Sister Carol Keehan, CEO and President of the Catholic Health Association (CHA) openly acted in favor of President Obama’s health care reform and in opposition to persistent requests from the bishops, said Cardinal Francis George, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), during their spring meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida.
During the bishops' executive session held Tuesday morning to address the fallout of CHA’s support for the health care legislation despite the bishop's opposition, Cardinal George recounted the events that took place prior to President Obama's signing of the health care reform. The prelate then concluded his remarks by criticizing CHA and Sr. Keehan, saying they have created the dangerous precedent of a parallel magisterium to the bishops.
In the events leading up to the final health care vote, the USCCB president presented arguments on how the bishops' conference “remained consistent to the two guiding principles throughout the whole process: number one, everyone should have access to health care; number two, no one should be killed.”
The consistent moral position of the bishops, Cardinal George explained, centered around protecting life, conscience protections and the inclusion of immigrants.
“The Conference never backed down on these issues,” he forcefully stated.
According to the Archbishop of Chicago, when the Stupak Amendment was defeated in the Senate in December 2009, “everything went south.”
That is when “the Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration.”
Cardinal George clearly remarked that “Sr. Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for the passage of the health care bill. He continued by revealing that the bishops repeatedly tried to reach out to Sr. Keehan both before and after the vote. “I personally met with her in March to no avail,” the cardinal reported.
In April, three bishops of the USCCB ad hoc Health Care Concerns Committee, Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Kevin Vann of Fort Worth and Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, also met with Sr. Keehan to try to make her understand the bishop's concerns and thus bring CHA back in line with Church teachings, however the meeting concluded with “the same frustrating results.”
The president of the USCCB reiterated the bishop's fundamental opposition to the health care reform. “The bill which was passed is fundamentally flawed. The Executive Order is meaningless. Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation,” Cardinal George emphatically said.
The cardinal also expressed disappointment with CHA “and other so-called Catholic groups” because, “in the end, they have weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.”
In that regard, Cardinal George highlighted that the USCCB and CHA’s positions on Obama’s health care are not just “two equally valid conclusions inspired in the same Catholic teaching,” and reiterated that what the bishops said on May 21 in their statement “Setting the record Straight” is and will remain the official position of the USCCB on the contentious issue.
The document, presented by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Immigration, says: "As Bishops, we disagree that the divergence between the Catholic Conference and Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association, represents merely a difference of analysis or strategy (Catholic Health World, April 15, 2010, “Now That Reform Has Passed”). Rather, for whatever good will was intended, it represented a fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain, but with the Bishops themselves.
“As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity."
Editor's note: CNA stands by our reporting of this story. However, the article as published did not mention the comments of Cardinal George were compiled by several bishops at the meeting and passed on to CNA. Our episcopal sources, who requested anonymity, stand by their recounting.