Health Care Reform and the U.S. Bishops

The Facts About Health Care Reform and the Position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
by Tom Allio, senior director, Cleveland Diocesan Social Action Office

As you know, there is a lot of misinformation being disseminated nationally and locally about health care reform. Quite frankly, some organizations are distorting the truth to advance what appears to be their own agenda. Misleading information has appeared on television (through paid ads), on the radio talk shows, in newspaper columns, and spread throughout the internet by a variety of means. As a result, many parishioners are confused about what to believe regarding the current debate. We highly recommend that they be referred to the USCCB’s web page as an authentic source of teaching regarding the position of our Church on health care reform.

Our U.S. Bishops have been consistent and very clear about their position on health care reform. They have affirmed Catholic Social Teaching on Health Care. (See “A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform at ). On July 17, 2009, they issued an action alert, entitled “Reform Health Care and Protect Human Life and Dignity.” In this alert, the USCCB called upon Catholics to contact their legislators to tell them that health care reform should:
 Include health care coverage for all people from conception until natural death
 Continue the federal ban on funding for abortions and reject any mandate for abortion coverage or access to abortion
 Include access for all with a special concern for the poor and vulnerable and support inclusion for legal immigrants
 Preserve pluralism, including freedom of conscience for providers, health care workers and patients
 Restrain costs and apply costs equitably among payers

This action alert was followed by a July 27th alert that updates the progress of health care and underscores the Church’s position.

Also on July 17, 2009, Bishop William Murphy, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Policy, sent a letter to Congress. Bishop Murphy described health care as “a basic right belonging to all human beings, from conception to natural death” and said that “the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to ensure that needed health reform is not undermined by abandoning longstanding and widely supported policies against abortion funding and mandates and in favor of conscience protection.” Parishioners can find Bishop Murphy’s letter, as well as, a comprehensive listing of all the teaching and documents on health care reform, at

The Diocesan Social Action Office (DSAO) would also like to recommend to you the July 30, 2009 statement of Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro Life Activities. The Cardinal wrote to all members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urging them to amend H.R. 3200 to retain longstanding government policies on abortion and conscience rights.

Finally, the U.S. Bishops have launched an outstanding web site on health care. The web site can be accessed at Visitors to the site will find the position of the Church on health care reform, facts and statistics, frequently asked questions and information on how to get involved in reform efforts. You can also find the various letters to Congress and other statements of the Bishops.

The DSAO has recently issued two legislative hotlines dated July 20 & 28 that mirror the position of the Bishops’ Conference. They can be found at our web site at (scroll down to the legislative hotline listings). We unequivocally support the moral framework advocated by the USCCB. We hope this short overview is of help to you. Please spread the word about these resources.

I also highly recommend to you the recent letter to the faithful of Cleveland by Bishop Richard G. Lennon, Bishop of Cleveland. His statement is as follows:

18 August 2009

My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Over the past several weeks the various news media sources, print and electronic, have been covering the national debates about proposed health care legislation. It is hard to believe that anyone can claim to be unaware of such conversations and disagreements.

Cleveland, in fact our own diocese specifically our Diocesan Social Action Office, has been noted in some of the literature. Some organizations have gone so far as to state that our Social Action Office is in favor of proposed legislation as it stands in the legislative process. I am told the legislation does not explicitly mention issues of significance for Catholics and other people having similar values.

Imagine such a charge! When one takes a look at statements put forth by the Diocesan Social Action Office since mid-July, they support reform in the area of health care noting that for reform to be truly beneficial it must be for all and must not compromise the lives of the unborn.

It seems to me that some participants in this issue of major importance are more interested in attacking certain people and organizations than clearly stating their own positions and the reasons behind their positions, thereby hopefully entering into a meaningful dialogue in this public forum.

As leader to the faithful of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, I rely on the teachings of the Catholic Church underscoring all human life as a gift from God to be protected and preserved from conception to natural death; all human beings have a right to health care; any health care policy must respect the sanctity and dignity of all human life.

Recently, two of my brother bishops, Bishop William Murphy, Bishop of Rockville Centre, and Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, have written on this issue in their positions as Chairman, Committee Domestic Justice and Human Development (Bishop Murphy) and Chairman, Committee on Pro-Life Activities (Cardinal Rigali). Both of these churchmen have presented clearly Catholic teaching on this matter.

Bishop Murphy wrote that the Bishops “want to support health care reform” and do so
ever committed “that health care reform excludes abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life.”

Cardinal Rigali wrote “that health care legislation (must) respect human life and rights of conscience.” He went on to state “we urge you to make this legislation ‘abortion neutral’ by preserving longstanding federal policies that prevent government promotion of abortion and respect conscience rights.”


These teachings are the teachings of our Catholic Church and they are my teachings as Bishop of Cleveland and the teachings I expect all in leadership in our diocese to embrace and put forth during this time of national dialogue on health care reform.

Health care is a basic right that all people should have access to. However, this right does not override even more basic rights such as life and dignity of the human person. For health care reform to move in a direction that compromises the lives of some for the good of others would be totally unacceptable. A truly great society, a great nation takes care of all of its people, particularly the vulnerable. To this point I suggest that our interventions and conversations regarding health care reform be conducted in a civil manner and characterized by directness and faithfulness to our belief so that we may be heard.

The stakes in this matter are great; we need to be involved for the well-being of all, especially for those most in need.

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