“I think if Governor Sebelius was going to be appointed to a cabinet post, from my point of view, this is the worst possible one that she could have been appointed to.”

That’s the assessment of Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who in May 2008 requested that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius not present herself for reception of Communion because of the public scandal caused by her support for legal abortion.

Archbishop Naumann spoke today with Register correspondent Thomas L. McDonald about Sebelius’s appointment this week as secretary of Health and Human Services in the administration of Barack Obama. This interview will also be published in a future print issue of the National Catholic Register.

What is your reaction to the appointment of Governor Sebelius to the post of Health and Human Services director in the administration of President Obama?
Archbishop Joseph Naumann: I’m disappointed by the nomination because of the consistent support that the governor has had for abortion. However, I’m not surprised by it, because her position is pretty consistent with the president’s position. In many ways, the American people, when they elected President Obama, determined what kind of Health and Human Services secretary we would have.

Based on her legislative record, are you concerned about the power she will have, in this particular post, to affect life issues?
Absolutely. It’s a very important position, and, in some ways, a dangerous position. I think in particular of the role she will have in formulating the health-care reform of the president. That will be crucial, because depending upon the form that takes, there will certainly be an effort by those that supported Governor Sebelius and President Obama to have abortion considered as a basic health- care right or need, and that could put tremendous pressures on the consciences of Catholic doctors and nurses and Catholic health-care institutions. That’s a huge issue. The secretary of Health and Human Services has input into such issues as embryonic stem-cell experimentation and research and FDA approval of drugs like RU-486.

I think if Governor Sebelius was going to be appointed to a cabinet post, from my point of view, this is the worst possible one that she could have been appointed to.

What about those who point to her accomplishments in abortion reduction?
She likes to take credit for the reduction in abortions here in Kansas. In fact, I think she had nothing to do with it, and some of the actions she took tried to prevent it. One of the things that has had an impact in Kansas is the Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative, which is a modest amount of state money that goes to help crisis-pregnancy centers. At one point, she deleted it from the budget. She only allowed it to return when the Legislature passed it the next year by such overwhelming majorities that her veto would have been overridden. She’s just recently, in making up the budget for 2010, deleted it again.

She’s vetoed measures that tried to regulate abortions for the sake of the health of the mothers, much less the children. She says she always wants to keep abortion legal, rare and safe. Well, it’s never safe for the child, but in Kansas, we have some disgraceful conditions in abortion clinics. She has shown greater interest in trying to protect abortionists than in protecting mothers and, certainly, unborn children.

In her legislative career, she was against waiting periods, she was against parental consent, all of the things that we know do reduce abortion. So, she takes credit for what a lot of pro-life efforts have accomplished. Actually, the reduction of the rate of abortion is much greater in neighboring Missouri than it has been here. It’s very unfortunate that there are some groups who are doing this promotional effort for her.

Were you surprised to see consistent pro-life voices like Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts support her nomination?
Not really. I have respect for both of them, and I would surmise that part of their rationale is that a president should have latitude in appointing his cabinet. In a sense, even though many people did not vote for Barack Obama because of his support of legalized abortion, but despite it, in effect they empowered him to make these kinds of appointments. Even more troubling are the appointments he will be making to the courts. I think partisan opposition to cabinet appointments can cut both ways, such as efforts to block the pro-life appointments of a pro-life president.

That’s how I interpret it. It’s not an endorsement of her and certainly not of her philosophy. It’s probably more out respect for that process.

Last year, you publicly requested that the governor refrain from accepting the Eucharist because of the scandal of her support for abortion. Do you see her status in relation to the Church changing due to this new position?
I don’t see it changing. Actually, I put the responsibility on her not to present herself for Communion. Since I’ve made that public, I must commend her; as far as I know, she’s respected that. The reason I asked her that was because of the contradiction between her practice and what she proclaims by what she’s done and what the Church has taught consistently. That contradiction still remains. In doing that, I was hoping to provoke, in a good sense, a change of heart.

Unfortunately, I think in this position, she will be put in the position of either going against the president or making herself more complicit in the promotion of abortion. So I think, for her, it worsens the situation.

The other sad thing for me is that it puts another Catholic who is pro-choice, pro-legalized abortion, on the national stage, with Vice-President Biden and Speaker Pelosi and a number of others. I think that’s unfortunate in terms of the scandal of the misrepresentation of what we believe, to many Catholics and many others in our society.