with authority on these prudential issues. My own view is that the highly public airing of the two different positions is a healthy development. I assume that both groups not only oppose abortion, but also acted on their principles and followed their consciences. That’s the kind of thing we Catholics have come to expect from our faith leaders, which the nuns and the bishops are. What is both positive and valuable is that their actions demonstrated in full public view, and with civil, reasoned explanations of their particular positions, that Catholicism is no monolith in the public square.
Being a Catholic (a very good Catholic) does not necessarily result in political uniformity. And it does not, even when the legislation proposed is a matter of life and death, which health care, abortion, and paying for care ultimately are. Rep. Bart Stupak, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many other Catholic lawmakers have worked hard to ensure that the legislation does not contradict their own principles. Their efforts are yet another version of modeling before the public how faith is applied on the job. You see, faith cannot truly be legislated. But free and judicious exercise of faith can improve the legislative process.
Karen Sue Smith