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Stephanie SladeMay 31, 2017

Back in 2013, at a time of “unprecedented turmoil for the hospital industry,” some onlookers noticed that Catholic hospitals were an exception to an alarming trend.

“At a time when other types of nonprofit hospitals have been disappearing” in the United States, ProPublica reported, citing a study by the progressive group MergerWatch, “the number of Catholic-sponsored hospitals has jumped 16 percent.”

Today, one in six patients receives medical care at a Catholic institution. According to the Catholic Health Association, there are 649 Catholic-sponsored hospitals in the United States employing nearly 750,000 people. For leaders in Catholic health care, the growth of these hospitals at a time of economic uncertainty is to be celebrated. It is a sign that these institutions, many of which were founded by women religious to serve the most needy, continue to thrive in the 21st century.

But for others, these developments are a cause for great concern.

Last year, MergerWatch put out another report, this one alerting the public about 46 Catholic hospitals. Each one, the report warned, represented the sole provider of hospital care to a given community. As a general rule, that meant the next closest source for comparable care was at least 35 miles away, or more than a 45-minute car ride.


The list included relatively large hospitals like Ministry St. Joseph’s in Marshfield, Wis. (470 beds), and tiny ones like St. Thomas More in Cañon City, Colo. (25 beds). In a few states—Alaska, Iowa and Washington among them—more than 40 percent of the acute care capacity was Catholic-owned or Catholic-affiliated. All together, according to the report, those 46 Catholic “sole community hospitals” were responsible for more than 200,000 patient discharges and an estimated 1.07 million emergency department visits in 2016.

You might think these numbers bolster the argument that the church plays a critical role in the American health care system, especially in underserved communities. These are, after all, fully licensed facilities, which have met all state and federal requirements for providing medical care.

But this is not enough for the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2015, that group filed a lawsuit alleging that hospitals in the Trinity Health system “use their religious identity to discriminate against, and harm, women.” The essence of the complaint was that these institutions conform to a document put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Ethical and Religious Directives.

The Trinity Health case was eventually dismissed by a judge after the A.C.L.U. failed to show that any harm to the plaintiffs had actually occurred. But it is just one in a series of recent legal assaults on Catholic hospitals, spearheaded by the civil libertarian group over “access” to elective sterilization and emergency abortion procedures.

The campaign against these health care institutions has high stakes not just for the church but also for underserved communities. If the A.C.L.U. is successful in pressing one or more of its suits, “it very may well drive Catholic hospitals out of providing medical care,” Kevin Theriot, senior counsel and vice president at the public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, said.

The campaign against these health care institutions has high stakes not just for the church but also for underserved communities.

Given that Catholic hospitals are the major source of care for people in at least those 46 communities cited by MergerWatch (and, in practice, for many more people than that), the results could be profound.

“One of the things about Catholic hospitals is they tend to have a mission to help the poor—the preferential option, so to speak—and it’s not an accident that a lot of urban hospitals happen to be Catholic,” Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the public interest firm Becket Law, said. “One of the main groups that would be impacted by having Catholic hospitals shoved out of health care in this country would be poor people.”

“The Catholic Church has done so much to care for men, women, and children of all ages, from all walks of life,” said Dr. Marguerite Duane, a family physician and adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University. “So this idea that we’re only there to care for the unborn is a misnomer. We’re there to care for every human being. And by proceeding with these lawsuits and trying to take down these hospitals—to basically sacrifice them to the god of abortion—there will be so many women that will suffer and children that will suffer, needlessly, because Catholic institutions are not there to serve them.”

• • •

For the A.C.L.U., the fact that faith-based hospitals are prevalent—providing the only source of hospital care in some locations—makes them more of a target for lawsuits. In its 2013 report “Miscarriage of Medicine,” the organization wrote that the “number of Catholic acute-care hospitals has been increasing rapidly” and that this is a problem: “With the rise of Catholic hospitals has come the increasing danger that women’s reproductive health care will be compromised by religious restrictions.”

“Their stated objective is to make abortion available on demand,” Mr. Theriot said. “And anytime anyone doesn’t conform with that policy, they want to do their best to make them conform.”

Even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been targeted. In 2013, the A.C.L.U. and a woman who had suffered a miscarriage, Tamesha Means, sued the bishops because she was not given the option of the particular treatment, in the form of an abortion, that the group would have preferred be available at Mercy Health Partners in Michigan. (She lost the baby, something that terminating the pregnancy would not have changed, but is otherwise now healthy.) Hospital chains like Dignity Health, the largest system in California, and Ascension, the largest nonprofit system in the country, have also come under fire for refusing to perform elective tubal ligations—the procedure commonly known as “getting your tubes tied.”

