There is a disconnect between Cardinal O’Malley’s recent statements regarding the referral for abortions at Catholic hospitals in Boston and what is actually happening on the ground. Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, has stated in so many words that no abortions will be referred to patients in Catholic hospitals that is run by Caritas Christi Health Care Network (Caritas). On the other hand the Boston Globe has reported that last week Thursday Massachusetts state regulators voted to accept a joint venture between a Catholic hospital chain and a healthcare organization that covers abortions, Centene (pronounced sen-teen).
This new joint venture between Caritas and Centene, called the Commonwealth Family Health Plan, will provide information on where to get an abortion at all Catholic hospitals operating under Caritas. In addition Centene is a St. Louis based health organization that no hospital in the state of Massachusetts offers. So basically this ‘joint venture’ will only be operating in Catholic hospitals under the Caritas plan.
The Boston Globe reports (emphasis mine):
“Among the written assurances are a pledge that medical staff operating under the Centene-Caritas insurance plan, known as Commonwealth Family Health Plan, will inform women of their healthcare options, including abortion. The insurers will also provide a toll-free customer service line, available around the clock, to inform women about where they can get contraception, sterilization, and other family planning services not offered in the immediate setting. In an emergency, a service representative will arrange transportation to the nearest appropriate facility, officials said.”
On March 5 Cardinal O’Malley sent out the following statement once the details became apparent to the public (emphasis mine):
“To be perfectly clear, Caritas Christi will never do anything to promote abortions, to direct any patients to providers of abortion or in any way to participate in actions that are contrary to Catholic moral teaching and anyone who suggest otherwise is doing a great disservice to the Catholic Church.We are committed to the Gospel of Life and no arrangement will be entered into unless it is completely in accord with Church teaching.”
There’s a disconnect between these two statements. The following example will illustrate this point:
A patient walks into a Catholic hospital that is under the Caritas plan. This patient is seeking an abortion so the Caritas-run hospital refers the patient to a 24 hour hotline run by a joint venture between Caritas and Centene. The patient is referred once again by this Caritas-run joint venture to another hospital that provides abortions.
It would seem that an abortion referral twice removed is the justification being used to exonerates Caritas. How can that be adequate justification? Especially if the joint venture is run by Caritas and the abortion is paid through the Caritas-run joint venture at a non-Caritas-run hospital. This would seem to fall under material cooperation in abortion no matter how many degrees of separation there are. And then of course, one has to mention the precarious position of the sin of omission that Catholic physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers would be put in, under such an arrangement. This is seems to me like a scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston.
Pro-Life groups such as the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts (CALM) mobilized to inform the public. CALM also inquired with the Cardinal about the details of the plan and the discrepancy between what Caritas is saying and what the Cardinal said. Cardinal O’Malley has not responded nor returned any of these inquiries except the statement above.
On March 6 due to the growing pressure and attention this issue has been receiving Cardinal O’Malley on his blog wrote a statement that he is deferring this to the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), which Cardinal O’Malley is a board member of.
No decision has been made by the NCBC as of yesterday, but the decision may have been made confidentially, essentially we may never know. Cardinal O’Malley made clear in previous statements that he would not approve of this Caritas joint venture if it in any way violated Church teaching, yet on March 12 Massachusetts state regulators voted to approve of this arrangement via the joint venture.
The Boston Archdiocesan Chancery would not comment on the scandal only stating that Cardinal O’Malley was “out of town”. Other sources say that the Cardinal could not be reached for comment because he was away in Rome all this week. I was then referred to Terry Donilon, the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Archdiocese, and left a voice message that has not been returned. Mr. Donilon did respond by email and he provided the same statements that Cardinal O’Malley issued and promised that Caritas would contact me, which they haven’t yet. It has been difficult in reaching anyone involved in this scandal except for the pro-life groups.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts (CALM), said:
“I think its impossible to reconcile fidelity to Catholic teaching with even remote cooperation with abortion.”
One prominent Boston Catholic blogger, Carol McKinley, had this to say:
“There’s a simple formula to get to that answer. If the Pope can’t do it and Cardinal’s and priests can’t do it – neither can Catholic physicians or any other healthcare worker.”
An alternate opinion was provided by Fr. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry:
“Neither the Catholic moral tradition, nor the current Magisterium of the Church, has said that we absolutely cannot cooperate (or tolerate) in systems and/or actions that might be considered objectively immoral…”
This seeming scandal is exacerbated further with the lack of information emanating from the archdiocesan chancery as well as the continued silence from Cardinal O’Malley. Suffice to say the disconnect from Cardinal O’Malley’s statements and what has happened will not go away.
In the end allowing one bureaucracy, NCBC, to make a decision for Cardinal O’Malley for another bureaucracy, Caritas, seems imprudent. I pray that Cardinal O’Malley takes control of his archdiocese by nullifying the joint venture and to pursue a different course for Caritas.
(Photo by David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
Update I: As of Friday, March 20, The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) is still reviewing the request sent forth by Cardinal O’Malley. When a decision is made, the NCBC will report directly to Cardinal O’Malley and not issue a public statement because this was a private request that was made. As soon as I find out anymore information I will post it immediately.