BALTIMORE — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops defended its involvement in the health care debate, saying Monday that church leaders have a duty to the nation and God to raise moral concerns on any issue, including on abortion rights and coverage for the poor.
Chicago Cardinal Francis George, the conference president, said that the prelates must ensure that "issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political."
Roman Catholic prelates believe that "everyone should be cared for and that no one should be deliberately killed," he said.
George made the remarks at the start of the conference's fall meeting in a wide-ranging speech that re-asserted the bishops' role not only as guardians of the faith, but also as moral guides outside the church.
Years of the clergy sex abuse crisis had eroded the bishops' moral authority. But George insisted that the church has purged dioceses of abusers and enacted unprecedented safeguards for children, despite claims by victim advocates that more must be done.
"The sinfulness of churchmen cannot be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching," he said. He thanked lawmakers "in either political party" who share the bishops' moral concerns "and govern our country in accordance with them."
The bishops' authority has also been challenged from within the church, by those who reject parts of Catholic theology and by more traditional Catholics who say church leaders haven't done enough to curtail dissent.
George also said in the speech that he had formed a task force on bishops' ties to Catholic universities.
Last summer, Notre Dame gave an honorary degree to President Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights.