Health-care bill will fund abortions (or it won’t)

Despite having read hundreds — thousands? — of articles about health-care reform, I still can’t say that I have a real handle on the bill that the House may soon vote on.

I understand pieces of it, but have more questions than answers. I’m sure a lot of folks are in the same boat.

When it comes to the white-hot question of whether the bill will enable the public funding of abortions, it comes down in large part to who you listen to.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, writes that the bishops — who strongly support health-care reform in general — cannot support the bill:

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imagesWhat do the bishops find so deeply disturbing about the Senate bill? The points at issue can be summarized briefly.  The status quo in federal abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies. In the Senate bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state plans will not cover elective abortions – all other plans (including other multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds abortions in order to meet their particular health needs.

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Americans United for Life sent out a mass email today asking for donations and warning that:

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We’re teetering on the precipice of the greatest tragedy since Roe v. Wade.

In the next few days, under the guise of “health care” reform, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid – with the help of Planned Parenthood – could pass the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade … and your tax dollars could be paying for it.

If they win, 2010 will be remembered as another 1973 – another milestone in their battle to promote abortion on every street corner in America.

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But the AP is reporting today that leaders of religious orders who represent 59,000 Catholic nuns have come out in favor of the bill. Their letter includes this:

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Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments … in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

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Huh?

banner_profileThe AP also reports that Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, a Democrat who opposes abortion and supported tough restrictions in other health-care proposals, said he concluded that the Senate bill would bar federal funding for abortion.

“Voting for this bill in no way diminishes my pro-life voting record or undermines my beliefs,” he said. “I am a staunch pro-life member of Congress, both for the born and the unborn.”

It’s been widely reported that the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals, is also in favor of the bill. The group’s president writes:

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CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

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So there you go.

UPDATE: The Bishops Conference has sent out this statement about supposed support for the bill from a group of nuns (as reported by the AP and repeated by everyone else):

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Washington – A recent letter from Network, a social justice lobby of sisters, grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media.

Network’s letter, about health care reform, was signed by a few dozen people, and despite what Network said, they do not come anywhere near representing 59,000 American sisters.

The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice.

There are 793 religious communities in the United States.

The math is clear. Network is far off the mark.

Remembering Cardinal O’Connor — 10 years after his death

It’s hard to believe, but May 3 will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal John O’Connor.

O’Connor had been an outspoken and sometimes controversial figure, but his death was mourned by all of New York.

tjndc5-5b23gjbn63d6uqtmk3i_layoutOver four days, 150,000 people filed past his body in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects.

Over 3,000 mourners filled the cathedral for the Funeral Mass, with thousands more outside listening to a broadcast of the service.

President Clinton and Hillary were there. Al Gore and Tipper, too. George H.W. Bush sat with O’Connor’s family.

I remember the roar that rose through St. Patrick’s when the homilist declared “What a great legacy he left us in his consistent reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life.” (The homilist was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who had little idea that his world would come down two years later…)

Certainly, a big part of O’Connor’s legacy was his strong opposition to abortion. He started the Sisters of Life religious order to promote the church’s pro-life teachings.

tjndc5-5b1xm9on8c1176tizgqo_layoutLater this month, on Saturday, March 27, the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York will hold an all-day conference “honoring the legacy of Cardinal O’Connor” at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Archbishop Dolan will get things started with his talk: “Cardinal O’Connor: Priest and Churchman for Our Times.”

Also scheduled to speak: Helen Alvare, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law; Father Charles Connor, historian for the Diocese of Scranton; and Mother Agnes Mary, superior general of the Sisters of Life.

The admission fee is $25, including lunch.

For info: www.flrl.org or 212-371-1011, ext. 3195.

Glenn Beck forgot to say where Christians who oppose ‘social justice’ should go

Glenn Beck’s recent pronouncement that Christians should leave churches that promote “social justice” has some folks riled up.

Among other things, Beck offered this: “If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish.”

tjndc5-5t978lgrf4l19cut574w_layoutEven the mild-mannered and professorial mainline thinker Martin Marty has come out swinging.

