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R.I. Bishop Punishes Catholic Group for Health Care Reform Support

The Associated Press reports today that the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, has withdrawn two hospitals sponsored by his diocese from membership in a Catholic hospital group that supports health care reform.

According to AP:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed reform legislation because of fears it would allow for public funding of abortion, but the Catholic Health Association disagreed and supported it. Sister Carol Keehan, head of the group that represents about 600 hospitals, met with President Barack Obama at the White House days before the bill passed. The bill was signed into law March 23.

The diocese on Wednesday released a letter written March 29 by Bishop Thomas Tobin to Keehan in which he complained that even an association with the group was embarrassing.

"Your enthusiastic support of the legislation, in contradiction of the bishops of the United States, provided an excuse for members of Congress, misled the public and caused a serious scandal for many members of the church," Tobin wrote.

The two hospitals removed from the group are run by St. Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island, which Tobin noted in his letter doesn't pay membership fees because it is considered "distressed."

Keehan said in an interview Wednesday that she replied to Tobin that the group would honor his request. She noted that very few Catholic hospitals are sponsored by dioceses, and that while she had great regard for St. Joseph, it is a small hospital group.

She said she believed groups on the far right were using the issue of abortion funding as a way to kill health care reform, and that the language, while not the way she would have written it, does not allow federal funding of abortions.

"It certainly does the job," she said.

Fred Caesar, a spokesman for the association, said one other hospital has said it will not renew its membership, but he said it was up to the institution to identify itself.

Tobin is known for taking strong stands against abortion. Most recently, he got into a protracted public argument with Rep. Patrick Kennedy over Kennedy's support for abortion rights, culminating in the revelation that Tobin had asked Kennedy not to take Holy Communion because of his views.


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