Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)

The Catholic Key Blog will return to regular postings on January 6.

Friday, December 25, 2009

'Embrace us with Your tiny arms'

Merry Christmas from The Catholic Key! That beautiful Christmas thought in the title is from the prayer below:

The Nativity Prayer of St Bernard of Clairvaux

Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bishops' Last Word and a Further Caution on Reidcare

Yesterday, having digested the contents of Senator Reid’s manager’s amendment to the Senate health care reform bill, the U.S. Bishops wrote the Senate urging them “not to move [the] current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential
changes.” The bishops insist the bill fails to incorporate current federal restrictions on abortion funding, unfairly excludes immigrants and falls far short of providing universal and affordable coverage.

Trying to get a handle on what the manager’s amendment does with regard to abortion funding would be a full time job, and for anyone not in the know, was impossible until the language was made public yesterday. Many well informed commentators have had evolving positions on the language because of the grossly opaque manner in which it has been presented and approved. The bishops themselves said they had to study it further earlier this week. The bishops’ current analysis below on this subject is very good.

I would add one further caution. Even the insufficient abortion funding restrictions in the bill are made contingent upon the current restrictions on funding of abortion by the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the manager’s amendment:

The services described in this clause are abortions for which the expenditure of Federal funds appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services is not permitted, based on the law as in effect as of the date that is 6 months before the beginning of the plan year involved.

In other words, if a future Congress decides to alter the type of abortions HHS may pay for, the restrictions in the current bill will no longer apply for such abortions. That will make the annual reauthorization of the Hyde Amendment a major annual abortion battle.

There is still a bit of time to let the Senate know you oppose the current bill. Follow this link to send a note to your Senator. It’s easy and quick and may make a difference.

On an unrelated note – Apologies to regular readers here for the spotty posting recently. Unfortunately, posting will continue to be spotty through the New Year.

Here’s the bishops’ letter:

December 22, 2009

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge the
Senate not to move its current health care reform bill forward without incorporating essential
changes to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity,
consciences and health of all.

The Catholic bishops of the United States have long supported adequate and affordable health
care for all, and insisted that providing health care that clearly reflects these fundamental
principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority. In our letter of
November 20 we urged the Senate to act as the House has in the following respects:

• keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections on
abortion;

• protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current
barriers to access; and

• include strong provisions for adequate affordability and coverage standards.

Disappointingly, the legislative proposal now advancing to final approval in the Senate does not
meet these moral criteria. Specifically, it violates the longstanding federal policy against the use
of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy
upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s
Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the
House-passed “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that fails to
comply with this policy and precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until
this fundamental problem is remedied.

Protecting Human Life and Conscience

Despite claims to the contrary, the House-passed provision on abortion keeps in place the
longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective
abortions and plans that include elective abortions. It does not restrict abortion, or prevent people
from buying insurance covering abortion with their own funds. It simply ensures that where
federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions. The
public consensus on this point is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new
Quinnipiac University survey of December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of
abortion in health care reform legislation.

The abortion provisions in the Manager’s Amendment to the Senate bill do not maintain this
commitment to the legal status quo on abortion funding. Federal funds will help subsidize, and
in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective
abortions. All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a
very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for
abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally
subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions. States
may opt out of this system only by passing legislation to prohibit abortion coverage. In this way
the longstanding and current federal policy universally reflected in all federal health programs,
including the program for providing health coverage to Senators and other federal employees,
will be reversed. That policy will only prevail in states that take the initiative of passing their
own legislation to maintain it.

This bill also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental
discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion (Sec. 259 of
H.R. 3962), and includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to
provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on
other procedures.

Immigrants and Health Care Coverage

We support the inclusion of all immigrants, regardless of status, in the insurance exchange. The
Senate bill forbids undocumented immigrants from purchasing health care coverage in the
exchange. Undocumented immigrants should not be barred from purchasing a health insurance
plan with their own money. Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to
receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care. This would harm not
only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial
burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated
medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.

We also support the removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health
benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare. An
amendment authored by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), which would give states the option to
remove this ban, should be included in the bill.

Accessible and Affordable Health Care

The Catholic bishops have advocated for decades for affordable and accessible health care for
all, especially the poor and marginalized. The Senate bill makes great progress in covering
people in our nation. However, the Senate bill would still leave over 23 million people in our
nation without health insurance. This falls far short of what is needed in both policy and moral
dimensions.

The bishops support expanding Medicaid eligibility minimally for people living at 133 percent or
lower of the federal poverty level. The bill does not burden states with excessive Medicaid
matching rates. The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance
coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange. However, the Senate bill would still leave
low-income families earning between 133 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level
financially vulnerable to health care costs, while it does provide more adequate subsidies for
households 250 percent over the federal poverty level. Overall, the average subsidy provided for
in the Senate bill is $1,300 less than the average subsidy in the House bill. We urge that the best
elements of both bills be included.

For many months, our bishops’ conference has worked with members of Congress, the
Administration and others to fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life,
dignity, health and consciences of all. Our message has been clear and consistent throughout.
We regret to say that in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is
deficient. On the issue of respect for unborn human life, the bill not only falls short of the
House’s standard but violates longstanding precedent in all other federal health programs.
Therefore we believe the Senate should not move this bill forward at this time but continue to
discuss and approve changes that could make it morally acceptable. Until these fundamental
flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.

Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, we will work vigorously to incorporate into the final
legislation our priorities for upholding conscience rights and longstanding current prohibitions
on abortion funding; ensuring affordability and access; and including immigrants. We hope and
pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.

Sincerely,

Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Chairman
Committee on Domestic
Justice and Human
Development

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Chairman
Committee on Pro-life Activities

Bishop John Wester
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Chairman
Committee on Migration

Saturday, December 19, 2009

National Right to Life will Score Cloture as Vote for Abortion

Too busy this weekend to comment on Senator Nelson’s late night conversion, but I didn’t want to leave my last post up top either. Suffice it to say, the National Right to Life Committee will score a vote for cloture on the Reid health care bill as a vote against life. Here’s the statement from NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson:

The manager’s amendment is light years removed from the Stupak-Pitts Amendment that was approved by the House of Representatives on November 8 by a bipartisan vote of 240-194.  The new abortion language solves none of the fundamental abortion-related problems with the Senate bill, and it actually creates some new abortion-related problems. 

NRLC will score the upcoming roll call votes on cloture on the Reid manager’s amendment, and on the underlying bill, as votes in favor of legislation to allow the federal government to subsidize private insurance plans that cover abortion on demand, to oversee multi-state plans that cover elective abortions, and to empower federal officials to mandate that private health plans cover abortions even if they do not accept subsidized enrollees, among other problems. 

In addition, if the final bill produced by a House-Senate conference committee does not contain the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, NRLC will score the House and Senate votes on the conference report as votes to allow federal mandates and subsidies for coverage of elective abortion.  Unless the Stupak-Pitts Amendment is included in the final bill, and the new pro-abortion provisions dropped, a significant number of House members who voted for H.R. 3962 will not vote to pass the final legislation.

I hope Johnson is right on his last point.

Friday, December 18, 2009

USCCB Reaffirms Opposition to Senate Bill, Commends Senator Nelson

Cardinal DiNardo today thanked Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) for his “good-faith effort to improve” the Senate’s health bill, but reiterated the position of the U.S. Bishops that the bill remains “morally unacceptable”. Casey’s intervention, though laudable in many respects, does “not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill,” the cardinal said, “Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them.”

While a number of “Catholic” groups allied with the administration are putting pressure on Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) to sign on to the Casey compromise and support the bill, the actual bishops of the Church are thanking him for standing firm against watering down current restrictions on abortion funding.

Senator Nelson should be encouraged by the extraordinary commendation Cardinal DiNardo has given him and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), “who have placed their votes and reputation on the line to stand up for unborn children.”

The full text of today’s release from the USCCB is below:

‘ABORTION COMPROMISE’ DOES NOT ADDRESS CORE PROBLEM IN SENATE HEALTH BILL, SAYS CARDINAL DINARDO, BISHOPS’ PRO-LIFE CHAIR

‘Compromise’ would make citizens pay for others’ abortions

Senate should mirror House of Representative’s Hyde amendment language

Bill doesn’t meet goals of affordability, fairness to legal immigrants, protection of life

WASHINGTON—Responding to reports of a new “compromise” proposal on abortion in the U.S. Senate’s health care reform bill, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo today reaffirmed the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the legislation will be morally unacceptable “unless and until” it complies with longstanding current laws on abortion funding such as the Hyde amendment. Cardinal DiNardo is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and Chairman of the Conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The Cardinal commented on efforts by Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) to improve the Senate bill’s treatment of abortion.

“Senator Casey’s good-faith effort to allow individuals to ‘opt out’ of abortion coverage actually underscores how radically the underlying Senate bill would change abortion policy. Excluding elective abortions from overall health plans is not a privilege that individuals should have to seek as the exception to the norm. In all other federal health programs, excluding abortion coverage is the norm. And numerous opinion polls show that the great majority of Americans do not want abortion coverage.”

“I welcome Senator Casey’s good-faith effort to improve this bill,” said Cardinal DiNardo. “In particular he has sought to improve protection for conscience rights, and to include programs of support for pregnant women and adoptive parents that we favor in their own right. However, these improvements do not change the fundamental problem with the Senate bill: Despite repeated claims to the contrary, it does not comply with longstanding Hyde restrictions on federal funding of elective abortions and health plans that include them.”

Cardinal DiNardo had written to the Senate on December 14, saying that “the Catholic bishops of the United States strongly support authentic reform of our ailing health care system.” His letter cited “three moral criteria for reform: respect for life and conscience; affordability for the poor; and access to much-needed basic health care for immigrants,” noting that so far the Senate bill “has fallen short of the example set by the House version of this legislation in each of these areas.”

On abortion funding, the Cardinal urged the Senate to “incorporate into this bill the longstanding and widely supported policies of current law, acknowledged and reaffirmed by the Senate itself” when it approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act for the new fiscal year on December 13. This Act reaffirmed the Hyde amendment and other laws that exclude elective abortions from health plans receiving federal funds -- including the plans that cover the Senators themselves and all other federal employees. The Senate so far has failed to reflect this same policy in its health care bill as the House has done, he said [see www.usccb.org/healthcare/DiNardo_1214_letter.pdf].

