Bishops v. hospitals, round 2

usccb1Over the weekend, I discussed a New York Times story about a possible rift between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Health Association (CHA) — which represents the many Catholic hospitals in the country — over health care reform legislation. The Times reported the following: “In an apparent split with Roman Catholic bishops over the abortion-financing provisions of the proposed health care overhaul, the nation’s Catholic hospitals have signaled that they back the Senate’s compromise on the issue, raising hopes of breaking an impasse in Congress and stirring controversy within the church.”

News of a split would be a big deal politically in that it might give some self-identified pro-life Democrats some cover to vote for the bill. There would also be big ramifications for Catholic theology in the public square if a major Catholic group was at odds with the bishops on an important public policy matter. As it turns out, however, the “apparent split” is not so apparent, according to Catholic News Service:

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Dec. 28 that her organization has never wavered in its commitment to health care that protects “from conception to natural death,” as outlined in the CHA document, “Our Vision for U.S. Health Care.”

She disputed a report in The New York Times Dec. 26 that a recent CHA statement on Senate negotiations over abortion funding in health reform legislation represented a split with the bishops.

“There is not a shred of disagreement between CHA and the bishops,” Sister Carol said. “We believe there is a great possibility and probability that in conference committee we can work toward a solution that will prevent federal funding of abortion.”

The CNS report also clarified the sequence of events that might have led to the Times reporter getting the impression there was a split:

Sister Carol said Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick based his Dec. 26 story on a Dec. 17 CHA statement which noted that CHA had not reviewed the language of various amendments on the table at the time but was “encouraged by recent deliberations and the outline” Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., was developing.

At that point, “I felt they were making progress and were getting where we needed to be,” she said.

“I understand that it doesn’t make a good story to say (CHA and the USCCB) are working together,” Sister Carol added. “But it would have been an honest story.”

Anyway, go read the rest of CNS’ report and see if you can’t sort out what happened — obviously, if CHA’s statement came out on the 17th they would have had no way of knowing what the final abortion language in the bill would be and whether it would be problematic. It’s certainly possible the Times story resulted from plain old confusion.

It’s also possible that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. While the bishops do a good job of speaking together on public policy issues, there is a lot of rumbling beneath the scenes. It’s entirely likely that not all of the conference staff or the staff of groups such as the hospital association are going to be as concerned with upholding various doctrinal points as the bishops are. The tension between conscience protections and a grander social justice agenda is real and unsurprising. And the reporter may know more about what’s going on than made it into the paper.

I had some pretty pointed (and I think fair) critiques of the original New York Times piece, but it’s my experience that reporter David Kirkpatrick is very able. I hope he stays on this story and helps further illuminate what’s happening here.

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  • Michael

    I agree that confusion is the charitable understanding of the kerfuffle and lack of doctrinal rigidity from staff of various Catholic groups is a possibility. I don’t think we can rule out nefarious purposes on the part of the Old Grey Lady in collusion with dissenting Catholics. The NYT has proven its anti-Catholic bias with many recent columns and their refusal to publish Archbishop Dolan’s response.

  • Dave

    It’s entirely likely that not all of the conference staff or the staff of groups such as the hospital association are going to be as concerned with upholding various doctrinal points as the bishops are. The tension between conscience protections and a grander social justice agenda is real and unsurprising.

    If that’s the case, then that should have been the story. Reporters look behind the facades of secular insititutions all the time. Of course, the story would be rife with unnamed sources, but that would not stand out in the MSM.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Thinking back on mistakes and outright lies the Times has been so guilty of over the past few years -always on behalf of liberals or the left– (The McCain smear for one-their constant ignoring of anything negative about Obama and his Admin. for another)– the question arises: Why should anyone ever give the Old Grey Lady the slightest bit of credence in a controversy????

  • l. piec

    The Nelson amendment was put in the garbage can on Dec 8th.
    The quote is said to have been generated on the 17th.

    I do not know when the “let-the-states-have-their-individual-say” provision got into the senate version.

    However, I fully suspect that there was indeed a difference of opinion between the non-Catholic portion of the hospital association and the bishops. I cannot allow myself to think that the Daughters of Charity would not be in constant full agreement with the bishops. I think that that portion is innocent.

    The problem arises when a non-Catholic portion–meaning one that is not in total agreement with the church, a ruthless business portion–operates under the cloak of a Catholic name. The ruthless portion stains the name.

    This portion hasn’t been in sync with the bishops for a long time now. This isn’t new news. This is realistic fact.

  • Kevin J Jones

    Nice to learn of these details.

    Will the NY Times issue a clarification or a correction?

  • Julia

    Many Catholic hospitals have been sold to secular medical groups with no change of name. I wonder if any of these hospitals are still in the Catholic Hoealth Association?

    In 1998, Jesuit St. Louis University sold it’s medical school-affiliated hospital to Tenet Healthcare Network, which caused a big row with then-St. Louis Archbishop Rigali. The hospital is still called St. Louis University Hospital and serves SLU med school, but is no longer listed as a member of CHA. It’s this type of situation with quasi-Catholic hospitals that is probably exacerbating tensions between the CHA and the USCCB.

