No Health Insurance? Hold on to the Bannister

September 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Those of you who drop in from time may remember the story of my broken wrists. Last April I fell down the steps of my parish church after the Palm Sunday vigil Mass and broke both wrists, one of them very badly, and knocked the hell out of a bunch of teeth as well. In the five months since then, four of those teeth have been wired together to keep them from breaking. Try eating corn on the cob with that arrangement.

I’m writing today to update you on my situation. Not that my little miseries matter awfully compared to the much larger disasters we’re facing nationally and internationally. In point of fact, though, it turns out that my little miseries overlap with one aspect of those larger disasters, and that’s what I’m writing about today.

My wrists are a whole lot better. I went twice a week for ten weeks to physical therapy, and did exercises for half an hour four times a day. Now I can pick up fairly heavy things, get the tops off most jars (my husband says I was actually pretty bad at this before the fall) and never wake up during the night with wrist pain. I still can’t get down on my hands and knees, but the surgeon says another five months (!) of exercises and I’ll be as good as new.

With my wrists vastly improved, I went Thursday to the dentist to get the story on my teeth. Now it’s time to hold your hat: the four implants or the bridge with gold crowns that I need to repair my teeth are going to cost between $11,000 and $14,000, of which our dental insurance will pay $1500 (minus three cleanings a year).  Now the surgery on my left wrist cost $23,000, but our health insurance, though mediocre, is much better than our dental insurance: it paid all but a $300 co-pay for the surgery. Our insurer, Oxford, is more enthusiastic about surgery than about physical therapy, though; the $50 co-pay for each of two wrist therapies a week for  ten weeks added $1000 to the wrist bill. To which we are now going to add $11-14,000 for teeth.

I don’t really mean to complain about this. As my shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, used to say, “Just be glad you have the money.” Which we do have, in our savings, thank God.

What I’m thinking about, though, and you may want to think about it too, is all the people in this country who couldn’t possibly afford all this money, the people without even mediocre health and dental insurance, for whom a fall like this would mean the end of life as they have known it. As the New York Times reported this week, there are a whole lot of these people, and more all the time. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured people rose to 49.9 million last year, up from 49 million the previous year. And employment-related insurance, the foundation of the US health insurance system, dropped to 55%. Fortunately, the number of people covered by government insurance programs increased for the fourth year in a row, helping to mitigate the loss of other kinds of coverage. And the new health care law which President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi got through will expand Medicaid coverage for the poor and provide subsidies to help middle-income people buy private health insurance.

That’s if the Tea-Partiers don’t find some way to get that health care law repealed, or to eviscerate Medicaid by handing it off to the states, or in some other way. And if Americans aren’t so stupid as to express their anger by allowing the Tea-Partiers to do it.

But if the Tea-Partiers do succeed, and the American people let them, then the only advice I have for 49.9 million Americans and counting is this: be sure to hold onto the bannister when you’re going down the steps.

Our Secular 9/11 Commemoration

September 12, 2011 at 10:24 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I got up yesterday in time to hear PBS coverage of the beginning of the 9/11 memorial service in Lower Manhattan. With great seriousness, the commentator stated that this was to be a secular commemoration, which, he explained, means no clergy from any religious tradition would speak. One assumes this was the case because if imams were included, there would be a riot, and if they weren’t, it would be discriminatory.

Said commentator then announced that during the moment of silence, all the churches in the country were asked to ring their bells. (It was later clarified that all the churches in New York had been asked to ring their bells, which probably meant Manhattan; I certainly heard no bells here in Flatbush, on the edge of “Little Pakistan.”) Then President Obama began his talk by reading from Psalm 46 of the Hebrew Bible.

I don’t need to point out the silliness of describing as “secular” a service that involves all the churches in some geographical area or another ringing their bells ( no mention of synagogues, temples or mosques of course) and begins with the words “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of suffering…” I would like to mention, however, that the “secularization hypothesis”–the modern notion that religion is in decline–has been increasingly discredited.  For more on this I refer you to Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide (Cambridge University Press 2004) by Pippa Norris of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Ronald Inglehart. And when you think about it, a murderous attack by members (however unfaithful) of a particular world religion is inherently unsecular, no matter who speaks at the memorial.

Apparently, it wasn’t just the PBS commentator, but the planners of the event as well who announced that the memorial was going to be secular because no clergy would be included among the speakers. I guess they think that religion in our time is limited to clergy. Somebody better break this to Barack Obama.

“Infallible” Teaching on Gay Sex

September 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments
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A couple of weeks back, I posted an article about my letter to the Tablet, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, in which I suggested that the bishop would do better to address the harm effected by the increasing wealth gap in this country than to fixate on gay marriage. This week a reader, Dan, posted a comment in response to that blog. I don’t get many comments, so I thought I’d paste it below and then reply. (I’m putting Dan’s comment in italics so you won’t confuse it with my response.)

Do you accept the infallible Catholic Church teaching that homosexual acts are gravely sinful, Marian?

As a Catholic, you are required to.

Just a friendly reminder ;-)

In Christ,

Dear Dan:

Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate feed-back.

I have a feeling you’d like a yes or no answer to your question, but I’m afraid the issue is more complicated than that. From your photo, I’d say you’re a good deal younger than I am, so our experiences are different. And I do sympathize with your desire for something like the morality of homosexual acts to be clear and unambiguous; the world is in a terrible mess, and a person needs something to hang onto.

Unfortunately, for me, growing up before Vatican II, there were lots of things the Church taught, and that I therefore assumed I was required to believe, that then changed. And it was a good thing, because some of them they were mean and hurtful. For example, priests and nuns regularly told us that all Protestants were going to hell–kind of a problem for me, since one side of my family was Protestant . And that the “perfidious” Jews were, too, for being Christ-killers. And before that, back in the 19th century, the church taught that advocating the separation of church and state was as serious a sin as abortion.

This, and a good deal else, changed with Vatican II.  Another thing that happened at the Council was that the church acknowledged human freedom of conscience in a way it never had before. So since 70% of American Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, and since we have seen so many other absolute truths change, myself, I’m betting that eventually the church will see the error of its ways on this one (and on the ordination of women as well).

My second rejoinder has to do with your use of the word  “infallible.” I hate to have to break this to you, Dan, but “infallibility” applies to very few teachings of the Catholic Church. The institution is pretty careful not to declare too many things infallible because if such teaching changes, it undercuts the church’s authority. In particular, most theologians agree that no specific moral teachings have been taught infallibly. If you doubt what I say here, feel free to read the work on infallibility by Catholic University of America moral theologian John T. Ford SJ in The New Dictionary of TheologyBut quite apart from that, according to Catholic canon law, if it isn’t clear that something has been taught infallibly, then it hasn’t. You don’t have to take my word for this. Consult the entry on  infallibility  in Beal, Green and Coriden’s New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.

So I guess before I accept that Catholic teaching on the grave sinfulness of homosexual acts is infallible, you’re going to have to refer me to the official declaration that says it is. Till then, I’m going to continue to honor the freedom of conscience of my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers and argue that the US bishops ought to spend more time  focusing on the extreme injustice of the gap between the rich and the poor.

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