Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, announced on Friday that he was vetoing a planned joint venture between the Catholic health care provider, Caritas Christi, with a non-Catholic provider, Centene Corporation. Part of the venture was to include an insurance program that made the arrangement murky: Insurance plans must refer patients to all legally available services and while Caritas Christi was exempt as a Catholic institution, its partner in the venture would not be exempt. By scotching the deal, the Cardinal has shown conclusively that the Church understands her mission to be an integral one that must reflect both our concern for the health care needs of the poor and our need to witness to the dignity of all human life.
In the past few months, critics of the Cardinal have suggested that he was willing to wink at abortion, that somehow the archdiocese was looking for a way to help people procure an abortion but with no paper trail, that he and his advisors were more concerned about the financial benefit of the venture than they were about the moral deficit. Anyone who knows Cardinal Sean knows that he is not the kind of person who "winks" at abortion. He is a lifelong and highly vocal advocate of the pro-life movement. And, in terms of integrity, his decision to shut down Catholic Charities involvement with adoption services after the Bay State mandated that gay parents be included should have indicated to anyone that he was never, ever going to encourage nor abide any lessening of the Church’s moral teachings in order to make a buck.
Yet, still some pro-life advocates remain critical of the cardinal for failing to disassociate Caritas Christi from the state-run insurance program that is designed to reach the poorest of Massachusetts’ residents. (For a round-up of reactions, see this article by the Globe’s Michael Paulson who deserves some kind of award for the excellence of his coverage on this issue.) They claim that this association is still a form of cooperation with evil because the state insurance program will cover abortion services. To be clear, all insurance programs in Massachusetts that Caritas and others deal with cover such services. It is regrettable that abortion is legal, but that is hardly the Cardinal’s fault. What will happen with the state-run insurance plan is what happens now with any other plan. If a woman requests any service that Caritas cannot provide on moral grounds, she is told that they do not provide such services and she should speak to her insurer about the matter. Some critics of Caritas and the Cardinal would have you believe that this is tantamount to "a referral." It is not. What should Caritas do? Tie the woman up so she can’t find out about where or how to procure something that we believe is immoral but which the law of the land says she has a right to?
The issue of providing health care in this pluralistic society of ours is very complicated. Moral theologians and biomedical ethicists look at the issues involved very carefully. Cardinal O’Malley sought the advice of the National Catholic Bioethics Board before making his decision. Some pro-life advocates, with the best of intentions, want the world to be black-and-white, in which we would never, ever come near an abortion provider. But, the Church does not run the country nor the insurance industry and it has no monopoly on the provision of health care. For us, providing health care is a ministry not a profit-center, and helping the poor by keeping Caritas Christi afloat is properly a concern of the Cardinal-Archbishop of Boston. I am not above criticizing our bishops when I think they make a bad decision. But, suggesting that Cardinal O’Malley is somehow indifferent or worse on the issue of abortion does a great disservice to all of Boston’s Catholics who have a right to know the truth. Their Catholic hospitals are not referring patients to abortion clinics. And, their Cardinal is a brave man who has done a brave thing.