Top Catholic Cardinal Says 'No Way' Catholic Members of Congress Can Support Senate Health Care Bill That Funds Abortion

November 23, 2009 - 8:01 PM
"The bishops of the United States support "universal, affordable health care for everyone," Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, told CNSNews.com. "But we make a distinction between health care and killing, so abortion is out of the question," he added.

Musician Jon Bon Jovi, right, and Cardinal Justin Rigali appear at a news conference on Wednesday, July, 8, 2009. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) -  A top Roman Catholic cardinal told CNSNews.com that there is “no way” Catholic members of Congress can support the Senate health care reform bill as long as it includes a provision that allows tax dollars to go to insurance plans that cover abortion. 
 
At the National Press Club on Nov. 20, CNSNews.com asked Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia: “The Senate health care bill that Majority Leader Reid released this week permits tax dollars to go to insurance plans which cover abortion.  And my question is: Would it be a mortal sin for a Catholic member of Congress to vote for this bill knowing that this provision is in it?”

 

 
“Well, first of all,” Rigali responded, “the Catholic Church and, therefore, individual Catholics, are completely against abortion. So our position is that, first of all, a health care bill can be a great, great blessing to our country. The bishops of the United States have been in favor, for long years, in favor of universal, affordable health care for everyone. So this, this is something that is extremely important.
 
“But we make a distinction between health care and killing,” Rigali continued. “So abortion is out of the question--as we’ve spoken about the value of human life. And everyone is called upon to do everything possible to see that when we are trying to get laudable health care—and that’s what we hope to get—laudable health care, but certainly abortion will be excluded from that.  So we exhort everyone of good will that this is for the good of our country. This is for the good of individuals. We have to make sure that health care doesn’t end up as killing. So everyone is challenged to make his or her contribution, and we’re counting on legislators to make sure this is not part of what is going to rule the lives of people.”
 
When asked in a follow-up question whether it would be a mortal or venial sin, or not sinful at all, for a Catholic member of Congress to vote for the health care bill knowing that it would provide tax dollars to health insurance plans that cover abortion, Rigali said that people need to follow a well-formed conscience, and that a well-formed conscience would recognize that abortion is “absolutely wrong” and that there is “no way in the world” a health care bill can be supported if it includes a provision allowing tax dollars to go to abortion coverage.
 
“People have to follow their conscience, but their conscience has to be well-formed,” said Rigali. “And you have to make sure that when it is a question of doing something that has a provision, if it has a provision in it for abortion, then this is absolutely wrong by every standard and not by the standards of the Catholic Church as you see here today.  It’s the standards of Christian, standards of the natural law. 
 
“Everyone is called. Yes, no, any bill, any bill that has abortion in it is in our opinion to be rejected,” Rigali continued. “But keep in mind that health reform as such is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But a bill that includes it, there’s no way in the world that it can be supported and if it comes down to that.  Once again we have the coming down as we examined in other questions. If it comes down to that, then we would urge, urge, a rejection because health reform is necessary, it has to be reformed, and it can’t be killing.”

Baby at 5 months gestation

Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, is also the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee for Pro-life Activities.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Action Institute, which seeks to promote Judeo-Christian ideas with free market principles, attended the event at the National Press Club where CNSNews.com asked Cardinal Rigali about the sinfulness of a Catholic member of Congress voting for a health care reform bill that funds abortion. Fr. Sirico offered commentary on the cardinal’s answer.

“When you ask if something is a mortal sin or a venial sin, you’re asking a question with regard to the individual act,” said Fr. Sirico.

Fr. Sirico drew a distinction between the objective moral status of an act and the subjective moral culpability of the person who commits it.

“When we’re talking about the broad morality of the thing, we’re talking about as it exists in natural law,” he said.  Abortion and funding abortion violate the natural law and are gravely immoral. But for a person to commit a mortal sin, Sirico said, three conditions must be met: the act must be gravely wrong, the person must know it is gravely wrong, and the person must deliberately choose to do it.

“So, the reason the cardinal seemed like he wasn’t answering the question directly is because you can’t judge this along every congressperson, because it depends on their individual knowledge and their individual act of free will,” Sirico said.

“And so, it is grave, and if a person knows that it’s grave, and acts upon it freely, they may have committed a mortal sin,” he said.
 
The Catholic Catechism says: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother. The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger. Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin. Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man.”

The USCCB, which speaks for approximately 300 active bishops in the United States and is headed by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, has sent several letters to members of Congress urging lawmakers to bar taxpayer-funding of abortion in health-care reform bills. On July 17, for example, the USCCB sent a letter to all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, saying, “We have in the past and we must always insist that health care reform exclude abortion coverage or any other provisions that threaten the sanctity of life... No health care reform plan should compel us or others to pay for the destruction of human life, whether through government funding or mandatory coverage of abortion.” 
 
The letter was signed by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the Domestic Justice Committee.
 
On August 11, Rigali sent congressional representatives a letter to underscore the USCCB’s July 17 letter to Congress, writing, “Much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an ‘abortion rights’ agenda or reversing longstanding policies against federal funding and mandated coverage of abortion.”
 
On Sept. 30, the USCCB called on senators to bar federal funding of abortion in health care reform, saying, “We urge you to … support a fair and just health care reform bill that excludes mandated coverage for abortion and upholds longstanding laws that restrict abortion funding and protect conscience rights.  No one should be required to pay for or participate in abortion.  It is essential to clearly include longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding/mandates and protections for rights of conscience.” 
 
