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Catholic CEO calls mandate compromise 'divide and conquer' strategy
By Kevin J. Jones
Catholic CEO calls mandate compromise 'divide and conquer' strategy

.- A group of women religious' approval of the contraception mandate compromise plays into President Obama's “transparent tactic” of dividing the Church, says a Catholic healthcare CEO. 

Kevin Leahy, president and CEO of the Indiana-based Franciscan Alliance, told the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that it has done “irreversible” damage to the Catholic Church over its support for the compromise.

In a Feb. 14 statement to Sr. Annmarie Sanders, IHM – the group's director of communications – Leahy said the conference cannot sincerely believe that the administration “offered an acceptable compromise to religious groups.”

“Undoubtedly, the president's news conference was cleverly staged to divide and conquer,” Leahy said, adding that the group “has taken his bait and is now trying to convince others that his ruse contains a thread of legitimate compromise – it does not.”

The Department of Health and Human Services ruled on Jan. 20 that all new employer-provided health care plans must include FDA-approved sterilizations and contraception, including some abortifacient drugs. The rule’s narrow religious exemption did not cover most Catholic health systems, charities and universities.

On Feb. 10, President Obama announced a plan to compel insurance companies, and not the institutions themselves, to cover the procedures and drugs. However, many critics have called the move an accounting trick that does not address the issue.

A same-day response from the women's religious conference said it was “grateful” that President Obama listened to concerns about providing healthcare coverage “in a way that respects and honors the conscience rights of religious institutions.”

“We believe the resolution the president made is a fair and helpful way for us to move forward,” the conference said.

The group, which is an association of 1,500 leaders from congregations of women religious in the U.S., claims to represent more than 90 percent of the 59,000 women religious in America.

In his remarks, Leahy asked whether the conference had considered the position of Catholic institutions with self-insured health plans, like the Franciscan Alliance.

His network runs 14 hospitals in Indiana and Illinois and provides care for more than 2.9 million outpatient visits and more than 100,000 inpatients every year.

“Before going public with a letter of support for Obama's mandate, what did the leadership of LCWR think would happen to these plans and companies if the president's mandate prevails?” he asked.

“Once marginalized as a social force, the Catholic Church's position as a moral and social conscience for the country will quickly be diminished. Is this the intent of your membership?”

Leahy charged that conference's leadership “certainly is not naive enough to believe that, if successful, President Obama will limit his intrusion into the protections afforded religion under the First Amendment to just the issue of coercing religious groups to fund services that violate their core values.”

The healthcare CEO urged the women's religious group to reflect on the impact of its political support for what he called the Obama administration's attempt to “usurp the authority of religious leaders.”

Sr. Jane Marie Klein, OSF, Chairperson of the Board of the Franciscan Alliance, provided Leahy’s e-mail to the LCWR and his statement to CNA on Feb. 23.

She noted that her fellow sisters are united in prayer “that this attack on our nation's greatest freedom, the freedom of religion, will soon be appropriately resolved.”


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