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The High Cost of Capitulation

Most reasonable people would agree that tossing a set of car keys to a drunkard is irresponsible even if the inebriated party manages to slur out a solemn pledge to drive carefully. That’s just common sense, right?

So, what should we call a willingness to place the nation’s healthcare system in the hands of the most radically pro-death Administration this country has ever seen under the solitary condition of an equally unreliable promise?

Given that the handover of which I speak is precisely the position endorsed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we call it business as usual, but hopefully not for much longer.    

Working as a freelance writer over the last several years, I’ve witnessed firsthand how the realities of Church politics can render certain topics off-limits to Catholic editors who have the unenviable task of publishing content that confronts the important ecclesiastical issues of the day frankly while also carefully avoiding any acts of professional suicide by provoking the wrath of the institutionally powerful.

As such, I’m well aware that the pool of potential publishers for this particular article may be somewhat limited; heck, it may even amount to my own professional suicide (or martyrdom, depending on your outlook), but so be it.

We’re at war, ladies and gentlemen, and in case you haven’t noticed walking on eggshells isn’t exactly getting the job done. So with this in mind I would submit that it’s high time for our shepherds, and the Catholic faithful who foot the bills, to send a clear message to the USCCB that their current modus operandi is flat out unacceptable.  

Now, let me be very clear – I’m not talking about the bishops as much as I am talking to the bishops, and I want to encourage my fellow Catholics to join me in encouraging them to wrest control of that bureaucratic behemoth that dares to speak in our collective good names.

Having grown to more than 50 departments; nearly 40 committees, subcommittees and task forces, and employing more staffers than there are active bishops, it’s not exactly surprising that the USCCB has taken on a personality all its own – this is what bureaucracies do – and the bottom line in the present case is simply this:

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops all-too-frequently behaves more like a Political Action Committee intent on pushing an agenda than a body of Apostles called to carry out a mission.  

In the process, the USCCB seal-of-approval (and the influence that naturally comes with it) has at times been affixed to positions that are difficult to reconcile with an authentically Catholic worldview.   

While it appears that this situation is disagreeable to many of the bishops individually, it must be admitted that some members of the American episcopate rather seem to enjoy leveraging the power of the Conference’s name in order to lend credence to their personal  (and at times, questionable) political opinions. Though this latter group may very well be in the minority, let’s not forget St. Paul’s warning, “Know you not that a little leaven corrupteth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6)

Well, if recent history is any indication, it certainly appears as though the Conference’s “lump” has been so leavened.

On July 20, 2011, the Washington Post published an op-ed by USCCB Director of Media Relations, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, entitled, “Where’s the religious freedom in birth control mandate?

In it, Sr. Walsh made a plea for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide conscience protections as it considered whether or not to implement new guidelines requiring private health insurers to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization under the terms of the Healthcare Reform Act, (a.k.a. Obamacare).

Making note of the fact that “some contraceptives, such as the morning-after pills, can cause abortions,” Sr. Walsh stated, “I shudder to think that money I pay for health insurance should fund abortion in any way at all. I shudder even more to think that the U.S. government would force me to subsidize abortion and other services in order to get health insurance from a private company. This is Big Brother at his worst and… a clear violation of conscience.”

Sr. Walsh is, of course, correct and she should be applauded for her efforts to articulate and defend Church teaching in the matter.

That said, I feel compelled to remind Sr. Walsh (and by extension our bishops) that just sixteen months ago when the healthcare debate was still underway, the Washington Post published yet another of her editorials in which she elaborated on what it would take for the pending legislation to earn the approval of the Conference – not the imprimatur of individual bishops, mind you, but the rubber stamp of the bureaucracy.

“What the bishops have said is that for healthcare reform they would live with the status quo where the government does not pay for abortions or abortion-containing health plans [via the Hyde Amendment], but people who want abortion coverage can purchase it with other funds.”

Sr. Walsh went on to say that the Hyde Amendment “saves taxpayers from the ignominy of seeing their tax money used to end innocent lives.”

