WASHINGTON, D.C., February 17, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Seeking to prove that President Obama’s accommodation on the HHS mandate does not infringe on Christian institutions’ freedom of religion, Democratic congressmen on Thursday repeatedly cited the controversial endorsement of the mandate Sister Carol Keehan made on behalf of the Catholic Health Association (CHA).
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport testified before Congress Thursday that the new version of the policy – which shifts the distribution of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs from religious employers to their health insurance companies, but does not allow anyone to opt out of coverage – would force the nation’s largest denomination to fund and provide products it simultaneously denounces.
The House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, asked Bishop Lori about “all the other Catholic entities that praised the Obama administration last week for allowing” them to follow the dictates of “their faith and the law.”
“Unlike you, they believe these remaining issues can be worked out,” Cummings said.
He then quoted a series of endorsements by private Catholic organizations, beginning with Sr. Keehan’s statement that the CHA was “very pleased” with the adjustment, as well as an initial reaction from Catholic Charities that it “welcomes” the president’s efforts. Catholics United similarly “called the White House’s plan ‘a win-win,’” that showed Obama was “willing to rise above” partisan politics, Cummings said.
Bishop Lori responded, “Catholic Health Association does not speak for the church as a whole. Catholic bishops speak for the Church as a whole.”
CHA, the bishop said, “is a lobbying group. It is a trade association. It is not the Church, as such…Catholic Charities is in the same position.”
“I don’t know much about Catholic United except it doesn’t have any particular standing in the Church,” he said.
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The nun’s actions played a part in the most dramatic moments of the hearings. As Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly accused the testifying clergy of “trampling” on freedom, he said, “The Catholic hospitals supported the compromise. They’re not afraid of closing down hospitals in America.”
Almost immediately following the president’s nationally televised speech announcing the “adjustment” to the mandate last Friday, Sr. Keehan sent out a press release that 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.” Planned Parenthood issued a statement at the same time, praising the president for not folding on the matter of mandatory contraception coverage. Meanwhile the bishops, who had not been privy to inside discussions on the revised mandate, were scrambling to make sense of the “accommodation,” and only issued a statement denouncing it later that evening.
In the meantime the media juxtaposed the CHA’s and Planned Parenthood’s reactions as though the accommodation had answered all parties’ objections. John Brehany, executive director of the Catholic Medical Association, told LifeSiteNews.com CHA’s actions amounted to “a scandal.”
Sr. Keehan sent her statement to the White House even before Obama’s speech had been made. Darron Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE), had e-mailed a copy of her statement to “friends” last 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.”
Keehnan’s apparent advance knowledge of the policy contrasts with the administration’s treatment of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The president’s accommodation policy “came upon the bishops’ conference of a sudden,” Bishop Lori testified on Thursday. He said, while Obama called him before last Friday’s speech, the president had not conferred with the bishops nor gotten their input.
“There was no consultation. It was not given to us in writing, and it was told to us not long before it was announced,” Bp. Lori said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic, confirmed “I did not speak with the Catholic bishops” during Senate testimony on Wednesday. She added that she had not asked the Justice Department for its opinion about whether the accommodation was constitutional.
“When we first heard it ourselves, we wondered if there might not also be a glimmer of hope,” the bishop said yesterday, “but upon further analysis within that same day we immediately began to see problems…There are serious problems at the level of principle and the level of practicality.”
The bishop and Congressman Cummings clashed again later in the hearing over objections the Obama administration’s denial of grants to a Catholic service that refuses to refer sex trafficking victims for abortions, which was the subject of a two-hour hearing before the Oversight Committee last year. The congressman said Roman Catholic institutions still receive “millions and millions of dollars in all kinds of contracts.”
“We don’t get a handout,” Bishop Lori replied. “We contract for services, and we deliver, and we bring to those services some moral convictions. And we shouldn’t be at a disadvantage because we bring some moral convictions to the table.”
“We also bring the generosity of the Catholic people, and we bring volunteers,” he added. “When you contract with the Church, you get a bang for your buck.”
Bishop Lori was one of ten people to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday during a hearing entitled, entitled, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
Catholic Health Association.