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 May 24, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 10   •   Oakland, CA

  Commentary links
Health care remains cause for watchful concern
The Inquisition and Index: Vatican records shed light on dark chapter
Health care remains cause
for watchful concern

With the recent passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) providing a major overhaul of the health care system in the United States, it will take time to know what effect this will have on the moral and economic, as well as physical, health of the United States.

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

It will certainly allow greater access to health care for more people, although its provisions will be phased in over the next 10 years, with few mechanisms for controlling health care costs until 2020. The Alliance of Catholic Health Care has a PDF of the outline here with timelines for what will go into effect when. They also provide a PDF chart here indicating how the health care reform act will affect individuals.

USCCB position on
health care reform:

• A truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity;

• Access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of immigrants;

• Pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options;

• Restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers.
While this part of the bill responds to the decades-long call voiced by the U.S. Catholic bishops for health care accessible to all, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed this particular version of health care reform for a number of serious reasons.

Certainly a major concern remains the question of federal funding of abortion. While the bill does not explicitly make such provision, it also does not explicitly forbid it, as has been the case through the Hyde Amendment for over 30 years now.

Moreover, if, as some argue, the effect of the language of the bill is to keep federal funds from paying for abortion, one would have to question why an executive order from the President would be needed to provide for this, let alone how, in the first place, an executive order could have the statutory effect needed for this to happen.

Likely it will be for the courts to decide if the health care reform bill can allow for federal funding of abortion. As we know, the courts’ track record is not encouraging when it comes to upholding human dignity at the beginning of life.

But analysis aside, if the intention of Congress was to prevent federal funding of abortion in the health care reform package, they could have simply incorporated the language of the Hyde Amendment and left no doubt (as the House version of the bill had done). The Hyde Amendment has been voted in each year by Congress on appropriations through the Department of Health and Human Services; it does not apply to the PPACA because it was not explicitly placed in the bill.

The fact that Congress didn’t do this only raises suspicions as to what the real intention is, especially given the fact that the majority of Americans do not want their taxpayer dollars paying for abortion.

There is also concern over the lack of sufficient conscience protections for health care providers. Here again, the problem is more what the bill does not say rather than what it requires: among other things, it does not prevent government from discriminating against plans that refuse to participate in abortion or from mandating health insurers to pay for procedures that might violate the religious or moral beliefs of insurance purchasers.

Both of these concerns, i.e., abortion funding and conscience protection, are too legally complex to go into any further detail here. However, readers can learn more about these and other health care issues by visiting links to USCCB and California Catholic Conference documents here (PDF), here, here, here (PDF) and here (PDF).

This, though, is not all. My brother bishops and I have also been advocating for accessibility to health care especially for immigrants. Remarkably, the PPACA kept in place a requirement for legal immigrants to be in this country for five years before they become eligible for Medicaid. What is perhaps even more astonishing, undocumented immigrants are prohibited from buying health insurance even with their own money.

Obviously, this will not prevent them from becoming ill and injured and in need of health care, but they will be forced to forgo or delay it — the very thing health care reform is supposed to remedy.

I cannot but agree with those who have described this part of the health care reform bill as “just plain mean.” More information about this and other problems with the health care reform package is available from the California Catholic Conference linked from the diocesan home page.

While all of this points to some uncertainties as to the direction that the health care system in this country will take, what is certain is that no legislation, no matter how much good it may do otherwise, can be supported if it violates fundamental human rights.

The first of these is, of course, the right to life, because without that right, all others fall. Also fundamental are the rights of conscience and religious liberty, as well as the right to be accorded basic human dignity.

Time will tell if Congress will act to correct these deficiencies in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I urge our people to continue to learn more about this issue, and to use the knowledge they acquire along with their values to inform their participation in political life.

Let us continue to pray and act for a health care system that will uphold and enhance human dignity in all stages and conditions of life.

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The Inquisition and Index: Vatican records shed light on dark chapter

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Roman Inquisition and the Index of Forbidden Books obviously do not represent the brightest chapters in Catholic history, but newly published documents from Vatican archives should help scholars distinguish between the truth and the dark legends.

Hundreds of documents detailing the Church’s investigations of individuals and of written works during the Roman Inquisition have been published — most of them for the first time — in a new series released by the Vatican.

Reproducing records from the Inquisition’s activities — records held in the formerly secret archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the series hopes to shed light on how the Roman Inquisition really worked and to dispel age-old biases.

A lack of access to the archives, which were opened to the public only in 1998, meant some scholars and historians made “sweeping generalizations without sufficient foundation” about the Church’s aims during the Inquisition, a former papal theologian wrote in the volume’s preface.

Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, wrote that by focusing only on cases in which the Church acted extremely harshly — such as the condemnation of Galileo Galilei and the burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno, some historians concluded the Church was engaged in a vicious war against science.

It is “misleading to see the activity . . . as a struggle against science undertaken in the name of faith” when the Roman Inquisition actually was concerned more with preventing Protestant ideas from spreading, he wrote.

Thirteen years of cataloguing

Released at the Vatican May 12, the first volume represents 13 years of organizing, studying, cataloguing, and then transcribing thousands of documents from the Roman Congregation of the Holy Office, which dealt with individuals suspected of heresy, and the Congregation of the Index of Forbidden Books, which handled the suppression or correction of written works.

Titled “Catholic Church and Modern Science: Documents from the Archives of the Roman Congregations of the Holy Office and the Index,” the series’ first volume reproduced all the doctrinal congregation’s documents concerning science and natural philosophy from 1542 to 1600.

The volume contains the documents in their original language — Latin — but offers extensive footnotes, summaries and commentary in English by co-authors Ugo Baldini — a history professor at Italy’s Padua University and an expert on Galileo Galilei — and Leen Spruit — an expert on the censorship of science in early modern history.

Spruit told Catholic News Service that the Roman Inquisition did not target science and natural philosophy. Rather, he said, certain individuals and authors were condemned “often for their faith or religious creed.”

A perfect example, he said, is Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century Polish scientist who first proposed in 1543 that the earth revolved around the sun — a theory that would get Galileo in trouble a century later.

Copernicus was virtually ignored by censors until a Protestant wrote about his work and that author was put on the Index, not for supporting heliocentrism, but for being a Protestant, the book said.

Scientific ideas and proposals never mattered to inquisitors unless those theories negatively impacted the Church’s religious view of mankind, he said. And then it was the unorthodox anthropology that received condemnation, not the science, he added.

The first and only purely scientific trial the Roman Inquisition pursued was against Galileo, “and I think they consider that now as a very big mistake,” said Spruit.

In addition, scientific works like those written by Copernicus and Galileo were not condemned until they were published in the vernacular rather than in Latin, he said, “because then they could be more dangerous for a broader audience.”

New documents pertaining to Galileo’s trial are to appear in the series’ next volume dealing with the 17th century, which is expected to come out in 2014.

The authors asked what kind of impact the Inquisition had on the scientific community and if it hampered scientific progress.

‘A more honest assessment’

While the authors didn’t claim to have the answers, they did suggest historians will now be able to make a more honest assessment based on the series’ full reproduction of the archives.

The authors wrote that of the 86 cases handled in the 16th century, the majority of individuals involved were given very lenient sentences and their careers most often continued to thrive.

Baldini said authors in some disciplines, particularly astrology, became “more cautious” and censored more “risky” ideas themselves before publication.

The Inquisition certainly produced a climate of fear and intimidation, they wrote, but any claim that it was so oppressive that science was stunted “is enormously exaggerated,” Baldini said.

In the authors’ opinion, scientific advancement depends greatly upon economic development and available technology, not just religious or cultural approval.

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