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Health Care Debate: Putting the Catholic back in Catholic Action

Deacon Keith Fournier

August 18, 2009
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - Catholic Christians never fit in with the “the religious right.” I maintain it is because some of the otherwise conservative or “neo-conservative” political positions which came along with the package did not comport with Catholic Social thought. Too often there was a failure to focus on the foundation of the entire Catholic Social vision, the dignity of every human life, and then operate in accordance with a hierarchy of values. However, what is becoming clear is that what is called “liberal” or “progressive” in contemporary political parlance is repugnant. It embraces the culture of death in its acceptance of intrinsic evils such as abortion and euthanasia while claiming to be compassionate!

Our identity as Catholics grounds us in a vision for a new and true humanism rooted in the recognition of the dignity of every human person. It also marries us to defending real marriage, as between a man and a woman, open to love and life, and the family built upon that lifelong relationship. These are non-negotiables to Catholics, at least if they understand the teaching of the Church. Our positions on life and marriage are not simply based upon our “religious” convictions or because we embrace what the Magisterium (teaching office) of our Church teaches, but because they are objectively true, revealed in the Natural Law, and promote the common good.

Catholics proclaim a vision of human freedom at odds with much of what is posing as freedom today. It affirms our obligation to choose responsibly, with reference to what is right and what is true. As to that important word “true”, Catholics reject moral relativism. We insist upon the existence of an objective morality which should guide all human behavior. We also stand in a social justice tradition which is not “left” or “right”, one which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom, pro-poor and pro-peace. That is why we will never be captured by any political party. Catholic Social Doctrine is prophetic. In this age of political confusion and cultural collapse, Catholics must put the Catholic back in Catholic Action.

The dignity of every human person must be the lens through which we consider every public policy issue. Without the right to life there are no other rights. Human rights are goods of the person given to us by the Creator. When there is no person there can be no rights to be received or exercised. Our insistence upon this is not based solely upon our belief in Revelation, though it is certainly found in both Sacred Scripture and the Christian Tradition. Rather, this truth is written on every human heart and knowable by reason. This Natural Law claim is essential if we hope to overcome the false assignment of our position to our “religious conviction.”

This tactic has allowed the opponents of the fundamental right to life to minimize our influence by relegating our claim to the sphere of “private religious belief”. This effort to censor truth escalates as the contemporary secularist agenda advances. The truth concerning the dignity of every human person is not true because it is Catholic; it is Catholic because it is true. It must never be compromised. It is never a “private” conviction. Children are intentionally killed in every procured abortion.

Marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman, open to life, constituted for the good of the spouses and the good of children, is not our idea. It is also revealed by the Natural Law and has been recognized as such throughout our history. Marriage and family must be the lens through which we review governance because the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity demands nothing less. That is why so many Catholics (this writer among them) prefer small government solutions to public needs. However, we must be careful.

Some “conservatives” present the notion that any governance is some kind of concession, detracting from freedom. The fact is that God governs. So do all of us in our families. The question we must ask is where the governing occurs and whether it is truly “good”. We must articulate our convictions concerning the goods of marriage and its proper ends in a language which communicates to an age deluded by ideologies of self- centeredness. We are by nature and grace made for the other. Only in the giving away of ourselves to the other will we ever find the human fulfillment and flourishing which we all long for. The stability of marriage based families is integral to a just social order and furthers the real common good.

In the words of the late Servant of God John Paul, Freedom must be set free. We suffer from the aftermath of a counterfeit notion of freedom as a perceived “right” to do whatever one pleases. That is not freedom, it is license. True freedom brings with it an obligation to choose in accordance with what is right and what is true. Only in choosing the good will men or women - or the societies which they form - ever flourish.

This assertion concerning freedom is fatal to the hedonism and materialism running rampant in the West. Our efforts to set freedom free will require a wrestling match in the field of ideas for the definition of freedom. It will further require our capturing the hearts and minds of the culture by reasserting that not only is there such a thing as morality but that it liberates us to flourish as human persons and become a truly good society.

Finally, solidarity is not an option; we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. We must work for a public policy, economic policy and governing philosophy which rejects both atomist individualism and statist approaches in efforts to care for the poor. The Catholic vision of the human person, the family and society is true, we were created to love and to live our lives with and for one another. The Catholic teaching that we have an obligation to the poor lies at the core of true social and economic justice. While we can, and we will, disagree on how to best implement this obligation of social solidarity, we must begin by acknowledging that it IS an obligation.

The debate over health care reform in the U.S.A. is an opportunity for us to sort through how much of our public policy vision is rooted in our understanding what it means to be a Catholic first. There is plenty of room for disagreement on how to structure such a reform among good Catholics. This is evident in the running debate between people like Dr. Deal Hudson and others, including some Bishops, who have a different view. They all agree on the absolute unacceptability of public funding of abortion or euthanasia, passive or active. They agree on the obligation to extend care to the poor in our midst. They disagree on the application of the principle of subsidiarity. This is a good debate between good Catholics.

This dialogue, and the healthy debate it has brought about, is a good example of what it means to put the Catholic back in Catholic Action. It is focused on attempting to apply the principles of Catholic Social Thought to a very real social need and not to simply parrot the charged political rhetoric which has surrounded the public conversation surrounding health care reform.
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