Cardinal O’Malley: joint health care venture in Mass. will not violate Catholic ethics

Cardinal O’Malley: joint health care venture in Mass. will not violate Catholic ethics

Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Cardinal Sean O'Malley


A proposed joint insurance venture between a Massachusetts Catholic health care network and a nonreligious health organization is being criticized for potentially covering abortions and other “confidential family planning services.” However, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley said he has been assured that the venture will not violate Catholic ethics.

The Caritas Christi Health Care network, which is affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, is considering a partnership with Centene Corp. to enter into the state’s subsidized health program, Commonwealth Care.

The Boston Globe reports that under the proposal contracts with healthcare providers would be negotiated by Centene, not the archdiocese. Caritas hospitals will make up only six of the 39 hospitals and 66 health centers providing service under the plan.

Caritas hospitals will not provide abortion services, saying in as statement that it will follow Catholic moral teaching and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ethical guidelines “at all times and in all cases.”

On March 12 state legislators are scheduled to vote whether to accept the Caritas-Centene bid.

The state’s Connector Authority oversees the subsidized insurance program and was reviewing the Caritas-Centene proposal. On Feb. 26 a Connector Authority member raised the abortion issue, saying she was concerned that low-income women might not receive full services under the Caritas venture because Caritas will not provide abortions.

On the same day, Caritas and Centene Corp. released a one-note statement that said the joint venture “will contract with providers, both in and out of the Caritas network, to ensure access to all services required by the authority, including confidential family planning services.”

C. J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe the proposal appears to be “an appalling betrayal of Catholic principles and a grave scandal.”

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, told the Boston Globe she had heard from so many members that the group would address the issue at its executive committee.

“It looks to me as though . . . an entity has to give up certain of its basic principles, and that just doesn't hang right,” she said.

Responding to the criticisms in a March 3 statement, Caritas Spokeswoman Teresa Prego released a statement saying the application for the state program is “a complex public policy process.”

Caritas will investigate “all aspects of the proposed relationship” in order to “insure [sic] that Caritas Christi's participation will be in accord with Catholic teaching.”

Caritas characterized its participation in the proposal as a “minority investment,” while state regulators have presented its bid with Centene as a “joint venture.” Caritas says the venture will be called Commonwealth Family Health Plan and has filed for licensing by the state Department of Insurance.

On March 5, Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley released a statement on the proposal, saying that Catholic teaching on protecting human life from conception until natural death is “clear and without ambiguity.”

Referring to the concerns involved in the proposal involving Caritas Christi Health Care and the Commonwealth Care program, he said:

“I understand and support the desire of Caritas Christi to serve as a health care system collaborating with this program. If it can happen without compromising the Catholic identity of the system it would benefit both civil society and especially the poor in our community.”

Noting his own episcopal responsibility to ensure that Caritas adheres to Catholic ethics, he said:

“I want to confirm for the Catholic community and the wider interested public that Caritas Christi Health Care has assured me that it will not be engaged in any procedures nor draw any benefits from any relationship which violate the Church’s moral teaching as found in the Ethical and Religious Directives. Caritas Christi has been consistently faithful to these standards in the past and will continue to do so in the future.”

“These are principles of Catholic teaching on which we cannot yield,” his statement continued. “Our healthcare ministry is rooted in protecting the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn.”