Cardinal DiNardo said December 18: “We continue to oppose and urge others to oppose the Senate bill unless and until this fundamental failure is remedied. And whatever the immediate outcome in the Senate, we will continue to work for health care reform which truly protects the life, dignity, conscience and health of all. As the bishops have said many times, ‘providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental principles is a public good, moral imperative and urgent national priority.’ In particular we will work vigorously to ensure that the substance of the House’s provision on abortion funding is included in final legislation. A special debt of gratitude is owed to House and Senate members, especially Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), who have placed their votes and reputation on the line to stand up for unborn children. Making this legislation consistent with longstanding federal law on abortion will not threaten needed authentic reform, but will help ensure its passage.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'Children of Men' Movie - A Surprising Christmas Favorite

It is not the garbage I thought it was, per our reviewer Santiago Ramos, who scolded me for refusing to see the movie. I refused to see the movie because the director refused to read the book. Ramos has convinced me to see it nonetheless with this review that appears in the next issue of The Catholic Key:

Two Unlikely Christmas Favorites
Part Two of a Two-Part Series (Part One is Here)

By Santiago Ramos

Children of Men (2006). Directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Claire-Hope Ashitey.

About the strange, glass-encased artwork by Marcel Duchamp titled The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, I once heard an artist say: “If art had ceased to exist, and it was then recreated, this is what it would look like.” How unexpectedly wonderful life can be, when a pretentious echo from the gallery becomes useful in a different context! This is, indeed, the best way I can describe Alfonso Cuarón’s film Children of Men: If Christianity ceased to exist, and was then recreated, this is what it would look like. Understood in this way, it makes for a great Christmas film—for recapturing, to use the popular cliché, the meaning of Christmas.

I hear your objections. The brilliant Cuarón completely changes—he even bragged about not having read—P.D. James’ novel by the same name, which was the source for the film. James’ novel was a Christian allegory; Cuarón consciously strips the story free of any Christian references. What is left is a story completely played out on the natural, immanent stage of our finite Earth. But this is not an angry secular attack on Christianity that Glenn Beck can get worked up about (though he probably did, anyhow). Instead, Cuarón leaves us with a skeletal description of the shape of hope, and the way in which hope enters human history. That is, not through political revolution, not through pious discourse, but through a person—a baby.

The England of 2027, wherein the story begins, is a dying world. Women—due to genetic experimentation, pollution, or some other mysterious reason—have lost their ability to give birth. The problem is fundamentally physiological, not moral; it is a condition that we must be rescued from. The story begins with mourning: all of London weeps over the death of the youngest person left in the world, an 18 year old Argentine named Diego. An apathetic government bureaucrat named Theo (Clive Owen), can’t bear the pathetic, though understandable, weeping all around him, and decides to leave and visit a friend. Before he’ll get there, however, there will be a random terrorist bombing in a coffee shop, seconds after he leaves it—a common occurrence, blamed on a pro-immigrant terrorist group called the Fishes.

The Fishes are fighting against a fascist government in England, which has imposed order through martial law, secret police, and regularly rounds up immigrants—“fugees,” in the slang of the film’s universe—to send them to concentration camps in the south of the country. Out of the Fishes emerges Julian (Julianne Moore), a character something like John the Baptist, and also Theo’s ex-wife. Julian sends some Fishes to kidnap Theo, to drag him back to her hideout so she can ask him a favor. Theo, who has contacts in the government, is to obtain an official pass through government checkpoints so that the Fishes can smuggle a fugee girl named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to the southern coast, where she will be met by an organization named the Human Project. Eventually, Theo discovers why Kee is to be protected: she is bearing a child, and thus, the hope of the world. The Human Project—which is a merely a symbol in the story, and doesn’t need to be anything more than that—is to discover through her how to help everyone else have babies, too.

After Julian’s death early in the film, however, Theo slowly discovers that the Fishes are no more innocuous with regard to Kee and her child than the government is. The Fishes who travel with Theo and Kee are actually going to betray both once they reach the south. They want to use the baby as a trigger for the revolution which will overthrow the fascist government and change society. The government forces, which are ruthlessly hunting down all Fishes, find out about Theo and Kee and hunt them, too—the hope of the world cannot come from the belly of a fugee.

The climactic battle between the Fishes and the government troops at the end of the film—after we’ve seen the decadence of the powerful, the sadness of mute immigrants being shuffled into concentration camps, and the birth of the new child, a scene in which Cuarón forces the viewer to endure the pangs of birth without the respite of a cut or a shift in camera angle—is the battle between two forces who believe in power more than they believe in the baby. They both wish to use the baby for their own plans for salvation.

Theo (and Cuarón) is humbler than they. The baby himself is the hope, because he is the sign that fundamentally changes our condition, and rescues us from our chaos. Only a new presence can pacify the violence, can generate, can give birth. Hope is flesh and blood. Cuarón’s story is a purgation which helps us to remember this truth.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

UPDATED - Evil's Afoot - Pray for Senator Ben Nelson

UPDATE and Correction - Senator Nelson has denied the below claim that threats have been made on Offutt AFB. In this KHAS News 5 report, he also assures that even after speaking with the president for 30 minutes today, he will still oppose the Senate health care reform bill if it does not contain language substantially similar to the House' Stupak Amendment and the Senate's failed Nelson-Hatch Amendment. It is safe to assume that Senator Nelson is still under great pressure and would benefit from our prayers.

