Joseph O’Connor, a teacher at Holy Family High School in Denver, was fired today after refusing to back down from his open opposition to universal healthcare. The controversy began when O’Connor posted an image on facebook, which stated, “Healthcare is a privilege, not a right.” Concerned parents forwarded the message to left-wing Catholic groups, who took the issue to the school’s principal. O’Connor was confronted with his rejection of clear Church teaching, which explicitly states that access to healthcare is a fundamental human right. O’Connor refused to repudiate his opposition to Church teaching. After consultation with diocesan officials, O’Connor was fired.
This story is not real. American Catholics are not denied communion or fired from their jobs at Catholic institutions for endorsing political positions that are completely contrary to Church teaching, unless of course those issues relate to human sexuality. I saw Catholics posting that very statement, that healthcare was privilege not a right (against 2288 of the Catechism). There were no consequences.
And I have also seen a right-wing dissenter from much of Catholic social teaching facilitate a witch hunt aimed at getting a non-Catholic worker serving in a technical position at a Catholic organization fired, because that person is in a same-sex marriage. The stress of this pharisaical campaign led this person to resign their position. Others are fired just for showing support for same-sex marriage. Given the fact that healthcare is a life and death issue for the tens of thousands of people who lack access to quality, affordable healthcare (in the United State alone), one is hard-pressed to argue that supporting same-sex marriage is a graver issue than opposing any and all efforts to remedy the injustice faced by those in desperate need of healthcare. To oppose any effort to ensure that people have access to this basic need is to reject the fundamental right to life and abandon a commitment to human dignity. Yet here we are.
And it is not hard to guess where Pope Francis would stand on these witch-hunts. These are culture war tactics par excellence. The right-wing groups who lead these fights are not targeting atheists or people who believe the Eucharist is just bread, but those who oppose their conservative political agenda. It is not an issue of Catholic identity, but winning the culture war for the political right. It is ideology and legalism run amuck. It is precisely the behavior that Francis has condemned over and over again, as it drives people away from the Church.
People are searching for their next meal or shelter for the night right now. A church that is following in the footsteps of Christ would be obsessed with helping these people. A self-referential church focuses instead on self-purification, hunting down a subset of sinners among all the other sinners. Pope Francis has redirected the Church’s focus toward the poor and vulnerable. It is time the American church ends these games and starts following Jesus Christ.