By Kathleen Gilbert

BRAINTREE, Massachusetts, June 27, 2009 ( – At the prompting of Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley, the Boston archdiocesan health care system, known as Caritas, which has been embroiled in a scandal over plans to provide the state's abortion-covering insurance, has pulled out of the deal just days before the plan was set to begin. The move followed months of outcry from Catholic groups who were angered at the hospital system's lucrative participation in the plan. 

While the American Life League has expressed satisfaction with the turnaround, a Massachusetts group is continuing to call for the hospitals' complete dissociation from the plan.

The joint venture, known as CeltiCare, had won a bid to provide Massachusetts' Commonwealth Health Care Plan, which covers abortion, contraception, and sterilization.

Richard Lynch, the chief executive of CeltiCare Health Plan of Massachusetts, announced Friday that Celtic Group Inc. was now the sole proprietor of the state-subsidized “Commonwealth Care” plan, following the withdrawal of Caritas. The Catholic hospitals will now participate in the plan as a health care provider, similar to its relationship with private insurers, through the state's Connector Program.

Caritas and Cardinal O'Malley issued a joint statement the same day announcing the arrangement.

“I am pleased that Caritas Christi was able to achieve this outcome,” stated Cardinal O'Malley.  “Throughout this process, our singular goal has been to provide for the needs of the poor and underserved in a manner that is fully and completely in accord with Catholic moral teaching.

“By withdrawing from the joint venture and serving the poor as a provider in the Connector, upholding Catholic moral teaching at all times, they are able to carry forward the critical mission of Catholic health care.”

Caritas Christi CEO Dr. Ralph de la Torre said, “The opportunity for Caritas Christi to participate in the Connector program will allow Caritas to serve the low income and underserved population's desperate need for quality health care. We are committed to fulfilling our mission, as we always have, rooted in the principles established by Catholic teaching, of providing the highest quality healthcare to patients across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The release explained that “care for the poor and the uninsured was the original motivating force” in the agreement to provide the state-subsidized plan.  However, in an echo of the criticisms aimed by Catholic pro-life activists, it acknowledged that a “principal goal” of Catholic health care in the U.S. is “protecting the sacredness of human life from conception until natural death.”

“The protection of human life and dignity demands that Catholic institutions never contribute to procedures which are inconsistent with Catholic moral teaching, such as abortion and sterilization,” it said.

The American Life League (ALL) expressed relief at the news and praised the cardinal's leadership.

“Praise God! After months of tireless effort from American Life League and pro-life heroes in Boston and around the country to expose a potential scandal only days away from becoming a tragic betrayal of Catholicism's unwavering commitment to the dignity of the human person, Cardinal Sean O'Malley has heard our voices and will end the joint venture with abortion-providing Centene Corp!” read an ALL statement Friday.

ALL noted the difficulty of choosing to abandon the plan in the face of the “severe financial crisis,” which has affected Caritas Christi hospitals.

“We profoundly thank Cardinal O'Malley for his courage, leadership and pastoral concern for the health and well-being of those youngest members of his archdiocese,” ALL wrote.  “He has set a beautiful example of dedication and charity for those poorest of the poor – the preborn.” 

The group called the reversal “a sign of the vitality of United States Catholics' commitment to human life and personhood,” and said they are “humbled to stand alongside Cardinal O'Malley as a sign of contradiction to the culture of death.” 

Massachusetts' Catholic Action League welcomed the news, but called the withdrawal an “only partial victory.”   League president C.J. Doyle said there remained “troubling questions” as to whether Caritas has already financially benefited from the contract, and whether Caritas “continues to have an ongoing relationship with the Centene Corporation.”

“If Caritas is to remain faithful to Catholic moral principles is must withdraw … not only from CeltiCare but from the entire Commonwealth Care contract,” said Doyle.

The League also urged Caritas to offer alternatives to those seeking abortion instead of simply referring them to their insurance provider.  Caritas spokeswoman Teresa Prego admitted earlier this month that patients seeking abortion are referred to their insurance provider for further help in obtaining the procedure.

“Instead of offering compassionate alternatives to abortion, Caritas Christi will still be engaged in a two-step abortion referral,” said Doyle.

See related coverage:

Pro-Abortion Contributions Revealed Among Boston Catholic Hospital Board Members 

Boston Archdiocese Reaffirms Hospitals' Commitment to Catholic Morals, ALL Responds 

Catholics Up in Arms over Boston Catholic Hospitals Abortion Coverage, Archdiocese Now Says Matter “Under Review”  

Commentary: Caritas Christi's Deal with the Devil – Part II 

Commentary: Will the New England Catholic Health Care System Participate in Abortion? 

Tension Mounts over Possible Abortion Referral Venture at Boston Catholic Hospitals