Catholic bishops from across the United States gather in Baltimore this week to discuss a new agenda for the Church. At the top of this list should be an address to the incoming 110th Congress to stand up for the common good as articulated by progressives on both sides of the political aisle and championed by a growing majority of Catholic voters.
Too many times in recent years these annual fall gatherings have been dominated by troubling news for the Church. This year they are unburdened by such sad news and can instead turn to critical social issues that many Catholic voters on Election Day last week said are of paramount concern to them. What’s more, there are progressive Catholic leaders in the House and Senate, including the incoming Speaker of the House and Assistant Majority Leader of the Senate, to whom they can address their concerns.
Catholics have earned a sit at the table. The question is what they will do now that they are there.
A useful start is to push for their common good approach to the challenges facing the world—particularly the most vulnerable in Africa and South Asia—as a result of global climate change. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has argued that immediate action must be taken to curb global warming. Now they must take the next step and put pressure on the federal government to work with them to bring about change. It is simply untenable for the United States to continue to be the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases while refusing to join the rest of the world in taking concrete, verifiable steps to reduce such pollution.
At the same time, the Bishops can demand that Congress comprehensively address the immigration challenge facing this country. The Bishops have been leaders in the call for comprehensive reform over the past several years. They can help close out this debate with successful enactment of comprehensive reform by keeping Congress’s feet to the fire.
The bishops can also take action to begin insuring the 47 million uninsured Americans today who are in dire need of health care coverage. It’s past time for Congress to enact comprehensive health reform to reduce health costs and ensures universal coverage. Our Catholic leaders have a particularly salient voice on this topic.
With their ethic of refusing care to no one, Catholic hospitals across the country bear the brunt of the challenge posed by the uninsured. When uninsured patients come to a Catholic hospital, they are cared for—and the taxpayers and other covered patients are forced to foot the bill as costs get shifted from the uninsured to the covered patients. Recent studies suggest that as much as 9 percent of the increase in health costs are the result of such cost shifting.
We can also expect that the Bishops will call on the new Congress to take steps to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Congress should do so, but it should not believe that criminalizing the procedure or threatening to imprison women or their doctors is the answer. Indeed, we hope the Bishops will call on Congress and the Bush administration to address the broader social issues in the abortion debate.
As the 110th Congress—with newly elected Catholic leaders arguably put in office by progressive Catholic voters—prepares its new agenda for the next two years, now is a great time for U.S. bishops to dedicate themselves anew to the common good.