The popular press often sides against the Catholic Church on this issue, as when The New York Times wrote in an editorial that the bishops’ directives “inevitably collide with a hospital’s duty to provide care to pregnant women in medical distress.” Lori Freedman, writing in The New Republic, went even further, rejecting in toto what she called “the antiquated notion of faith-based care.”

In The Los Angeles Times, the columnist Michael Hiltzik said Catholic hospitals were “placing non-medical concerns ahead of those of patients and their doctors.” Commenting on one of the sterilization cases in particular, Mr. Hiltzik wrote: “As is often the case when a big institution tries to impose its religious doctrine on others who don't share it, Dignity Health, a $12.4-billion enterprise, is painting itself as the victim of a campaign by a 33-year-old mother of two to deprive it of its rights.”

In fact, the court agreed with Dignity. “Religious-based hospitals have an enshrined place in American history and its communities, and the religious beliefs reflected in their operation are not to be interfered with by courts at this moment in history,” Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled. Later he added that—contra to the A.C.L.U.’s claim that the case was purely about “women’s health”—“It’s about church and state. It’s about exercise of religion and to what extent it can be regulated by a court.”

Though it has not won in the courtroom so far, there is every indication these challenges will keep coming. The A.C.L.U. in May 2016 launched the project Health Care Denied, which includes a website inviting people to write in with stories of being “turned away” by a Catholic hospital.

Though it has not won in the courtroom so far, there is every indication these challenges will keep coming.

One of the individuals identified by that project is Jennafer Norris, a woman who developed a serious medical condition while pregnant and had to be hospitalized. The team at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas cared for her during her illness, the report concedes, eventually delivering her child by a scheduled cesarean section. Nonetheless, she and her husband were “outraged” and “horrified” by their treatment, according to the A.C.L.U. The hospital’s crime was informing Ms. Norris in advance that it could not perform a tubal ligation to prevent her from getting pregnant again, but that she could be transferred to another medical institution if having the procedure done right away was very important to her. (She declined.)

“If you’re an institution and you’re opening your doors to other people,” Louise Melling, the deputy legal director at the A.C.L.U., said, “then you basically have to abide by the rules and not hurt people by virtue of discrimination.”

Sister Carol Keehan
Sister Carol Keehan

That argument does not sit well with Sister Carol Keehan, a member of the Daughters of Charity and the president of the Catholic Health Association. “There are very few hospitals that provide every medical service out there. So you can go to many hospitals that do not do open-heart surgery. You can go to hospitals that don’t do major neurosurgeries. You can go to hospitals that don’t have exotic, cutting-edge testing in various areas,” she said. “It strikes me that [the A.C.L.U.] has a sense that if you’re open for business, we can demand you do whatever we want. That’s just not true. You cannot come to a hospital and say, ‘I need neurosurgery, and I live in this community, and you call yourself a hospital with an operating room, and I demand that you do neurosurgery on me.’”

• • •

The Christian practice of opening hospitals goes back at least to the Middle Ages. Roy Porter writes in The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity that hundreds of years ago, “crusading orders such as…the Teutonic Knights built hospitals throughout the Mediterranean and German-speaking lands.” St Bartholomew’s, the oldest hospital in Britain, was founded in 1123. “Christianity made its mark through action,” Porter explains.

Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the church from the 14th century best known for her spiritual writings, also worked in the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala during a time of great plagues in Europe. Sigrid Undset’s biography of the saint describes her caring for a woman “who suffered from a revolting sickness,” taking it upon herself to wash and bandage her patient’s “whole stinking body.” The nurse’s hands are said to have begun to show signs of leprosy, but she continued her work. After the woman died, Catherine buried her without help and was miraculously cured.

She was just one among many generations of Catholics who have committed themselves to giving medical care to those in need—at times even to the point of death. It is a vocation that was first modeled by Christ himself. Scholars note that Jesus performs 35 miracles of healing in the Bible.

“Catholic health care is a major way of living out the Gospel,” Sister Keehan said.

In the 19th century, women religious began taking leadership roles in health care in larger numbers.

Crisis and conflict were very often the precipitating events. A small band of European nuns famously accompanied Florence Nightingale in her nursing efforts during the hostilities in Crimea in the 19th century, while more than 600 Catholic sisters nursed combatants on both sides of the U.S. Civil War.

In myriad ways the church, and Catholic women religious in particular, had a hand in bringing about American health care as we know it. Their ethos of selfless service was especially important in the wild lands of the New World.

