Should we be worrying about “death panels” within the Church?

As healthcare reform continues to be debated in Congress it seems the nation is just starting to recover from the fear tactics that were employed throughout the summer by the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party (or “Tea Partiers” as they would have it, they’re die-hard patriots). Foremost among these shrill naysayers was former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Mrs. Palin notoriously derided details of the prospective health care bill that provided for end of life decisions as “death panels”  and claimed that they would be initiated by the government to ration medical services to decrepit senior citizens. Thus, the flame of paranoic terror and ignorance was ignited throughout the country, visibly expressed in the open hostility and incivility of the town hall meetings that characterized Congress’s August recess.

Things seemed to have calmed down substantially since then, hopefully for the better and for the sake of universal health care for all Americans.

 Last week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held their annual fall gathering in Baltimore, Maryland. Interestingly, this was the first meeting of the prelates since the election of President Obama last November. After realizing that their calls for opposition at all costs to then-Senator Obama, and all that he stood for, had fallen on deaf ears (even though the Catholic vote was split almost evenly, the majority was allotted to Barack Obama) Cardinal Francis Francis George of Chicago (President of the USCCB) issued a stern warning to all Catholic identifying organizations who might differ in any way from the Bishops’ Conference’s definition of orthodoxy.

During the course of the meeting Cardinal George stated that any organizations that claimed to be Catholic yet functioned independently from the bishops were “sectarian, less than fully Catholic.” He went on to say that “committees” had been created among the prelates to discern which institutions would be considered genuinely Catholic.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? What of the “visitation” of dedicated American religious women who have chosen to think objectively and rationally rather than blindly when it comes to interpreting certain issues? Is this now the lay phase of the sweeping neo-Inquisition that has erupted within the Church? Should any person or entity that describes themselves as Catholic expect to be examined, interrogated, and judged by these “committees?”

To me, it seems that the current leaders of the Church have forgotten that the Catholic Faith is about professing belief in a Person, not a set criteria of ideological statements. Everything that is fundamentally necessary to the wellbeing of any Christian is contained within the Church’s Credo. The redemptive Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is what all of Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the entire scope of Christianity is oriented toward.

Did Jesus instruct His disciples to prowl the reaches of the earth searching for “heretics?” In the earliest days of the Church contentious issues were debated vigorously until a consensus that could be said to have been reached by the intervention of the Holy Spirit was reached. The great debate over Gentile converts and the question of circumcision in the Acts of the Apostles, which lead the early Church to convene it’s very first attempt at a council in Jerusalem, is a prime example of this dynamic.

Just as Sarah Palin’s “death panels” eventually amounted to nothing so we can only hope and pray that these proposed “committees” will prove to be only a fear tactic and not come to fruition or risk further polarizing and preventing the universal Church from functioning in cohesion, civility, and harmony.

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About Phillip Clark

Phillip Clark is a social justice visionary, writer, and legal worker in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a contributing author to “Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: Real-Life Stories by Young Adult Catholics.” Interests include politics, theology, civil/human rights, social justice, LGBT rights, international relations, and history.

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