Unfortunately, that was not entirely correct then and it’s certainly not true now.

Hyde, which ostensibly forbids the use of Federal tax dollars to fund abortions, simply shifts the cost to the states while allowing them to pay for abortions from the left pocket even as they fill the right with healthcare money provided by the Feds. In other words, it’s little more than an invitation to engage in accounting trickery in order to pacify pro-lifers.

The unsavory fact of the matter is that government funded abortion is (and was as Sr. Walsh wrote back in March 2010) taking place right in the very shadow of USCCB headquarters in Washington, D.C. and seventeen other Hyde-complaint states with so-called “local” taxpayer money.

As I wrote in a column just after the Healthcare Reform legislation passed through Congress, remember who we’re dealing with here – an Administration that considers abortion a “right” and a matter of “reproductive health.”

To imagine that Obamacare would ever, in spite of any promises made, result in anything other than an explosion of offenses against human life was a fool’s bet from day one. It’s like handing the car keys to a stumbling drunk only worse, but for all intents and purposes that was the Conference’s position.

And what do we have to show for it now? As I write, CNN just announced the Administration’s decision “to cover several women’s preventive services, including birth control [without copays] and voluntary sterilization” in an article entitled, “HHS announces free birth control for women.”

The article also touted President Obama’s magnanimity for including an amendment “that allows religious institutions offering health insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.”

A victory for the Church? Not even close.

As Sr. Walsh’s most recent op-ed made clear, the USCCB had essentially resigned itself to the Obama Administration’s population control agenda, but rather than simply conceding and pleading wouldn’t the Conference have better served the mission of the Church and Her members by voicing outrage at the very notion regardless of any allowances for conscience? After all, isn’t that what we should reasonably expect from a Body of Apostles?

The truth is, even a meaningful conscience clause wouldn’t have changed the immorality of the proposal, but the “religious exemption” that was written into the new guidelines (to no rational person’s surprise) is according to a statement issued by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, “so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers.”  

I suppose we’ll never know for certain, but there’s a chance we wouldn’t even be having this regrettable discussion today had the USCCB simply placed the healthcare debate where it truly belonged in the first place – squarely within the fullness of Catholic social teaching, in which case it would have been abundantly clear to all concerned that Catholic doctrine is not a mandate for socialized medicine and government enforced universal health insurance. Rather, it is a call to morality, mercy and charity. It includes both solidarity and subsidiarity. It promotes upholding man’s dignity through collective effort in order to meet the needs of the broader community, especially those of the poor, but it also defends individual freedoms, including freedom from excessive government control — in this case, control at the hands of an Administration that has done more to promote the culture of death than any other in the history of the United States.

We all know what happened, and now we’re left to taste the bitter fruits of the USCCB’s bureaucratic predisposition for embracing leftwing statist solutions to the nation’s, and even the world’s, challenges. In other words, we’re simply paying the high cost of capitulation.

The healthcare debacle is just one case-in-point among many.

Consider, for example, the letter sent to Congress in the name of the Conference during the debt-ceiling debate calling for “raising adequate revenues” (a phrase that every politically literate American should recognize as liberal-speak for “tax hikes”) before going on to give the impression that the single greatest champion for human dignity on the planet is the Obama led Federal government.

Apparently the authors of this democrat-policy-position-paper-on-USCCB-letterhead are unaware of some important facts; namely, that the high distinction just mentioned belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, that taxation is no substitute for the demands of social justice, that one would be hard pressed to find a more grossly inefficient and wasteful middleman for facilitating the flow of aid to the needy than the Federal government, and most critical of all is that one of the first Executive Orders to come out of the current Administration is aimed at sending millions of dollars in taxpayer money overseas to fund abortions under the guise of humanitarian aid.   

Want more examples of the bureaucracy’s liberal orientation?

