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Fifty-nine Thousand Nuns Oppose the Bishops on Health Care

By: Deal W. Hudson

“Don’t mess with the nuns!” is a comment I’ve heard over the years from cradle Catholics who were taught by them.  The question now arises whether the undecided Catholic members of the House will be influenced by the 60 nuns, each a leader of their religious order – who signed a letter to members of Congress urging passage of the Senate health care bill now before the House.

These 60 leaders claim to represent 59,000 nuns, and they make it perfectly clear they support the embattled president of the Catholic Health Association, Sr. Carol Keehan, who announced her support of the bill a few days ago.

The letter calls the Senate bill “imperfect” but simultaneously claims it is “the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”  The sisters call the bill “pro-life” in spite of the fact that thousands of the unborn will be aborted with the 7 billion dollars of federal money being given to community health centers, if the bill becomes law.

What the sisters extol is medical coverage for the uninsured; the end to denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; support of pregnant women; as well as investment in preventative care and “community health centers that largely serve poor women and children.”  These are the same health centers that the bishops insist will spend federal money on abortion.

These 60 sisters not only reject the bishops’ concerns about the Senate bill but also call them  “false claims . . . the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions.”

The 60 sisters, and presumably the orders they represent, thus join organizations like the Catholic Health Association, NETWORK, Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics for Choice, Catholic Democrats, and publications like Commonweal, America, and the National Catholic Reporter in dismissing the Catholic bishops’ publicly stated position that federal funding for abortion is contained in the Senate health care bill.

Like the sisters in their letter, and Sr. Keehan in her statement, most of these groups fail to mention explicitly that they reject the bishops’ analysis of the health care bill.  Is that a sign of respect or merely a refusal to deal with the bishops’ one-page fact sheet directly?  Commonweal should be credited for offering a comprehensive, if tortured, refutation to the bishops’ position, but the sisters don’t reveal whose analysis they are relying upon.

A few days ago, I described Sr. Keehan’s betrayal of the bishops as an example of the failure of the USCCB’s qualified support for the health care bill.  But the spectacle of 60 leaders of women’s religious orders points to the corrosive effect of the “seamless garment” approach to social ethics and public policy.

You can make all the arguments you want about the original intent of Cardinal Bernardin’s now-famous 1983 speech announcing a “consistent ethic of life,” but in practical political terms the seamless garment became nothing more than a convenient excuse for Catholic politicians to ignore the slaughter of the unborn and all its attendant effects on cultural and family life.

There are thousands of women religious at this very moment who are deeply embarrassed and troubled by the publication of this letter.  These sisters can be found at places like the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, MI or the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, TN.

I can tell you with certainty that none of the sisters from NETWORK called Mother Assumpta Long (Ann Arbor) or Mother Anne Marie (Nashville) to ask either of them to sign that letter.

The dividing lines in the Church are, sadly, all too clear, and the effort of women religious, Catholic academics, Catholic journalists, and Catholics representing the medical profession to pass a health care bill with abortion funding will be, for lay Catholics, a wake-up call, a déjà vu moment of Obama being honored by Notre Dame.

Catholics in the pews are being made more and more aware that something has gone wrong in many of our venerable Catholic institutions and religious orders.

For those who are interested, here is a list of the religious who signed the letter:

Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA

LCWR President

Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Joan Chittister, OSB

Co-Chair Global Peace Initiative of Women

Erie, PA

Sr. Mary Persico, IHM


Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Scranton, PA

Sr. Susan Hadzima, IHM

Councilor for Missioning and Community Life

Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Scranton, PA

Mary Genino (RSHM)

Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary

Western American Province.

Nancy Conway CSJ

Congregation Leadership Team

The Congregation of St. Joseph

Debra M. Sciano, SSND

Provincial Leader

Milwaukee Province, School Sisters of Notre Dame

Josephine Gaugier, OP

Adrian Dominican Sisters

Holy Rosary Mission Chapter Prioress

Adrian, MI

Kathleen Nolan, OP

Adrian Dominican Sisters

Office of the General Council

Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA


Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

La Crosse, WI

Corinne Weiss

Servants of Jesus Leadership Team

Saginaw MI

Adrian Dover OP


Dominican Sisters of Houston, Texas

Rose Mary Dowling, FSM


Franciscan Sisters of Mary

Leadership Team

Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(from Mary Martens, BVM, Administrative Assistant)

Beatrice Haines, OLVM

President, Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters

Huntington IN

Joan Saalfeld, SNJM, Provincial

Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

U.S.-Ontario Province

Jo’Ann De Quattro, SNJM

Sisters of the Holy Names

U.S.-Ontario Province Leadership Team

Sharon Simon, OP


Racine Dominicans

Maryann A. McMahon, O.P.

