Man up, bishops!

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Well, that’s not in the plain text of yesterday’s open letter on health care reform from an array of prominent progressive Catholic theologians and scholars, but you figure it’s the latent message they wanted to send. What they actually express is concern at a group of bishops (Naumann, Finn, Nikless, Aquila) who have departed from longstanding Catholic teaching that health care is a basic human right that governments must ensure.

Here, for example, is what Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, had to say on the subject today:

The health of their own citizens belongs to the
authorities, to the central government. And so I have been 16 years in
the States and I was wondering why a big portion of the American people
is deprived, have no health assistance at all. I could never explain

And you know that everywhere in the world it is a concern of the
government first of all, and after there are possibilities also on the
private sector, but those who are without anything… the central
government must provide to that. So I cannot but applaud this

The theologians note that Bishop William Murphy, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, wrote as much in his July 17 letter to members of Congress. They lament that the position articulated by Naumann et al. “only compromises the Church’s integrity in the public square, and urge
our bishops to consider how their words may be perceived by the media
and wider public.”

Will such consideration lead some bishops to speak out on behalf of their long-held position? Or will the majority’s preference for keeping their heads down and not contradicting each other publicly prevail?