UPDATED – Hey CHA: Catholics who run non-religious businesses are people, too.

Sister Carol Keehan utterly, tragically misses the point.

With analysis by CV blogger Matt Bowman the Cardinal Newman Society reports that the Catholic Health Association and its leader, Sister Carol, have proposed that the HHS mandate be expanded to exempt religious institutions according to the same criteria that the IRS uses for religious tax exemptions.

CNS gets into reasons why this is still not good enough as a defense of religious liberty, but even they don’t go broad enough.

Some close Catholic friends of mine run a small, but successful, business. They have non-Catholic employees. In fact, apart from family members, I’m pretty sure only one of their dozen or so employees is Catholic. What they make money doing cannot in any way be construed to be a Church-related enterprise—they build cabinets. (Rather fine ones, if I do say so myself.) The cabinets go to schools, hospitals, doctors’ offices, stores, libraries, corporate office buildings, universities, the like.

After the HHS mandate was imposed upon us from on high one of the co-owners asked me more than once what it meant for them. Was their any way it would not affect them? What could they do to avoid the tough moral question? The insurance plan they buy into for themselves and their employees does not cover morally offensive services and items like abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives. To my knowledge, none of their employees pointedly complained about this. Now, because of the HHS mandate, they are forced to choose between dropping health insurance or offering a plan that covers those offensive services.

My employer, Franciscan University of Steubenville, was one of 43 Catholic institutions to who filed suit on May 21 to have the HHS mandate tossed out, but the basis of our complaint was the religious nature of Franciscan University of Steubenville. Our complaint was that the “religious exemption” written into the mandate is so narrow as to exclude organizations like Franciscan University.

That is the appropriate legal course of action for Franciscan—our mission and purpose dictate that such is our problem with the mandate, so such is the foundation of our complaint.

But what about the private employers who are Catholic, like my dear friends, who have heretofore chosen, according to their Catholic consciences, not to cover such things? The CHA compromise leaves them out in the cold, ignores their religious liberty, disregards that they, too, are Catholic, and relegates them to second-class status.

Such an uncareful “compromise” could only come from someone whose first priority remains staying in the good graces with this most anti-Catholic of administrations, seeking to be the “good faith” bargainer, the middle ground. She/they think they’ve found a reasonable middle ground, since the IRS criteria seem to work just fine and is already part of federal law.

But under the IRS religious criteria Catholic for-profit employers with non-religious businesses do not qualify for exemption from the federal law in question. That’s perfectly fine for taxation purposes. It is wholly, tragically inadequate for religious liberty.

Sister Carol Keehan has probably done a whole lot of caring for whole lots of people over the years. Truly tragic that she cannot think prudently and bring herself to care for the religious liberty of all persons more than for her own agenda and position in this incredibly important fight for the soul of this country.

In that failure she participates in crushing religious liberty for real people, like my dear friends. I pray she sees her way clearly before it is too late.

But more topically, I pray the mandate is tossed—whether by a total overturn of Obamacare this month or by the successful conclusion of other lawsuits that specifically target the mandate.


UPDATE: I had forgotten this, but Catholic Vote sued Kathleen Sebelius on behalf of a private employer for this precise reason. From the post…

Our lawsuit was filed in St. Louis, Missouri on behalf of Frank O’Brien and his corporation – and is the first legal challenge to be brought against the new HHS mandate on behalf of a private business.

Mr. O’Brien employs 87 people, and has dedicated his manufacturing business to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He is a faithful Catholic and objects to the government forcing him and his company to pay for medicines and procedures he believes are immoral.

Religious freedom for all! Not just the few.



Tom Crowe is a writer and web content editor at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The views expressed here are solely his own and do not reflect the thinking of any other person or organization.



  • Al Wunsch

    Money talks, unfortunately, however, what’s the problem with just demanding the government reinstate the conscience clause? The CHA may not care much about the Catholic Religion and not much more about religious liberty but when the gov’t takes over their hospital system and starts calling the shots (including decreasing salaries & benefits), they’ll sing a different tune – too late of course.

  • David

    Perhaps you are asking CHS to take on more than they are responsible for. I agree with your assessment that CHS wants to stay in the “good graces” of the administration and I find it shameful that they did not adopt their current position from the start. As CHS is a component of the means the church uses to meet its charitable obligations it has a duty to behave in a Catholic way and fight for its own ability to continue to function without contradicting our morality. I am not convinced that CHS has a moral obligation to defend the conscience rights of individuals. That is beyond the scope of their duties and their competence. They would certainly be obliged to lend at least moral support to individuals seeking to defend their personal conscience rights, but I do not understand how they would be obliged to do more. The Church as a whole may have a duty to do that but I am not convinced that every component of the structure has that obligation. For the moment, I am just glad that CHS has decided to behave in a Catholic way and not give in to a desire to please the Obama administration. I would expect Franciscan University to give moral support to individuals, but I do not expect them to fight the fight for those individuals.

    • Al Wunsch

      I would expect all Catholic Institutions to abide by Catholic Church Teachings as that is the reason they are called a “Catholic” organization. To do otherwise, is to set a bad example for the public as well as to act contrary to Church Teachings as individuals in the management and operation of that hospital or other Catholic institution. Question for Catholics is, can you support your Catholic institutions so that they can remain Catholic? For the individual Catholic, if there are institutions that require their employees to act contrary to Church Teachings, they will have to find another job or risk their soul. Unacceptable choice.



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