Efforts to reform health care and provide for the uninsured are currently stalled at the federal level but a leading Catholic theologian says she has not lost hope for change. More work, however, will be required from those want to see it occur, said Lisa Sowle Cahill, a professor at Boston College.
Cahill delivered the 10th annual John R. Portman Lecture in Roman Catholic Theology at the University of San Diego on Thursday night. She talked about the positive role Catholic Social Thought (CST) can play in advocating for health care justice but said it can also be an impediment.
Pointing to the 16 percent of Americans who lack health care, Cahill said the principles of CST — a preferential option for the poor and a respect for the dignity of each human being — can help guide the debate over reform.
“Faith and theology give us a different imagination, a stronger commitment and transformative possibilities in which we can all invest ourselves,” Cahill said. But the idealism of CST sometimes gets in the way of making the tough choices over conflicting priorities and limited resources that are necessary to create a system for universal coverage, she added.
And like many social or political movements, efforts by bishops and the Catholic Church have tended to take a “hierarchical, top-down” approach where elites in the church are talking to elites in the political and economic world. More efforts are needed to get those lacking access — ethnic minorities, women and the poor — involved in the debate, she said.
While a supporter of President Barack Obama, Cahill was critical of his message that health care reform can take place without the need for any reductions in benefits, additional taxes or significant changes to the system. She was equally critical of opponents of reform whom she said are frightening the public about threats to their health or welfare.
She also argued that efforts to prevent abortion should not come at the expense of reforming health care. Preventing abortion is “a priority but not the sole priority,” she said, referring to a Catholic voter guide from the last election. “There’s more than one strategy to reduce abortion and health care reform can be part of that positive strategy,” she said.
“Hope and real change require practical steps from all us,” said Cahill, urging supporters of reform to get involved at the grassroots as well as the national level in working for change. Noting the estimated 30,000 children around the world who die each day from poverty or lack of adequate health care, she also echoed the calls by both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II that access to care is a global issue.
Cahill’s talk was sponsored by USD’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and funded by an anonymous $2 million endowment donated in honor of Monsignor John R. Portman, the founding chair of the department.
— Liz Harman