Archbp. Nienstedt (StP/Mpls) on health care reform

In his weekly column on the site of the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese, The Catholic Spirit, His Excellency Most Rev. John Nienstedt the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has some observations about health care.

My emphases and comments.

More thoughts on health care
By Archbishop John C. Nienstedt
Wednesday, 23 September 2009

While my schedule did not give me the opportunity to listen to President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress on health care Sept. 9, I did read the talk as published by the White House Office of the Press Secretary.

I was grateful to find his statement “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” (presumably, this also means no federally funded embryonic stem-cell destruction). [Destruction of embryos.  A good reminder.  The point is that federal money must not pay for the purposeful destruction innocent human beings.] Equally gratifying was his next statement, “and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”  In addition to these, the president’s support for Medicare assistance to senior citizens brings much relief.

It was also encouraging that President Obama made the words of Sen. Ted Kennedy his own:  “What we face is above all a moral issue. . . .”  This was the reason behind my column in The Catholic Spirit on Aug. 27. It is the sole reason that I brought the topic before the Catholics of this archdiocese.

As I have said before, health care reform is needed — that is not the question. But the real question is:

How will this health care reform define us as a nation and as a people?

The answer must include: [Nota bene:…]

1.) A statement disallowing taxpayer dollars to fund abortions and, necessarily connected to this prohibition, embryonic stem-cell destruction.

2.) A statement forbidding the practice of euthanasia.

3.) Allowing the federal conscience laws to stand.

Still time to weigh in

While the president’s words were encouraging, the process is not yet over. There are, at least, three versions of House and Senate bills being worked on, and none are in their final form. This means that Catholics must continue to monitor the process as it goes forward and [Get this:] contact their representatives in Washington, D.C., with their thoughts.

It is obvious that doing so is having an effect. (For the Senate, call (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak with your senator; call (202) 225-3121 to speak with your representative. If you do not know the name of either, give the operator your zip code and you will be connected to the correct office.[Q: Do you know the names of your Senators and your Congressman?]

Reading the commentaries of my brother bishops, I realized that I did not mention another essential Catholic principle that should have been included in my last column: subsidiarity, which posits that health care ought to be determined, administered and coordinated at the lowest level of society whenever possible.

In other words, those intermediary communities and associations that exist between the federal government and the individual must be strengthened and given greater control over policies and practices rather than being given less and less control.

To usurp this “hierarchy of communities” is terribly damaging in the long run, both to society as a whole and the individual citizen (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1883, Compen­dium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 185 ff).

Papal insights

Two quotes from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are instructive in this regard:

Pope John Paul II has written:

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending” (Pope John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus,” No. 48).

Pope Benedict writes:

The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need . . . .  In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) — a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human”  (Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 28).

To neglect the principle of subsidiarity inevitably leads to the excessive centralization of human services, which leads to higher costs, less personal responsibility for the individual and a lower quality of care.


WDTPRS kudos to Archbishop Nienstedt. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. The Archbishop has done very, very well, indeed.


  2. Fr. John Mary says:

    Amen, Archbishop, Alleluia. May our Lord preserve you and protect you from the Evil One. Amen.

  3. kradcliffe says:

    I really like this. He’s speaking sense, sticking to the issues that matter, without spinning off into some of the crazy fear-mongering nonsense I’ve been hearing.

    I am living in the UK. I love the NHS. I feel as if I am in exile as I cannot return home until I know I and my family can get health care (at this time, we could not.)

    I agree with final point about the State taking over the role of providing for the needy, etc. That is a problem in the UK. On the one hand, it is good that there is a safety net in place. On the other, the role of the Church and community has been weakened so much that it no longer knows how to act. I found myself in a bad situation with a child in the hospital 30 miles away, my right hand broken, and a newborn infant at home. Because of my broken hand, I was unable to drive a car to see the older child and unable to change the baby’s diaper.

