What’s so wrong with the Hyde amendment?

There are so many issues in the health care debate, you need a scorecard to keep up with them. One that keeps many people scratching their heads is what’s so wrong with the Hyde amendment? As Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh asks today in an op-ed piece in washingtonpost.com’s “On Faith” blog, why is the Senate hiding from Hyde?

Sister Walsh is the director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. bishops have come down firmly on the side of universal health care, but they are equally firm that reform of the current system must not include an expansion of federal funding of abortion itself or of insurance plans that cover abortion.  The Senate bill — the only one under consideration in this 11th hour of the debate — does not include any specific prohibition, such as the Hyde amendment, which forbids federal funds being used for abortions. Congress has refused to put a Hyde-like prohibition in the Senate bill, claiming that it isn’t needed. But as Sister Walsh points out, “The Hyde Amendment has been satisfactory for America for almost 35 years. Why not incorporate it into health care reform legislation now?”

Do we really need Hyde in this legislation? You bet, say the bishops. What would happen if there is no specific prohibition? One needs a crystal ball to say definitively, but hammering out public policy, especially such sweeping public policy, always means trying to anticipate the future and prepare for the “what ifs.”

Part of the bishops’ concern is over the “what if” community health centers, a federally funded program, suddenly found themselves forced to offer elective abortions. They do not do so now, but the bishops maintain that the reform legislation, if enacted into law, ultimately would require them to do so. This is a complex issue. The USCCB has issued a fact sheet explaining the quandry that health centers would find themselves in if the Senate bill is passed without a specific fix.

What’s the fix? As Sister Walsh points out, there is an easy one: Hyde.

Book captures spirit of the Irish

It may be March and it may already be St. Patrick’s Day — but it is just the right time to catch up on a December feature on a book about the Irish, written by John Shaughnessy, assistant editor of  The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. 

“I wanted to write a book that would be a tribute to Irish immigrants, like my grandparents, who came to America with their most important possessions: their dreams,” Shaughnessy told Criterion editor Mike Krokos. The book was published by Corby Books in Notre Dame, Ind.

“These stories would connect with most people because most of the stories in the books are about fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives — all relationships that touch our lives,” Shaughnessy added.

Celebrating St. Patrick and the San Patricios

After putting the corned beef in the Crock-Pot and digging out my silly leprechaun socks, I was in an Irish frame of mind this morning when I stopped in at my neighborhood Starbucks.

My eye caught on a new CD by the cash register — with artwork based on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the title “San Patricio,” the Spanish name for St. Patrick. The latest album by The Chieftains, who have made Irish music popular around the world more than 40 years, is a tribute to the San Patricios, a small battalion of solders conscripted by the United States during the Mexican-American War, 1846-48.

Made up mostly of Irish immigrants, the soldiers abandoned their posts and ended up fighting alongside the Mexican army under Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana. Ultimately they were defeated and the survivors tried for treason and hanged. The unit has become legendary among Mexicans and Irish, in part for the common bond of Catholicism the San Patricios shared with the Mexican people, at a time of anti-immigrant, anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in the United States.

A 1999 feature film about the San Patricios, “One Man’s Hero,” won several awards at the Sundance Film Festival and an ALMA award for its director, Lance Hool.

The Chieftains’ album is a blend of musical styles and performers: Irish tin whistles and uilleann pipes, Mexican guitar, accordion and mandolin; singers Ry Cooder, Linda Ronstadt, Lila Downs, Jorge Hernandez, Hugo Arroyo, Carlos Nunez and the Chieftain’s leader, Paddy Moloney. Irish actor Liam Neeson narrates one track: “March to Battle (Across the Rio Grande).”

The album’s lyrics, a combination of English and Spanish, tell of bravery and homesickness, of broken hearts and legends. In an editorial today, the New York Times riffed on the album to raise a toast for St. Patrick’s Day:

Here’s to the Irish, and here’s to the rest of us. May we never forget where we came from. Nearly all of us were Mexicans once. That is: the new immigrants, poor and reviled, propelled by hope and hunger into America’s prickly embrace.

It goes on to quote from one of the album’s classic songs, “Canción Mixteca,” sung in Spanish by the legendary Mexican band, Los Tigres del Norte:

How far I am from the land where I was born! Immense longing invades my thoughts, and when I see myself as alone and sad as a leaf in the wind, I want to cry. I want to die of sorrow.

The Times went on:

That old song, woven into the Mexican soul, is as Irish as it gets. And it’s an American song, too. We are all people who have lost our land in one sad way and found another. Whether we lament and celebrate in a pub or cantina, whether our tricolor flag has a cactus on it or not, we are closer to one another than we remember.

With Mexican folksongs in my headphones today, somehow I feel more Irish than the corned beef and the leprechaun socks could manage on their own.

U.S. health care owes much to religious orders

A photo published in Imagine One magazine illustrates how St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, W.Va., integrated its nursing staff in the early 1950s.

As U.S. health care reform moves into the congressional home stretch, it’s as good of a time as any to remember that organized health care in America owes much to Catholic religious orders, and most of those are religious orders of women.

The current issue of Imagine One magazine, which is published by the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, recalls some of the order’s earliest accomplishments in Catholic health care, as well as how members carry out health care ministry today.

In one feature, Sister of St. Joseph Helene Lentz recounts some great moments in the order’s history. You can download the magazine as a .pdf (Sister Helene’s two articles begin on Page 14),  but for readers’ convenience I’m copying three vignettes below. They are great reminders of the creativity, zeal, and just plain cleverness that these sisters — as well as other orders of men and women — exercised in taking care of the ailing and needy, and in building up a system that today delivers almost a quarter of U.S. health care.

Here are the three snapshots:

In the mining town of Pittsburg, Kan., in 1903, the sisters began one of the first managed care programs. They went to the mines and collected 25-cents per month from each miner to cover health care costs in case of an accident, illness or injury in the mines.

During a yellow fever epidemic in New Orleans, the sisters helped care for people in their homes where, as a precaution, doctors and nurses were not allowed to go. In appreciation, the city let the sisters ride free-of-charge on all public buses and trolley cars for many years thereafter.

In the 1920s, in the city of Kokomo, Ind., and surrounding areas, the Ku Klux Klan had significant presence and influence. When the Klan held a national “conclave” in Kokomo in 1923, white-robed Klansmen paraded through the streets carrying a large American flag by its four corners asking for contributions so that another hospital might be built in Kokomo. Local lore says that the Klan collected some $50,000 so that local residents “would not have to suffer the indignity of being born, cared for or dying in a Catholic hospital.” The Klan completed its new hospital in 1925; however, circumstances changed greatly and they could not continue their financial support. In 1930, the hospital doors closed and Kokomo auctioned the building for unpaid property tax. The sisters, working quietly through members of their advisory board, were able to buy the facility which, in 1936, became known as St. Joseph Memorial Hospital.

Pope will sign letter to Irish Catholics Friday

UPDATE: The Vatican has announced the letter will be published Saturday.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI said today that Friday he will sign his letter to the Catholics of Ireland on the sex abuse crisis and “send it soon after.”

Speaking in English at his weekly general audience, the pope said he wanted to mark the feast of St. Patrick by giving a special greeting to Irish visitors in St. Peter’s Square.

“As you know, in recent months the church in Ireland has been severely shaken as a result of the child abuse crisis,” the pope said. “As a sign of my deep concern I have written a pastoral letter dealing with this painful situation.

“I will sign it on the solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19), the guardian of the Holy Family and patron of the universal church, and send it soon after,” he said.

The pope asked people to read it for themselves “with an open heart and in a spirit of faith.”

“My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal,” the pope said.