Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops, contends that the “ground keeps shifting,” and the bishops lose footing, as they try to deal with the Obama administration and Congress over healthcare reform.
Speaking during a visit to Rome, the archbishop of Chicago said that, although President Obama has promised to respect the consciences of healthcare workers and taxpayers who oppose abortion, he still feels in the dark about the final legislation.
“It’s two steps forward and one and a half — or three — back," he said. "It’s a moving target, so we just don’t know. We’ve been promised by the president that it will respect the conscience not just of healthcare workers but of taxpayers who don’t want to see their money spent for abortion, so we’ll see how that works itself out.”
He noted that Congress is creating the legislative instrument to reach the goal.
When asked whether it is difficult to deal with an administration that appears open to ideas yet looks set on pursuing its own agenda, the cardinal replied: “Yes, so we’ll have to see what comes out at the other end. We’re hoping that they’ll keep that promise, but if they don’t, then it will be very hard for us to say a good word about it, even though parts of it will undoubtedly be good.
“The abortion issue will vitiate the whole project if it’s not attended to,” George said.
The bishops have two goals, he said: “Everybody should be taken care of, and nobody should be deliberately killed. It’s up to the politicians, the lawyers, and legislators to see what the mechanism for doing that is.”
The reform bill is complicated, and “the ground keeps shifting as you talk, so you have to meet each shift.”
Said Cardinal George: “What it’s going to look like in the end, your guess is as good as mine at this point.”
Last week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that a law already precludes the use of federal funds for abortion and that the proposed healthcare bills wouldn't change it. However, critics say Gibbs was being misleading, referring to the Hyde Amendment, which applies only to the Medicaid program that provides healthcare money for poor Americans.
George was in Rome partly to launch his new book, "The Difference God Makes – A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture."
Drawing on the vision of theologians and intellectuals (particularly the writings of Pope John Paul II) for the Catholic Church and the world, the book is “something of a polemic against individualism in the culture,” Cardinal George said. “We tend to identify ourselves by individual choices,” he explained, making them “secondary to relationships that are given.”
To illustrate his point, George reflects in the book on John Paul II’s warnings about “freedom being divorced from truth” in modern society, a theme also central to Pope Benedict XVI’s teachings concerning radical secularism and moral relativism.
This means that many people see the existence of an objective truth as a threat to their individual and subjective freedom, the cardinal explained.
“The danger and difficulty of that is that you cannot live free unless you know the truth, if you’re enslaved to falsehoods of one sort or another. So if you want to be truly free, you have to keep searching for the truth, or else you’ll end up in traps of your own making.”
The book also tries to foster a more global vision for America, and the country’s Catholics in particular. “We tend to see things in parts, or at most from a national perspective, and so are at a loss to see things globally,” George said.
Part of a solution to these problems is for each person “to live life thoroughly, authentically, not as an individual choice but as a gift to a community,” he said.
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