(CNSNews.com) - Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic whose bishop has banned her from receiving communion because of her support for legalized abortion and who earlier this year finalized a regulation that requires Catholic business owners and institutions to engage in what a top Vatican cardinal has described as “cooperation” in evil, has been invited to speak at a graduation ceremony for Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute.
Georgetown describes itself as “the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institute of higher learning in the United States.”
Georgetown first announced that Sebelius would speak at the Public Policy Institute’s graduation event in a statement posted on the university’s blog at 4:16 p.m. on Friday.
“This afternoon, Georgetown announced the speakers for each school’s commencement address. Here is the list,” said the blog entry. The entry then listed 15 speakers for 14 different Georgetown undergraduate and graduate ceremonies. Sebelius was the thirteenth name listed.
“Former governor of Kansas and current secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, will be addressing the Georgetown Public Policy Institute,” said the blog entry.
Georgetown later clarified that the graduation ceremony Sebelius will be addressing is not a “commencement” but an “awards event.”
Last August, Sebelius issued the preliminary text of a “preventive services” regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care act—AKA Obamacare. The regulation said that virtually all health-care plans in the United States must provide women with coverage for sterilizations and all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives--including those that can cause abortions—and must do so without charging any fees or co-pay.
The regulation particularly impacts Catholics because the Catholic Church specifically teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are wrong and that Catholics cannot be involved in them.
Sebelius’s regulation--in combination with the individual insurance mandate in Obamacare--requires that virtually all individual Americans must purchase health care plans that cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients. The only employers that would be exempt from covering these items in their health-care plans are non-profit “religious” organizations that meet four criteria: 1) their purpose is to inculcate religious values, 2) they primarily hire people of their own religion, 3) they primarily serve people of their own religion, and 4) they are organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code specifically used by churches.
This narrow exemption does not extend to Catholic universities, schools, hospitals and charitable organizations.
At the end of August, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops presented HHS with formal comments on Sebelius’s regulation. The bishops called it “an unprecedented attack on religious liberty” and called on HHS to rescind it in its entirety.
The bishops noted that under the terms of the regulation even “the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church” would not have qualified for a “religious” exemption.
Sebelius finalized the regulation on Jan. 20.
At that time, Sebelius said she would give religious non-profit organizations, such as Catholic universities, hospitals and charitable organizations, that did not cover sterilizations and contraceptives in their current health plans an extra year to prepare for enforcement of the regulation. For most Americans, including Catholic businessmen, however, the regulation would take effect this Aug. 1.
After Sebelius finalized the regulation, Catholic bishops across America asked their priests to read letters from the pulpit condemning it. Many of these letters declared: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Archdiocese for the Military Services, wrote to Catholic troops: “It is a blow to a freedom that you have fought to defend and for which you have seen your buddies fall in battle.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C.--where Georgetown is located--argued that in addition to being a violation of the First Amendment, Sebelius’s regulation would make it impossible for a university that complied to effectively teach the Catholic faith to its students.
“In upholding the HHS regulation, the administration has ignored the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and has denied Catholics the most fundamental freedom, religious liberty.,” Cardinal Wuerl wrote to Catholics of the Washington archdiocese.
“A Catholic school simply cannot effectively teach Catholic doctrine while providing insurance to its teachers--and in the case of Catholic universities, to its students as well--that violates its own beliefs,” wrote Cardinal Wuerl.
After Cardinal Wuerl made this point, Sandra Fluke, a student at Georgetown Law School, became a national figure in the debate over the regulation when she spoke at a hearing held by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to complain that Georgetown’s student health plan did not cover contraceptives.
In the face of this uproar, President Barack Obama appeared at the White House with Sebelius on Feb. 10 to announce an “accommodation” for religious non-profit institutions. Under this accommodation, Catholic colleges, hospitals and charities would still be forced to provide free sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients through their insurance plans, but the insurance companies not the religious institution would be required to cover the costs of these services.