“The fact that Mr. Beck charms millions of devotees tells more about the sad state of truth-telling and the high state of lie-receiving than civil citizens should want to hear,” Marty writes in his latest Sightings column.

Strong words from a guy like Marty.

I can’t quite understand the hubbub. Clearly Mr. Beck doesn’t like liberals or liberalism or government programs or other touchy-feeling people and ideas that seek to redistribute income, increase the deficit, threaten “liberty” and all the rest.

So, yeah, he doesn’t like it when churches — Catholic, Protestant, even his own LDS Church — espouse lefty ideas like “social justice.”

He may have not have fully understood (or simply didn’t care) that the vast majority of Christian churches in America support some form of “social justice” and that by calling for people to leave these churches, he was suggesting a major redistribution of church attendence.

And linking fascism and communism to mainstream Christian thinking could be considered an odd move.

I don’t think that Beck has problems with churches that offer extensive social ministries themselves. He was probably talking about churches that support government spending.

But I’m not sure.

Of course, Beck didn’t say where Christians should go when they flee their churches.

A good follow-up program might be to highlight those Christian churches/denominations that do not espouse any form of “social justice.”

They’ll probably have to add a lot of parking spaces. And quick.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Will religious leaders speak out on immigration?

President Obama’s intention to press forward with immigration reform is certain to present serious challenges for religious leaders.

Most major religious denominations — especially those with a presence in New York — are all in favor of reform, including some form of amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. But they find themselves at odds with many citizens, including many in their pews, who have little patience with illegals.

Especially at a time of high unemployment, selling immigration reform could make the health-care reform mess look easy.

So here’s the question: How willing will religious leaders be to try to sell a controversial policy shift that many people do not want?

Just about every major mainline Protestant denomination favors immigration reform. Most major Jewish groups (including the Reform and Conservative movements) favor reform. And mostly importantly, the Roman Catholic Church, the largest and most influential religious community in many regions with high numbers of immigrants, is all-out, hog-wild in favor of reform.

Still, as I’ve written before, the Catholic Church is extremely active and vocal in Washington. But the message on immigration is rarely shared by bishops to their dioceses. And the word hardly makes it to the parish level.

An official with the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference told me last year that this disconnect was a real problem.

Will this change if the immigration debate becomes nasty, as it promises to do? How many priests and ministers and rabbis will want to promote reform from their pulpits if people might grumble or hiss or leave?

Over the past few years, religious leaders in New York met to talk about crafting a pro-immigrant statement they could release jointly. But it never came to pass. Which tells you something.

When I interviewed Archbishop Dolan soon after he came to New York, he told me that he wanted to take the lead on immigration in New York. The Catholic Church should be leading pro-immigrant rallies New York, he said, not smaller Pentecostal churches.

We’ll see.

Here in LoHudland, nothing riles people up like immigration issues. The idea of amnesty for illegal immigrants makes people go nuts. Will Dolan and other religious leaders — Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran bishops, Reform and Conservative rabbis — speak up?

We shall see.

The Latino Pastoral Action Center in the Bronx is hosting a pro-reform rally for clergy on Monday. The announced speakers are all Hispanic, so far.

MFA-logo-blueADD: I didn’t mention that a large rally for immigration reform will be held in Washington on Wednesday, March 21. Organizers say that tens of thousands will attend.

The rally is being organized and supported by dozens of religious groups.

Interestingly, the slogan for the “March for America” is “Change takes courage and faith.”

Dark days in Rome

It’s becoming hard to ignore the bad headines facing the Catholic Church these days.

We’re talking internationally.

Lots of people have asked me in recent days something along the lines of “What’s going on with the Vatican?”

And I was greeted this morning with this headine from Robert Moynihan’s Inside the Vatican email: “Benedict’s Papacy in Crisis?”

You have a growing scandal in Germany, where more than 170 former Catholic school students have alleged that they were sexually abused. Others claim physical abuse.

