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Obamacare champion Sister Carol Keehan will retire in June

Sister Keehan has always played hardball in her healthcare lobbying activities.

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, is pictured in a 2015 photo in Washington.(CNS photo/Lisa Helfert, Georgetown University)

Hanging up the presidential pen she received for her role in helping to push through President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in 2010, Sister Carol Keehan will retire on June 30, 2019 from her role as president and chief executive of the Catholic Health Association. A press release from CHA states, “Sister Carol has furthered Catholic teaching around social justice with her tireless advocacy for the poor and vulnerable.”

Many faithful Catholics—and more than a few Catholic bishops—might disagree. In fact, her support for President Obama’s healthcare plan—replete with funding for abortion and a contraception mandate which required that all employers provide free contraceptive care in their employee insurance plans—made her a highly controversial figure in the American Church. The late Cardinal Francis George, the former archbishop of Chicago and past president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), criticized Sister Keehan’s role in helping to pass the flawed healthcare bill, concluding that “Sister Carol and her colleagues are to blame” for ushering in Obamacare.

At the USCCB spring meeting in 2010, Cardinal George openly criticized CHA and Sister Keehan, suggesting that she helped to create a dangerous precedent of a parallel magisterium to the bishops. Decrying the fact that the CHA provided “cover” for those who wanted to support Obamacare, despite its anti-life provisions, Cardinal George joined Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, then chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Murphy, chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice, and Bishop John Wester, chair of the USCCB Committee on Immigration, to denounce the actions of Sister Keehan and the CHA.

Still, Sister Keehan knew then that the bishops were deeply divided over President Obama’s healthcare plan.  Some of the most influential bishops—including the now-disgraced Cardinals McCarrick and Wuerl—were always strong advocates for Sister Keehan and her efforts. At the height of the Obamacare debates, Sister Keehan was invited to provide a reading at the 80th birthday Mass for Cardinal McCarrick.

Responding to the news of Sister Keehan’s retirement, Cardinal Wuerl told Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter that he “always enjoyed working with Sister Carol on so many important issues…I’ve appreciated her practical, real-life experience, her deep faith commitment, her hard-earned wisdom and her delightful sense of humor.” Likewise, Chicago’s progressive Cardinal Blase Cupich said, “Sister Carol represents the best of religious women, all of whom have served the church so well, often in ways that go unrecognized.”

Phoenix, Arizona’s Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted may not agree. In December, 2010, Sister Keehan publicly criticized Bishop Olmsted’s decision to revoke the Catholic status of a hospital in his diocese after Sister Margaret McBride, a longtime administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital, gave permission for doctors to perform an abortion. Sister McBride claimed the pregnancy was terminated to save the life of the mother. After excommunicating Sister McBride, Bishop Olmsted turned his attention to the role of the hospital itself.

Defending St. Joseph’s decision to perform the abortion, Sister Keehan stated, “They had been confronted with a heartbreaking situation…They carefully evaluated the patient’s situation and correctly applied the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services to it, saving the only life that was possible to save.” Sister Keehan also defended Catholic Healthcare West, which was then the parent company of St. Joseph’s Hospital, for what she called its “long and stellar history in the protection of life at all stages.”

Sister Keehan is fortunate that few noticed that in 2012, Catholic Healthcare West dropped its Catholic affiliation and changed its name to Dignity Health. Under the new governance structure, Dignity Health took a page from the playbook of secularizing Catholic colleges and universities, and described itself as “rooted in the Catholic tradition.” Since Dignity Health is no longer an official ministry of the Catholic Church, it is free from episcopal oversight.

John Carr, who was working as the executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the time of the Obamacare battle, recently told Michael Sean Winters that although he was working for the bishops, he could “scarcely contain his praise” for Sister Keehan “She has always focused on the least of these, not the rich and powerful,” he said.

Sister Keehan has always played hardball in her healthcare lobbying activities. I know that firsthand. In October 2009, the day after I published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which pointed out Sister Keehan’s defiance of the bishops during the debate over the Affordable Care Act, Fred Caesar, special assistant to the president for communications at the Catholic Health Association, sent threatening emails to my (then) employers at The Kings College—including the president, the vice president, and the then-provost, Marvin Olasky. It was clear that Caesar wanted me to stop publishing articles about Sister Keehan’s role in the healthcare debates.

It is difficult to predict the future for Catholic healthcare. Sister Keehan believes that her legacy is strong and claims that she is “proud” of Obamacare. She recently told Crux that she feels “vindicated by everyday citizens who were once critical of the legislation but now support it, but particularly by the US bishops, who when President Donald Trump sought to repeal the ACA in 2017, vocally opposed the move.”

It is likely a bit more complex than that. Of course the bishops want to expand access to healthcare.  They have always wanted to expand access to healthcare. But, most faithful bishops like Bishop Olmsted will never make a deal that expands the contraception mandate for employers or uses federal money to pay for abortion. There is always hope that we will begin again to see some progress in reclaiming the sacred charism of Catholic healthcare, but, unless Catholic leaders are again willing to take the harder, faithful route to reclaiming it—rather than the politically expedient or financially lucrative route—little progress is possible.


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About Anne Hendershott 88 Articles
Anne Hendershott is professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is the co-author of Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops are Revitalizing the Church (Encounter Books).

26 Comments

    • “Soon Cupich will be gone.”

      Not soon enough. He turns 70 on 19 March 2019 (the Feast of St. Joseph), which means that he has at least 5 more active years of perverting and falsifying the Catholic faith as Archbishop of Chicago.

