In this spring’s debate over the healthcare bill, one of the disagreements that raised eyebrows most in Catholic circles was that between the US bishops conference and the Catholic Healthcare Association and other similar groups. The bishops claimed that the healthcare bill would lead to federal funding of abortions, while CHA et al. concluded that it would not.
In my opinion and that of numerous observers (including most of my fellow contributors here at TAC), the bishops were correct and CHA was horribly, terribly wrong.
There is another question, though… was CHA disobedient? That is, were they obliged as Catholics to accept the conclusions of the bishops conference? Was the activity of the bishops conference an act of their teaching charism which American Catholics were obliged to give their assent to?
This question strikes me as more difficult to answer than whether or not CHA was right or wrong in their conclusions, because the issue here is the competence of the Magisterium to determine the consequences of a particular legislative bill. I and many others think that the conference’s position was correct, but am I obliged to believe that because of the bishops’ authority on the matter, or because I am persuaded that their conclusions are valid? If the former, then it seems that we are saying that we are always bound to accept the bishops’ reading of any particular legislative bill. But are we?
It seems to me that in this case, the issue in question is the authority of the Magisterium to evaluate legislation, not the morality of federal funding of abortion. On the latter there is no doubt, but that is not so clear on the former.
Thoughts? Does the authority of the Magisterium extend to this sort of legislative analysis? If it does not, then how ought faithful Catholics respond to this sort of activity on the part of bishops? Are we free to choose which lobbying efforts of the bishops we agree with, as issues of prudential judgment? Or are we obliged to assent to the findings of the bishops on these matters?
I’d appreciate any comments.