    Note that although SLU med school hospital is no longer a member of CHA, the Jesuit university’s Center for Health Care Ethics publishes its
    Health Care Ethics USA newsletter in conjunction with CHA whose offices are also in St. Louis.

    Those ethics newsletters and the SLU ethics center’s website might be a goldmine for an enterprising reporter to sniff out the internal rumblings.

    Here’s the website for the Catholic Health Association whose president is Sr Carol Keehan, D.C.

    The website notes the following:

    The Catholic Common Ground Initiative presented its annual Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Award June 26 to Sister Carol Keehan, Catholic News Service, June 29, 2009

    The Catholic Common Ground Initiative is very much associated with the “progressive” Bernardin wing of American Catholicism. In fact, it was founded by Cardinal Bernardin in 1996 to promote dialogue within the Catholic Church. Recall that Bernardin was the originator of the “seamless garment” argument equating abortion with all other life issues.

    Fr. Thomas Reese probably knows all the players.

  • Julia

    Many Catholic hospitals have been sold to secular entities without changing their name. This has muddied the water.

    In 1998 St. Louis U med school sold its hospital to Tenet Healthcare System, which cause a huge row with the then-St. Louis Bishop Justin Rigali. The hospital is still called “St. Louis University Hospital”, but it is no longer owned by the university and is not longer a member of CHA.

    However, SLU’s medical ethics department publishes its newsletter Health Care Ethics USA with the Catholic Health Association whose offices are also in St. Louis.

    So, altho no longer a member of CHA, the SLU people, who no longer own a hospital, still have some influence at CHA.

    - – - – - – -
    Second point of interest:

    The CHA website notes that its president, Sr. Carol Kaheen, received an award from the Common Ground Initiative, that was founded by Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago in 1996 to encourage dialogue within the Catholic community. You will recall that Bernardin coined the “seamless garment” argument that is used by many Catholic politicians to give cover to their abortion voting record.

    Fr. Thomas Reese probably knows all the players.

  • dalea

    In addition to selling hospitals, there has been a trend to putting hospital systems into secular not for profit corporations which are owned ultimately by religious orders. Providence Health System on the West Coast is one such:

    Their who we are statement:

    Providence Health & Services is a not-for-profit health system committed to providing a comprehensive array of services to meet the needs of communities across five states, including Alaska, Washington, Montana, Oregon and California. Providence continues the legacy of the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary in the West spanning more than 150 years…

    Providence Health & Services includes 26 hospitals, more than 35 non-acute facilities, physician clinics, a health plan, a liberal arts university, a high school, approximately 45,000 employees and numerous other health, housing and educational services. The system office is located in Seattle, Washington.

    Providence Health & Services in Alaska, Washington, Montana and Oregon is sponsored by the Sisters of Providence religious community. In Southern California, the health ministry is cosponsored by the Sisters of Providence and the Little Company of Mary. Corporate Members of Providence Health & Services in Alaska, Washington, Montana and Oregon, with specified reserved canonical powers, are members of the Leadership Team of the Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province. Corporate members of Providence Health System – Southern California are members of the Leadership Teams of both Sisters of Providence and Sisters of the Little Company of Mary.

    Providence’s statement on reform:

    First and foremost, people need enough insurance coverage. Health insurance that is linked to a job or is insufficient because it doesn’t include preventive care is causing millions of people to avoid the care they need and to be vulnerable to devastating medical bills.

    In addition to increased coverage and better access to care, the way health care is delivered and funded needs to be overhauled. Health care should be better coordinated and providers should be reimbursed based on their patients’ healthy results; not the number of tests and treatments done. In the end, these changes can help make health care more focused on helping patients get healthier.

    Link to the Mission and Values statement:

    PHS had revenues of 288M in 2008, treating over 250,000 people. I do not see the word Catholic in these statements.

  • Julia

    Sorry for the double posting. It appeared that my first attempted post disappeared when I hit the Submit Comment button. I tried refreshing numerous times to see if it got posted with no luck. So I wrote a second post.

    I guess the first one roamed around in the ether for awhile.

    I wonder if any of Providence’s hospitals belongs to the Catholic Health Association. If they do, they are still Catholic hospitals. After all, they are still owned and run by Catholic sisters.

    Example: there are 13 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin that were founded by the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis who came to the US from Germany in the 1800s. Many years later these hospitals are now part of a non-profit called Hospital Sisters Health System. All the hospitals belong to the CHA, unlike the SLU med school hospital.
    List of CHA members in Illinois

    I checked the CHA directory for Oregon and the individual Providence hospitals and other care facilities are members. They are still Catholic and the health system is not secular.

  • dalea

    Looking at the Providence website, I can see how a reporter would conclude that there is a difference in interests between the bishops and the hospitals. Instead of a clear statement that Providence is a Catholic institution we are told:

    Providence continues the legacy of the Sisters of Providence and the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary in the West spanning more than 150 years…

    One Providence hospital does get a lot of media attention. Most likely because it is across the street from ABC Corporate and Studios, NBC Corporate and Studios and Disney Corporate and Studios. Several years ago there was a labor dispute there. The coverage showed clergy and lay Catholics supporting the workers while management stated they were not bound by Catholic teachings. While a local story, this may have made an impression on the press.