    • Thanks be to God!!! I know Catholic hospitals who sent to its employees contraceptives cards, indicating they pay fro any exoduses in thus matter as a mandate if Obamacare. They justified that as a third party involvement and excused themselves from being accused of violating the Catholic teaching.

  1. That order of sisters taught me the Faith when I was kid and I am eternally grateful. That woman is NOT a daughter of charity, I know because I knew them – she is a mere leftist in lousy clothes as opposed to a sister in habit, she is a disgrace. To think that the order that brought us the Miraculous Medal and the Green Scaoular for which Mother Seton did so much has sunk to this low place, and it has. They went off the rails about 1968 shortly after the change in habit, vocations dried up.

  2. Post-Christian baby-killer and counterfeit-Catholic.

    No doubt a long-time chum of her fellow Obama agent and post-Catholic fraud Theodore McCarrick.

  3. While I disagree vehemently with Sr. Keehan’s positions I do not deny her right to express her beliefs and lobby for them.

    What irritates me though is that she advocates for things clearly against Church teaching while using her status as a religious sister to give her both a platform and credibility. That, coupled with the financial security her religious community provides her, is what allows her to have a level of influence no lay Catholic could ever have. If she wants to promote things against Church teaching she should do so on her own time and dime. She should have the courage of her convictions and leave religious life/the Church.

    In other words, she uses her status as a sister and her role in the Church to advocate for things that contradict our faith. It is that rank level of hypocrisy and entitlement that really bothers me. She may not be a priest, but she is a clericalist in that she uses her status in the Church to both attract attention and deflect criticism. Thankfully, religious communities like hers are dying and will no longer be in existence in the next 15 years. That level of ecclesial entitlement and privilege needs to disappear.

    • In other words she is a fraud who could not make it in the real world, even the leftist real world.
      Always had to hide behind the faux-religious garb. What a disgrace to the Order. But that is what V2, did. It poisoned just about everything.

    • Why do you believe she has a “right” to advocate mass murder? Where does a “right” to advocate mass murder come from given the fact that all authentic rights come from God?

  4. Carol Keehan is an evil harridan whom I had the great misfortune to know in my professional life. She was unapologetic about her role, long before her critically important advocacy of Obamacare, as a Democrat politician and bragged repeatedly about her ties to prominent Democratic politicians, glorying in sitting in the Presidential family box with the Clintons at the inauguration and in being Obama’s Catholic shill. To refer to her as a “nun” and a “Daughter of Charity” verges on the sacrilegious since, for her, her status as a religious and her position of a self-identified Catholic leader were her platform and camouflage to her work as a Democratic ward heeler and dealmaker. Despite the public and specific condemnation by Cardinal George of her notorious shilling for Obamacare as head of the Catholic Health Association, she received no canonical censure or sanction and has always remained “in good standing” with the hierarchical Church. Keehan was always at pains too to undercut, marginalize, and exclude every orthodox Catholic she was able to identify.

  5. Sister Keehan’s position on abortion is said to be inconsistent with the churches. I want to believe that she supports a ban on “convenient” abortions with exceptions for the health and life of the mother.

    What is contraceptive care? With Pope Francis’ recent statement to Catholics on “reproducing like rabbits and being good shepherds of mother earth” one could get confused as to the churches current position on birth control.

    Much like Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis departure and his unnamed successor, Sister Keehan’s replacement will be critical.

  6. There is nothing wrong with wanting to expand access to healthcare, but Obamacare, like Medicare, Medicaid, and single payer healthcare, is not a healthcare program at all, but a wealth redistribution program. If we want to expand access to healthcare instead of redistributing wealth, we should repeal Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, all government licensing requirements for doctors and others in the field of healthcare, and abolish the Food and Drug Administration. If we did all that, government would be out of healthcare and the market would take over.

  7. I ask the Holy Spirit for the Grace of Humility and Charity and to help me pray for the likes of the Sr. Keehan who continue to believe the “Socialist Paradise” promises of Satan while ignoring the simple fact that Abortion is Murder.

  8. Given the utter turmoil in the church hierarchy today calling Sister Keehan a “champion” of AHA cannot be explained away. This article appears not to accurately enunciate her positions. The cry of “counterfeit Catholic” is a disgraceful prejudgment. From experience a crisis pregnancy a Catholic hospital would not be our first choice. The clerical pressure is too daunting in an emergency. They seem to be chasing their tails.

    Let he/her who is without sin cast the first stone.

    • “I want to believe that she supports a ban on “convenient” abortions with exceptions for the health and life of the mother.”

      That is not the Church’s teaching, which you certainly ought to know; so even if she did support that she would still be in flagrant defiance of the Church and stabbing the Church in the back.

      “From experience a crisis pregnancy a Catholic hospital would not be our first choice.”

      In other words: You’re quite willing to go along with the Church teachings unless it inconveniences you in some way.

      Paul, in his comment above, did not “prejudge” Keehan. He judged based on his experience with her.

    • Oh, brother.

      Did you bother reading this ‘nun’s’ history? She has made her position very clear and it is very ‘right’ to attack her heterodoxy.

      Your ‘first stone’ charge is absurd here.

  9. Praise Bishop Olmstead and those like him. He was my former bishop and a real champion of orthodox Catholicism. The sheep must be protected from the wolves in sheep’s clothing…a mandate for ALL bishops. Thank you to all who defend the faith.

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