Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. , university president, appeared on CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on Nov. 17 to discuss the Catholic perspective on same-sex marriage and health care reform. He also discussed his brother's battle with swine flu. See the transcript of the interview below.
From: CNN Host: Wolf Blitzer Date: Nov. 17, 2009BLITZER: And joining us now, the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington, D.C., Father David O'Connell.
Father O'Connell, thanks very much for coming in.
FATHER DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get through a lot of issues, sensitive issues right now, and you can help explain the Catholic Church's perspective on this.
First of all, if the District of Columbia, like several other states, goes ahead and approves same-sex marriages, will Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C., stop helping the district with homeless shelters and other charitable needs?
O'CONNELL: The Archbishop of Washington and the staff of the office of the Archdiocese of Washington have indicated as late as yesterday that it has no intention to stop serving the needs of the people of the Archdiocese of Washington, especially the poorest of the poor.
BLITZER: Working together with the government of the District of Columbia?
O'CONNELL: It wants to work together with the government of the District of Columbia, but the problem is legislation introduced that contravenes or compromises the religious freedom that we enjoy here as part of the Catholic Church.
BLITZER: How does it do that?
O'CONNELL: Well, it will force us or put us into a situation where we may be at legal risk because of our own teachings and the beliefs that we experience and express that do not allow us to engage some of the activities that are supported or promoted in the legislation.
BLITZER: So, the bottom line is if Washington, D.C., like Connecticut and some other states, they go ahead and have same-sex marriage, Catholic Charities will continue business as usual or make changes?
O'CONNELL: We will do our best to continue as usual, but, again, the legislation puts our relationship with the District of Columbia at risk, and that's the issue. It's not that we want to do this, that we need to do this, that we have to do this, but we can't stand for -- we can't represent something that goes against our core beliefs, and this is an issue that is part of our core beliefs.
BLITZER: Because several states, as you know, have same-sex marriage, and one D.C. Council member at large said this -- he said "They" -- referring to Catholic Charities -- "They provide these services in other states where same-sex marriages are permitted. I do not understand why they would not be able to provide them here."
O'CONNELL: Well, again, the issue is to put at risk. It's a legal risk. It's not saying what is going to happen. It's just putting us in a situation where it may happen, and that's the fear.
BLITZER: So what I hear you cautioning the D.C. government -- don't do this.
O'CONNELL: Think before you do this. Think of the consequences and think of the real-life people who may be hurt because of the actions that are taken.
BLITZER: All right. Well, let's move on and talk about abortion right now, with the health care reform legislation.
The House passed new language going beyond what's called the Hyde Amendment that abortion rights advocates say would really undermine a woman's opportunity to have an abortion. If that new language that was inserted in the House is removed, will the Catholic Church go along and accept what the president says is a neutral piece of legislation, the status quo?
O'CONNELL: Well, as you know, the Church sees the right to life, it sees abortion, not simply as a church teaching or a church issue, but as a human issue. There's a human life at stake here. And the Church would have a very difficult time supporting health care reform and health care legislation that does not include protection for life from cradle to grave.
BLITZER: So what you're saying is the Stupak Amendment, as it's called, that passed the House has to be in the final version for the Catholic Church to support it?
O'CONNELL: There has to be protection of life at all its stages in whatever legislation is put forward.
BLITZER: So if it's diminished in any way, you're saying you won't support it?
O'CONNELL: It will cause problems. It will cause problems for the Catholic Church.
BLITZER: Once again, there's another stipulation in this letter that the Catholic bishops wrote to members of Congress saying that health care reform has to also provide insurance, medical insurance, for immigrants in the United States. But it's sort of vague in saying if it's just legal immigrants or legal and illegal immigrants. Explain your understanding of that line in that letter from the Catholic bishops.
O'CONNELL: Well, you have to understand the fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church and the fundamental belief of the Catholic Church in all of these issues -- the issue of same-sex marriage, the issue of the right to life, and the issue of immigration. The Church's teaching is one of fundamental support for the dignity of every human being at all stages of life. That includes the legal as well as the illegal.
There are some bishops among the bishops of the United States who may be more sensitive to illegal aliens, the presence of illegal aliens, because there's a predominance of them in their diocese. But in general, the Church is not supporting things that go against the law. The Church is trying to see the law and to use the law in support of the dignity of every human being, and that's what the effort is here, especially with immigrants.
BLITZER: Well, let me just -- should illegal immigrants get access to health insurance under the proposed legislation?
O'CONNELL: Well, I think the Church wants everybody's needs to be met to the extent that it's possible under the law.
BLITZER: So I'll take that as a yes.
O'CONNELL: That's a good answer, yes.
O'CONNELL: And again, I'm not speaking for the Catholic Church, but I'm speaking -- it's my understanding.
BLITZER: It's your understanding of what at least a lot of bishops would like, legal and illegal immigrants would have access to some of these new provisions that are being discussed right now?
O'CONNELL: To health care.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by. We're going to have more with Father O'Connell, especially on a story that hits him very, very close to home -- the swine flu epidemic. How it's affecting the Church and his own family.
Stand by for that.
BLITZER: Now part two of my interview with Father David O'Connell. He's the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington, D.C. He's revealing the nightmare swine flu is causing his family.
BLITZER: It's very painful for you. Your younger brother came down with swine flu. Tell us about what has happened, because millions of people come down with swine flu, but this is a special case.
O'CONNELL: Yes. I was watching on your program the other day, 22 million Americans have contracted swine flu.
BLITZER: Mostly very mild.
O'CONNELL: Yes. He's a teacher in Nazareth Academy in Philadelphia, a girls' school in Philadelphia, a high school. And he came down with a urinary tract infection, took him to the hospital. They indicated that he had a mild case of pneumonia, and before you knew it, they were diagnosing him as having swine flu and pneumonia in both lungs.
He was in an induced coma. He's been in the hospital for three weeks. And just today had a tracheotomy operation performed to enable him to breathe with ease.
But it's amazing. You know, at Catholic University, I have been working on this issue since May to prepare ourselves for it, and you just don't expect it to happen so close to home, and it did. And it really was -- it's been a nightmare.
BLITZER: How is that -- how is it working out? I mean, what's the prognosis for your brother?
O'CONNELL: I talked to the doctor late last night, and his doctor said the prognosis is good. They are going to take him off the ventilator.
He went into respiratory arrest shortly after the diagnosis, so he had to be put on a ventilator. He's going to be taken off the ventilator. The tracheotomy will be able to move with him, but he's going to have to learn how to walk again. His muscles have become so weak.
It's just unbelievable. He's going to be laid up for months.
BLITZER: What a sad, sad story. We wish him obviously a speedy recovery, and we hope he's going to be fine, but this is obviously very, very painful for you.
Quickly, with all the fear of germs and swine flu, the Catholic Church, Sunday's communion, shaking hands, drinking from a common cup, are you making changes as a result of that concern right now? I'm sure it's come up.
O'CONNELL: Many of the dioceses have decided not to extend the chalice at mass on Sundays with the precious blood, with the sacred wine, in order to prevent any kind of transmission of germs, and even what we call the kiss of peace, the handshake during the mass. Many dioceses have asked people not to do that. I know at Catholic University, we've decided to do the same thing as well.
BLITZER: Which sounds smart.
O'CONNELL: Yes, I think it is smart.
We wish your brother the best. And good luck.
O'CONNELL: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Father David O'Connell is the president of Catholic University of America.
Full disclosure, I received an honorary degree from Catholic University a few years ago and gave the commencement address. It was a great day in my life. Thanks very much.
O'CONNELL: It was a great day for us, too.
BLITZER: Thank you.