Bishop Swain speaks out after Catholic insurance co. adds contraceptive coverage

Bishop Paul Swain.Bishop Swain, when he was still Monsignor Swain, was pastor of Madison’s Holy Redeemer Church at the time he was appointed bishop of Sioux Falls. That was only a short while after I returned to the practice of my Faith, so I never met him, though I did attend a talk he gave here to Madison’s Thomas More Society (a Catholic lawyers’ group) on religious liberty, last fall. He’s clearly more than just talk–back home in South Dakota, he’s recently had to take action.

SIOUX FALLS, SD, March 18, 2013 ( – The Catholic bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has taken action against a Catholic insurance agency that has chosen to cover contraception with no co-pay in order to satisfy the legal requirements of the Obama administration’s health reform law.

Bishop Paul Swain said the action of Avera Health Plans has created “public scandal,” because its practices are “inconsistent with Church teaching.”

The decision hits close to home, as the diocese of Sioux Falls is an Avera customer, although the changes do not affect the diocese’s policy.

He said the company’s CEO, John Porter, decided to begin covering contraceptives and abortifacients without seeking his blessing. “I was not consulted on the decision and disclosure was not made to me until after the expansion of coverage to include these immoral practices had taken effect,” the bishop said.

“Compliance with government requirements must not be viewed as licit reasoning for compromising moral teachings,” he added.

In a letter sent to diocesan priests and deacons dated March 1, Bishop Swain asked Jerry Klein, the diocese’s Delegate for Social Outreach, and Mike Bannwarth, Diocesan Finance Officer to resign from Avera Health Plans’ board and finance committee, respectively, “[t]o insure that their continued presence could not be interpreted as diocesan acquiescence and therefore cause an intensification of the scandal.”

Bishop Swain and insurance officials noted the change does not apply to any religious institution that qualifies for a “safe harbor” exemption, including the diocese itself. In all, the new policy affects 300 of Avera’s 3,000 customers.

Bishop Robert Gruss of Rapid City, which does not purchase insurance through Avera, also expressed his “disappointment” with Avera.

Read the rest of the article at LifeSiteNews.

Digging around on the Avera website, I found that “Avera is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Sacred Heart Monastery of Yankton, S.D. and the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, S.D. In accord with its Catholic mission, Avera adheres to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.” But that seems not to be true now that they’re providing birth control and abortifacients through some of their plans.

As Bishop Swain says in his letter, “Avera will now be materially cooperative in the termination of life.” The president of Avera is a layman who says it was solely his decision. Remaining publicly silent is convenient for the Sisters, who get to continue in the insurance business but surely don’t want to jeopardize their congregations’ canonical status by indicating directly that provision of abortifacients is okay with them.

Good job Bishop Swain for standing up for what is right. I trust the two diocesan staffers will have the integrity to remove themselves from the Avera board. How about the Sister board members? “The Avera Health Board of Directors defines system-wide mission, vision and goals, keeping in mind the health needs of the entire region. The 16-member Board includes Benedictine and Presentation Sisters, physicians and business and community leaders from several locations in the Avera Health service region.”

Sisters, it looks to be time to get out of this business if it can’t be done anymore with Catholic integrity.

2 Responses to Bishop Swain speaks out after Catholic insurance co. adds contraceptive coverage

  1. To Bishop Swain and fellow Catholics:
    This is just one of repeated instances of John Porter and his underlings in So. Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota acting in defiance of the Church and its teachings, and profoundly violating the stated mission of Avera Healthcare in concrete morally derelict ways.

    I was in conflict with Ms. Mary Maertens (CEO of Avera-Marshall) over physician autonomy, quality improvement, medical record completion priorities, and federal regulations, as well as Avera’s policies regarding specific obstetrical/gynecological interventions such as abortifacients. I resigned from Avera-Marshall in an angry e-mail about which I have no regrets. Avera’s response was mudslinging to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, and confiscation of over $1000.00 of my personal property from the Marshall campus, where I was forbidden from returning. I had asked to resign a year earlier, and was instead promoted, with a salary hike (March, 2010).

    Clerical pedophilia is horrendous and repulsive in its widespread manifestation among Catholic priests and authority figures, but it is entirely consistent with the policies and anti-Christian practices of people like CEO’s John Porter and Mary Maertens. Meanwhile the sisters of the Orders who should be activists protesting and prevention such moral and ethical calamities simply smile about their bottom-line priorities, meaning that Avera-Marshall (a not-for-profit Catholic Healthcare facility) makes enough profit that new specialty clinics are glamorous and luxurious beyond any justification there, and Ms. Maertens, as well as her cronies – several female physicians in particular – take four to six months off at a time to bask in their success, recover from natural life-events such as the death of a parent, and travel to Europe on the profits which are the priority at Avera Healthcare. Why should such a place claim to have any affinity with Christian teaching and philosophy? It is a complete and disgusting lie that Avera-Healthcare in its present form exemplifies Christian values. It’s widely publicized “Mission Statement” is a sheer affront against honest Christians, and against the legacy of such sublime and holy healthcare as that practiced by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and the Franciscan sisters of Rochester Minnesota.

  2. The actions of John Porter, CEO of Avera-Healthcare in Sioux Falls, is consistent with the actions of such underlings as Mary Maertens, CEO of Avera-Marshall Healthcare. Their defiance of Christian teachings is well-known among physicians and advocates of the poor in their respective communities. Mary Maertens confiscated personal property of mine, after I resigned as Medical Director of Behavior Health in Marshall, Minnesota, then attempted mudslinging about me through the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice. When will the Catholic hierarchy, and the overly commercial sisters of Aberdeen, whose legacy is justice and holiness, finally take action against these profit-driven, uncaring business moguls, whose combined salaries and benefits exceed well over $1.5 million/year. Just take a look at the new buildings and facilities in Sioux Falls and Marshall, Minnesota: They are unjustifiably luxurious and glamorous, and only the upper socioeconomic strata of these communities can afford them. Avera-Healthcare is as much a disgrace to the Church in America as clerical pedophilia – and their respective communities (the authentic Christians of Sioux Falls, Marshall, and other area communities) know this well. That’s why Mary Maertens CEO at Marshall’s Avera facility has been sued twice by local physician groups.


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