Heath care reform takes center stage

Archbishop says CHA’s support of Senate Health Care Reform Bill provides political cover


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.orgKANSAS CITY, Kan. — Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann has joined a growing number of bishops who have criticized the Catholic Health Association’s support for the Senate Health Care Reform Bill.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several individual bishops have spoken out in opposition to the bill because they believe it allows for federal funding of abortion and lacks conscience protection.

In his column in this week’s Leaven (see page 2), Archbishop Naumann said he was “deeply troubled” to learn that Sister Carol Keehan, chief executive of the CHA, urged members of the House of Representatives to vote for the Senate’s health care legislation.

He wrote that by voicing its support, the CHA has provided political cover to House members who wish to vote for the Senate’s bill, and that the CHA has taken this action knowing the U. S. bishops opposed the legislation.

“I think the Catholic Health Association, to go off on its own in its position against pro-life groups and the leadership of the Catholic Church, is very distressing,” said Archbishop Naumann, in an interview prior to publishing his column. “I have no doubt of the good intentions of those in the Catholic Health Association, but their good intentions do not mitigate the effects of their poor judgment.”

In a letter published March 15 on the CHA Web site, Sister Carol, a Daughter of Charity, called the coming vote on the Senate bill a “historic opportunity to make great improvements in the lives of so many Americans.”

She conceded that the bill was flawed, but lauded it as a major first step. She also voiced “major concern on the life issues.”

Sister Carol said that people would have to write a separate check for abortion coverage according to this legislation, and that monies for abortion coverage would be kept in a separate account, and thus no federal dollars would be used to fund abortion.

“The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable,” she wrote. “The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.”

She also said the bill had a “wonderful provision” that would provide $250 million over 10 years to help vulnerable women who are pregnant or already parents. Sister Carol also lauded the bill for including adoption assistance.

But on March 15, Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago and president of the USCCB, also made available a press release stating that the bill was too flawed to support.

In its analysis of the Senate bill, the USCCB identified three problems: one, that individuals or families would be forced to contribute to insurance plans that fund abortions; two, that billions of dollars in new funding for Community Health Centers will be available for elective abortions; and three, there are no conscience protections written into the bill.

“This analysis of the flaws in the legislation is not completely shared by leaders of the Catholic Health Association,” wrote Cardinal George. “They believe, moreover, that the defects that they do recognize can be corrected after passage of the final bill.”

“The bishops, however, judge that the flaws are so fundamental that they vitiate the good that the bill intends to promote,” he continued. “Assurances that the moral objections to the legislation can be met only after the bill is passed seem a little like asking us, in Midwestern parlance, to buy a pig in a poke.”

The bishops’ disagreement with the CHA is not a matter of mere “quibbling over technicalities,” said the cardinal.

“The deliberate omission in the Senate bill of the necessary language that could have taken this moral question off the table and out of play leaves us still looking for a way to meet [President Obama’s] and our concern to provide health care for those millions whose primary care physician is now an emergency room doctor,” said Cardinal George.

Two basic principles shape the bishops’ concerns that the health care needs of all will be taken care of, and that the expansion of health care does not expand abortion funding or force everyone to pay for abortions.

“Because these principles have not been respected, despite the good that the bill under consideration intends or might achieve, the Catholic bishops regretfully hold that it must be opposed unless and until these serious moral problems are addressed,” said Cardinal George.

The USCCB has urged the Senate to adopt the language of the House bill, which follows long-standing policy, in the Hyde Amendment, of prohibiting federal funding for abortions.

Archbishop Naumann said that the CHA’s leadership apparently misunderstands the content of the Senate’s bill.

“I think it borders on the absurd to not realize the reason the Senate did not accept the language of the House [bill],” he said.

“It’s obvious that they did not want to prevent government funding of abortion,” the archbishop continued. “The fact that they didn’t use accepted language, like the Hyde Amendment, again I think just illustrates how — despite the protestations of the president — they were trying to change existing federal policy regarding the funding of abortion.”

There is a very great danger that Catholics will be confused by the mixed messages coming from the CHA and the U.S. bishops, he said.

“I think there’s a huge danger of confusion, and whether the people at the Catholic Heath Association understood it or not, that’s precisely what they are being used to do — to create confusion,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I think Catholics should understand that the bishops are the teachers of the church and the ones that are entrusted with the responsibility of applying the teaching to the current circumstances. And the CHA really doesn’t have [that] competency.”

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