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Bishops' conference blasts nuns for health care endorsement

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: CHA leader expresses optimism for improved relationship with bishops
  • Conference president says Catholic Health Association "to blame" for bill's passage
  • Bishops argue bill's language not restrictive enough on abortion
  • Disagreement has resulted in "wound to Catholic unity," group says

(CNN) -- The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said this week that a group of nuns who broke ranks with the powerful conference on health care reform in March is responsible for the controversial legislation's passage.

"Sister Carol and her colleagues are to blame," Cardinal Francis George is quoted as saying in a Catholic News Agency report Wednesday.

George's remarks at a Tuesday meeting of the bishops refer to Carol Keehan, the CEO and president of the Catholic Health Association (CHA), whose group endorsed the health care bill. A statement issued by the association prior to the bill's passage said that while the legislation was "far from perfect ... (it) represents great progress in the long effort to make health care available and affordable to everyone in the United States."

Catholic groups, including the bishops' conference, had taken issue with language in the bill that they said was not restrictive enough on abortion.

At CHA's annual assembly this week, Colleen Scanlon, the chair of the group's board of trustees, said the association "firmly believes that the enacted law meets this fundamental, non-negotiable priority -- no federal funding for abortion," according to the National Catholic Reporter.

"We would not have supported the legislation if it were inconsistent with our values as a ministry of the church," Scanlon said in her opening remarks at the meeting, according to the NCR.

George, who is archbishop of Chicago, said Tuesday that in the weeks leading up to the historic vote, the bishops' conference "remained consistent to the two guiding principles throughout the whole process: No. 1, everyone should have access to health care; No. 2, no one should be killed," CNA quotes him as saying.

George said that it was the CHA's endorsement of the bill that persuaded congressmen on the fence to vote in favor of the Obama-backed legislation, and that despite repeated efforts to convey his concerns to Keehan, meeting requests were made "to no avail," according to the Catholic News Agency.

A statement by the bishops' conference calls the diverging opinions between the nuns and the bishops a "fundamental disagreement."

"As such it has resulted in confusion and a wound to Catholic unity," the statement says.

A spokesman for Keehan said Wednesday night that Keehan was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Keehan told the NCR this week that CHA and the bishops' conference "have had a very strong and collaborative relationship, and that's what we want to see in the future."