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Drew ChristiansenJuly 19, 2012

Our editor, Drew Christiansen, S.J., submitted this letter to the editor to the New York Times in response to Ross Douthat's recent column, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?":

Ross Douthat attributes the loss of adherence in western churches to progressive theology. In particular, he assigns the failure of Catholic hospitals to the lack of underpaid sisters to subsidize care.

On the contrary, hospital systems run by so-called “progressive” orders, like the Sisters of Mercy, continue to prosper. Those institutions that failed succumbed to the strain of trying to care for the needy in today’s expensive, high-tech environment.

Progressive theology had nothing to do with the demise of Catholic hospitals. Even if the numbers of sisters in active orders had held up, the nursing orders never had the numbers or the resources to sustain their care of the poor in today’s costly healthcare environment.

As eight New York City area Catholic hospitals vanished between 2007 and 2009, scarcely a word was heard from those Mr. Douthat would describe as ‘conservative’ Catholic leaders. (See Daniel P. Sulmasy, “Then There Was One,”America, Mar. 16 2009.) The Catholic bishops of New York State, however, still extend care to the needy through Fidelis Care, a health insurance plan for the poor.

You can read other responses to Douthat's column here. And you can listen to our podcast with Ross Douthat here.


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10 years ago
Both of my parents died pursuant to hospitalization at Catholic institutions (progressive) where a chaplain repeatedly asked about final directives-none of which either of them had ever made. I'm still not sure what answer was being sought. Now that I've learned more about ''death'' and organ donation, I'm glad I didn't make anything up.

I had emergency surgery at a hospital founded by a much more conservative congregation. No sisters, a lay chaplain, good medical care but really- a finger sized labyrinth?

No educated religious needs to spend time in a 1st or 2nd world hospital emptying bedpans! I'm proud to have done so for a parent and would for others if necessary but the tone of that comment was almost taking pleasure in the humiliation of a woman. Some of these guys say they want humility but it sounds more like a lobotomy would be necessary
Bill Mazzella
10 years ago
Douthat is saying what many of us ae saying. Liberal does not mean laisses faire and conservative does not mean that the rich right wing should dominate. His nuance is disturbing though since he give more credit to BXVI than the pope deserves. The church is in tobuel when it does not preach the gospel to the poor, feed the hungry and ;et tje blind see. That was true before and after Vatican II. The hierarchy still remains a creation of Constantine, more into empire and domination rather than service.
JR Cosgrove
10 years ago

I noticed that your comment and some others you made were deleted. The amazing thing was they were all polite.
Tim O'Leary
10 years ago
David #7
I remember your Podcast comment and some others too. I also see that other conservative voices get pulled from comments in other articles way too often, never for bad language or insults. I hope it is not to stack the deck so the conversation looks like it is going the progressive's way.

I guess if this kind of opinion censorship is done so lightly, we might be wasting our time talking about government intrusions on religious liberty.
10 years ago
At least I admire Mr. Douthat's charity. He said the Vatican's squelching of the LCWR was done because the orders were "likely to disappear in a generation" without such benevolent aid? My own cynical take is that sadly there are currently about a couple dozen American nuns still left, with an average age of like 88. The Vatican's recent action was a PR nightmare because it looked like the authorities were pounding on a group of uppity old ladies. With "Leadership" and "Women" in the same phrase, you could see this one coming to LCWR. Forget liberal or conservative, what sane young American woman will become a nun in this climate?
james belna
10 years ago
As is all too typical of AMERICA's editors, Drew Christiansen misquoted Douthat's column and raised an objection to a claim that Douthat never made. For those of you who (unlike Christiansen) have taken the time to carefully read the column, you know that Douthat never says that Catholic hospitals are failing because of progressive Catholicism. Rather, he made the point that progressive orders have failed to replenish the ranks of nuns who historically performed personal caregiving at Catholic hospitals, and that this change in focus - to a secularized profit-based model - has been detrimental to the poor. Of course, as a progressive Catholic himself, Fr Christiansen thinks that this is a good thing - he may as well call it a ''preferential option for nurses unions and government bureaucrats'',
Amy Ho-Ohn
10 years ago
The disappearance of religious women (real religious women, that is, the kind who are willing to push wheelchairs, bathe paralyzed people and empty bedpans fourteen hours a day, not just dress up in Eowyn costumes and cheer at Ricky Santorum's rallies) is a red herring.

Health care has changed in the last hundred years and Catholic women's congregations are no longer credible providers. It's not just a matter of keeping the patient warm, clean and isolated and hoping for the best anymore.

The Catholic hospitals have to go, one way or another. The employer mandate is as good an excuse as any for selling them off. The universities will find a way to finesse it. A small, pure church can't expect to influence national policy.
10 years ago
As a former medical director of a hospital, I take a more sanguine view of the reduction in American Catholic hospitals. They were a successful missionary effort. A missionary's true success occurs when the indigenous people take on the enterprise as their own. There are of course the modern practical concerns of medical technology and the capital needed for a modern hospital. We in America still are in need of missionaries, however, since we haven't gotten that health care is a right, too important to be left to "charity."
Tim O'Leary
10 years ago
Regarding #3 & #4, it would be good if Fr. Christiansen took the opportunity to correct his error and admit he misinterpreted Ross Douthat (maybe in this blog).

Amy #5
You are correct that medical care has been transformed by technological advances and specialization. But the moral and caring ethos remains as critical as ever, especially for patients dealing with life and death illness and surgeries. I would much prefer to prepare for surgery in a Catholic environment, with a crucifix and other reminders in the room, and with the knowledge that my personal health and life rights were being protected by women dedicated to serving Christ.

Science and technology per se know nothing in their disciplines about ethics, which has to come from religion or at least philosophy.  Science that is not a servant to Ethics is a monster. There is too much conflict of interest in leaving the ethics to the scientists or money-managers, who are not necessarily as committed to the same ethics as the patients. And leaving the ethics to government bureaucrats is tantamount to replacing real ethics (certainly Christian ethics) with a cost-benefit analysis.

And, of course, there is no intellectual or other competency obstacle to prevent Catholic sisters from continuing to administer and even work in such hospitals, including the hiring and firing of the specialists and ensuring a Catholic ethos and oversight of the hospitals. However, for that to work, the sisters will need new vocations, and only enthusiastic devotion to Jesus Christ and His Church will produce that (as is happening with Mother Teresa's sisters, or the Dominican Sisters, for example). As regards the intimate ''menial'' tasks of caring, I note that nothing in a hospital comes close to what the Missionaries of Charity deal with in Calcutta, and no secular profession is willing to do that work.

As to the ''costumes,'' think of what doctors and nurses wear and why they do that. As you noted in another discussion thread, the loss of appropriate decor to the right occasion (e.g. Mass) or profession can make one look more ridiculous than not.

David Smith
10 years ago
You removed a comment I left here a few days ago saying I'd enjoyed listening to the podcast.  I'll risk saying it again - I enjoyed the podcast. 

If this is a hint that America's going to start having other voices here - not just progressive ones - I very much welcome that - as I'm sure other will, too.  The Church is far too big a tent for a magazine billing itself ''The National Catholic Weekly'' to privilege only one view of Catholicism.   In advance, in hopes, thanks! 

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