If a Senate source is accurate, things are getting nasty for the pro-life Senator from Nebraska. Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard writes today that:
According to a Senate aide, the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn't fall into line. . .

. . .As our source put it, this is a "naked effort by Rahm Emanuel and the White House to extort Nelson's vote." They are "threatening to close a base vital to national security for what?" asked the Senate staffer.

To force American's to pay for their neighbors' elective abortions is what.

It was a carrot this week for Senator Joe Lieberman, but for brave defenders of human life like Senator Nelson, it will always be the stick. Perhaps it is a good time to put the late Bishop Michael Saltarelli's Litany to St. Thomas More to good use and pray for strength and encouragement for Senator Nelson:
Litany of St. Thomas More,
Martyr and Patron Saint of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers

V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ, have mercy
R. Christ have mercy
V. Lord, have mercy
R. Lord have mercy
V. Christ hear us
R. Christ, graciously hear us

V. St. Thomas More, Saint and Martyr,
R. Pray for us (Repeat after each invocation)
St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers
St. Thomas More, Patron of Justices, Judges and Magistrates
St. Thomas More, Model of Integrity and Virtue in Public and Private Life
St. Thomas More, Servant of the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ
St. Thomas More, Model of Holiness in the Sacrament of Marriage
St. Thomas More, Teacher of his Children in the Catholic Faith
St. Thomas More, Defender of the Weak and the Poor
St. Thomas More, Promoter of Human Life and Dignity

V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Spare us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Graciously hear us O Lord
V. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world
R. Have mercy on us

Let us pray:

O Glorious St. Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, your life of prayer and penance and your zeal for justice, integrity and firm principle in public and family life led you to the path of martyrdom and sainthood. Intercede for our Statesmen, Politicians, Judges and Lawyers, that they may be courageous and effective in their defense and promotion of the sanctity of human life - the foundation of all other human rights. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

Missouri Right to Life Urges Claire McCaskill to Keep Her Promise

This letter comes to The Catholic Key from Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter. As negotiations continue in the Senate on health care reform, it is important to keep this important issue in the forefront even as many are occupied preparing fro Christmas:

Will Senator McCaskill Keep Her Promise?

With her vote against the Nelson-Hatch amendment, Senator Claire McCaskill has broken her promise to Missouri citizens. Senator McCaskill promised that she would not support legislation that included federal funding for abortions. The Nelson-Hatch amendment would have prevented funding for abortions in any new public option for health care and prevented federal subsidies for any plan that included abortion. Her vote against this amendment allows Senator Reid's health care proposal to retain such funding.

Senator McCaskill excuses her vote by saying that the Hyde Amendment already prevents such funding, and that the Nelson-Hatch amendment prevented women using their own money to purchase abortion coverage. Both statements are false.

The Hyde Amendment only prevents funding for abortion through the annual appropriations to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Cong. Hyde proposed this amendment in l977 in order to prevent taxpayer funded abortions through Medicaid. Prior to this amendment, over 300,000 abortions were performed each year through Medicaid. However, the Reid bill creates new streams of funding that would not flow through the DHHS so they would not be covered by the Hyde restriction.

The Nelson-Hatch amendment would not prevent women from purchasing coverage of abortion with their own money as long as no federal subsidies were also used to purchase that coverage.

Missouri taxpayers do not want to pay for abortion. We call on Senator McCaskill to keep her promise.

Pam Fichter
President, Missouri Right to Life

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Missouri Catholic Conference Laments McCaskill's 'Broken Promise' on Abortion Funding

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was one of 16 Catholics in the Senate who joined in tabling the Nelson – Hatch Amendment last night. Mike Hoey, interim director of the Missouri Catholic Conference said of McCaskill’s vote, “This amounts to a broken promise. The promise Senator McCaskill made this summer was to keep federally funded abortions out of healthcare reform. The Nelson-Hatch amendment would have done that.”

Hoey’s comments were made in an article which will appear in the Catholic Missourian, newspaper of the Diocese of Jefferson City, MO, which is posted below. For the record, other Catholics in the Senate effectively voting to fund abortion in health care reform were: Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), John Kerry (D-MA), Paul Kirk (D-MA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Christopher Dodd (D-CN), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).

Here’s the report from Jefferson City:

By Jay Nies

Jefferson City - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday walked away from an opportunity to keep federally funded abortion out of a proposed reform to the nation's healthcare system.

By a 54-45 vote while debating the health care reform bill, the Senate ended discussion on a pro-life amendment offered by U.S. Senators Benjamin Nelson of Nebraska and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

The amendment would have prevented any government-operated or federally subsidized insurance plan from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond of Missouri voted against a motion to end discussion on the Nelson-Hatch pro-life amendment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, who stated this summer that she would not vote for a healthcare bill that uses taxpayer money to pay for elective abortions, voted in favor of ending the discussion on the Nelson-Hatch amendment, effectively killing the amendment.

"This amounts to a broken promise," said Mike Hoey, interim director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), the public-policy agency of the state's Roman Catholic bishops. "The promise Sen. McCaskill made this summer was to keep federally funded abortions out of healthcare reform. The Nelson-Hatch amendment would have done that."