    I called my parish priest, hoping that he could put me in touch with someone in the parish who could somehow help me. Honestly, I was thinking there might be some little old lady busybody sorts who could swoop in and help me by washing dishes and changing diapers. The priest said, “I don’t know what I could do. You should call West Dunbartonshire council. That’s the job of the local government agency.” I told him that I didn’t need that sort of thing, I just needed someone to come by and help. He said he’d see what he could do. He called the local council and asked them to call me. That’s all he knew to do. Needless to say, there wasn’t really anything he could do for me. The government does have some sort of assistance for the disabled, but it’s a big official thing that takes a long time to qualify for and then they come by maybe once a week or so. I just needed someone to come and wash my dishes and change a diaper for a temporary period.

    Later, when I talked to people about this, they looked at me like I was crazy. Why on Earth would I expect a lay person to help a fellow parishioner in need? That was the government’s job. The idea that the parish helped one another seemed utterly foreign to them. A few people said that doing that sort of thing on a casual, as-needed basis would be a bad idea because you need to have all sorts of background checks and training. Too much liability at stake in going to someone’s house and changing a diaper. Only the government can be relied upon to do that right.

    Apparently, this wasn’t always the case. The government has stepped in and taken over even this sort of charity within the community and convinced people that they shouldn’t even attempt it, themselves.

  4. mpm says:

    Good for Archbishop Nienstedt. These are principles, and not REPUBLICAN policies (as many DEMOCRATS have been accusing the bishops of recently).

    (WARNING: the following IS more political, rather than principle)

    I watched the Senate (Baucus committee) “debating” specific amendments to their markup yesterday. I wonder how many people realize that this bill (one of several) will put the IRS in charge of collecting premiums for the new plan? Some people will be exempt, but at 133% of the poverty level (i.e., about $25,000) and above, everybody will be responsible for providing proof of purchase of a medical insurance policy, or paying a “penalty” of $750-1,500 (surrogate for his “fair-share”). This will be due with your taxes on April 15, and SUBJECT you to penalties and interest if you don’t pay, AND will also place you in jeopardy (if a judge so finds) of serving JAIL-TIME!

    That’s their solution for universal coverage!

    But, it’s just TOO HARD to a) eliminate pre-existing conditions as a rationale for denial of payment (that would put TOO MUCH pressure on insurance companies — I kid you not, that’s what the DEMOCRATS are saying –), AND b) allow plans to be purchased outside state lines (that would solve the issue faced by the insurance companies (they need a larger pool of customers to break even), but we’ve already found a way to satisfy them), AND c) REFORM tort law in the medical practice arena (which would tend to reduce the practice of “defensive medicine”, which would free up medical resources and lower costs), AND d) figure out a proper way to make insurance “portable” (take it out of the hands of employers, which is a mere accident of 20th C. history).

    This is the best that THE WORLD’S GREATEST DELIBERATIVE BODY (as they call themselves) can come up with.

    Finally, Dick Morris (I know, I know, he’s a Republican strategist, but let’s just consider what he has to say), opined last night that too many people think they have “won” the battle, because they spoke up at town hall meetings, etc. Rahm Emmanuel (sp?) commented that we will have a health care bill by Thanksgiving, and it will be BI-PARTISAN (even if no Republicans vote for it)! You get the idea.

    He advised the same thing as Archbishop Nienstedt above: we have to make our concerns known to the legislators (especially, it would seem, the Democrats), because the pressure from the White House (czars?) is going to get really impressive.

  5. Agnes says:

    Aren’t we blessed? Thanks, your excellency!

  6. MichaelJ says:

    While I certainly agree with the good Archbishop about what any “health care reform” bill must contain, I find it difficult to agree with the premise that “health care reform is needed”

    Yes, there are many (46 million if the MSM is to be believed) that do not have health insurance but it does not follow that these people do not have adequate health care. In fact, as I understand it, Federal Law prohibits witholding health care from individuals on the basis of their ability to pay.

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