Church and Health Care Reform

In the heat up of the last month over health care reform in the United States, it was curious to see how little morally charged the discussion grew to be. For a debate so often cast  in the “culture wars” mold (where religion is often the battle-banner of choice) religion has mostly remained out of this. It is not that big moral issues are not at stake here, but many religious leaders and institutions are having a hard time figuring out a coherent public role in the age of Obama. The Catholic Church’s recent reactions are instructive.  In the early days of the debate, many Bishops (the same who lined up against Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame) came out  strongly against the reform, saying that no health care was better than a poorly reformed health care. But this ran counter to many Catholic social imperatives in the US, reflected in the traditional, massive presence of Catholic institutions in the world of health, from hospices to nursing homes to hospitals, and did not sit well with huge numbers of the Catholic electorate either.  The US Conference of Bishops recently put up a website which recognizes all this but then flutters in its attempts to claim a voice or direction in the national debate. Following Obama’s speech, which seemed to lay to rest the rumors that the reform would finance abortions, the Bishops’ statements have seemed to largely agree with those of the President.  The scramble to find a united voice, however, is keeping the Bishops timid, and far from the mobilization potential they flexed in the last few years on immigration and abortion legislation. Religion, for now, is all quiet on the culture war front.

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