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Caritas criticized on partnership that would provide abortions

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(UPDATE: Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley released a statement' target='_blank'>www.thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=10080">statement March 5 reassuring the public that Caritas Christi "will not be engaged in any procedures nor draw any benefits from any relationship which violate the Church’s moral teaching as found in the Ethical and Religious Directives.")

BRIGHTON -- Caritas Christi Health Care reaffirmed its commitment to Catholic moral teaching after Catholic and pro-life activists criticized the Catholic health system for its planned association with an insurance company that would provide abortion services to its members.

Last week it was announced that Caritas is considering a minority investment in an insurance company, Commonwealth Family Health Plan (CFHP), that is seeking approval to participate in Commonwealth Care, a state run health insurance program for low income residents.

Caritas, the second largest health care system in Massachusetts, would partner in CFHP with St. Louis-based Centene, Inc.

According to a Feb. 26 Boston Globe story, a board member of the state agency that grants approvals for insurers to participate in the plan publicly questioned the ability of CFHP to provide the full range of services required by the state because of Caritas’ restrictions on performing abortions.

In response, Caritas and Centene issued a joint statement Feb. 26 stating the new venture “will contract with providers, both in and out of the Caritas network, to ensure access to all services required by the Authority, including confidential family planning services.”

Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Connector Authority is the state agency in charge of helping residents fulfill the state’s mandatory health insurance requirement and runs Commonwealth Care.

That statement was criticized both by Catholic and pro-life activists, calling it a betrayal of Catholic principles and dangerous to the future of the pro-life cause.

“The proposal is an appalling betrayal of Catholic principles and a great scandal,” said C. J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

“It clearly compromises the Catholic identity of Caritas and undermines the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life. It represents, from the Catholic standpoint, material cooperation with evil.” Doyle said.

“It is also very demoralizing for the pro-life cause. We can’t hope to prevail in secular society if pro-life principles are being compromised in our own Catholic institutions,” Doyle added.

Marie Sturgis, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a pro-life organization not affiliated with a religious denomination, expressed her concern about the long-term consequences of Caritas providing abortion referrals via CFHP.

“The conscience of the institution could be impacted by the merger as a result of changing the present policy on abortion,” she said.

“This policy change could additionally impact the conscience of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who may have chosen the facility because it does not have a connection with abortion.”

In the March 3 statement, Caritas explained that CFHP, “will contract with a multitude of health care providers in Massachusetts similar to the HMO contracts held by Tufts, BC/BS, and Harvard Pilgrim. These contracts are negotiated by Centene, Inc., the majority owner of CFHP.”

“Those providers are anticipated to include the six Caritas Christi Hospitals and approximately 33 other hospitals and 66 community health centers,” the statement said.

“Caritas Christi Health Care wishes to make clear that at all times and in all cases we will observe the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the basic principles of Catholic moral theology,” said the statement.

The document referenced by the Caritas statement “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” states that Catholic health care institutions, “are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation.”

Material cooperation is a Catholic moral term that refers to actions of cooperation with evil that can sometimes be permitted if there are proportionate reasons.

“In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers,” the document states.

Caritas acknowledged in the statement that applying for participation in the state health plan is “a complex public policy process.’’

“We will carefully investigate all aspects of this proposed relationship in order to insure that Caritas Christi’s participation will be in accord with Catholic teaching.”

Last year, Caritas Christi revised its governance model to limit direct involvement of the archdiocese in business matters. However, the Archbishop of Boston retains authority over matters pertaining to Catholic identity, mission and the implementation of the religious and ethical directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and any transaction that would involve the sale or transfer of the system.

As of press time, the archdiocese had not commented on the issue.

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