Obama and Sebelius offered no accommodation of any kind to individual Catholics and others who have a moral objection to sterilization, artificial contraception or abortion.
On March 14, the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement stressing, again, that the regulation not only violated the rights of religious institutions but also of individual Americans.
“The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values,” said the bishops. “They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption.”
This month, Cardinal Raymond Burke, who serves as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Catholic Church’s highest judicial authority, gave an interview to Thomas McKenna, the president of Catholic Action.
Cardinal Burke said Sebelius’s regulation violated the right to free exercise of religion and that Catholic employers could not conscientiously comply with it.
McKenna asked the cardinal: “So, a Catholic employer, really getting down to it, he does not, or she does not provide this because that way they would be, in a sense, cooperating with the sin of contraception or the sin of providing a contraceptive that would abort a child. Is this correct?”
“This is correct,” said Cardinal Burke. “It is not only a matter of what we call ‘material cooperation’ in the sense that the employer by giving this insurance benefit is materially providing for the contraception but it is also ‘formal cooperation’ because he is knowingly and deliberately doing this, making this available to people. And, so, there is no way to justify it. It is simply wrong.”
Before President Obama appointed Sebelius secretary of HHS in 2009, she served as governor of Kansas--a role in which she promoted legalized abortion.
On May 5, 2008, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., published a column in his archdiocesan newspaper revealing that he had told Sebelius she should not take communion until she had repudiated her support for legalized abortion and made a worthy confession.
“Since becoming archbishop, I have met with Governor Sebelius several times over many months to discuss with her the grave spiritual and moral consequences of her public actions by which she has cooperated in the procurement of abortions performed in Kansas,” wrote Archbishop Naumann. “My concern has been, as a pastor, both for the spiritual well-being of the governor but also for those who have been misled (scandalized) by her very public support for legalized abortion.”
“Having made every effort to inform and to persuade Governor Sebelius and after consultation with Bishop Ron Gilmore (Dodge City), Bishop Paul Coakley (Salina) and Bishop Michael Jackels (Wichita), I wrote the governor last August requesting that she refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life which would include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion,” the archbishop wrote.
“Recently,” he said, “it came to my attention that the governor had received Holy Communion at one of our parishes. I have written to her again, asking her to respect my previous request and not require from me any additional pastoral actions.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil.”
“Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion,” says the Catechism. “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.”
In June 2004, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on “Catholics in Political Life.” It said: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
According to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, this statement “was developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians in collaboration with Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFMCap, and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl.”
Wuerl, as mentioned, is now the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., where Georgetown is located.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a group dedicated to supporting education that is faithful to Catholic teaching, has criticized Georgetown for inviting Sebelius to speak at a graduation ceremony.
“It's appalling that Georgetown would squander what remains of its religious heritage to honor a dissenting Catholic who is enemy No. 1 against the Catholic Church's religious liberty,” said Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick J. Reilly. “They're betraying the bishops for a few headlines in the newspaper. Seeking prestige over principle never quite works for religious institutions. Someone should ask Notre Dame, ‘How'd that work out?’”
Georgetown University Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh did not respond to an inquiry from CNSNews.com. However, she gave a statement to the Cardinal Newman Society, pointing out that Sebelius was not giving a commencement address at Georgetown’s graduation but was speaking at an “annual student and faculty awards event.”
“Secretary Sebelius is not speaking at Georgetown’s commencement,” said Pugh. “She is speaking at Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s annual student and faculty awards event.”
“We have 10 official commencement ceremonies to award degrees for the different schools within the university, and 18 other awards ceremonies to honor student and faculty achievements,” Pugh stated. “We do not have one main commencement speaker. The GPPI ceremony is one event during commencement weekend, but it is not a commencement ceremony (degrees are not conferred).”
[Disclosure: The author of this article attended a master's program at Georgetown University, but did not earn a degree there.]