Kathleen Sebelius versus the U.S. Bishops: Payback is a Bitch

In my opinion, certain official actions taken by Kathleen Sebelius, in her capacity as U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, are not based on her sincere judgment as to what is best for the nation, but rather on her personal conflict with the U.S. Bishops concerning the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems to me that she has taken official action as HHS Secretary, repeatedly, for the purpose of exacting revenge on the Bishops and the Church. The Bishops spoke against her political positions on contraception, direct sterilization, and abortion. The Bishops denied her holy Communion because of those positions. In response, she used her power as a government official to exclude an organization run by the U.S. Bishops from an HHS contract, and to require Catholic organizations to pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortion.

Federal Grant

“The nation’s Catholic bishops have lost a grant the federal government previous gave them for efforts to stop sex trafficking and they are concerned it is because they disagree with President Barack Obama over abortion.

“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had previously received a five-year $19 million grant to help victims of sex trafficking during the administration of pro-life President George W. Bush. Sensitive to how women are exploited in the sex industry, the Catholic bishops prohibit any subcontractors from using the funds to pay for or promote abortions. Instead, the Catholic bishops provide comprehensive case management services to survivors including medical and mental health services.

“While the Obama administration extended the contract briefly in March, the bishops were recently notified that it would not be renewed. Instead, Obama officials awarded the grant to three other groups (Tapestri of Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services of Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants of Washington) — even though the bishops have helped more than 2,700 victims with the funding.” (LifeNews)

The above article suggests that a conflict between President Obama and the Bishops, over the issue of abortion, is responsible for the loss of the contract. But I notice that the Obama administration continued and extended the Bishops’ contract, until Sebelius took office. Obama took office in January of 2009; an extension to the Bishops’ contract was granted in March of 2011. The problems began only after Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed as HHS Secretary, in April of 2011. The month before her confirmation, the Obama administration voiced no objection to the contract, nor to the work of the Bishops’ organization.

“The Bush administration granted a $19 million, five-year contract to the Catholic bishops in 2006 to manage programs for victims of human trafficking. As part of that contract, the Catholic bishops subcontracted with other organizations to provide various victims’ services.

“When the contract ended, the HHS, now under the Obama administration, changed its funding methods from a contract to a competitive grant, and reached out to organizations that then applied for the grants. An independent review board judged the merits of each application, and assigned a score to each organization.” (CNN)

The Obama administration decided to award the next set of contracts on a competitive basis, using an independent review board. The independent review board gave the Bishops’ organization the second highest score, only slightly less than one other organization, and much higher than the other two. Then Sebelius intervened, contradicting the Obama plan. All organizations ranked higher and lower than the Bishops’ organization received new grants; the Bishops did not. So HHS ignored the independent review board’s evaluation, and denied the grant on another basis: Kathleen Sebelius’ personal grudge against the Bishops and the Church over the issues of contraception, sterilization, and abortion.

Why would the Catholic head of Health and Human Services require an organization run by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to offer contraception, sterilization, and abortion in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church? I believe that her motivation was to pick a fight with the Bishops, because she disagrees with Church teaching on those issues. She is using her position as Secretary of HHS to punish the Catholic Church, of which she is a member, for religious teachings with which she disagrees. This action is contrary to the separation of Church and State. A government official should not use her governmental power to punish her own Church for its religious beliefs, and to attempt to force that Church to change or to compromise its values.

To my mind, no other reason makes sense. What person in their right mind would think that the U.S. Bishops would agree to offer contraception, sterilization, and abortion? It is as if Sebelius is openly mocking the Bishops. They denied her Communion because of her position on abortion. So she, in effect, says to them: “Oh, of course, I’ll renew your federal grant — as soon as you agree to offer abortions.” The addition of this new criterion was specifically designed to single out the Bishops, so as to deny them the renewal of a government grant to provide humanitarian services to victims of human trafficking. And this was done despite the fact that an independent review of the four organizations previously given the grant rated the U.S. Bishops’ services far above two of the other three, and nearly equal to the third.

“Archbishop of Kansas City Joseph F. Naumann has publicly admonished Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for her veto of an abortion law reform bill passed by the Kansas legislature. Sebelius, a Catholic, is considered a possible vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.”

‘The archbishop said that after meeting with several other Kansas bishops, last August he wrote the governor to request that she refrain from presenting herself to receive Holy Communion. He said she should refrain from receiving Communion until she had acknowledged her erroneous stand on abortion, made a ‘worthy sacramental confession,’ and taken the ‘necessary steps for amendment of her life.’ Such steps, Archbishop Naumann said, would include a public repudiation of her previous support for laws and policies that sanction abortion.” (CNA)

The Archbishop spoke publicly against Sebelius, at a time when she was being considered as a possible vice-presidential candidate (to run with Barack Obama). The Archbishop publicly rebuked her for her political positions and for taking political contributions from a late-term abortionist. And he publicly told her not to receive holy Communion. He humiliated her at a time when the nation’s eyes were on her, as the election season of 2008 was unfolding. So when she became the head of HHS, she used that position to payback the U.S. Bishops for their humiliation of her.

Another Bishop also spoke out against Sebelius, Archbishop Raymond F. Burke.

“Already admonished against receiving Communion because of stands she has taken on abortion as governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius now faces even closer scrutiny from the church since she was nominated to serve as secretary of health and human services earlier this month. What began as a local matter between Mrs. Sebelius and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the archbishop of Kansas City, Kan., has taken on larger dimensions with the prospect that Mrs. Sebelius could reside in Washington. Earlier this month, Archbishop Raymond F. Burke – formerly the archbishop of St. Louis but now prefect for the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court – declared that Mrs. Sebelius should not approach the altar for Communion in the United States.” (Washington Times)

Archbishop Burke spoke against Sebelius when he was Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and therefore a member of the Roman Curia. This denunciation again humiliated Sebelius, at a time when she was being considered for a political position — the Senate was considered whether or not to confirm her nomination as HHS Secretary. She was confirmed about a month later, but since then she has done nothing to indicate that she is a faithful Catholics. At every opportunity, she has used her position as HHS Secretary to act against the Bishops and the Church. Why would a Catholic government official act in this manner? I believe that Kathleen Sebelius is motivated by a desire for revenge, that is, to give payback to the U.S. Bishops, because they deny her holy Communion on the basis of her political position on abortion, and because they have spoken out against her, at times when she was being considered for various political positions.

Interim Final Rule

The new federal healthcare programs, often called “Obamacare”, gives authority to the HHS to make rules concerning the health care services that will be covered by private health care plans.

“Last August, under authority granted by Obamacare, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius published an ‘interim final rule’ for comment that would require private health-insurance plans to cover, as ‘preventive services,’ all FDA-approved ‘sterilization procedures’ and ‘contraceptive methods’ — and without deductibles or co-pays. We and other critics raised numerous objections, none of which were addressed last Friday, when Secretary Sebelius announced the final promulgation of the rule, which will go into effect August 1.

“Since the FDA approves, as ‘contraceptives,’ drugs such as Plan B and Ella that may cause early-stage abortions, the federal government could force nearly every employer in America to pay for abortions and sterilizations. Colleges and universities providing insurance to their students will face the same requirement.” (National Review)

It is important to understand that the Obamacare law does not require private health insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion. Obamacare was signed into law on March 23, 2010. But not until after Kathleen Sebelius became Secretary of HHS was the requirement added, as an interpretation of the law, that preventative services must include sterilization and abortifacient contraception. No such interpretation is required by, nor stated explicitly in, the law (as far as I know). Sebelius is the one who decided that Catholic organizations must pay for contraception, sterilization, and abortion (abortifacient contraception).

Kathleen Sebelius despises and obstinately rejects the constant teaching of the Catholic Church on contraception, sterilization, and abortion. When she was governor of Kansas, she repeatedly vetoed bills restricting abortion. Some Catholic hospitals, universities, and other organizations openly oppose Church teaching, just as Sebelius does. Many similarly unfaithful Catholics have called for a change in Church teaching on those issues. But the Pope and the Bishops refuse to comply. Many Catholic hospitals, universities, and other organizations support and follow Church teaching on life issues. Unable to change the teaching of the Church, Sebelius has used her power in the federal government to punish those Catholic organizations that support Church teaching, by compelling them to pay for contraception, direct sterilization, and abortion.

The oath of office that federal officials take includes a promise to support the U.S. Constitution, which of course includes the Bill of Rights. By attempting to force Catholic organizations to pay for contraception, direct sterilization, and abortion, Kathleen Sebelius is denying them their first amendment rights to freedom of religion, and breaking her oath of office. The same oath includes a promise to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” being assumed. To use a government position, in the Cabinet of the United States, in order to punish religious leaders in one’s own Church, due to a personal grudge against those leaders, is a serious breach of the public truth; it is not a faithful discharge of the duties of the office. Kathleen Sebelius has broken her oath of office, violated the separation of Church and State, and attempted to deny Catholics their constitutional right to freedom of religion — all because of her own personal conflict with the Catholic Church and certain Bishops.

This type of misuse of governmental authority is criminal.

UPDATED to add:
This article at Bloomberg.com confirms my view that Sebelius was behind the HHS Mandate decision. She pressed Obama to reject broad exemptions for religious organizations. Catholics Joe Biden (VP) and Bill Daley (chief of staff) favored broad exemption to the Mandate. Sebelius won the day.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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