Last week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed their “disappointment” in an official communication over Harry Reid’s Senate health care reform bill containing language that “creates new and unacceptable federal policy for funding and coverage of abortions.” It was a blunt but still tepid condemnation of Obamacare. The USCCB has long supported universal health care, and that is their right. They have have also long opposed abortion, and that is their duty.  It seems the former has clouded their judgement on the latter. In an interview with, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia was very clear on the issue of abortion that it is always wrong, and yet he leaned heavily toward health care reform. He asked rhetorically, without answering: 

“The Senate health care bill that Majority Leader Reid released this week permits tax dollars to go to insurance plans which cover abortion.  And my question is: Would it be a mortal sin for a Catholic member of Congress to vote for this bill knowing that this provision is in it?” pressed him, asking specifically whether Catholic members of Congress can vote for Obamacare without substantial amendments on the issue of expanding abortion funding. Cardinal Rigali said that legislators must examine their well-formed conscience and come to a conclusion:

“Everyone is called. Yes, no, any bill, any bill that has abortion in it is in our opinion to be rejected,” Rigali continued. “But keep in mind that health reform as such is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But a bill that includes it, there’s no way in the world that it can be supported and if it comes down to that.  Once again we have the coming down as we examined in other questions. If it comes down to that, then we would urge, urge, a rejection because health reform is necessary, it has to be reformed, and it can’t be killing.”

Where did this man learn to speak? He appears to urge the defeat of Harry Reid’s abortion health care reform bill, but it took a long, winding and muddy road to get there. The bishops must be crystal clear in their communications. Here is my suggestion: “Yes, health care needs reform. Yes, we should make health care coverage more affordable and more accessible. But there can be no discussion of the merits of this or any other legislation as long as there are provisions in it that fund abortion. Catholic politicians are required to defeat this legislation. Let me be very clear so there can be no doubt to what I’m saying: it is a sin to vote for this bill.” That is what American Catholic Congressmen need to hear.

The bishops are called to lead their flock and they are not doing a very good job. This has nothing about to do with imposing a pro-life morality on the country. It has to do with Catholic politicians practicing what they profess to believe.

Oswald Clark is the economics reporter for The Interim and an Ottawa and Boston based economist.