Consider the Conference’s docile acceptance of the John Jay Report’s incredible assertion that those priests who sexually molested teenaged boys were not necessarily homosexuals but were perhaps instead over-stressed heterosexual men with other issues, including a lack of access to females – a shameless case of leftwing pandering if ever there was one. (I happen to know that some bishops were personally, and unfortunately a bit too privately, outraged by this.)

Indeed, the case can be made (as I did in a column for LifeSite News) that it was well known that the John Jay researchers were unwilling to address the role that homosexuality played in the abuse crisis even before the USCCB awarded them the $1 million grant. In fact, this may very well be one of the reasons certain powerful forces within the Conference saw to it that they were precisely the ones chosen.

If all of this isn’t cause enough for concern, consider the flimsy commitment to Catholic doctrine demonstrated over the years by Catholic News Service – a wholly owned agency of the USCCB, (something I documented in a column here).

Add to the mix the Conference’s loophole laden voter’s guide, Faithful Citizenship – a document that gives so much cover to Catholics who are intent on casting ballots for pro-abortion candidates that Archbishop Charles Chaput was moved to say in a pre-election interview , “We either ought to get rid of it, or say things much clearer.”  

I trust the picture has been sufficiently brought into focus, so allow me to conclude by saying that I do not necessarily believe that the majority of American bishops share their bureaucratic namesake’s leftwing orientation. I am afraid, however, that too many of those bishops who share the concerns articulated herein appear, with all due respect, to be unduly influenced by group-think as it seems that the majority are largely unwilling to speak out as clearly as their exalted office might demand for fear of offending, or perhaps just embarrassing, their misguided brothers.

As a result, the assault against human dignity in America rages practically unabated, all-too-frequently with the active cooperation of those who march openly under a Catholic banner. Clearly Archbishop Chaput was correct when he said, “A quieter approach to these things has not been effective.” (ibid.)

We therefore implore you, good shepherds, to take the USCCB bull by the horns and drag it, kicking and screaming if necessary, away from the influence of liberal partisan politics so it can effectively carry out its critically important mission of building a culture of life; collectively and clearly sanctifying, teaching and governing the People of God in the name of Christ.

No, it won’t be easy, but please know that the lay faithful (or perhaps better stated, faithful laity) are prepared to do whatever it takes according to the demands of their own exalted vocation to support you and encourage you in the work that needs to be done.


Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio has been a columnist for Catholic News Agency since April 2009. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com.


  • Louie, you are willing to suffer white martyrdom, but all-too-many of our shepherds and fellow lay persons are not. I think the heart of the problem here is rampant moral cowardice. I don’t know what the answer is, other than to pray for the courage of the Church in America.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    Louie, this is an amazing article! Thank you.
    Here are a few comments. First, as an American Christian, I am fully convinced that the sad moral condition of the nation is the fault of the Church — both Protestant and Catholic. We have been willing (eager?) to go along with the most immoral, most vile public behavior. If there is any possibility of the nation arresting its moral, economic, spiritual and national power decline, that hope is only to be found in a revived, renewed Church. We certainly cannot hope that renewal will come from pagans or lukewarm nominal Christians. Your article will be an influence for righteousness.
    There is a thing which bothers me in contemporary political discussions: this is the use of the terminology ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. Both of these terms are too broad, too imprecise. They usually are less descriptive than they are laudatory or condemning. In your article, for instance, some expression such as ‘proponents of the death culture’ would be more descriptive than ‘liberal’ (Of course I’d expect you to express it more eloquently).
    You are all too correct when you suggest that the promises of our current political leadership are worthless. O for someone whose ‘Yes’ is ‘Yes’, and whose ‘No” is ‘No’.
    Finally, the culture of death and falsehood may be heading us toward euthanasia — for impoverished old Americans. This has been happening in other countries. The denial of COLA increases in Social Security payments, based on the glaring lie that there is no inflation, manifests the increasing marginalization of retired workers. A nation which slaughters many millions of its own babies ought not to be relied upon to preserve its aged citizens.

  • Steve G

    This is a great article. God bless you.