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Partisan Politics Undermines Health Care Reform, Expert Says
Michael Swan
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, October 15, 2009
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TORONTO (CNS)—American Catholics who care about abortion and end-of-life issues are being cynically used in the bitter health care debate in the United States, said a leading U.S. expert on Catholic health care.

"It has partly to do with just political polarization between Democrats and Republicans in this country in the wake of the election of President (Barack) Obama," said Dominican Father Charles Bouchard, vice president of theological education at Ascension Health, a Catholic health care system headquartered in St. Louis.

If Catholics insist upon either total separation or final victory over people and institutions they disagree with on abortion, they won't be able to maintain their traditional presence in the health care system, Father Bouchard told Canadian Catholic News.

"We would have to get out of that business. We would kind of be like the Amish or other more sectarian Christian communities who obviously have deeply held Christian beliefs but they're not about to get tangled up with public policy and pluralism to run institutions," he said.

Father Bouchard will be the keynote speaker at this year's Dominican Family of Toronto lecture and seminar Oct. 16 at the University of St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged Catholics to press for health care reform without endorsing any particular plan. The bishops have maintained throughout the months-long debate that any reform measure cannot include coverage for abortion.

Getting Americans to think about health care in a new way is going to be difficult, Father Bouchard said.

"Americans think so differently about these things," he explained. "We have a kind of prevailing social ethos or cultural mindset of a type of individualism that does not sit well with anything that smacks of the common good or of social goods."

The Dominican priest said Catholics must be involved in large-scale public health care because it extends basic elements of the Catholic faith into the world.

"The reason our health care institutions are so widespread is because of our notion of sacramentality," Father Bouchard said. "We see these institutions as really a kind of sacramental presence of the church in the world."

Father Bouchard rates the massive change from religious to lay leadership in Catholic hospitals in recent years as the biggest challenge facing Catholic health care in both the U.S. and Canada. Strong leadership grounded in a Catholic ethos is necessary if Catholic hospitals are to continue with a distinctive mission, he said.

"The risk of compromise that comes with being involved in this pluralistic society with a ministry, and also the challenge of preparing lay leadership for the future to continue what religious communities did in the past, I think those are both enormous challenges," he said. "The survival of Catholic health care will depend on whether we are able to do those things or not in a pretty short time."

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