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Calling All "Fake" Catholics

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Deal Hudson--formerly of the conservative Catholic Crisis magazine--used his InsideCatholic blog to denounce two Catholic political interest groups lobbying for health care reform: Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, although he calls them "fake" Catholic groups.

Hudson appoints himself the arbiter of what is Catholic, and if you support health care reform that in any way might lead to an abortion paid for with public funds, you are not one. (Hudson told US News and World Report's Dan Gilgoff that calling the groups "fake" was "journalistic hyperbole," which I guess is another name for calling people names.) Hudson goes on at length to point out the connections these group have to the Democratic Party and George Soros (while not mentioning his own GOP paymasters, for whom he courted Catholics on behalf of previous administrations).

According to Hudson, Catholics should oppose health care reform if it in any way directs public money to abortion--even if it does practically guarantee health care for children already born. Abortion, after all, is a "non-negotiable," and you're a "fake" Catholic if you disagree with him.

Well, I disagree with him, and if he wants to have a debate about whether I'm a Catholic, I say: Bring it, Deal. It's time for Catholics with actual knowledge of the breadth of the Catholic tradition to start speaking up for themselves before we all get read out the church.

Case in point on abortion: While the church does teach that procured abortion can never be morally justified--and Catholics are bound to that teaching--Catholics are free to hold different positions on how the right to life should be pursued in the public sphere. Our common goal is no abortions; our paths can differ. There is plenty of evidence that making abortion illegal actually does little to prevent it--it just forces women in crisis into dangerous and desperate situations. Catholics who argue that access to affordable health care and other progressive social policies will reduce abortion are on solid moral ground.

I'm not the only Catholic who is willing to do the difficult moral math and judge health care reform worth the difficulty surrounding abortion funding. On Christmas Day The New York Times reported that both the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, whose member congregations built the bulk of the Catholic health care system in this country, came out in support of the Senate's approach to the segregation of public funds from premiums used to fund abortion coverage. (UPDATE: Sister Carol Keehan of the CHA denied any divergence between CHA and the bishops in a Catholic News Service story yesterday.)

In other words, you don't have to limit yourself to what is finally the clumsiest of moral arguments and say that abortion alone is the make-or-break issue for Catholics when it comes to health care reform. Catholic teaching has long recognized access to health care as a human (not merely civil) right. (And you'll note that the loudest voices on abortion have said next to nothing about the fact that more than 10 million undocumented immigrants are explicitly excluded from this measure, which should outrage any Catholic.)

Not all Catholics are willing to make the perfect the enemy of the good when health care for a further 31 million of our fellow citizens is at stake. And they're every bit as Catholic as Deal Hudson.

Bryan Cones is managing editor of U.S. Catholic magazine in Chicago.

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