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Fifty-nine Thousand Nuns Oppose the Bishops on Health Care

By Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D.
March 18th, 2010
Inside Catholic (

Catholics in the pews are being made more and more aware that something has gone wrong in many of our venerable Catholic institutions and religious orders.

WASHINGTON, DC (Inside Catholic) - "Don´t mess with the nuns!" is a comment I´ve heard over the years from cradle Catholics who were taught by them.  The question now arises whether the undecided Catholic members of the House will be influenced by the 60 nuns, each a leader of their religious order – who signed a letter to members of Congress urging passage of the Senate health care bill now before the House.

These 60 leaders claim to represent 59,000 nuns, and they make it perfectly clear they support the embattled president of the Catholic Health Association, Sr. Carol Keehan, who announced her support of the bill a few days ago.

The letter calls the Senate bill "imperfect" but simultaneously claims it is "the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it."  The sisters call the bill "pro-life" in spite of the fact that thousands of the unborn will be aborted with the 7 billion dollars of federal money being given to community health centers, if the bill becomes law.

What the sisters extol is medical coverage for the uninsured; the end to denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; support of pregnant women; as well as investment in preventative care and "community health centers that largely serve poor women and children."  These are the same health centers that the bishops insist will spend federal money on abortion.

These 60 sisters not only reject the bishops´ concerns about the Senate bill but also call them  "false claims . . . the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions."

The 60 sisters, and presumably the orders they represent, thus join organizations like the Catholic Health Association, NETWORK, Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics for Choice, Catholic Democrats, and publications likeCommonweal, America, and the National Catholic Reporter in dismissing the Catholic bishops´ publicly stated position that federal funding for abortion is contained in the Senate health care bill.

Like the sisters in their letter, and Sr. Keehan in her statement, most of these groups fail to mention explicitly that they reject the bishops´ analysis of the health care bill.  Is that a sign of respect or merely a refusal to deal with the bishops´ one-page fact sheet directly?  Commonweal should be credited for offering a comprehensive, if tortured, refutation to the bishops´ position, but the sisters don´t reveal whose analysis they are relying upon.

A few days ago, I described Sr. Keehan´s betrayal of the bishops as an example of the failure of the USCCB´s qualified support for the health care bill.  But the spectacle of 60 leaders of women´s religious orders points to the corrosive effect of the "seamless garment" approach to social ethics and public policy.

You can make all the arguments you want about the original intent of Cardinal Bernardin´s now-famous 1983 speech announcing a "consistent ethic of life," but in practical political terms the seamless garment became nothing more than a convenient excuse for Catholic politicians to ignore the slaughter of the unborn and all its attendant effects on cultural and family life.

There are thousands of women religious at this very moment who are deeply embarrassed and troubled by the publication of this letter.  These sisters can be found at places like theDominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, MI or the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, TN.

I can tell you with certainty that none of the sisters from NETWORK called Mother Assumpta Long (Ann Arbor) or Mother Anne Marie (Nashville) to ask either of them to sign that letter.

The dividing lines in the Church are, sadly, all too clear, and the effort of women religious, Catholic academics, Catholic journalists, and Catholics representing the medical profession to pass a health care bill with abortion funding will be, for lay Catholics, a wake-up call, a déjà vu moment of Obama being honored by Notre Dame.

Catholics in the pews are being made more and more aware that something has gone wrong in many of our venerable Catholic institutions and religious orders.

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