By Kathleen Gilbert

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida, June 17, 2010 ( – Catholic Health Association (CHA) President Sr. Carol Keehan and other Catholic groups that broke with the bishops to support the federal health care reform legislation are to blame for the passage of the pro-abortion legislation, said Cardinal Francis George, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as reported by the Catholic News Agency on Thursday.

George reiterated his strong condemnation of the Catholic groups during a Tuesday morning meeting of the U.S. bishops in St. Petersburg. The Chicago Cardinal had previously decried the groups, who flouted the strong warnings of the bishops and chose to accept President Obama’s claim that the bill, passed in March, does not expand abortion.

As a token of his appreciation, President Obama gave Sr. Keehan one of the ceremonial pens used to sign the legislation and recently praised her for her cooperation. Earlier this year it was revealed that Obama played an active role in wooing Sr. Keehan away from the bishops to support his top domestic priority. also learned that, thanks to the scandal caused by Keehan’s dissent, the Knights of Malta effectively pressured the nun off a prestigious hospital board.

This week Cardinal George said the USCCB “never backed down” on two key principles throughout the months-long push before the bill passed: “number one, everyone should have access to health care; number two, no one should be killed.”

“The Catholic Health Association and other so-called Catholic groups provided cover for those on the fence to support Obama and the administration,” said George. He added that “Sr. Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for the passage of the health care bill.

In addition, CNA reports that George revealed that attempts by the bishops to communicate with Sr. Keehan in personal meetings, even attempts by George himself, fell on deaf ears. More than one meeting, he said, ended only with “the same frustrating results.”

The cardinal did not mince words as he reiterated the bishops’ position and its conflict with the position of Sr. Keehan on the federal health reform.

“The bill which was passed is fundamentally flawed. The Executive Order is meaningless. Sr. Carol is mistaken in thinking that this is pro-life legislation,” he stated. George added that the CHA “and other so-called Catholic groups” have “weakened the moral voice of the bishops in the U.S.” by their disobedience.

George emphasized, in contrast to the way CHA has framed the discussion, that the clashing views were not simply “two equally valid conclusions inspired in the same Catholic teaching.” He referred to a document jointly issued by several USCCB committees, entitled “Setting the Record Straight,” that says:

“As Bishops, we disagree that the divergence between the Catholic Conference and Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association, represents merely a difference of analysis or strategy. Rather, for whatever good will was intended, it represented a fundamental disagreement, not just with our staff as some maintain, but with the Bishops themselves.”

“As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity.”

Thomas Peters of the American Papist blog notes that Cardinal George, normally a diplomatic figure, used strong words and said he “would not express them lightly.”

Peters also noted that the conflict highlights Obama’s direct role in fracturing the Catholic Church and its hierarchical structure.

“Catholics who follow Obama’s vision for America, in large part, also follow his vision of the Catholic Church – as an egalitarian assembly of individual truth-seekers that take their hope from progressive visions of social activism, and who are constantly at loggerheads with an out-of-touch traditionalist hierarchy,” he wrote.