Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Charity Begins at Home

UPDATE 3-4-2010: According to today's Washington Post, Tim Sawina, a former priest and the former COO of Catholic Charities whose name is listed among the officers at the bottom of this post, left the agency sometime last year after 12 years. He has sent a letter to his former colleagues calling the decision on denying spousal health benefits "unnecessary" and "wrong." Says Sawina: "It is difficult to comprehend this assault on the family when the Church has usually been its strongest defender."

While I simply rolled my eyes when confronted with last month's story that Catholic Charities was ending its 80-year-old foster-care program in the District of Columbia rather than license same-sex couples and that it would be transfering its remaining clients to the National Center for Children and Families (hyperlink provided for those who would like to start contributing to an agency that cares more about helping children than continuing to discriminate against gay people), I am in shock at today's news that Catholic Charities has chosen to stop providing spousal health insurance coverage to its employees rather than be forced to provide it equitably. The agency says it will continue to cover those employees who are already enrolled in spousal coverage but no new employees will receive this coverage. In an even more stunning aside, the main article in the Washington Post reveals that the Archdiocese of Washington also no longer provides spousal health insurance to its employees.

Thus Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington have joined the ranks of some of the least family-friendly employers who refuse to provide coverage for their workers' dependents. And, thus, they are contributing to the health insurance crisis in America which the Catholic hierarchy has so deplored. From the FAQs on the USCCB's special Web site on health care reform:

Question: Why are the bishops so vocal about health care reform?

Answer: One out of three Americans under the age of 65 went without health insurance for some period of time during 2007 and 2008. Of these, four out of five were from working families. Sixty four percent of the uninsured are employed full time, year round. This state of affairs is unacceptable. In the Catholic tradition, health care is a basic human right not a privilege. It is a fundamental issue of human life and dignity.
"Unacceptable"? Our bishops are absolutely right that it is unacceptable for full-time workers and their families to be uninsured. So why are Catholic institutions contributing to the problem? Perhaps Archbishop Donald Wuerl and Catholic Charities President and CEO Edward J. Orzechowski didn't get the memo...

In the comments attached to the article in the Post, many people said: "Let the workers buy their own spousal coverage, if they want it" but, speaking as someone who has tried buying individual health insurance, I can tell you that it isn't cheap (and pretty much unaffordable on the salaries the Catholic Church pays most of its lay workers) and not always available, especially for older spouses or those with pre-existing health problems. It is safe to assume that those spouses the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities are no longer insuring and who do not have coverage through an employer of their own, will join the growing ranks of the uninsured.

Charity begins at home, and if the Catholic Church is going to have a credible voice in the health care reform debate, it needs to stop contributing to the problem.


On the other hand, maybe Catholic Charities should consider also terminating spousal health insurance for its highly compensated executives who are much better positioned than any new hire to buy insurance for their spouses on the open market. According to the latest Guidestar report on the charity (for FY 2008), their highest paid officers and employees are making:

Edward J Orzechowski, President: $275,000
Timothy Sawina, COO: $158,500
Camille R Bash, CFO/Treasurer: $157,500
Wayne Swann, VP HR: $140,500
Richard Kalb, VP Admin/Facilities: $122,500
Joan Fowler Brown, Secretary: $74,000

Five Highest Paid Employees:
Denise Capaci, Director: $111,228
J Chapman Todd, Director: $102,989
Jarlath Finn, Director: $100,819
Meha Desai, Director: $99,768
Abby Crowley, Director: $88,716


  1. Sorry to put my 5 cts here, because I heard both news in the radio a few days past and I was just guessing how many days would be before R.G. would write about the subject.
    I am referring about the Washington Dioceses canceling health benefits for its employees and also to the discontinuing of the foster care program.
    Both news are to be deplored and all that R.G. says about buying health insurance in your own is very much true, been there done that some times and whoever advocates that to do such a thing because is very American and you have to pull yourself from your boot straps when you are down, they either have a lot of money or they have never tried to get personal health insurance past 45-50 and with pre existing conditions.
    Several years ago, I lost my job and benefits and the very same company that had cover me and my wife while employed, turned her down for a personal policy because of…preexisting condition. This is just a week after we were cover with them in the employer benefits policy.

    Having said that, I regretfully have to say that I support the dioceses posture and decision. If they continue providing coverage, they will have to do so for all couples even the gay ones, otherwise they would be sued for discrimination.
    The same with the foster care program. They would have to grand a request for placing a child in foster care…let’s say to a male couple.
    Does this scenario look appealing?
    I hope that nobody will call me a bigot or discriminating or whatever, for firmly believing that a marriage is only between a man and a woman, and I know very well that there are marriages that are far from perfect or made in heaven, and should not host a foster child, but hopefully the social worker will do their job and catch those than don’t deserve to adopt.
    If more and more states keep on passing the laws allowing gay marriage, I foresee a disaster because Catholic Church sponsored organizations of those states will have no choice but to follow suit as in Washington, then as we say in Spanish: “El justo pagará por el pecador”. The just will pay for the sinner. Which means that many needs will go unmet.

    Finally I have to say that my eyes dropped to the floor, when I read the salaries of those executives and employees.
    Am I correct reading this as meaning that those are “Catholic Charities” employees?
    For crying out loud, I am not saying that talent doesn't have to be rewarded, but we are talking about a non profit organization, I think that salaries could be just but not that elevated, this is not Wall Street or Silicon Valley.
    This is money that comes from donations and should be mostly used for charity and other needs. Whoever expects to draw large salaries should seek employment elsewhere. I would feel guilty making such a salary while working for a non profit or charitable organization.
    Another solution would be that they would replace these employees with religious personal. I am sure that there are plenty of priest and nuns that are very capable of performing these functions, I.E. sister Mary Jordan, Principal of J.P. the Great H.S. in Woodbridge.
    Well, this is me, a day dreaming as usual.

  2. Responding to JuanMM:

    1. Yes, those executive and employee compensation figures for Catholic Charities are accurate. They come from GuideStar which gets them from the 990s that non-profit organizations are required to file annually with the IRS.

    2. You and I will have to agree to disagree on the suitability of gay couples as foster/adoptive parents.

    3. I was thinking about the solution and, in my view, the only solution for groups like Catholic Charities is to stop taking government funds. If they are not taking Caesar's money, they don't have to play by Caesar's rules. Then, Catholic Charities, as an entirely private entity, could make being a Catholic in good standing a condition for employment. This would mean that gay people could be hired as long as they remained single and chaste as the catechism requires, and straight people could be hired as long as they were not in an unmarried domestic partnership, and CC could continue to provide spousal benefits to all qualifying employees.

    One of the interesting points that several commenters on this issue raised is that CC is inconsistent because it has never refused to cover spouses of employees in second marriages who have not had their first church marriages annulled. These employees would also be in violation of church teachings.

    4. There are no longer enough priests and nuns to perform religious functions in the Church, let alone administrative/social/educational ones that can be performed equally well by lay people. There IS no longer a "cheap labor supply".