Vice President

Dominican Sisters of Racine, WI

Agnes Johnson, OP

Vice President

Racine Dominicans

Pat Mulcahey, OP

Prioress of Sinsinawa Dominicans

Pam Chiesa, PBVM


Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco

Patricia Anne Cloherty, PBVM

Leadership Team, Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco

Gloria Inés Loya

Leadership Team

Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco

Gloria Marie Jones, OP

Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose

Congregational Prioress and Council

Mary Litell

Provincial Councilor

Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity St. Francis Province

Theresa Sandok, OSM

Servants of Mary (Servite Sisters)

Ladysmith, Wisconsin

Sr Claire Graham SSS

General Director

Sisters of Social Service

Encino CA

Margaret Byrne CSJP – Congregation Leader

Teresa Donohue CSJP – Assistant Congregation Leader

Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Sr. Carmelita Latiolais, S.E.C.

Sisters of the Eucharistic Covenant

Joan Mumaw, IHM – Vice President

On behalf of the Leadership Council

Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Monroe, Michigan

Sister Clare of Assisi Pierre, SSF

Sisters of the Holy Family

New Orleans, LA

Sister Marla Monahan, SND


Sisters of Notre Dame

(St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, KY

and St. Charles Care Center in Covington, KY)

Vivien Linkhauer, SC

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, United States Province

Greensburg, PA

Dolores Maguire

Sisters of the Holy Faith

Northern California LCWR Region XIV

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Schweiger, OSB


Mount St. Scholastica

Atchison, KS

Marianites of Holy Cross

Sr. Suellen Tennyson, MSC

Congregational Leader

Barbara Hagedorn, SC

Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati

Mt. St. Joseph, Ohio

Francine Schwarzenberger OP

Dominican Sisters of Peace

Denver, Colorado

Sister Maureen McCarthy

School Sisters of St. Francis

U.S. Provincial Team

Milwaukee, WI

Eileen C. Reid, RJM

Provincial Superior

Religious of Jesus and Mary

Washington, DC

Sister Cecilia Dwyer, O.S.B.


Benedictine Sisters of Virginia

The Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes

Sister Joann Sambs, CSA

General Superior

Sisters of St. Francis

Tiffin, Ohio

(from Sr. Mary Kuhlman)

Sr. Helen McDonald, SHCJ

Province Leader

Society of the Holy Child Jesus

Leadership Team

Sisters of the Precious Blood

Dayton, OH

The Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis

Sister Jane Blabolil, SSJ-TOSF

Sister Michelle Wronkowski, SSJ-TOSF

Sister Dorothy Pagosa, SSJ-TOSF

Sister Linda Szocik, SSJ-TOSF

Sr. Gladys Guenther SHF

Sisters of the Holy Family

Congregational President

Fremont, CA

Sr. Dorothy Maxwell, Councilor

Sisters of St. Dominic

Blauvelt, New York

Sheral Marshall, OSF

Provincial Councilor

Sisters of St Francis

Marilyn Kerber, SNDdeN

Canonical Representative, Ohio Province

Sisters of St. Louis, California Region

(from Sr. Michele Harnett, SSL)

Ruth Goodwin, OSF

Sisters of ST. Francis of Philadelphia

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Leadership Team

Sr. Joanne Buckman, OSU

Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland

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3 Responses to Fifty-nine Thousand Nuns Oppose the Bishops on Health Care

  1. Neil says:

    Perhaps a campaign to call these people to express the disappointment of Catholics at this deadly moral equivalence would be helpful. A published list of contacts (phone number, e-mail) might be helpful to get the ball rolling.

    From what I can tell these “sisters” are all without habits and perhaps to much part of the world to hold strictly to the Catholic faith. I am in agreement with those who believe that perhaps we need a smaller church. I suspect some of this may well be driven by financial interests in supporting their “social justice” causes and keeping their communities afloat.

    I continue to be astonished at the disuntiy that is allowed to prevail in the Catholic religous community.

  2. Patrick says:

    God Bless these dedicated Sisters, who are out there working in the trenches with the poor and alienated, they serve all and are a voice for the voiceless. Not simply caring for only the wealthy in nice safe neighborhoods. While the bill is a total slap in the face to the dedicated Democrats who fought hard to get Obama & CO elected, its a start. Thank you again Sisters and Associates of your orders who continue to be a voice for the voiceless and oppressed in our neighborhoods and in America.

  3. Juanita Estrada says:

    The sisters that support the bill are misinformed, misguided, and wrong on so many levels. Support of this bill is not a support for the poor, etc. It is the total opposite. It will create more poor and hurt more people healthcare-wise, will pay for abortions, if not in this bill it will in later additions to their program. I am not wealthy and hating the wealthy is ridiculous and a idiot ignorant liberal tactic which is an excuse for the lazy and whiny and govt parented not to get off their backsides and work their way out of their uncomfortable situations. Should be uncomfortable enough not want to stay in their own situations. Moochers never change.

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