The Nelson-Hatch amendment prohibited any public or private health insurance plan that accepts federal subsidies from covering elective abortions. People wishing to have abortion coverage would have had to pay separately for that coverage with their own money.

"The amendment would not interfere with individuals who want to buy abortion coverage," said Mr. Hoey. "It's very consistent with federal policies as they already exist. For example, Medicaid does not pay for elective abortions."

Sen. McCaskill said she believes the current language in the Senate's version of healthcare reform would keep taxpayer money from subsidizing abortion.

"That simply isn't true," said Mr. Hoey. "By failing to adopt the Nelson-Hatch amendment, this health care reform bill provides tax payer dollars to subsidize elective abortions, something the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose.”

Mr. Hoey said Tuesday that although the outcome of the vote is disappointing, "we're not through fighting for this yet."

He said the Senate might take up the amendment again if the sponsors of the proposed health care legislation can't get enough votes to pass it without pro-life support from senators like Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska).

Also, even if the Senate passes health care reform legislation their version will have to be reconciled with the House version. The House version includes a pro-life amendment, sponsored by Bart Stupak (D-Michigan), barring taxpayer money from subsidizing abortions.

“In a conference committee, you have to negotiate the differences between the two versions,” Hoey said. “It's possible that the Senate conferees would agree to the House position on the matter, and allow the pro-life (Stupak) amendment to stay in the bill.”

A spokesperson for the Susan B. Anthony List pro-life organization, in a Dec. 8 statement, asserted that without the Nelson-Hatch amendment, the Senate version of healthcare reform “explicitly authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to include abortion coverage in the public option” and “also allows the use of government subsidies to purchase insurance policies that include elective abortion coverage.”

Mr. Hoey reiterated that the Catholic Church has consistently supported ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable healthcare.

"We continue to support that goal," he said. "But it's got to be done in a way that respects the sanctity of all human life, and that includes keeping federally funded abortions out of healthcare."

He said he hopes Sen. McCaskill and the other senators who voted against keeping abortion out of healthcare will have a change of heart and will get another chance to vote on the Nelson-Hatch amendment.

"We certainly hope and pray that that happens," he said.

Those wishing to better understand the provisions of the Nelson - Hatch amendment may visit the Web site of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“What does the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment Really Do?” http://usccb.org/healthcare/nelsondo.pdf

Sen. McCaskill can be reached at (202) 224-6154 or by visiting her website at http://mccaskill.senate.gov/contact/.

Sen. Bond can be reached at (202) 224-5721 or by visiting http://bond.senate.gov/public/.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Twilight Zone's Christmas Film Classic - Really

Our own Santiago Ramos takes a look at a couple of unlikely Christmas favorites. The first is a Twilight Zone episode from 1961 that Ramos finds more on point for Christmas than Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Check back next Monday to read about another unlikely Christmas favorite. From the upcoming edition of The Catholic Key:

mediapicDec11 Two Unlikely Christmas Favorites

Part One of a Two-Part Series

By Santiago Ramos

“Five Characters in Search of an Exit.”
Twilight Zone, 1961.

Christmas is not about giving; it is about receiving. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come out of the story I am about to relate. It’s inarguable that, for most people, serving soup for someone else is ultimately more satisfying than receiving a new sweater; but it is also true that, A Christmas Carol notwithstanding, Christmas has to do less with giving than with receiving something which we desperately need and which we are helpless to attain by our own wits and ability. Tiny Tim feels better after Scrooge surrenders his pride and learns the value of generosity; but Tiny Tim will one day become an old man, and then his soul will desire things that no mortal will be able to give him - not even Scrooge, who will, by then, just like his decaying partner Marley, be as dead as a doornail.

That seemingly unreachable gift of complete happiness; that disproportional desire for life that survives childhood; helplessness and rescue; these are the themes of Advent. Our reception of the One who fulfills the disproportionate desire; who makes the ultimate happiness possible; this is Christmas. That an episode of The Twilight Zone captures all of this better than any of the 127 or so variations on Dickens’ novel is not something I feel the need to apologize for.

In season three of that show, three days before Christmas in 1961, host Rod Serling introduced the episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” The episode deals with five people thrust into a world of which they know nothing. They also know nothing about their past or where they come from. They all want to leave, but only one of them - an Army Major, the last one to arrive - does not give up hope about actually doing so. Serling’s introduction sets the scene:

Clown. Hobo. Ballet Dancer. Bagpiper. And an Army Major. A collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation. Just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we'll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we'll only explain it, because this is the Twilight Zone.

A collection of question marks, indeed - but only the Army Major is courageous enough to admit his own, questioning nature. Everyone else has already given in to resignation and boredom. The Major, on the other hand, questions relentlessly, impatiently, and, ultimately, loudly. He bellows. His befuddlement slowly transforms into panic with every ten paces he traces within his featureless, dark container. None of his companions in darkness have any answers, only pity.

None of them, that is, except the Clown. Unlike the others, the Clown gives positive force to his resignation; his jadedness is a judgment against hope. He is the foil to the Major’s searching spirit. The best lines in the show come in the dialogue between them. In the first few minutes, the Major says: “A couple of important items seem to have eluded me - like, who am I?”

