The Devil in the Details: Health Care Reform and Prudential Judgement Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 18 March 2010 12:12
Trying to keep up with the debate over health reform and what position is truly in keeping with the Church's teaching is overwhelming for someone like me who has little time and is finding it difficult to evaluate the claims and counter claims.

At the moment, the US Bishops have posted resources to explain and support their current stand that they would "regretfully, have to oppose the final bill if these changes were not made"  (I say "current" because the ball is still in play and changes could conceivably be made that would make it acceptable to the US Bishops)

Meanwhile one group of Catholic sisters has come out in support of the health reform bill

And the other major group of Catholic sisters, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious,  in the US has come out against it

Archbishop Chaput of Denver has come out against it as has Archbishop Neumann of Kansas City, KS and Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, MO

but Bishop Lynch of St. Petersburg, FL is blogging and has modified his support for the USCCB position against the health reform bill as it exists at present.  Bishop Lynch quotes a letter from Sr. Carol Keehan which says that Cardinal George's statement mischaracterized the position of the Catholic Health Organization.

Pro-life congressmen and Senators are taking public positions on both sides of the issue.

Update: The intriguing Louisiana 2nd District Rep. Joseph Cao, a very serious Catholic, and the lone Republican to cross the aisle to support the earlier House version, has announced that he will vote against the Senate bill in its current form.

"Noting that the Senate bill is "much weaker than the version we passed through the House" in regard to abortion, Cao said he intended to vote against it.  Cao, appearing on "WDSU News at 4," said he could still vote "yes" on a health care reform package that was more restrictive on abortions.

He said his office has been flooded with calls and visits from those on both sides of the health care issue.

"We have people knocking at our doors, we have groups coming in, lobbying," he said. "It comes down to me and my own conscience and that's what I have to deal with."

Cao said that while most Louisianians oppose the measure, he recognizes that many in his mostly urban district want health care reform.

"We do need some kind of health care reform to assist many people in the district," he said. "But again, my decision to support the health care bill cannot contradict my conscience."



Meanwhile, Catholic bloggers are doing their best to fuel the debate, dividing down perfectly predictable lines:  the folks over at Dot.commonweal and the National Catholic Reporter being for the bill as it stands and Father Z and the National Catholic Register are sure it would fund abortion.

And I know serious, thoughtful, orthodox Catholics on both sides and I can feel a headache coming on because I feel so incompetent to make the necessary judgements.

Fr. Robert Imbelli, whose spiritual and theological depth I have come to admire, described his own position in a post aptly titled: The Devil in the Details

But I think it important to underline that this is a prudential judgment, based in part upon a personal, non-expert, reading of the material, but also on personal trust placed in those who seem to be both extremely knowledgeable and deeply committed to moral principles in keeping with the Catholic tradition. I certainly do not escape responsibility for that prudential judgment. May I also, respectfully, suggest that those who advocate for such a decision, in favor of the Senate bill, also bear an added responsibility for their advocacy.

It might be of help, then, if all sides were to acknowledge the fallibility of their prudential judgment, and that it is entered upon with a certain salutary “fear and trembling,” since so much is at stake."


The Catechism describes prudence as follows:

547. The lay faithful should act according to the dictates of prudence, the virtue that makes it possible to discern the true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means for achieving it. Thanks to this virtue, moral principles are applied correctly to particular cases. We can identify three distinct moments as prudence is exercised to clarify and evaluate situations, to inspire decisions and to prompt action. The first moment is seen in the reflection and consultation by which the question is studied and the necessary opinions sought. The second moment is that of evaluation, as the reality is analyzed and judged in the light of God's plan. The third moment, that of decision, is based on the preceding steps and makes it possible to choose between the different actions that may be taken.

548. Prudence makes it possible to make decisions that are consistent, and to make them with realism and a sense of responsibility for the consequences of one's action. The rather widespread opinion that equates prudence with shrewdness, with utilitarian calculations, with diffidence or with timidity or indecision, is far from the correct understanding of this virtue. It is a characteristic of practical reason and offers assistance in deciding with wisdom and courage the course of action that should be followed, becoming the measure of the other virtues. Prudence affirms the good as a duty and shows in what manner the person should accomplish it[1146]. In the final analysis, it is a virtue that requires the mature exercise of thought and responsibility in an objective understanding of a specific situation and in making decisions according to a correct will[1147].

The truth is that at this very moment, there are serious Catholics, truly desiring to think with the Church, and to protect the unborn, and who have studied and consulted with others who have a much larger experience in this area, and they are coming to divergent opinions in good faith.

That doesn't mean of course that they are objectively right in their conclusions..  In fact, it is possible - even probable - that both sides are wrong is some respect because the issues at hand are so complicated and some of the consequences are, as always, unforeseeable.   But that doesn't let us off the hook.   We have to make a choice. Because very important things are at stake.

But it does means that we have to retain a firm grip on the fact that equally faithful Catholics can come to different conclusions in good faith on this very, very complicated topic of health care reform because it falls into the arena of prudential judgement.

It will take as much courage and obedience to remember that in the midst of the hyper accelerating emotions and "he said-she said" that is flooding the media as it will to make our best discernment and act accordingly.