The letter continued, “So far, the health reform bills considered in committee, including the new Senate Finance Committee bill, have not met President Obama’s challenge of barring use of federal dollars for abortion and maintaining current conscience laws.  These deficiencies must be corrected.” 
 
The Sept. 30 letter was signed by Murphy, Rigali, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the Committee on Migration.
 
On Oct. 8, the USCCB sent a letter to members of the House of Representatives, saying, “We continue to urge you to … exclude mandated coverage for abortion, and incorporate longstanding policies against abortion funding and in favor of conscience rights.  No one should be required to pay for or participate in an abortion.  It is essential that the legislation clearly apply to this new program longstanding and widely supported federal restrictions on abortion funding and mandates, and protections for rights of conscience.”
 
The bishops added that they “will have to oppose the health care bill vigorously” if safeguards against federal funding of abortion are not realized. The letter was signed by Murphy, Rigali, and Wester.
 
On Nov. 6, the USCCB sent an urgent message to House members, imploring lawmakers to “support an amendment to keep in place current federal law on abortion funding and conscience protections and to oppose a closed rule that would prevent the House from voting on this crucial matter.” 
 
“Without such protection we will have to oppose the current legislation until this fundamental flaw is remedied,” wrote Bishops Murphy, Rigali, and Wester.
 
Pastors of all the Catholic churches across the nation also were called upon by the USCCB to do their part to resist federal funding of abortion in health-care reform.  On Oct. 29, the USCCB sent bulletin inserts to almost 19,000 parishes, the same day the House of Representatives unveiled its 1,990-page health care plan. The insert was headlined, “Tell Congress:  Remove Abortion Funding & Mandates from Needed Health Care Reform.”
 
The insert further urged parishioners to contact House members and senators to address conscience protection concerns and to “fix these bills with pro-life amendments” to ensure federal funds are not used to cover abortion through the health care bill.
 
“Health care reform should be about saving lives, not destroying them,” read the insert.
 
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB, issued a statement on Nov. 9 in which he praised and thanked the House of Representatives for passing the Stupak amendment, which bars federal money from going to elective abortions.
 
The Stupak amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), would prohibit federal funds from paying for any part of any health insurance plan that covers abortion. It passed in the House on a bipartisan vote of 240 to 194, after heavy lobbying by pro-lifers, including staff from the USCCB, and after Stupak and at least 40 other Democrats threatened to kill the health care bill unless allowed a vote on the amendment.
 
In passing the Stupak amendment, “the Representatives honored President Obama’s commitment to the Congress and the nation that health care reform would not become a vehicle for expanding abortion funding or mandates,” wrote Cardinal George.
 
“The Conference [USCCB] will remain vigilant and involved throughout this entire process to assure that these essential provisions are maintained and included in the final legislation,” he said.
 
At the National Press Club, Rigali spoke alongside other prominent Christian clergymen and scholars about the release of the Manhattan Declaration, a statement that proclaims the sanctity of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty. 
 
Those in attendance included Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C.; Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. of Hope Christian Church; Prof. Robert George of Princeton University; George Weigel, distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and founding president of the James Madison Foundation; Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council; and Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family.
 

 

 
Here is a transcript of the exchange between CNSNews.com and Cardinal Justin Rigali:
 
CNSNews.com:  “The Senate health care bill that Majority Leader Reid released this week permits tax dollars to go to insurance plans which cover abortion. And my question is: would it be a mortal sin for a Catholic member of Congress to vote for this bill knowing that this provision is in it?”
 
Cardinal Rigali:  “Well, first of all, the Catholic Church and, therefore, individual Catholics, are completely against abortion. So our position is that, first of all, a health care bill can be a great, great blessing to our country. The bishops of the United States have been in favor, for long years, in favor of universal, affordable health care for everyone. So this, this is something that is extremely important.
 
“But we make a distinction between health care and killing. So abortion is out of the question, as we’ve spoken about the value of human life. And everyone is called upon to do everything possible to see that when we are trying to get laudable health care—and that’s what we hope to get—laudable health care, but certainly abortion will be excluded from that.  So we exhort everyone of good will that this is for the good of our country. This is for the good of individuals.     We have to make sure that health care doesn’t end up as killing. So everyone is challenged to make his or her contribution, and we’re counting on legislators to make sure this is not part of what is going to rule the lives of people.”
 
CNSNews.com: “All right.  So would it be a mortal sin or a venial sin or even sinful at all for a Catholic lawmaker to vote in favor of a bill that still has that provision in it that would cover abortions?”
 
Cardinal Rigali: “People have to follow their conscience, but their conscience has to be well-formed. And you have to make sure that when it is a question of doing something that has a provision, if it has a provision in it for abortion, then this is absolutely wrong by every standard and not by the standards of the Catholic Church as you see here today.  It’s the standards of Christian, standards of the natural law. 
 
“Everyone is called. Yes, no, any bill, any bill that has abortion in it is in our opinion to be rejected. But keep in mind that health reform as such is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But a bill that includes it, there’s no way in the world that it can be supported and if it comes down to that.  Once again we have the coming down as we examined in other questions. If it comes down to that, then we would urge, urge, a rejection because health reform is necessary, it has to be reformed, and it can’t be killing.”