“You said you were a Major,” responds the Clown. The Clown knows that the answer is not the answer the Major is looking for. Later on, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” he will mockingly sing his credo at the Major’s unhappy face: “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here!”

The other characters also speculate as to why they are where they are. The Hobo thinks they reside in Purgatory. The Ballet Dancer is more insightful: “Perhaps…we are…the unloved.” The Major caves into despair: This is Hell.

In spite of that awful thought, the Major continues to beat against the walls, and to try to climb up the walls, to find a way out of his cage. Eventually, he even gets the Clown to cooperate, and to concede that “We all want out of here.” At the beginning of the show, the camera reveals a bright white circle of light, within a larger black circle, high above the floor where the characters are standing. The Major devises a plan to climb towards that light.

It’s impossible to explain the show’s Christmas meaning without relating the ending; anyway, knowing the ending does not make it any less worth watching. The audience finds out the answer to the Major’s questions: they are all toys within a large basket bearing the sign “17th Annual Christmas Drive.” A lady ringing a bell next to it says that the toys are “For the orphans.”

Serling finishes the show with, “In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love.” And in the arms of one certain child, there is an infinite embrace. Christmas.

“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” will more likely be broadcast during one of the end-of-the-year Twilight Zone marathons on the SyFy Channel. If you want to watch it sooner than that, the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone are available for free at www.cbs.com/classics.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Friday, December 4, 2009

USCCB Action Alert: Tell Senate to Pass Hatch-Nelson Amendment

The USCCB sent out this action alert today asking Catholics to contact their Senators and urge them to support the Hatch-Nelson Amendment to the proposed health care bill. Without this amendment which would maintain current restrictions on federal funding of abortions, the bishops maintain “the current legislation should be opposed.”

I like how the bishops note here that the Senate Bill is actually a sneaky “gut and amend” of an already passed, unrelated House Bill. The actual name of the bill they’re working on is called “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009”.

Please contact your senators and if you’re in Missouri, see State-specific information below this action item:

Support the Hatch-Nelson Amendment to Stop Abortion Funding in Health Care Reform!


The full Senate is considering their health care reform bill. The bishops are strongly urging the Senate to incorporate essential changes to the Senate’s health care reform bill to ensure that needed health care reform legislation truly protects the life, dignity, consciences and health of all. The amendment to maintain the prohibition on federal funding of abortion could be voted on as early as Monday, December 7. Please contact your Senators today!


Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) have submitted an amendment that like the Stupak amendment that was included in the final House bill, prevents this legislation from mandating abortion coverage or providing federal funds for coverage that includes elective abortions. Those wishing to purchase abortion coverage may continue to do so with their own private funds, but not in the government-run health care plan (“community health insurance option”) or with the help of federal subsidies.


Senate: On November 18, Senate leadership unveiled its health care reform bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This bill has been brought to the floor by inserting its text into H.R. 3590, an unrelated House-passed tax measure. Debate and votes have begun and may continue until the Christmas recess.


In a November 20 letter to the U.S. Senate, the U.S. bishops urged essential changes in the Senate bill:
to retain federal policy on abortion funding and conscience protection; to protect access to health care for immigrants; and to provide for adequate affordability and coverage standards. The bishops said:
“Sadly, the legislative proposal recently unveiled in the Senate does not meet these moral criteria.” The bishops specifically said that if the bill’s serious defects on abortion are not corrected, “the current legislation should be opposed.”


ACTION: Contact Members now through e-mail, phone calls or FAX letters. 1) Send an e-mail at www.usccb.org/action. 2) Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Members’
local offices. Full contact info can be found on Members’ Web sites at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.


MESSAGE—SENATE: “Please support the Hatch-Nelson Amendment to uphold longstanding policies against abortion funding, and please protect conscience rights in health care reform.


WHEN: Senate floor debate on the amendment may begin the week of December 7.


WATCH FOR ADDITIONAL ACTION ALERTS! As the Senate continues to consider amendments to the health care bill on abortion funding, conscience protections, improving affordability and coverage and protecting immigrants’ health care, the USCCB will send Action Alerts to update you on advocacy needed to support health care legislation that protects the life and dignity of all people from conception until natural death.


For more information, please visit www.usccb.org/healthcare. Thank you for your advocacy!

For Missouri residents, this alert comes from the Missouri Catholic Conference:

Urge McCaskill to Support the Hatch - Nelson
Amendment to Health care reform

Senator Claire McCaskill will be a pivotal vote in keeping abortion out of health care reform. Even if you have already contacted her, please contact her again using the contact information below.

Claire McCaskill
United State Senate
Hart Senate Office Building SH-717
Washington D.C., 20510
(202) 224-6154
Contact Form

Here are some talking points you can use to convey your message to Senator McCaskill:

1. Support the Hatch - Nelson Amendment. Keep abortion out of health care reform.


2. Missourians overwhelmingly oppose using their tax dollars or insurance premiums to subsidize abortions or abortion insurance coverage.

3. The Hatch- Nelson Amendment allows people to pay for abortion insurance coverage only with their own money.

4. It is not good enough to depend upon adopting the Hyde Amendment every year through appropriation bills. Instead, the Hyde Amendment language should be made permanent law in health care reform (the Hyde language restricts abortion to rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother).

For more information contact the Missouri Catholic Conference, www.mocatholic.com, 573.635.7239.

