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USCCB and Catholic Health Association Under Fire. From The Right.

Yesterday, Deal Hudson wrote at the Catholic Advocate that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has failed to effectively strategize it's opposition to the health care bill.

He also criticizes the USCCB for allowing the Catholic Health Association (CHA) to voice support for the bill. CHA represents the more than 600 Catholic hospitals, hundreds of long-term care and hospice facilities, and three of the top 10 HMOs (health management organizations) in the country. Hudson writes:

At present, the USCCB has not issued any statement directly opposing the Catholic Health Association or any of the Catholic groups supporting the Senate bill such as Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

The lack of such a statement allows the press, the White House, and the Congress to hold up these groups as providing official Catholic support to a public which largely does not know any better.

A direct rebuke from the USCCB towards the Catholic Health Association would not be in keeping with what I have termed its strategy of qualified support, but it would certainly keep wavering members of Congress from finding political cover from these groups willing to accept abortion funding.

With a vote on the billcoming as soon as Friday or Saturday, the USCCB is running out of time to get tough. Theparish bulletin programemailed last Friday by the USCCB comes too late to have any serious impact on a vote this week.

The willingness of such an intimate partner with the USCCB to break with the bishops on the health care bill is just another aspect of its failure to negotiate powerfully with Congress and speak loudly and clearly to the media on this legislation. Its strategy of qualified support has put the USCCB in a weakened position and allowed the initiative to be taken over by groups with vested interests. CHA wants federal money for its hospitals, while Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good were created precisely to keep Democrats in power, even if it means further endangering the lives of the unborn.

It’s common sense that you can’t win a negotiation if you aren’t willing to walk away from the table. Thus far, the USCCB hasn’t shown that willingness. Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando understood this when hewrotea few days ago, “No health-care legislation is better than bad health-care legislation.”

Despiterecent and vocal debunkingof the accusation that the current bill provides federal funding for abortion, Hudson and Catholic Advocate, along with other Catholic-right organizations, have worked hard to push the conservative USCCB even farther to the right on health care. That the composers of both the Stupak and Nelson amendments deserve criticism for not being right enough and that they are allowing CHA to misrepresent Catholic opinion on health care is a blatant falsehood.

An October poll showsthat a full 56% of Catholics think the USCCB should not take a position on health care reform and a majority support both the public option and funding for abortion (again, even though the latter is not included in the existing bill.)

While I'll agree that public opinion is too often falsely touted as the best way to achieve individual rights (historically, meaningful minority rights legislation has required both strong executive or legislative leadership AND public support) Hudson is asking the church hierarchy to take a much more conservative stance than it's parishioners. As we've seen throughout the debate, they certainly have. But that's not enough for Deal Hudson - and he's not alone; he is so far right of Catholic opinion on this issue that he makes the USCCB look more centrist than they really are.

What effect will the CHA's endorsement of the bill have?  Ed Brayton writes today at the Michigan Messenger:

The CHA does advocate that several things about the Senate bill be changed after it is passed, including addition of language preventing any federal funding of abortion. But that, they say, should not stop the passage of the bill in the first place. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on Catholic legislators like those Democrats aligned with Rep. Bart Stupak against the bill due to abortion issues. It’s unlikely that this will change Stupak’s position; he’s far too committed to it publicly to be able to pull back now. But it could perhaps sway a few of the dozen or so legislators he has claimed to speak for over the last couple weeks. And with this vote likely to be extraordinarily close, every vote counts.