Sister Simone Campbell came to Yankton this week to talk about health care, the Affordable Care Act, and the Catholic commitment to social justice. The Catholic nun said in the press and in her lecture at Mount Marty College last night that the ACA isn't perfect, but that on the whole, it will help us better fulfill our obligations as Americans and (many of you) as Christians to use our vast national wealth to take care of each other.
Bishop Paul Swain tried to distract us by shouting Abortion and rubbers! or whatever else he wants his followers to think President Obama will make them buy. (He's not the only Catholic I know who's prone to shallow distraction.) Bishop Swain gave Sister Campbell heck for not heeling to the anti-ACA position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Oh yeah, Bishop Swain? Two can play at that game. Last night Sister Simone looked Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and the rest of her large Mount Marty audience in the eye and said South Dakota should expand Medicaid as called for the Affordable Care Act. What's Bishop Swain's problem with that? Nothing... if he's listening to his fellow bishops:
When questioned by local reporters and Catholic social justice advocates, Bishop Swain has so far refused to endorse the expansion of Medicaid in South Dakota. And while each bishop and his diocese are free to operate with relative autonomy, Bishop Swain is decidedly at variance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wrote in a 2009 letter to the U.S. Senate:
The bishops support the expansion of Medicaid eligibility for people living at 133 percent or lower of the federal poverty level. The bill does not burden states with excessive Medicaid matching rates. The affordability credits will help lower-income families purchase insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Exchange.
Furthermore, dozens of Catholic bishops across the country have themselves publicly and vigorously supported Medicaid expansion. Bishop Swain’s abdication of moral leadership is unacceptable for such a visible Church figure, especially on this urgent life issue [Ryan Casey, "All Catholic Bishops Must Act on Medicaid Expansion," Millennial Journal, 2013.09.12].
Yeah, listen to the bishops. Expand Medicaid.
The bishops open their February 2013 statement supporting Medicaid expansion with the statement that "The Catholic tradition affirms that health care is a basic right flowing from the sanctity and dignity of human life." (How about them Catholic apples, Troy?)
Bishop Swain (whom I suspect can walk into Avera any time and get all the health care he needs) seems to be missing the point. He stirs controversy over a side issue as if not wanting us to hear Sister Simone Campbell's central call to social justice. Tens of thousands of South Dakotans aren't lining up at Avera demanding free abortions. Tens of thousands of South Dakotans can't get good health coverage and are praying they don't get sick.
On Medicaid expansion, Sister Simone Campbell is right. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is right. Bishop Swain is the odd man out here, standing on the wrong side of his own Church.