Catholic Health Association Uses Its Freedom to Bear False Witness

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, makes a point during the session 'Open forum: Is Religion Outdated in the 21st Century?' at the 2013 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, makes a point during the session 'Open forum: Is Religion Outdated in the 21st Century?' at the 2013 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (photo: Wikipedia)

At a time when numerous Catholic dioceses and institutions are having to go to court to challenge the onerous mandates of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, I was astounded to see this May 26 statement by the Catholic Health Association (CHA):

“President Barack Obama will address the Catholic Health Association’s 2015 annual membership Assembly on June 9 in Washington, D.C., where he will focus on the future of health care and the Affordable Care Act.”

I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t having a nightmare, but then I read further and saw that the CHA president and chief executive officer, Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, was full of praise for Obama and Obamacare:

“We are delighted and honored that President Obama will speak to Catholic health care leaders gathered for our 100th anniversary as an association,” she said, and “we are grateful for the President’s leadership on the ACA.”

The statement noted that 1,000 people are expected to attend the event which will take place, ironically, in Washington, D.C., where that city council recently passed the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act and the Human Rights Amendment Act. The two laws seriously curtail the religious rights of employers and schools, prompting Cardinal Donald Wuerl to write in a May 24 pastoral letter that the laws “directly challenge the ability of Catholic institutions to live out their Catholic identity.”

I knew that Sister Carol was credited with helping pass Obamacare in the U.S. Congress by assuring Catholic legislators that the U.S. Bishops were mistaken when they raised objections to the ACA because it did not provide sufficient conscience protection and allowed funding of abortions. However, after the law passed and its ever-evolving mandates were issued, it became abundantly clear that the bishops were right all along, and the assurances given by Obama that freedom of conscience would be protected turned out to be words easily uttered and more easily dismissed.

I would have thought that the deception of the Obama administration would have shamed Sister Carol enough to return a pen that the president used to sign Obamacare into law and then gave to her as a token of appreciation for her support. Instead, she is leading the powerful CHA in honoring him and praising a law that threatens religious liberty, even as other Catholics struggle in our nation’s courts to preserve the right to live out the faith in Catholic institutions as well as the public square.

What an incredible slap in the face to the brave citizens challenging the law and to the U.S. bishops, who are about to launch their fourth annual Fortnight for Freedom initiative that will run from June 21 to July 4, with the theme “Freedom to Bear Witness.”

Those dates are chosen not by accident, but because during those weeks the Church commemorates several great martyrs who remained faithful, even when persecuted by political powers, including St. Thomas More, whose last words were: “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

I have to think also of the yet-to-be-canonized, but still saintly men and women religious who established Catholic health care in this country by overcoming persecutions and unimaginable obstacles, with great personal sacrifice, to make Catholic healthcare exemplary because they insisted that human dignity, from conception until natural death be honored in their institutions.

Some of those pioneers came together 100 years ago to establish the original CHA, then called the Catholic Hospital Association, specifically to ensure that the Catholic health ministry maintained its mission and identity while responding to technological advances in the industry.

Those men and women could not have predicted that in 100 years, the government would intrude into the delivery of health care so much that the mission and identity of Catholic health ministries would be threatened.

I wonder what those health care pioneers would think about Catholic entities that take positions contrary to their bishops. I wonder what they would think about the modern CHA’s embrace of a law that the bishops say threatens human dignity and infringes on religious liberty. Would they say that the modern CHA is the government’s good servant, but God’s first?