The state Connector Board this morning unanimously approved a proposed joint insurance venture between Caritas Christi Health Care and the Centene Corporation that would allow the health care providers to participate in the state's insurance program for the poor.
But Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who is charged with overseeing the Catholic-ness of the Catholic hospital network, has just issued a cautionary statement. Here it is, in its entirety:
"While I appreciate the opportunity given to Caritas Christi to serve the poor through this agreement, I wish to reaffirm that this agreement can only be realized if the moral obligations for Catholic hospitals as articulated in the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are fulfilled at all times and in all cases. In order to assure me that this agreement will provide for the integrity of the Catholic identity and practices of Caritas Christi Health Care System, I have asked the National Catholic Bioethics Center to review the agreement and to assure me that it is faithful to Catholic principles."
At issue are rules set forward by the U.S. bishops that declare, "Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and direct sterilization." The joint venture will cover such services, but Caritas will not provide them; whether Caritas's role in the venture constitutes "immediate material cooperation" is the subject of debate. A number of moral theologians contacted by the Globe, as well as the president of the Catholic Health Association, said they do not believe the venture violates Catholic teaching, but some anti-abortion activists are leery, and their concerns were heightened today when state officials said the venture's participants would give patients a phone number to call to get any procedure needed, and would even provide a ride to a hospital that would do the procedure not done by a Catholic hospital.
The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts today blasted Caritas, calling the venture “a significant defeat for the pro-life movement, inflicted not by secular society, but by the Catholic Church in Boston.” A statement from the league's executive director, C. J. Doyle:
“What remains of the Catholic character of Caritas Christi has now been fatally compromised. The partnership in which Caritas Christi is one of the two principals will provide ‘ready access’ to abortion, which the Catholic religion condemns as ‘an abominable crime’. It is now clear that the Archdiocese of Boston has spent the last week cynically misdirecting Catholics and the general public with empty assurances that Caritas Christi would not collaborate in abortion. If a woman with a Commonwealth Care card walks into a Caritas Christi hospital seeking an abortion, she will be directed back to her health plan -- the Caritas/Centene partnership -- which will not only arrange for the procedure, but if necessary will provide transportation to the facility which performs it. With Caritas Christi now thoroughly embedded in the culture of death, we are now facing the end, in Massachusetts at least, of Catholic medical resistance to abortion and contraception. This tragic state of affairs is the personal responsibility of the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who not only failed to stop this contract, but who endorsed it while making unsupportable assertions implausibly denying what everyone else knew -- that the contract required participation in the deliberate killing of innocent unborn children.”
Caritas President Ralph de la Torre issued a statement that did not address the controversy:
“This plan confirms Caritas Christi’s commitment to bring the highest quality healthcare to patients in their communities. This commitment coupled with Celtic’s national experience and financial backing, effectively position this new health plan to deliver world-class healthcare to Commonwealth Care enrollees while maintaining the fiscal responsibility owed to the citizens of the commonwealth.”
(UPDATE: "Celtic Group Inc." is a subsidiary of Centene Corporation; the joint venture is technically between Caritas and Celtic.)
(Photo above, by Barry Chin/Globe staff, shows Cardinal O'Malley in Quincy on 1/13/09.)