BC EU Vatican Church AbuseSome of the accusations involve a boys’ choir that was run for 30 years by the pope’s brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger. He said Tuesday that he did slap students as punishment, but that he was not aware of any sexual abuse during his tenure.

“The problem of sexual abuse that has now come to light was never spoken of,” Ratzinger said.

Then you had a Vatican summit this week about past sexual abuse in Ireland, where the church has been practically brought to its knees by revelations of decades of abuse.

A Vatican statement includes this:

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For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image. While realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

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The fine journalist David Gibson explains how the archbishop of Dublin is trying to cope with the mess and becoming something of a hero in the process.

Then you have this bizarre story involving a papal usher and a Vatican chorister who are accused of being part of a gay prostitution ring.

By accused, we mean that the user, officially a “Gentleman of His Holiness,” was taped arranging transactions.

And then, finally, you have new stories about Fr. Marcial Maciel, the late — and now discredited – founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

The Vatican began an investigation of the order last year after it was revealed that Maciel had fathered a child and lived some sort of “double life.” Now a Mexican woman is saying that she had three sons with Maciel (who told her he was someone else) and that Maciel sexually abused two of the boys.

The Legion reacted with a statement, which includes:

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In recent years, the Legionaries of Christ have gradually come to know, with surprise and great sorrow, hidden aspects of the life of Fr Maciel. We confirm our commitment to act in truth and charity. We renew our request for forgiveness from the affected people for all of the suffering this has caused and for the ensuing scandal.

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The Legion also implied that the Mexican family’s lawyer tried to extort money from the order.

Yikes.

Now what? Based on the past, I would expect Catholic groups to start circling the wagons. Any day, we should start hearing complaints about media coverage focusing on the scandals instead of all the good work that the Catholic Church is doing in Haiti, Chile and elsewhere.

Otherwise, the Vatican is not known for reacting swiftly to crises. We’ll see.

Inside the Vatican’s Moynihan writes:

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In Rome, some fear this is just the beginning.

This fear is not idle, as the internet and world press are already full of reports that these crises may cast a shadow over the entire pontificate.

The battle occurring right now is over how history will judge Benedict’s papacy.

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(AP Photo/Diether Endlicher,File)

A Catholic take on Tony Montana

If you’re a Catholic teen, how could you not want to attend this workshop: “Everything I ever needed to know about following Jesus I learned from Scarface and other Al Pacino movies.”

Scarface? I don’t get it. But I’m mighty curious.

scarface-photo-scarface-6229381The Pacino workshop will be part of a “youth congress” on Saturday, March 20 at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. Hundreds of Catholic teens from across New York are expected to turn out.

A busy youth retreat leader named Tony Bellizzi will lead the Pacino talk (hopefully, without screaming).

There will also be a discussion of William Paul Young’s extremely popular book The Shack.

And there will be workshops on chastity (one for boys, one for girls).

Archbishop Dolan is scheduled to celebrate Mass at 2 p.m. And you know he will have plenty of jokes.

Says Cynthia Martinez, assistant director of Catholic Youth Ministry for the Catechetical Office of the Archdiocese of NY:

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Together with a very supportive committee we are planning a day that is sure to be very memorable to all of the youth that attend.  From the musical entertainment to the workshop presenters who will join us, this day is designed to motivate our students to bring “holy flavor” to the earth by recalling their call as Disciples of Christ, and by letting their light shine before others.  It is definitely an event our youth do not want to miss.

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It’s $20 per person, including lunch and a T-shirt. Only youth leaders can register, not individual teens. For info: go here or call 212-371-1000, ext. 2831 or email cynthia.martinez@archny.org.

A ‘Jewish’ wedding for Chelsea?

If Bill Clinton could be the first “black” president, as Toni Morrison famously called him, why can’t Chelsea Clinton be the first “Jewish” former first daughter?

Or something like that.

I came across a fun little AP story about whether Chelsea’s upcoming marriage to her Jewish fiance, Marc Mezvinsky, could entail a “Jewish wedding.”

Or a Jewish-style wedding.

tjndc5-5tfbgykwn3b1iauph2oe_layoutThe story notes that the couple haven’t said anything about their intentions (the picture is of the couple way back in 1996).

