Why Would Anyone Attack Sister Carol Keehan?
Cardinal George, whose call for renewed unity we applauded yesterday, has his work cut out for him. And, he needs to start in Kansas City-St. Joseph where the "Catholic Key Blog" produced by the staff of the diocesan newspaper, also known as the "Catholic Key," is out of control. Yesterday, they attacked Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is the CEO and President of the Catholic Health Association (CHA).
I met Sister Carol about fifteen years ago when a newspaper wanted an article about unusual living arrangements for people. Sister Carol was then the President of Providence Hospital, a large urban hospital here in D.C. that is run by the Daughters of Charity. Her office was large and there was a stack of Medicare regulations in her desk and yards of bookshelves with book titles that did not suggest the contents were light reading. I pointed to the Medicare regulations and commented, "That must be fun to read," and Sister Carol replied, "I took a vow to help the poor. In this day and age, that means knowing Medicare and Medicaid regulations." Sister Carol then showed me the sisters’ living quarters. She, like all the other nuns, had a small room, like a dorm room, with a small bed, a small desk and one comfortable chair, a devotional book on the table beside it. There was a closet holding half a dozen habits and blouses. This was certainly not how most hospital executives lived. Sister Carol's supreme confidence in discussing any and all aspects of health care management was matched by a complete absence of pride or protocol. You only had to watch her for five minutes as she interacted with the hospital staff to realize that she was as down-to-earth as she was competent, as solicitous of others as she was unafraid to make a decision on her own.
I last saw Sister Carol about a month ago at the offices of the USCCB where she took part in a conference call with Cardinal McCarrick and others in announcing guidelines for resolving labor issues in Catholic health care. All the participants on the call cited Sister Carol’s hard work and expertise and patience. Afterwards, she asked after the priest who had first introduced us, wondering about his health which has been worrisome for some time. Then, Cardinal McCarrick pulled her away to solicit her opinion on something.
This is the sister whom Mr. Jack Smith, who is the editor of the Catholic Key, decided to attack yesterday. He questioned why Sister is supporting health care reform. Well, actually, Smith adopts the weasel-like passive voice, as in, "For her public support of the president's pro-abortion appointees to her campaign to enact health care reform now, she is accused of being at odds with the USCCB and the prolife cause." Accused by whom? I do not recall hearing anyone at the USCCB accuse Sister Carol of anything.
Mr. Smith then goes on to question Sister Carol’s motives. "CHA does not represent patients or the poor. Their board is composed of, and Sister Carol represents, the very highly compensated chief executives of large health care conglomerates throughout the country." Excuse me, but as a Daughter of Charity, Sister Carol does most definitely represent the poor, not only in her work but in every aspect of her life, indeed becoming like the poor to better emulate the love of the Lord. She represented the poor when she was President at the Hospital and she represents them now. She will, if she ever retires, represent the poor in her prayers. Serving the poor is what Daughters of Charity do.
He finishes his little post with a complete indictment of Sister Carol’s motives, after noting her actual salary. "Sister Carol does not keep her salary. It goes to her order. It's noted here to demonstrate that her compensation at CHA is much more in line with a trade association lobbyist than the head of a charity. Reporters and news consumers should keep that in mind when soliciting CHA for comment on health care reform. Moral concerns are not their bottom line. The bottom line is." I admit it is always refreshing to see a conservative admit that the profit motive and moral concerns do not always cohere. But, Smith misses the mark because, as is the case with a certain type of religious zealotry, his perspective does not permit him to recognize that human life often permits, even demands, that several motives exist side-by-side. For anyone seized with the Inquisitorial itch, it is always "moral concern or the bottom line," it is always "my way or the highway," it is always "my understanding of orthodoxy or damnation." Please, sir, scratch the itch, get a little witch hazel, but stop impugning the motives of a sister who has dedicated her whole life to serving the poor.
Let me be clear. I do not want to guess what possessed Mr. Smith to write this attack on Sister Carol. If he had spent five minutes with her, he would not be so cavalier in questioning her motives. Indeed, he would have seen that she has spent her whole life dedicated to serving the poor, including the arduous task of reading and mastering mind-numbing Medicare regulations, reading them in the light of the Church’s moral teaching, and working every day to make Catholic Health Care better able to serve the needs of the poor. The Bishop of Kansas City, who owns the Catholic Key, should demand that Mr. Smith issue an apology – as public and as direct as his indictment – of Sister Carol. And, Cardinal George should cite this whole nastiness as precisely the kind of thing that impedes the unity for which he called.