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Common Ground

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September 2009

Shortly before his death in 1996, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of Chicago launched his Common Ground Project. The project was intended to help bridge the many areas of disagreement among U.S. Catholics. The project was met with great enthusiasm in some circles, sharp criticism in others. To avoid confusion about Church teachings, Cardinal Bernadin himself removed certain hot-button topics from the table. Today the Common Ground Initiative continues the Cardinal’s idea, though its work has been largely invisible.

The search for common ground, for true harmony among people, is noble indeed. “Blessed are the peacemakers” are the very words of Jesus. But the search for common ground often fails. Real peace can be most elusive. In 1820, our country was struggling with the possible expansion of slavery. Missouri statehood was at issue. Would it be a slave or a free state? A compromise was reached. Missouri would be a slave state, but a line was drawn to separate future slave and free areas. Some saw it as common ground over slavery; Thomas Jefferson saw it as the “knell of the Union.” The compromise held for about 30 years; another compromise was needed. Eleven years later, our country nearly tore itself apart. And only 70 years ago, a France and England desperate to avoid European war made a deal with someone claiming that he, too, wanted peace. They surrendered Czechoslovakia to Hitler. England’s Neville Chamberlain declared “peace in our time.” One year later, all hell broke loose.

Why did these efforts at common ground fail? They failed because not all parties were seeking the objective moral good. Legal slavery and Hitler’s maniacal quest for racial superiority were moral evils seeking to expand into new areas. Evil treats common ground as feeding ground. Good must resist the evil or be devoured by it. Compromise becomes unacceptable, even in the name of common ground. Or put another way, how many black slaves would be acceptable for harmony sake? How many dead Jews and Christians were tolerable to achieve “peace in our time”?

Our country is now debating the issue of nationalized health case. The debate is growing louder by the minute, understandable given what’s at stake. A major bone of contention is the hot-button issue of taxpayer financed abortion coverage. Those pushing the Obama plan are trying their best to keep quiet about the coverage. They know it can sink the whole plan. Two in Congress have now proposed a bill claimed to create common ground. The Ryan-DeLauro bill, H.B. 1312, would provide support for contraception, establish a national program to teach parents how to talk to kids abut sex, provide public education about adoption, home nurse visits for low-income mothers, and expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage. But is it common ground?

Catholics may support measures designed to reduce abortion. In his encyclical Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II recognized that abortion will not likely be ended in one fell swoop. The process will be gradual. So Catholics may support compromise legislation designed to further reduce abortion. The problem with Ryan-DeLauro is that it does no such thing. It would require that the state medical assistance programs mandate “family planning” services. Federal courts nationwide have ruled that “family planning” services must include abortion unless a law contains a specific exclusion of it. The Ryan-DeLauro bill doesn’t. This means that taxpayer money will be used to fund abortions, and unwilling doctors and nurses will be forced to provide them. The Democrats for Life are so disgusted with Ryan, the so-called pro-lifer in this compromise, that they have dumped him from their national advisory board.

The desire for health care reform is strong among members of the Church in the U.S., from cardinals on down. And certainly, a case can be made for it. But everything has its price. Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world with all their power and glory. All Jesus needed to do was give Satan homage. Jesus’ answer was firm: no deal. He understood that when desire comes with a price tag of doing evil, the desire is actually a temptation. And this applies to the Ryan-DeLauro bill. Or put another way, how many dead babies, how many guilt-ridden mothers, how many shattered families, are acceptable common ground for health care reform?

As Church we must resist the temptation to support any health care reform that includes abortion coverage. As Christians our response must be loud and get louder. Each of us must tell our congressmen to oppose “common ground” measures that require abortion coverage. That is an expansion, not a contraction, of evil. If the final bill includes abortion coverage, tell them to oppose that, too. Tell President Obama about your opposition. Finally, tell them all what they are most afraid to hear: if the health care bill passes with abortion in it, you will actively work against their re-election. We need not worry that health care reform will elude us. God’s generosity is overflowing to those who are faithful. A better plan will come.

Another Congressman recently made the news. Anh Cao, a Vietnamese Catholic, plans to oppose any bill that includes abortion coverage. As Cao says, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? The very words of Jesus. Cao understands the difference between common ground and a devil’s bargain.

Do we?

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.

© Paul V. Esposito 2009. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Comments? Go to

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