(UPDATED) SPECIAL REPORT: Pro-Sebelius Catholic Group Splinters

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Three years ago, 26 prominent American Catholics signed an online petition in support of Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. The list of signatories included theologians, former law school deans, ambassadors, and journalists. But the group’s support for Secretary Sebelius has splintered after her ruling on January 20th that requires most religious institutions to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients in their health plans for employees.

In interviews with a handful of signatories, three put distance them and the Obama administration over the ruling. Thomas Reese, SJ, a former editor of the Jesuit weekly America magazine, said “it was my fault in signing the letter by not paying enough attention to what the group’s about.” While Father Reese emphasized that he supports a wide exemption for religious institutions, such as hospitals and universities, from the impending contraception mandate, he declined to comment on the mandate itself. “What are you trying to get me to say?” he said.

Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, expressed support for Secretary Sebelius’ resignation. “It would be a good thing if she stepped down,” he said. “I think she was a talented person for the job, but if the President asked her to step down, that would be good for her.” Professor Schneck expressed disappointment with the mandate and said he supports a wide exemption for religious institutions.

Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec, a former ambassador to Malta for the Obama administration, made public a letter he wrote to the President expressing his opposition to the contraception mandate and said he may not support Obama’s re-election effort in November.

While Reese, Schneck, and Kmiec have put distance between them and the Obama administration over the HHS ruling, several signatories continue to support both Secretary Sebelius and the ruling.

One signatory in this camp is James P. Joseph, a lawyer at the prestigious law firm of Arnold and Porter in Washington. “I’m still a supporter of hers,” he said of Sebelius. “I have not had time to look at the parameters of what they decided … and it is a difficult balancing act. (But) my view on politics is that while these issues are important, Sebelius and Obama overall are doing a good job.”

Patrick Whelan, president of the Catholic Democrats, appears to have gone a step further than Joseph. His organization has endorsed not only President Obama and Secretary Sebelius, but also the contraception mandate. On its webpage, the group has posted an op-ed from member Victoria Kovari that criticizes the nation’s bishops for “spend[ing] their moral and financial resources on a misplaced fight for so called religious liberty, when so much else is at stake.”

While some signatories do not endorse Sebelius without reservation and others continue to, most signatories were unavailable for comment. I placed a phone call or email with all but a few of them but more than a dozen have not returned my messages. When I hear from them, I will update this post.

UPDATE: Kari Tremeryn (nee Lundgren), a doctoral candidate in rhetoric at Carnegie Mellon University, offered a robust defense of the contraception mandate in an email to me. She wrote that the ruling does not compel employees of religious hospitals and universities to use contraception (or get sterilized or take abortifacients).

The mandate also protects, she added, those workers’ religious freedom. As she put the matter, “Why should a married evangelical employee of a Catholic hospital, for example, not have access to contraception through her health insurance equal to what she would have at a comparable secular institution? Would the hospital be better off if all employees for whom artificial birth control is not an issue of conscience all sought employment in secular institutions? What about those employees for whom such mobility isn’t an option, especially in this economy?”

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36 thoughts on “(UPDATED) SPECIAL REPORT: Pro-Sebelius Catholic Group Splinters

  1. Mary says:

    Sebelius and others in this movement are not simply misled, they are not simply enjoying their positions of power. These are NOT simply a group of 20-somethings who are self-interested and self-absorbed.
    They are True Believers.
    Sebelius and the others firmly believe that it is a moral imperative to provide all women with birth control and abortion. They REALLY TRULY believe.
    This is a stuggle between belief systems, and, at least in their eyes, as valid as the differences between Christian and Jewish, or Jewish and Muslim.
    Do not underestimate this stuggle. Do not expect it to “settle down and go away”. The HHS mandate supporters are following their consciences, they consider it a moral imperative to support “a woman’s choice” and everything that goes with that choice.

  2. Sid says:

    It’s obvious to me that the Obama administration is using this clause in the terrible Obamacare policy to get the religious all riled up to take our focus off this entire terrible policy. Once they work our dear Bishop’s up into a frenzy, they will back down and we will claim victory. Then we will march off to our TV’s and forget about the fact that this bill is going to bring this country to it’s knees. Instead of getting upset about the conscience clause we should be upset about this massive socialist program designed to take our rights away and install the government as our God. The USCCB should have seen this coming and they should have fought this before it became law. I’m glad they are up in arms, it’s about time. And it’s past time to tell Miss Sebilius to become a member of another denomination as it is obvious she is not a Roman Catholic.

  3. Howard says:

    HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is no catholic in my book and I am very disappointed in Dolans appearance on CBS this morning as they attempt to “manufacture consent” to this policy, which will ultimately turn over to insurance companies population control and ultimately eugenics. Make no mistake that is where this is going.

    CBS was the last media outlet to acknowledge that there had been a horrible public outcry over this issue having observed a media blackout on the topic for over two weeks. Dolan appeared in an open table discussion with the CBS commentators fielding test questions for Obama on expanding the definitions of the mandate.

    Translation: That means Catholic refer to other insurance. Catholics can’t refer, provide funds for, or give directions to… or any other way you put it. Nor can we support any legislation that makes it a legal right. Dolan needs to speak the truth and not play politics on this.

  4. Howard says:

    Just watched Dolan on CBS show and was disappointed in his candied approach on this with the press.

    All they could talk about was that he felt mislead by Obama’s personal promise and that he wished he would reconsider. A discussion then ensued to the possibility “expand the definitions in the mandate”. Rather than call it a compromise.

    The options of expanding this definition being discussed throughout the press (ie talking points from the president) include referring employees to and making funds available to purchase insurance that provides birth prevention elsewhere.

    It is akin to saying hey I can’t give you the birth prevention/abortion but I know where you can get it, here is the directions to the clinic, and here is the cost to get it, btw let me give you some bus fare as well. This is not acceptable.

    My impression of the presentation of this topic in the press with Dolan was an near attempt to quell outrage at Obamas mandate, which transcended being Catholic. This is a political presentation designed to manufacture consent to Catholic silence on birth control, population control, and eugenics. As these life decisions are transferred to insurance companies and become an American perceived right.

    I am very disappointed in this soft stance. CBS was btw the last news outlet in the U.S. to even acknowledge that the there had been a public outcry over the mandate, having observed the major media blackout on the subject the longest.

    HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is no Catholic. (In my opinion)

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