WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Almost immediately after President Obama announced the details of his “accommodation” on Friday morning, Catholic Health Association (CHA) President Sr. Carol Keehan registered her support, long before any other Catholic organizations had the opportunity to analyze the White House’s statement, let alone to issue a statement for or against. Some in the Catholic Church are calling Keehan’s close working relationship with the administration in drafting a measure that still violates their common religious beliefs a “scandal.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that the president called three people before delivering his speech on the birth control mandate Friday morning: Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); Sr. Keehan; and Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Richards and Sr. Keehan issued statements supporting the accommodation almost immediately after the speech. The White House had seen Keehan’s endorsement before delivering the speech, which would require health insurance companies to provide contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization to employees or religious institutions “free of charge.”
John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, told LifeSiteNews.com, “I think it’s a scandal that [CHA’s] statement mirrored that of Planned Parenthood so closely in tone and timing. Christian prudence demands a much higher threshold of scrutiny before jumping on the bandwagon, especially given the clear attack on religious freedom and the clear attack on the Catholic Church inherent in this decision.”
Sr. Keehan said the CHA was “pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.” Several news outlets balanced CHA’s statement against Planned Parenthood’s, leaving the impression the accommodation has satisfied leaders on both sides.
However, conspicuously missing from initial coverage was any statement from the Roman Catholic bishops, who were apparently still scrambling to make sense of the “accommodation.” Cardinal-designate Dolan wrote a pastoral letter on February 10 shortly after the accommodation had been announced, stating any sign of openness from the administration is “a welcome first step. We must study it carefully. However, we cannot let up in our concern for the protection of religious freedom and the reverence for conscience which are at the heart of American values.” Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Illinois, went further, saying while he deferred to the USCCB to make a final determination, “it first it appears that this is still material co-operation with evil.”
A statement later in the day from the USCCB blasted the accommodation as insufficient to address their concerns. According to the bishops, the mandate “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
New e-mails show the White House had already lined up Sr. Keehan’s support, and that she had provided White House insiders a copy of her statement before releasing it to the press. Darron Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE), e-mailed a copy to “friends” Friday morning, writing: “I wanted to be sure you saw Sister Carol Keehan’s statement on the new regulation being proposed and finalized later this morning.”
This has led some to question whether she had a deeper role in the announcement.
“I am a team player,” Bill Donohue of the Catholic Defense League said in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com, and Sr. Keehan “would never be on my team.”
“At a minimum she had a call before hand, and maybe more,” Brehany said. “I do think it’s a scandal.”
The Office of Public Engagement (OPE) is headed by Valerie Jarrett, named by political observers as the president’s most influential adviser. Attendees have exposed the fact that OPE regularly holds “Common Purpose” meetings with friendly activists to coordinate support for its policies.
Apparently, Sr. Keehan enjoyed greater access than the USCCB, which wrote on Friday, “We just received information about this proposal for the first time this morning; we were not consulted in advance.”
It would not represent the nun’s first collaboration with the Obama administration on a policy her bishops opposed. Last June, Francis Cardinal George said, “Sr. Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for the passage of the president’s health care bill. “The Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration,” he wrote. Such groups, Cardinal George said, had “weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.” and caused “confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.”
As a token of his appreciation for her support, President Obama rewarded Sr. Keehan with one of the ceremonial pens used to sign the bill.
At least one other Catholic organization has publicly supported the accommodation. The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) issued a statement that it “acknowledges and appreciates the compromise that President Obama has made to accommodate religious institutions in regard to the birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act. We commend the Obama Administration for its willingness to work with us on moving toward a solution, and we look forward to working out the details of these new regulations with the White House. ”
The Catholic Medical Association, which is the largest association of Catholic physicians in North America, insisted, “[T]he flawed attempts at ‘compromises,’ announced by the Obama administration to date, should be completely reversed.” This echoes the USCCB’s call to entirely rescind the HHS mandate.
“We think the decision is a trainwreck in terms of religious freedom, women’s health, and economics,” Brehany told LifeSiteNews. “Barring any further details that we’re missing, we still see it as very wrong.”
“I hope that a spirit of discernment will prevail,” he said.
The offices of Francis Cardinal George, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, and Bishop Robert Vasa did not return messages before deadline.