In Canada, Mother Marie de Saint-Joseph and her Ursuline sisters took in Native American orphans, writes Jo Ann Kay McNamara in Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia, then “nursed their charges through smallpox and suffered hunger with them in times of famine.” When the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis sent 31 of their members to tend the victims of yellow fever in Memphis, Tenn., they all became infected, and five of them lost their lives. In Say Little, Do Much: Nursing, Nuns, and Hospitals in the Nineteenth Century, Sioban Nelson writes, “In the confusion and desperation that struck the cities in the midst of an epidemic, there was something extraordinary in the heroism and calm with which the sisters volunteered to nurse in the cholera, smallpox, yellow fever, typhoid, and diphtheria hospitals.”

In the 19th century alone, Catholic sisters established more than 300 hospitals in the United States. The Mayo Clinic, considered by many to be the best hospital in America today, was founded by the physician W. W. Mayo at the urging of the Sisters of Saint Francis and in partnership with them. Different religious orders set up shop in different cities and dedicated themselves to serving different ethnic groups—the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, for example, caring for Italian immigrants in New York; the Holy Family of Nazareth caring for Polish immigrants in Chicago; and the Sisters of Mercy caring for Irish immigrants in Pittsburgh.

All the while, Catholic medicine “became increasingly institutionalized and professionalized,” Professor McNamara reports: “Nursing sisters trained on the job in collaboration with doctors who appreciated their discipline, obedience, neatness, and above all their fearlessness in the face of contagious disease.” The country’s first academic program in hospital administration was started at Marquette University, a Jesuit school. “Building up their role as angels of mercy,” Ms. McNamara continues,“congregations of nursing sisters took a lead in organizing training programs in their hospitals some decades before the rest of the profession initiated such programs.”

The sisters became so effective at their jobs, they often were awarded government contracts to care for needy populations. In Buffalo, the Catholic hospital’s mortality rate for cholera patients was 39 percent, versus 53 percent at the county hospital. In Baltimore, a religious order took charge of the public infirmary from the state.

Mother Joseph statue in Washington
Mother Joseph statue in Washington

Esther Pariseau, a.k.a. Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, arrived in Washington territory in the 1850s. “There were no hospitals, few schools, and little in the way of charitable services for those suffering the misfortunes of life on the frontier,” the Providence Health & Services website explains. A carpenter and architect by trade, Mother Joseph responded by using her own money to found dozens of such institutions, building many of them with her own two hands.

Her bronze likeness today graces the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. An engraving recognizes her “monumental contributions to health care, education and social work throughout the Northwest.” But what is actually remarkable about her story is how unremarkable it is in the larger history of Catholic medicine.

• • •

“Once the government has the power to violate one person's rights, it can use that power against everyone,” reads the A.C.L.U. website. “We work to stop the erosion of civil liberties before it's too late.”

The esteemed civil libertarian group has done much over its 97-year history to protect individuals’ freedoms. It played a role in Gideon v. Wainwright, the case that determined that defendants are entitled to counsel, provided by the state if necessary, and in Miranda v. Arizona, the case that required police to inform suspects of their rights. It has long been an opponent of capital punishment and mass incarceration. In 2010 it brought a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and won the release of information about the U.S. military’s treatment of prisoners at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Most famously, in 1977 the organization defended the American Nazi Party’s right under the First Amendment to hold a march through downtown Skokie, Ill. The A.C.L.U. website notes that thousands of its own members “resigned in outrage, and donations declined sharply.” Yet the A.C.L.U.’s full-throated defense of free expression for even the most unpopular views is today remembered by many as its finest hour.

The group has, at times, allied itself with the Catholic Church. On March 8 of this year, it signed a letter opposing new federal rules that make women and children vulnerable to deportation if they lodge a criminal complaint, a departure from the policy under President Obama. Among the other signatories to the petition were Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Catholic Charities of Boston and the Catholic Agency for Migration and Refugee Services.

But just the week before, on Feb. 27, the group had filed a motion against a Catholic hospital system in the Midwest. If successful, the order would force the Franciscan Alliance to provide patients with “necessary gender-confirming care”—that is, therapies or surgeries to help biologically male patients “transition” to being female and vice versa.

In the early 1990s, the A.C.L.U. was a vocal supporter of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that said federal legislation cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless the legislation is the least restrictive means of furthering a “compelling government interest.” The group was, in other words, actively involved in the effort to strengthen protections for private parties to practice their faith freely as recently as 24 years ago. The A.C.L.U. website still says religious liberty is a “fundamental freedom” that “can’t be taken away, even by ‘majority rule.’” So how is it that the same organization is now in the business of repeatedly suing Catholic hospitals to force them to perform procedures to which the church is morally opposed?

