Sister Carol Keehan’s grave sins win her the honor of NCR’s person of the year

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, has been chosen as person of the year by National Catholic Reporter because she committed the grave sins of formal cooperation with direct abortion, of heresy, and of scandal. Why would an ostensibly Catholic publication honor someone for committing grave sin? It is because those in charge of this publication have committed similar grave sins.

This article, entitled NCR’s person of the year for 2010, begins by explaining that the National Catholic Reporter has never chosen a person of the year before, and they might not do so again. So they not only chose to give Sr. Keehan an honor, but a singular honor, which they invented solely in order to honor her.


They explain that “we felt the need to single out one American Catholic who showed extraordinary leadership and courage this last year.” Yet they cite only two reasons for giving her this honor: that she supported President Obama’s health care legislation, and that she supported the decision of St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix to commit the grave sin of direct abortion.

Now supporting this particular health care legislation is not a grave sin. The law is not an intrinsically unjust law; it is not directed toward authorizing or requiring anyone to commit a gravely immoral and intrinsically evil act.

But many other Catholics also supported the legislation. Of particular note, is a group of pro-life members of Congress who changed their vote to favor the legislation only when given assurances that the law would not fund abortion. They received much criticism from the left for at first withholding their votes, and much criticism from the right for finally giving their vote. Some of them lost their seats in the House in the subsequent 2010 elections, apparently in part because of this support. If you believe that this legislation does much more good than harm, you should consider the acts of these legislators to be acts of leadership and courage on this topic.

So why was Sr. Keehan given this honor of person of the year, over those who showed more courage and leadership on the topic of health care legislation? It is partly because she spoke publicly in contradiction to the stated position of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference on this legislation:

“Catholic bishops and conservative commentators were not pleased. The bishops had not endorsed the legislation, and they expected all Catholics to follow their lead. They called the health association’s position “a wound to Catholic unity.” The bishops held a closed-door meeting in June to discussion the association.”

NCR often speaks out against positions taken by Bishops. So they wanted to honor Sr. Keehan for doing the same. The same NCR article also describes Keehan as being subject to “scathing attacks by conservative commentators”. NCR is a liberal Catholic publication; they are often the subject of scathing attacks by conservative Catholic commentators. Sr. Keehan was honored not so much for supporting legislation that many other Catholics supported, but for being like NCR in opposing the U.S. Bishops and in taking liberal positions, rather than conservative positions. But this is contrary to the stated claim that she was honored for leadership and courage. She was honored, at least in part, because she is like the publication that honored her, in being a liberal voice that often opposes the voices of the U.S. Bishops.

But there is a second and gravely immoral reason that Sr. Keehan was given this honor by NCR. She supported the decision of St. Joseph’s hospital in Phoenix to give a direct abortion to a woman who has serious ill and in danger of death. NCR also continues to publicly support this direct abortion. They describe the situation in the following biased terms:

“And then, last month, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted withdrew the “Catholic” designation from St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center because he said the hospital wouldn’t accept his full authority about a medical case that he had deemed to be an abortion. The hospital had said it was acting to save a life.”

NCR places Catholic in quotes and uses the term ‘deemed’ to show that they not only disagree with the prudential decision to remove the Catholic status of the hospital, but also to show that they, too, approve of this abortion. NCR thinks that the hospital’s act was ‘to save a life’. They misrepresent the Bishop’s position as merely objecting to a lack of full acceptance of his authority.

In fact, the Bishop found that the hospital committed the grave sin of formal cooperation with direct abortion in this case, that the hospital has a standing policy to perform direct abortions also in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother, that the hospital regularly performs direct sterilizations, and that the hospital regularly distributes all forms of contraception and abortifacient contraception (

The National Catholic Bioethics Center has spoken out against this direct abortion at St. Joseph’s. They also had this to say about the hospital’s policies in general:

“One of the most dismaying facts to come to light as a result of the Bishop withdrawing the Catholic status of the hospital is the hospital’s involvement in and profit from the Mercy Health Plan which provides contraceptive drugs and devices (some of which have abortifacient properties) and also provides for abortion under certain circumstances. Also, by its own admission, the hospital has performed other abortions in the past and will not promise to refrain from performing abortions in the future. Who knows what the nature of those procedures were? Some might have conformed to the moral law as indirect abortions, others may not have. It is impossible to know without the facts. What is quite remarkable is that such procedures were apparently never subjected to ethical review by ecclesiastical authority.” (

Is Sr. Keehan guilty of a grave and public sin by supporting the Phoenix hospital in this situation?

Keehan: “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.” (CNA)

Her public statement reveals an heretical position on the subject of abortion. She believes that abortion is moral if the life of the mother is the only life that can be saved. This position is in direct contradiction to the definitive and infallible teaching of the Universal Magisterium that direct abortion is intrinsically evil and that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

Her public statements also constitute approval for the grave sin of direct abortion. Now her approval is not in the sense of authorization to perform an abortion, the penalty for which would be automatic excommunication. But a public statement of agreement with an act of direct abortion is a grave sin nonetheless. The fact that she claims the abortion is not direct and not immoral only makes her sin worse, not better, since it implies that she holds to a heresy on the subject of abortion and intrinsic evil.

Does a public statement of approval for a direct abortion constitute formal cooperation with that grave sin of abortion? If a Catholic who was not involved in the case stated support for the abortion, the sin would not be formal cooperation because the person’s act is not a cooperation with the grave sin. Such an expression of support, apart from any cooperative involvement in the sin, is still a sin; it is the sin of heresy and of grave scandal.

But Sr. Keehan is not entirely uninvolved; she is not merely stating an erroneous, even if heretical, opinion. She is the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, of which St. Joseph’s was (and seems to still be) a member. Her sin of scandal by publicly stating support for a direct abortion, and by publicly rejecting the decision of the Bishop on the same matter, does much more harm than the public opinion of other Catholics. More importantly, as the head of the CHA, her approval for the abortion has the effect of encouraging other Catholic hospitals to act as St. Joseph’s hospital has acted, committing further direct abortions, committing direct sterilizations, and distributing contraception and abortifacient contraception. This effect occurs because of her formal position with the CHA and her public statements of approval for the hospital, its actions, and its policies.

Sr. Carol Keehan’s official CHA statement is here. Keehan publicly stated that Catholic Healthcare West and its affliated hospitals, of which St. Joseph is one, are have a “long and stellar history in the protection of life at all stages.” She stated that St. Joseph’s “carefully evaluated the patient’s situation and correctly applied” the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services….” (

Therefore, Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, is guilty of formal cooperation with direct abortion, of the grave sin of scandal, and of heresy.

Why was she given the singular honor of being named National Catholic Reporter’s person of the year for 2010? It is because NCR commits similar grave sins.

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