However, “The bride and groom have a range of choices, including conversion or a melding their two traditions into one ceremony.”

Chelsea grew up attending a Methodist church with her sec-of-state mom. Apparently, she attended Yom Kippur services last year with her future hubby at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship Conservative seminary in NYC.

The article notes that it could be hard for the couple to arrange a “Jewish wedding” if Chelsea remains a Christian: “Some rabbis will officiate at interfaith marriages even though major Jewish movements bar or discourage them from presiding. Interfaithfamily.com links interfaith couples with rabbis and cantors. Only a small number will co-officiate with clergy of another faith.”

Intermarriage is, of course, one of the most talked about issues in the Jewish community, the chief threat to “Jewish continuity.”

While many rabbis like the Clintons, it could be real hard to find one who would officiate at such a high-profile Jewish/Christian marriage.

But we’re just speculating.

Chelsea and Marc could opt for a justice of the peace.

At the Pavone house

Back when I was covering religion full-time, I had a list of stories I hoped to do when I could get to them.

One of them had to do with Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, one of the country’s most influential anti-abortion groups. It came to my attention a few years ago that Pavone is from Port Chester, that he has family there and that he returns fairly often.

I thought it could make a good story if I was to write about Pavone’s Port Chester roots — sort of how he became the man, priest and activist he is today.

tjndc5-5t3jjlspyfp1fofpw22b_layoutI actually contacted Priests for Life several times over the years. They agreed that it was a good idea, but the scheduling never came together.

But then it did. A couple of months ago, someone I know was able to set things up. So I visited Pavone at his parents’ home in Port Chester not long ago.

It was his home from the age of 4 until he went to college. He does return often and usually preaches on Christmas and Easter at Corpus Christi Church, a Salesian parish in Port Chester where Pavone’s parents are still parishioners.

I talked to Pavone at length in his parents’ living room, where he would do his studies on the floor during his years as a very successful Port Chester pupil. He graduated from Port Chester High School, across the street from the family home, a year earlier than his class (’76 instead of ’77) and was the valedictorian.

My article is up today.

I know from experience that writing about abortion — any issue, any development, any person involved — will provoke passionate responses. People on one side of the debate or the other will inevitably not like what I write.

I have’t read the comments on LoHud.com yet, but I have received a bunch of emails. In general, people who support abortion rights would have preferred that I not write about Frank Pavone. Several have written that they intensely dislike his views and methods of activism and that I should not have presented him as a mainstream, or even a rational, figure.

That’s okay. I did not write the article to “support” Pavone’s views or work, but to flesh out the local roots of an important and interesting figure who is a major player in the nation’s culture wars.

I’ve written in the same way about activists who support abortion rights.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Pavone’s parents, Marion and Joseph, were as tickled by their son’s success as any parents are when their kids “make it” in their chosen field. As you might expect, they see him as a hero and don’t understand why others might oppose their son and not wish him well.

Marion Pavone told me that she reads the comments — good and bad — that people write on Pavone’s blog.

“You tend to ignore the negative,” she said. “But on his blog, you see the threats, people wishing him dead.”

Father Frank, meanwhile, not only shrugs off any criticism, but kind of relishes it. He is a true “culture warrior” who enjoys mixing it up with the other side.

Because he is certain he is right.

I prodded Pavone to talk about people who support abortion rights. Who are they? Why do they believe what they do? Do you think they are crazy? What gives?

He told me: “Even those who call themselves pro-choice are more pro-life than they realize. They are usually not aware that the policy in this country is that abortion is available for all nine months of pregnancy. They’re often in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest, not as birth control.”

But, I said, a lot of really smart people know plenty about abortion law and policy and still support abortion rights. What about them?

He said: “It comes down to a world view. Some have come up with reasoning that says you have to permit this. But if, in fact, you believe that circumstances take precedence over innocent human life, you have over-thought it. Certain people, no matter the arguments or evidence, will remain in that camp. But similar reasoning can be applied to you or someone else when you don’t want it to.”