*The U.S House has already adopted a strong, pro-life amendment similar to the one being proposed by Senators Hatch and Nelson.

**If we can obtain passage of the Hatch - Nelson Amendment, then the pro-life provisions will likely be more secure when the House and Senate negotiate their differences in finalizing the health care reform legislation.

Bishop John Wester Challenges Senate, Obama to Allow Undocumented Immigrants Health Coverage

Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester has a guest column today at Politics Daily urging President Obama and the Senate to follow the House’ lead and allow undocumented immigrants to purchase coverage in the proposed new health exchanges. Bishop Wester also serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration.

As I post this, his article has only been up a couple of hours at Politics Daily and has already received more than 120 mostly negative comments from people who mostly did not read what he actually said. Bishop Wester, who I’ve known for decades as a good and holy, solidly pro-life and orthodox pastor, is not pulling something out of left-field here. He is asking only that undocumented immigrants be allowed to purchase coverage with their own money, and he has some very good moral and policy reasons for making that argument.

Politics Daily has given permission to the USCCB for diocesan sites to post the column in its entirety. Here it is:

The Truth About Immigrants and Health Care

By Bishop John Wester

Representative Joe Wilson's now infamous "you lie" shout out to President Obama during his health care speech to Congress was featured in the press as an unprecedented breach of protocol.

Much less has been reported about the subject of the rant: keeping undocumented persons from accessing health care.

With the passage of health care legislation, a majority of the House of Representatives shouted back. The House bill permits undocumented persons to use their own money to purchase coverage in the new health care exchange.

This is contrary to the stated positions of not only Rep. Wilson, but also the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration. A closer examination of the merits of the House position should convince them that, in this case, sound public policy should trump divisive politics.

With 12 million undocumented persons in the country, someone is going to need a doctor. While close to 4 million already have health care through employer-based plans, millions of others are dependent upon community clinics, emergency rooms, and the generosity of medical personnel who believe health care is a human right, not a privilege.

Although uninsured immigrants use emergency rooms much less than U.S. citizens, the cost of their care ultimately falls upon American taxpayers, either through higher insurance rates or tax money paid directly to providers. Permitting the undocumented to use their own money to purchase coverage would help alleviate some of this fiscal and financial burden on Americans.

It also would help Americans afford their own coverage. A study by the Kaiser Foundation concluded that immigrants are younger and healthier than average Americans and are less likely to access health care and drive up costs, keeping prices lower for everyone. By letting the undocumented buy into the exchange, the risks and costs of the new health care system would be spread out among more participants.

Given a chance, they will participate. The reality is that undocumented immigrants want to pay their way, as they do with taxes, Social Security payments, and health care contributions. Why not let them? A recent study found that 84 percent of undocumented Mexican immigrants in California offered employer-based coverage accepted it and paid for a portion of the costs.

Even for legal immigrants, Congress has yet to write the right prescription. Both the Senate and House bills fail to lift the ban, imposed in the welfare reform legislation of 1996, which prevents working but poor legal immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid for five years. Legal immigrants, who are on a path to become U.S. citizens, should be eligible for programs for which they pay taxes.

Including immigrants in health care reform would help make health care affordable to all and make us a healthier nation. It also would make coverage accessible to the most vulnerable among us. Is that not the point of health care reform? To their credit, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives thinks so.

In the end, the debate over immigrants and health care is really a debate about another affliction ailing our nation: the broken U.S. immigration system. In truth, without a legalization program and other reforms, our elected officials will continue to be faced with policy choices that treat U.S. citizens and immigrants differently but weaken the nation as a whole.

President Obama and Congress would be wise to include immigrants in health care reform and then enact immigration reform legislation, so that we are finally rid of the vitriolic immigration debates which have sullied our public discourse and confused our public policy decisions.

Until that time, breaches of protocol and political gamesmanship may continue to define the issue of immigration, to the detriment of all Americans. And immigrants could be left standing in the waiting room, asking for a doctor's appointment that may never come.

The writer is the Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah, and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Urgent Action Needed to Stop Abortion Funding and Mandate in Health Bill

The Senate is now debating amendments to its version of a health care reform bill and Lifenews reports that a Stupak-type amendment may be debated and voted on as early as Friday. The amendment will be offered by pro-life Democrat Ben Nelson (D-NE) and co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Chances for passage of the Nelson Amendment appear slim. If it fails, the Senate bill will not only provide massive federal funding for abortion, but could potentially mandate elective abortion coverage in all medical insurance plans. That’s because an amendment by pro-abortion Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), which passed today, leaves it to the Department of Health and Human Services to define which “preventive” services for women will be required care in all health plans.

Senator Nelson understands this and has promised to filibuster the final bill if it does not contain an amendment substantially similar to the House’s Stupak Amendment. Nelson’s filibuster would kill the final bill if he was joined by every Republican Senator – but that is too much to expect. A pro-abortion Republican like Olympia Snowe (R-ME) could be convinced to vote for cloture on the final bill if she got her way on other amendments.

What is needed is the support of additional Democrats for the Nelson Amendment. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) describes himself as pro-life and has made some strong pro-life moves. He needs to support the Nelson Amendment and to join in promising to filibuster the final bill if the Nelson language is not included. Democratic leadership is not particularly concerned about a Nelson filibuster at the moment. If Casey joined Nelson, leadership would be forced to incorporate pro-life concerns if they wanted a final bill.

