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The mix of politics and religion can be an intoxicating cocktail. Just now you can smell the incense everywhere, from Martha’s Vineyard to Washington, D.C. For a Left that obsesses over a wall of separation between church and state, when death comes and health-care bills need rallies, there is little hesitation to break out the devotional smells and bells. But the loss of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most prominent Catholic politicians in the United States, a leading proponent of the president’s health-care-reform push, should not obscure a pivotal fact: Barack Obama has put himself at war with the Catholic Church.
In one of the most overlooked news stories of the health-care debate, the president said, during a conference call organized by liberal religious activists: “I know there’s been a lot of misinformation in this debate. And there’s some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness.”
The president probably doesn’t actually want to engage in a public examination of political conscience. Because bringing up this Commandment inevitably makes one meditate on an earlier one on the list, which deals with human life itself. Obama’s accusation was made in direct reference to the debate about abortion and the health-care bill. “You’ve heard this is all going to mean government funding of abortion,” the president said. “Not true.”
He added that the “fabrications” were “put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation.”
And with that, the president inadvertently began to pull away the vestments from the eyes of Catholics who had thought he was a perfectly acceptable representative of their views.
On August 11, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives about the health-care legislation under consideration. He highlighted legislative language that would open the door to taxpayer-funded abortions. He pointed out that when amendments were introduced this summer that would have protected against this — would have protected life – they were shot down. That’s a bad precedent. If that’s how life fares when the C-SPAN cameras are on, what happens when it comes time for the behind-closed-doors compromises?
Not only is Rigali the ordinary of Philadelphia, he engages in the health-care debate in his position as chairman of the Pro-Life Activities Committee of the U.S. Bishops Conference, speaking on behalf of all the bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States. And he is far from the only bishop who has spoken out against some of the doing-harm details that have turned up in some versions of the health-care legislation. Denver’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput put it bluntly: “Killing or funding the killing of unborn children has nothing to do with promoting human health, and including these things in any ‘health care’ proposal, no matter how shrewdly hidden, would simply be a form of lying.”
The Catholic coalition against the reckless rush to pass this legislation got an unlikely ally recently in liberal preacher and Obama collaborator Jim Wallis (the author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It). In a CNN interview, Wallis admitted what the president wouldn’t: that current iterations of Obamacare are not clear “yet” on abortion funding. Is Wallis bearing false witness, too?
There are many complex, legitimate issues that blur the lines between moral obligations and political choices. But sometimes the choices are crystal clear. For Catholics, but not only for Catholics, any expansion of legal abortion — and taxpayer-funded abortion — speaks to the most profound obligation: to protect vulnerable human life.
So the president’s casual and patronizing invocation of a divine commandment was the ultimate in unholy political disses. And while the coverage may pale in comparison to the ubiquitous coverage of the Kennedy funeral Mass, it is significant as a practical, moral, and political matter.
If Obama didn’t care about the mere moral factor, and if he could put aside the political aspect, a very practical matter still remains: There are over 600 Catholic hospitals in the United States. The bishops in whose dioceses these hospitals reside represent the largest health-care provider in America, one that has been vital to the American story. And they are, by the way, on board with the idea of reforming health care, ensuring that everyone who needs care gets care (it being their business and all). But as another bishop, William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., put it in an earlier communication with Congress, “Genuine health-care reform that protects the life and dignity of all is a moral imperative and a vital national obligation.”
President Obama is entering the territory of multiple-Commandment violations. And while that is a matter of concern for his eternal soul, it is also, as a policy matter, unconscionable.