Interview with Archbishop Naumann about Gov. Sebelius
Archbishop of Kansas City, KS
March 4, 2008
Valerie Schmalz, OSV contributing editor: What precipitated writing Gov.
Sebelius last May to tell her not to receive Communion?
Archbishop Joseph Naumann: I had actually written the August before that,
in 2007, asking her not to present herself for Communion and I did not make that
public. But then she violated that in March, and so in May I had written her
again and made that public. Since then to my knowledge she has not presented
herself for Communion.
OSV: She violated it by going to Communion in March (2008)?
Archbishop Naumann: Yep.
OSV: What does the appointment of Gov. Sebelius to HHS mean in terms of
her policies? There are a whole bunch of people, like Doug Kmiec and others, who
are saying when she was governor abortion dropped by 10 percent. This letter
(from Catholics for Sebelius) says, “She’s made clear she agrees with Church
teaching that abortion is wrong and has lived and acted according to that
Archbishop Naumann: I think that’s very, very dishonest and not at all
accurate. It’s true that abortion dropped during her term as governor but I
don’t think she really had anything to do with it, although she likes to take
credit for it. And in fact, during that time she vetoed measures that could have
helped prevent abortion. At one time, she struck from the budget a pregnancy
maintenance initiative that gave state funding to crisis pregnancy centers. Only
when the legislature passed it by such an overwhelming margin that it was highly
probable she would have been overridden, she allowed it to stay in the budget.
She’s on Emily’s List. During her last campaign she identified
herself as one whose always been a leader in protecting a woman’s right [to
abortion] and one who has tried to keep abortion safe legal and rare. Clinton I
think perhaps was the one who originally developed that language and of course
it's never safe for the child. What she did in the state of Kansas in terms of
vetoing efforts to try to better regulate abortion clinics, certainly didn’t
show a real concern for the safety of women either. And you perhaps know,
although Kansas has some of the most restrictive laws on late-term abortion, no
thanks to the governor, we’re kind of a center for late-term abortions because
those laws are generally not enforced. And as the legislature has tried to do
things to try to make them be enforced, again she has blocked those with vetoes.
She accepted money early in her political career from Dr.
[George] Tiller who is a notorious abortionist in Wichita, and after that became
politically not very convenient for her to do, Dr. Tiller formed a [political
action committee] in which she was the principal beneficiary along with other
equally staunch abortion-supporting politicians, and he put in hundreds of
thousands of dollars to get her elected and re-elected. So I really think they
may support Gov. Sebelius for this appointment, but they certainly can’t support
her because she’s faithful in living the teaching of the Church on the life
OSV: What do you think this says about President Obama’s concerns about
the Catholic Church at all? The Church’s teaching on life issues? Obviously it
is no secret that he supports abortion rights, but rather than appointing
someone who is not a Catholic, he appoints someone who is a Catholic who is not
in good standing with her Church to head the department that’s probably going to
be at the forefront of repealing some of the protections that are in place now,
including the right of conscience?
Archbishop Naumann: I personally find it offensive that he would choose a
pro-legalized-abortion Catholic to head this office. I think, as I interpret
Sen. [Sam ] Brownback’s and Sen. [Pat] Roberts’ support of sorts for the
nomination — it’s simply saying we elected President Obama with the positions he
took. We can’t expect that he’s going to appoint someone to these cabinet
positions that do not share his views. And in a sense I can understand that.
When there is a pro-life president, we resent if there is an effort to try to
prevent the president from appointing people who share his vision. So, I can
understand why they might acquiesce, I guess, is the best way to put it, to her
But I think from the Church’s point of view, it’s sad because
it places another high-profile, pro-abortion Catholic into national leadership
along with Vice President [Joe] Biden and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and a raft of
others that are in the Congress. And so I think it makes our job as bishops more
challenging, because we have to be even more clear that this is not acceptable
for a person in public service to say that they are Catholic and then to support
these policies that are anti-life, you know go against the most fundamental of
all human rights, the preservation of innocent life.
And I think her appointment at Health and Human Services is
particularly troubling because of the importance of that position and
particularly the influence the secretary there will have on conscience rights as
well as the health care reform. One of the frightening things about the proposed
health care reform could be the inclusion of abortion as a fundamental right as
part of the health care package, and it could really put Catholic doctors,
nurses and health care institutions in a real bind. So it’s not helpful to have
someone with her record and history as the head of HHS, but I think although
many people voted for President Obama, not because of his support for legalized
abortion but despite it, they have to realize that in electing a president with
his views, they empowered him to make these types of appointments in his
administration and even more devastating, I think to our courts.
OSV: Is there anything you could do from your standpoint, in terms of the
persuasive pulpit, in terms of Gov. Sebelius and HHS?
Archbishop Naumann: The pastoral action I took, my hope was that it would
provoke, in a good sense, Gov. Sebelius to reconsider her position and to have a
change of heart. I have asked the people here in the archdiocese to pray for her
and I pray for her regularly too because I am concerned about her own spiritual
welfare and you know her involvement with this intrinsic evil. One of the
tragedies of this appointment, it places her where she is either going to have
to go against the person who appointed her or she is going to be persisting in
these positions that promote, encourage and support abortion. So, I’m concerned
about her. I think the other thing, though, that why I did what I did was to
protect others from being misled by her actions and I think as a Church, those
of us responsible for teaching in the Church, we have to continue to make that
clear to our people that this just isn’t acceptable. It’s not a morally coherent
position to say I’m personally opposed but publicly I’m going to do all of these
things that support abortion.
OSV: Both the archbishop in San Francisco and the bishop in Delaware have
not chosen, so far, to do anything in public. Well, Archbishop [George]
Niederauer publicly called on Nancy Pelosi, but he has not gone any farther. And
Bishop [W. Francis] Malooly has said he will not go any farther [with Biden]. So
if she is in Washington will she still be within the Archdiocese of Kansas or in
Washington and could she just go to Communion in Washington then?
Archbishop Naumann: First, of all, I placed the responsibility upon her
and pointed out how her actions make it inconsistent for her to receive
Communion so that doesn’t change whether she is in Kansas or goes across the
state lines wherever.
In terms of the jurisdiction, I’m not sure if she is confirmed
whether she will maintain a domicile here in Kansas, it is possible she would,
and then it’s also a question of where she lives when she’s in Washington, it
could be in Arlington, it could be Washington, D.C., it could be in Baltimore.
The fundamental problem for her remains the same.
Whether a bishop tells a Catholic politician, they shouldn’t
go to Communion or not, the sacrilege remains. Now, they can perhaps plead
ignorance if they haven’t been so instructed. But with Archbishop Niederauer, we
don’t know what kind of continuing communication and dialogue is going on there.
Certainly, I wasn’t prepared to take the action that I did until I had exhausted
what I thought were prudent efforts to try and inform her, and catechize her,
and persuade her. I think each bishop has to judge the individual situations.
But together — regardless what we may do in terms of instructing politicians
whether they should present themselves to Communion or not — we have to be clear
in our teaching how their conduct is simply inconsistent with our Catholic
belief and we have to make sure our people understand that.
OSV: What is your opinion of Catholics United as an organization?
Archbishop Naumann: I don’t think they have much impact and I don’t pay
much attention to them personally. And I think from what you just read, they’re
either not very honest or they’re not very competent in the research that they
More from our