Catholic Health Association supports final HHS mandate rule; bishops, evangelicals disagree
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic Health Association, the largest organization representing Catholic hospitals, has signaled its support for the final rule implementing the HHS mandate.
Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, issued a four-page statement on Monday night saying the group's concerns had been met, and its members could now participate in the law in good conscience.
“HHS has now established an accommodation that will allow our ministries to continue offering health insurance plans for their employees as they have always done,” she stated.
“CHA had two principal concerns,” the statement clarified. “The first was the four-part definition of what constituted a 'religious employer.' That concern has been eliminated.” Under the original version of the mandate, a “religious employer” was required to be a non-profit organization that serves and employs mostly people of its own religion, and whose primary goal is to teach religious precepts.
That definition has been expanded, although the HHS states it applies “primarily” to “houses of worship.”
“CHA’s second concern was establishing a federal precedent that mandated our members would have to include in their health plans, services they had well-established moral objections to,” Sr. Keehan wrote.
Her statement starkly contrasts with the words of Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, which said its analysis “has not discovered any new change that eliminates the need to continue defending our rights in Congress and the courts.”
Adam Cassandra, communications manager of Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews.com, “Nothing in the final HHS Mandate rules changes the fact that Catholics in the United States will be required to violate their conscientious objection to immoral practices and services in violation of our First Amendment rights.”
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“The so-called accommodation is entirely insufficient in protecting religious employers and organizations, and as CHA points out, it doesn't cover Catholics in for-profit industries,” he continued. “Not one Catholic individual should be forced by the government to violate our religious beliefs, and I would expect any organization that represents Catholics to feel the same way.”
Ironically, the National Association of Evangelicals is closer to the Catholic bishops' view than the Catholic Health Association, headed by Sister Keehan. "The final rule still leaves many religious employers unprotected," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), this week. "The government should not compel any of its citizens to violate their consciences."
It is not the first time faithful Catholics and the CHA have been at loggerheads. Cardinal Francis George, then the president of the USCCB, said in 2010 that Sister Keehan was “to blame” for ObamaCare. CHA had thrown its enthusiastic support behind the law before it was passed, giving cover to Catholic legislators who might otherwise have been wary of going against the country's bishops. Democrats repeatedly invoked Sister Keehan's statements as “proof” that ObamaCare was fully compliant with Catholic teachings.
For her role in helping pass ObamaCare, Keehan was given one of the pens that the president used to sign the health bill into law.
The Knights of Malta forced Keehan off the board of one of its hospitals, the Holy Family Hospital Foundation, over her role in assisting the administration.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said last month that the announcement of the final rule "reinforces our commitment to respect the concerns of houses of worship and other non-profit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage, while helping to ensure that women get the care they need, regardless of where they work.”
But the minor changes were panned by critics as the “same old, same old.”
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, "Our Constitution and laws require them to protect religious exercise, but they really don’t want to, so they are trying every trick in the book to avoid doing so. But we will keep suing until the courts make HHS comply with its obligations.”
However, liberal and dissenting Catholics agreed with Sister Keehan, a key adviser to the Obama administration behind-the-scenes.
Grant Gallicho at liberal Commonweal magazine wrote, “I've written a few times before, it seems to me that Catholic employers can comply with the mandate without running afoul of Catholic moral teaching.”
Michael Sean Winters wrote approvingly of Sr. Keehan's comments at the dissenting National Catholic Reporter. He writes that Archbishop William Lori's refusal to say the ObamaCare mandate may not force Catholic hospitals to close has harried the health care industry and left Sr. Keehan and company scrambling for relief.
“The law firm litigating the suits against the mandate may be working pro bono, but insofar as they are restricting bishops from reassuring Catholic institutions -- to say nothing of the Catholic people -- that our ministries will not close, they are exacting a price too high to pay,” Winters wrote. “I do not discern a widespread assault on religious freedom in this country, nor do most Americans.”
He advised the Catholic bishops not only to “find a way to climb off the limb they are on; they need to ask some deep searching questions about how they got out on that limb in the first place.”
For their part, faithful Catholic bishops are used to such exhortations from inside their own ranks. On April 25, Archbishop Charles Chaput told an audience:
The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t “out there” among the critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the Church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us—all of us, clergy, religious and lay—when we live our faith with tepidness, cheap compromises, fear, routine, and hypocrisy.”