Thursday, September 24, 2009

Archbishop John Nienstedt: More Thoughts on Health Care

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While my schedule did not give me the opportunity to listen to President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress on health care Sept. 9, I did read the talk as published by the White House Office of the Press Secretary.

I was grateful to find his statement “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” (presumably, this also means no federally funded embryonic stem-cell destruction). Equally gratifying was his next statement, “and federal conscience laws will remain in place.” In addition to these, the president’s support for Medicare assistance to senior citizens brings much relief.

It was also encouraging that President Obama made the words of Sen. Ted Kennedy his own: “What we face is above all a moral issue. . . .” This was the reason behind my column in The Catholic Spirit on Aug. 27. It is the sole reason that I brought the topic before the Catholics of this archdiocese.

As I have said before, health care reform is needed — that is not the question. But the real question is: How will this health care reform define us as a nation and as a people?

The answer must include:

1.) A statement disallowing taxpayer dollars to fund abortions and, necessarily connected to this prohibition, embryonic stem-cell destruction.

2.) A statement forbidding the practice of euthanasia.

3.) Allowing the federal conscience laws to stand.

Still time to weigh in


While the president’s words were encouraging, the process is not yet over. There are, at least, three versions of House and Senate bills being worked on, and none are in their final form. This means that Catholics must continue to monitor the process as it goes forward and contact their representatives in Washington, D.C., with their thoughts.

It is obvious that doing so is having an effect. (For the Senate, call (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak with your senator; call (202) 225-3121 to speak with your representative. If you do not know the name of either, give the operator your zip code and you will be connected to the correct office.)

Reading the commentaries of my brother bishops, I realized that I did not mention another essential Catholic principle that should have been included in my last column: subsidiarity, which posits that health care ought to be determined, administered and coordinated at the lowest level of society whenever possible.

In other words, those intermediary communities and associations that exist between the federal government and the individual must be strengthened and given greater control over policies and practices rather than being given less and less control.

To usurp this “hierarchy of communities” is terribly damaging in the long run, both to society as a whole and the individual citizen (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1883, Compen­dium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 185 ff).

Papal insights

Two quotes from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are instructive in this regard:

Pope John Paul II has written:

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending” (Pope John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus,” No. 48).

Pope Benedict writes:

“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need . . . . In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) — a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human” (Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 28).

To neglect the principle of subsidiarity inevitably leads to the excessive centralization of human services, which leads to higher costs, less personal responsibility for the individual and a lower quality of care.

Two reminders

Two other reminders:

1.) October is the Month of the Rosary, a devotion that has proven itself to be a means, not only of reflection and meditation, but indeed of contemplation. This is to say, a means of entering into the presence of God himself.

The late beloved Pope John Paul II said that praying the rosary was “an act of contemplating the face of Christ.” One may ask, “I thought it was a prayer to Mary?” But the late Holy Father argued that “Mary was the most accomplished person in history to contemplate the face of her son. Therefore, to pray the rosary is to view the face of Jesus through Mary’s eyes. This prayer, being focused on Mary, must be directed to Jesus, her Son.”

I encourage all Catholics to make a special effort to pray the rosary daily during this month of October. Invite others to join you in that prayer.

2.) October is also Criminal Justice Month, a time to study the present state of our criminal justice situation and to reach out to those who are imprisoned as well as those who are making a transition from prison back into society. I have sent materials on this topic to all the parishes. I hope that they will be used effectively during these next weeks.

As Deacon Timothy Zinda said in last week’s edition:

“[Prisoners] are not what you might think they’d be like, and I don’t really see them any differently than I do anyone else. They are people who have made serious mistakes or whose lives have taken difficult turns.”

I believe that this is so true. I encourage you to join your parish’s efforts to assist the imprisoned and those transitioning back into society. It is, after all, a corporal work of mercy.

God bless you! The Catholic Spirit
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