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 CNS Story:

SEBELIUS Mar-2-2009 (870 words) With photos. xxxn

Catholic governor criticized by archbishop nominated as HHS secretary

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Catholic governor whose archbishop has told her not to receive Communion until she changes her stand on abortion is President Barack Obama's latest choice for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The nomination of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as HHS secretary was announced March 2 at a White House news conference. The 60-year-old Sebelius has been governor of Kansas since 2003.

"Health care reform that reduces costs while expanding coverage is no longer just a dream we hope to achieve -- it's a necessity we have to achieve," Obama said in announcing his selection of Sebelius as HHS secretary and Nancy-Ann DeParle, a health care expert in the Clinton administration, as director of the White House Office for Health Reform.

Sebelius has drawn strong criticism from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., who said in 2008 that she should not present herself for Communion until she publicly repudiates her support for abortion.

The archbishop said his decision was not based only on her April 2008 veto of the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, which would have placed new requirements on abortion providers, but on "a 30-year history of advocating and acting in support of legalized abortion."

But even before Sebelius' nomination was formally announced, a group called Catholics for Sebelius had launched a Web site touting the governor's Catholic background and her actions in support of "the common good."

The Web site at www.catholicsforsebelius.org is a project of Catholics United, which describes itself as "a national online community of Catholics who believe strongly in our faith's call to build a society for justice and the common good."

In a section titled "What does it mean to be pro-life?" the site features the text of a 2006 talk by Sebelius to Kansans for Faithful Citizenship, in which she said, "My Catholic faith teaches me that all life is sacred, and personally I believe abortion is wrong.

"However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the number of abortions in our nation," she added. "If we work hard and match our rhetoric with our actions, we can create a culture that is more welcoming of mothers and treasuring of our children."

In a 2008 column about the governor, Archbishop Naumann said that as a state representative Sebelius "voted to weaken or eliminate even such modest measures as parental notification for teens, waiting periods or informed-consent protections for women before an abortion."

In April 2007, in an event at the governor's mansion, she honored Dr. George Tiller, known for performing late-term abortions at his clinic in Wichita, Kan., and Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a Nebraska abortion doctor.

Tiller faces trial beginning March 16 on 19 counts of performing illegal late-term abortions.

Sebelius also clashed with the Kansas bishops on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research, when she praised the move by voters in neighboring Missouri to forbid any action by the state Legislature to regulate or limit embryonic stem-cell research. She said it was "a step forward" that should get serious consideration in Kansas.

In a March 2007 pastoral letter, the heads of Kansas' four Catholic dioceses said such research is "a crime against life" that compromises all of society without achieving any beneficial health effects.

The nominations of Sebelius and that of DeParle came several weeks after the withdrawal of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is also Catholic. Daschle, who had been nominated both as HHS secretary and White House health reform czar, cited tax problems as the reason for his withdrawal.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, strongly criticized the nomination as "an insult to Catholics" in a March 2 statement. He called Sebelius "one of the most extreme pro-abortion zealots in the nation."

Born May 15, 1948, in Cincinnati, Sebelius is the daughter of former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan, making them the first father-daughter team to serve as governors of U.S. states.

The Catholics for Sebelius site said she "received 17 years of Catholic education from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur," an education that showed her that women could be strong leaders and "instilled in her a lasting concern for the less fortunate."

She earned her bachelor's degree at what is now Trinity Washington University in 1970 and a master's degree in public administration at the University of Kansas in 1978.

Sebelius served as special assistant to the Kansas secretary of corrections, 1975-78; executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, 1978-86; member of the Kansas House, 1987-94; and state insurance commissioner, 1995-2003.

She and her husband, Gary, a federal magistrate judge, have two grown sons.

DeParle, 52, served as director of the Health Care Financing Administration and the Office of Management and Budget during Bill Clinton's presidency. Since then she has worked as a research fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and taught at the Wharton School of Business.

From 1987 to 1989 she was commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

DeParle is married to Jason DeParle, a reporter for The New York Times.


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