Raymond Arroyo, the boyish looking host of EWTN’s news program “The World Over” continued his attacks on Sister Carol Keehan this week because of her support for the health care reform bill passed by Congress earlier this year. Arroyo and his guest, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, accused Sister Carol of being disloyal to the bishops who opposed the law.
This is rich. EWTN, you will recall, questioned the orthodoxy of Cardinal Roger Mahony because of a pastoral letter he issued on the Eucharist. Last time I checked, it is the Eucharist, not House Bill 3962, that is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith but that centrality did not prevent EWTN from being “disloyal” to the bishops.
Mr. Arroyo is perfectly at liberty to disagree with Sister Carol about whether or not the restrictions on abortion coverage contained in the health care bill were sufficient. But, he does not have the right to misrepresent her position. She did not “support abortion” in order to get health care passed. Sister Carol argued that the health care bill contained sufficient provisions to ensure that there was no federal funding of abortion. The USCCB adopted a different analysis that argued the provisions were not sufficient. But, it is maliciously false to argue that Sister Carol essentially winked at abortion coverage.
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The controversy brings to a head a general concern, articulated by Cardinal Francis George, the current USCCB president, that the current canon law does not allow bishops to govern effectively. Newly named bishop-elect, David O’Connell, gave voice to this concern in a different context when he spoke about the controversy regarding Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at last year’s graduation ceremony. O’Connell said in a recent interview, “Obama goes to Notre Dame and everyone gets their pants in a twist; 80 bishops pile on saying Notre Dame shouldn't have done that; the president comes and gives a speech; [the university] still turns away 1,000 students; they still get a million dollars in contributions; they honor the [papal] nuncio. ... They're back in the good graces of the church - what happened as a result of this?” Some may argue that the canons of the Church need to set out clear consequences for disagreement with the bishops. I would argue that the bishops should be more selective about when they do, and do not, “get their pants in a twist.”
In any event, Sister Carol should not be made to pay for the bishops’ frustration about their inability to govern. They need to realize that they must persuade or, better to say, they must preach the Gospel and let the Spirit persuade. As one priest said to me over the weekend, “Jesus did not have canon law and He did okay.” In the health care debate, many, many long-time pro-life leaders reached a conclusion different from that of the USCCB, and you would think that this would give all sides pause about the danger of making strong claims. It is not surprising that Mr. Arroyo has used this occasion to be vindictive but it would be a shame, and a disservice to the Church, if the bishops become vindictive.
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