The Church and Healthcare
If the election taught me anything, it’s that the majority of Americans think us Catholics are crazy for thinking that the Administration’s Health and Human Services Mandate has put our religious liberty at risk. In fact a good amount of Catholics voted for the re-election of Barack Obama despite the fact that every US Bishop united against this health mandate.
First let’s be clear that the Catholic Church is in no way against universal access to healthcare. In fact the opposite is true. The Church is very pro-access to healthcare; She teaches that healthcare is a basic human right:
PACEM IN TERRIS (April 11, 1963):
11. But first We must speak of man’s rights. Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, he has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from his work; widowhood; old age; enforced unemployment; or whenever through no fault of his own he is deprived of the means of livelihood. (8)
19. Besides wages, various social benefits intended to ensure the life and health of workers and their families play a part here. The expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand thatmedical assistance should be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge.
COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH:
166. The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights. These demands concern above all the commitment to peace, the organization of the State’s powers, a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom. Nor must one forget the contribution that every nation is required in duty to make towards a true worldwide cooperation for the common good of the whole of humanity and for future generations also.
Something we can all agree on: Everyone should have access to healthcare. This doesn’t mean that healthcare absolutely has to be provided by the state, but the state nonetheless has the responsibility to make sure all of its citizens have access to basic healthcare in one way or another.
The HHS Mandate and Religious Freedom
To understand why we Catholics keep saying our religious freedom is at risk, you have to understand that being apart of the Church means a lot more than going to mass on Sundays. To be a Christian means to spread the Gospel.
I know that when I say “spread the Gospel,” most people automatically think of going door-to-door and trying to get people to come to church, but let’s stop and think about that for a second. In the Church we have hundreds of thousands of men and women who choose to dedicate their lives to the service of Christ and His Church by taking religious vows—but how often do you see priests/brothers and nuns/sisters going door-to-door to try and get people to come to church? Not too often…
Why is that? Because one of the primary ways the Church spreads the Gospel is by literally bringing the love of Christ to God’s children in the world. This is why the Church establishes hospitals to care for the sick, or starts schools to teach children to read and write, or builds orphanages to care for children. It’s not just because these seem like nice things to do, or because they are good PR moves; it’s because the Church is established to spread the Gospel. And all of this is spreading the Gospel, because all of this is truly laying down one’s life in the service of another.
And all of this is what’s at risk. Because the HHS mandate only defines a “church” as where we go to worship on Sundays. It doesn’t take into account that Christianity is mission (i.e. the Catholic Church doesn’t have a “missionary aspect;” The Church is mission). The HHS mandate forces these hospitals, orphanages, and schools to pay for services that are contrary to the Church’s mission (contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization), and thus forces them to shut down, cutting off all of the good that the Church does for people of all religions and all walks of life.
It should be noted that this fight has never been about wanting to limit access to contraception. We in the Church just want to right to obey our conscience by not being forced to pay for services that violate the tenets of our faith.
This is why for nearly the past year we’ve had rallies for religious freedom; this is why we may seem more devastated at the results of this presidential election than we ever have in the past. And this is why I’m asking all of you to pray and to stand with those of us in the Church who are concerned about our religious freedom.
To answer the title of this post: Is the Church in the US really in trouble? It does seem that way. But what is more troubling is the state of the many people in the US (Catholic or not) that depend on the Church for assistance. But should we despair? Of course not. The Gates of Hell will not prevail, remember?