So far, Casey’s intentions seem opaque. Please call Senator Casey now at (202) 224-6324 or contact him here and urge him to support the Nelson Amendment AND oppose the final bill if Nelson fails.

Missouri residents should also contact Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). McCaskill has never voted pro-life, but she did promise in town hall meetings in Missouri that she would oppose abortion funding in health care reform. The Senator should be held accountable for the promises she’s made her constituents. Please call Senator McCaskill at (202) 224-6154 or contact her here and let her know that her vote in favor of the Nelson Amendment is essential to keeping her promise to oppose abortion funding in health care.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Way to Treat a Visitator

NCR reported last week that “The vast majority of U.S. women religious are not complying with a Vatican request to answer questions in a document of inquiry that is part of a three-year study of the congregations.” I’m inclined to think and hope that is an exaggeration.

To make their case, NCR quotes an anonymous sister who asserts “There's been almost universal resistance” to answering the questions posed by the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Women Religious. Another anonymous characterizes the questions and the Vatican itself as violent and abusive. Yet another anonymous says women religious “are asking if there is a ‘Ghandian or Martin Luther King way’ to deal with violence they felt is being done to them.”

People who use the language of violence and abuse to characterize questions like:

Do your sisters participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy according to approved liturgical norms?

Or:

How is spiritual and human development of sisters fostered in community?

Seem more in need of a Psychiatric Visitation than anything else and can’t possibly reflect the thinking of the majority of very balanced, committed and intelligent women religious in the United States.

But as to the question of how to respond to a Visitation that you do not want and find unfair, Canon Law has an answer:

Can. 628 §3. Members are to act with trust toward a visitator, to whose legitimate questioning they are bound to respond according to the truth in charity. Moreover, it is not permitted for anyone in any way to divert members from this obligation or otherwise to impede the scope of the visitation.

That canon regards the visitation of a diocesan bishop or religious superior to a religious institute. It seems a similar attitude would apply to a visitation ordered by the Pope, of which the Second Vatican Council dogmatically declared:

The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. (Lumen Gentium 22)

Assuming there are some congregations not complying with the Apostolic Visitation, their actions imply a rejection of truth, charity, obedience, canon law and the Second Vatican Council. It’s doubtful a congregation could reveal as much about itself by simply answering the questions. As Jeff Miller commented the other day, “Not sure how no answer is going to do anything other than to show exactly why the Apostolic Visitation was needed in the first place.”

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

City Fines Archdiocese of San Francisco $14.4 Million

The City of San Francisco is hard up for cash, so they’ve decided to steal it from the Archdiocese of San Francisco because they can – nakedly, in broad daylight, without the slightest plausible legal pretense. The Church is openly hated and condemned in San Francisco for its support of Proposition 8 and its defense of human sexual morality in general. The City can steal from the Archdiocese because the City needs the money and because it makes the citizenry happy to stick it to the evil Catholic Church.

Here’s some backstory from a previous post:

When you sell a piece of property in many California jurisdictions, including San Francisco, the seller must pay a rather exhorbitant tax for the privilege which is based upon the value of the property. It is akin to a sales tax on a home or commercial property.


The San Francisco Archdiocese owns hundreds of lots in San Mateo, Marin and San Francisco counties. The exceedingly vast majority of these properties are the lots which make up a parish plant, i.e., church, school, parish hall, parking lot, rectory. . .


The Archdiocese has historically held title to these properties under two names - The Roman Catholic Welfare Corporation and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, a Corporation Sole.


In December, 2007, San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer announced a corporate restructuring within the archdiocese and by May 2008, almost all properties in question had been consolidated under the title of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Parish and School Juridic Persons Juridic Property Support Corp.


Since this is not a sale or transfer to a different organization or person, no transfer tax is invoked and no transfer tax has ever been invoked in the history of the state for such a transaction.

That is, until City Assessor Phil Ting gauged the likely public reaction to an outright theft from the Prop. 8 supporting Catholic Church and realized it would not only be profitable, but popular. Last year Ting, unlike assessors in Marin and San Mateo Counties, decided to charge the Archdiocese a transfer tax on all Archdiocesan properties in San Francisco. This includes properties such as Mission Dolores, which have been owned by the Church since before there was a State of California or a taxing authority in San Francisco.

They are still owned by the Church. No money changed hands. Yet, the City is charging the Archdiocese the second largest real estate transfer tax in history, as if the Archdiocese were a real estate investor selling a profitable high-rise office building.

The Archdiocese appealed Ting’s decision to an appeal board which yesterday agreed to take $14.4 million from the Church. The Archdiocese will now take the issue to court. Archdiocesan spokesperson Maury Healy told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“The board members, all of whom are City Hall administrators rather than members of the judiciary, apparently faced tremendous pressure in view of the city's desperate need for revenue . . . We are glad that having exhausted the required administrative process we can finally proceed to a formal, neutral civil court forum . . . We trust that the civil court will carefully consider the applicable law, devoid of the sensationalism and politics that the archdiocese thus far has faced.”

Pray for the persecuted Church in San Francisco. This is just one of many assaults the Church has suffered there recently. Hat Tip to A Shepherd’s Voice who has more background here and especially here.