I have trouble with the word “right.” Not the word that is opposite to “wrong.” It’s the noun—that which squares with morality. The Declaration enumerates the rights all humans should have: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A “right” is different than “might” which is sheer force. “Might” utilizes physical force to accomplish its goal either via bodily strength or psychological using instruments at one person’s command.
“Right,” as my old philosophy professor Fr. Ernie of blessed memory, told us is nothing more than moral power to do…to hold…or to exact something. To do implies either do perform or not perform an action (the Miranda warning for example: “You have the right to remain silent”).
I come now to the injunction a good many Catholic prelates use: “The right to health care” where they sanction its passage by justifiable might. None other than one of my favorites used it the other day—Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. He spoke at Houston Baptist University. Most of what Archbishop Chaput said made good sense—but like many other prelates of good will, when he turned to the subject of health care. He said this:
“First, while access to decent health care may not seem to be a `right’ in the same sense as our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Church does see it as a right.
TO WHICH WITH RESPECT, I SAY “REALLY?” SHOW ME WHERE THE CHURCH PROCLAIMS THE STATE MUST EXTEND IT.
“Second, a government role in ensuring basic health care for all citizens and immigrants can be very legitimate and even required.”
Again, to which I say really? The Archbishop does not cite the Corporal Works of Mercy…the seven practices of charity based on Christ’s prediction of the Last Judgment [Matthew 5:3-10] which we are commanded to extend of our own resources so as to determine each person’s final destiny—(1) to feed the hungry; (2) give drink to the thirsty; (3) clothe the naked; (4) shelter the homeless; (5) visit the sick; (6) visit those in prison; and (7) bury the dead. Christ did not say the state should do this nor did He say we should cheerfully endure the taxation needed to make the state an almsgiver. He said we should do this if we want Eternal Life.
He didn’t say grandiosely that every human has a right to these things, including being visited when sick by those who would comfort and heal. He was quite explicit. These are the Corporal Works of Mercy or Charity which we are to extend with our own resources if we have to attain eternal life.
Continuing with Archbishop Chaput at Houston:
“Third, the principle of subsidiarity reminds us that problems should be solved as locally as possible.” Okay.
“Fourth, no national health care plan can be morally legitimate if it allows, even indirectly, for the killing of the unborn or discriminatory policies and pressures against the elderly, the infirm and the disabled. Protecting the unborn child and serving the poor are not unrelated issues. They flow from exactly the same Christian duty to work for social justice.”
Of course, I salute the Archbishop for the laudatory goal of keeping abortion out of taxpayer-paid and subsidized national health care. No doubt about it. But I ask where is it written in either God’s law or the Church’s that at this stage of our nation’s precarious economic health, there is an obligation to pass universal health care via taxpayers and the state even without mandated abortion?
I don’t find it in the injunction of Christ nor, frankly, anywhere in Church law.
I cite this because of an article recently in the nonpartisan blog Politico that reports that the USCCB (the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) in the person of one Richard Doerflinger, associate director, are dickering with Sen. Harry Reid in the Senate to the extent that if the correct anti-abortion language is incorporated in the latest version, the USCCB will use its might…and by that it is implied might in Fr. Ernie’s definition…to use its powers of persuasion and all the clout this Church temporal has, to wring passage of the bill from a Congress that despite its top-heavy Democratic majority doesn’t want to pass it…and to wring passage that will apply to the U. S. taxpayers when every index of public opinion shows the American people think it is too great an economic burden.
Meaning that it will use collections from the church pews, I guess, to advance statism—statism being the antithesis of one of the main teachings of the Church…the Thomistic teaching that says private property is a moral power a person has to dispose of a thing and its utility according to his will, provided there is no infringement on the correlative rights of others.
Let’s understand what this man-declared “right” to health care…meaning taxpayer-subsidized health care in the United States…is. It will reach by every conservative estimate $2.3 trillion in cost on paper depending on how many people flock to “free” health care and how many businesses will be induced to drop health coverage. It is a hodgepodge likely to reach annual deficits of $400 billion in the first 10 years and $1.4 trillion over the next 10.
I for one heartily wish that some of our prelates would stop playing pontiff and desist from declaring inalienable rights not covered by Christ. Is this too much to ask?
Make no mistake: I thoroughly support the efforts of prelates and the USCCB to keep the evil of abortion out of universal health care. But at the same time I believe that it is also incumbent on the Church and its churchmen to emphasize that state assumption of private functions runs the risk of incurring a collectivist theory of morality.
Finally, it occurs to me that maybe our prelates are so cavalier about “rights” they urge the state to assume stems from the fact that their dioceses and they themselves in contradistinction to all of us, are tax exempt. I guarantee you this:
If they keep this up, there will be enough backlash in this country to insist that they too share the burden of the rest of us taxpayers.
That’s something for them to ponder and ponder well. They may then reflect on how many state mandated “rights” are required.
*: St. Eulogius of Cordova [AD 859]. Eulogius was born to a prominent family in Moorish-held Cordova, Spain. He was a gifted Catholic theologian who lived under Islamic occupation for many years and who would have become a bishop had he not been martyred. Most of his life was spent in this wealthy Moorish capital where extra taxes were paid by Catholics for freedom of worship and if they assisted a Muslim to be converted, this was punishable by death. He was ordained a priest by Benedictine Abbot Sperando.
Euglogius’ younger brother became a high official in the local Islamic court. Eulogius was described as devout, circumspect and kindly; in the habit of visiting hospitals and monasteries. For monasteries he drew up new rules. He was imprisoned in 850 during the persecution in Cordova. There he wrote his “Exhortation to Martyrdom” for two Catholic girls held in prison.
They were both beheaded. Eulolgius was elevated as archbishop of Toledo but never occupied the See. Then came the denouement: Eulogius helped a Catholic convert from Islam, Leocritia and helped her to escape. He was brought before the Kadi, the Muslim official presiding at his trial and laying aside all inhibition tried to convert him. He was beheaded as was Leocritia a few days later. He is buried at Cordova; his relics are at the Oviedo cathedral.