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Column: Appointment troubling on both a personal and a policy level

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Normally, it would be a source of joy and pride to have a Catholic from Kansas named by the president to an important Cabinet post.

Unfortunately, I experience neither with President Obama’s selection of Governor Kathleen Sebelius as his choice to serve as the secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In many ways, I can understand why President Obama selected Governor Sebelius. As I have acknowledged on several other occasions, she is a very bright and gifted leader. In many important areas, she represents well Catholic social teaching. She has advocated for more affordable housing for the poor, she has worked to expand access to health care for economically disadvantaged children, and she has supported incentives encouraging adoption.

Yet, on the fundamental moral issue of protecting innocent human life, Governor Sebelius, throughout her career, has been an outspoken advocate for legalized abortion. For this reason, her appointment to HHS is particularly troubling.

President Obama has made health care reform a top priority for his administration. The church certainly supports the objectives of such reform: to make quality health care accessible and affordable for everyone. Of course, there is vigorous debate on how to best achieve this important goal. I claim no competence or expertise in this area.

The secretary for HHS will be a key figure in developing and implementing health care reform for the nation. There are those who have great influence within the Obama administration and with whom Governor Sebelius has been associated throughout her political career (e.g., Planned Parenthood, National Organization for Women, NARAL, etc.), who want abortion not only to be permitted in this country but considered a right.

If they are successful in their efforts to have abortion included among “basic health care services,” then it is entirely possible that doctors, nurses and health care institutions will be compelled to cooperate in the provision of abortion. Those advocating for abortion to be considered a “right” would love to see Catholic hospitals faced with the choice to either cooperate in providing abortions or close.

The protection of conscience rights for individuals and institutions is extremely important. The Obama administration has already expressed a desire to rescind the policies of the Bush administration to strengthen conscience protection for health care workers and providers. President Obama, when he was Senator Obama, co-sponsored the so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) that was introduced in the previous Congress. That version of FOCA would have, among other things, forced health care providers to cooperate in abortion. Regretfully, Governor Sebelius throughout her political career has been associated with and supported by Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL and others advocating for abortion to be considered a “health care right.”

Even more troubling is that earlier in her political career Governor Sebelius accepted political contributions from Wichita’s notorious late-term abortionist, Dr. George Tiller. When this was no longer politically opportune, Dr. Tiller established a political action committee through which he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the election and re-election of Governor Sebelius, as well as other equally staunch supporters of legalized abortion.

Kansas has one of the most restric- tive laws regarding late-term abortions. Yet, it has become, in large part because of Dr. Tiller, the late-term abortion capital of the Midwest. How is this possible? It is possible because our current laws have not been enforced. Each time the Kansas Legislature has passed statutes in an effort to improve enforcement of late-term abortion restrictions, Governor Sebelius has vetoed these laws.

As you are aware, because of her long history, both as a legislator and governor, of consistently supporting legalized abortion, and after many months of dialogue, I requested Governor Sebelius not to present herself for Communion. I did this in the hope that it would motivate Governor Sebelius to reconsider her support for what is an intrinsic evil — the destruction of innocent human life by abortion. I also took this pastoral action to protect others from being misled by the governor’s public support and advocacy for legalized abortion.

The appointment of Governor Sebelius as the secretary of HHS concerns me on many levels. With her history of support for legalized abortion and embryonic stem-cell research, it is troubling the important influence that she will have on shaping health care policies for our nation. Having elected President Obama with his own record of support for legalized abortion, our nation should not be surprised by his appointment of a secretary for HHS who shares his views. Though many people voted for President Obama not because of his support for legalized abortion, but despite it, voters in effect gave him the ability to appoint individuals who share his anti-life views to his Cabinet and, even more troubling, to the courts.

I am also concerned personally for Governor Sebelius. Her appointment as secretary for HHS places her in a position where she will have to make many decisions that will in all probability continue her personal involvement in promoting legalized abortion and her cooperation in this intrinsic evil.

I am also concerned that the appointment of Governor Sebelius places another Catholic supporting legalized abortion in a prominent national position. She joins Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and unfortunately a host of Catholic senators and members of the House of Representatives who support legalized abortion, contrary to the clear and consistent teaching of their church. It saddens me that so many Catholics, to gain political advancement, have chosen to compromise their Catholic faith by their failure to defend the most fundamental of all human rights — the right to life.

I am reminded of the powerful scene in “A Man for All Seasons,” the play about the heroic Catholic English martyr, St. Thomas More. After Richard Rich has perjured himself in order to make it possible to convict Thomas More of treason, the judge asks Thomas More if he has any questions for the witness. Thomas More notes that Richard Rich is wearing a chain of office and asks what it signifies. He is told that Richard Rich has been appointed attorney general for Wales. Thomas More then paraphrases the Gospel, saying to Richard Rich: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul, but for Wales?”

We need to pray for all Catholics who serve in public life — that they will have the courage and integrity to be true to the teachings and principles of our faith, no matter the political consequences.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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