“We have a position, which is that religious freedom gives you a right to your beliefs, but it doesn’t give you a right to hurt others,” Ms. Melling of the A.C.L.U. said. “So we have filed suits to draw attention to the ways in which religion sometimes appears to be put ahead of medicine, to the detriment of patients.”

The change seems to be part of a larger evolution in the group’s priorities that have taken place under the current executive director, Anthony Romero, who took over in 2001. Those changes sparked controversy about a decade ago, when a former head of the A.C.L.U., Ira Glasser, and a handful of other prominent affiliates went public with complaints about his leadership. These included accusations that employees and board members were being “gagged” from speaking to the press—hard to square with the identity of a group that claims to support free speech everywhere.

“The critics proclaim that Romero has made grave mistakes; that those mistakes amount to a firing offense; and that he has betrayed ‘fundamental ACLU values,” The Nation reported in 2007.

A.C.L.U. Executive Director Anthony Romero
A.C.L.U. Executive Director Anthony Romero 

The group has also been described as moving from broad-based civil libertarianism to an agenda more closely aligned with the Democratic Party. Mr. Glasser and the other dissenters “saw [the new executive director] transforming the organization that once defended the right of Nazis to march on Skokie into just another liberal interest group, money-hungry and cowed by political correctness,” Michelle Goldberg explained in The American Prospect in 2009.

The changes might be characterized as a shift in focus toward civil rights and away from civil liberties. “This conflict is pretty basic to our democracy,” says Wendy Kaminer, a former A.C.L.U. board member and now a prominent critic of the group. “Civil rights are entitlements to various forms of government protections, or in some cases, some people would argue government benefits. Civil liberties are simply the freedom from government interference in your life or in your business.”

“It would be great if A.C.L.U. were an organization that civil libertarians from various places on the political spectrum could embrace. I think it would be much more effective that way at protecting everyone’s civil liberties,” she said. But under Mr. Romero, “it is increasingly an organization of the left. I look it now as part of the progressive arm of the Democratic Party.”

Ms. Kaminer rejects the idea that the current A.C.L.U. campaign against Catholic hospitals is animated by prejudice, however. “I really, really don’t think there is an anti-Catholic bias at the A.C.L.U.,” she says. “I think there is a retreat from a really robust defense of civil liberties generally, when the civil liberties claims infringe upon the A.C.L.U.’s civil rights agenda.”

And at the top of that “civil rights agenda”—higher even than the First Amendment, evidently—is a woman’s ability to end a pregnancy or undergo a tubal ligation when and where she pleases.

And at the top of that “civil rights agenda”—higher even than the First Amendment, evidently—is a woman’s ability to end a pregnancy[.]

“The A.C.L.U. is trying to enforce its own orthodoxy on moral issues as they see them,” Hillary Byrnes, assistant general counsel at the U.S.C.C.B., said. “It’s really unfortunate, but they’re trying to essentially force Catholic hospitals to not be Catholic anymore.”

• • •

Despite the ongoing legal crusade, it is clear that neither the church nor the Catholic health care institutions intend to be cowed into obeisance. “The A.C.L.U. has suddenly made themselves standard-setters for maternity care,” Sister Carol Keehan said. “And that’s not a role that they get.”

She points out that responsibility for accrediting American hospitals falls to the nonprofit Joint Commission, in partnership with state departments of health. “Catholic hospitals have to meet those standards, and they do,” she says. “Many of them are designated as high-risk maternity centers, which means the most challenging pregnancies—mothers who are having a hard time or who are at high risk—that’s where you want them cared for.”

An array of groups are busy holding the line. Becket Law and the Alliance Defending Freedom represent many of the Catholic hospitals that have been targeted. And in addition to fending off the A.C.L.U.’s lawsuits, the U.S.C. C.B. is supporting the federal Conscience Protection Act, which prohibits the government from discriminating against health care providers for being pro-life. “We are trying in every context to fight back against these attacks,” Ms. Byrnes said.

The Michigan-based Christ Medicus Foundation advocates for lawmakers at all levels to give Catholic medical institutions the space they need to care for those in need. “It’s important that this beautiful work of the church is respected and protected,” says Louis Brown, director of the foundation. “As a Catholic community that wishes to serve all people regardless of their faith background—we want to serve them, we want to love them—but we want to be able to do that consistent with what we have always been as a people, which is a people who believe in life.”

The lawsuits and negative publicity can be jarring, but Catholic leaders are committed to defending their historic place in the U.S. health care community.

Speaking of efforts like the A.C.L.U. campaign, Sister Keehan said, “When some of the people who are making these statements have done as much for this country as Catholic health care has, then I think they might achieve some standing.” And she shows no sign of wearying in the fight: “Just because someone doesn’t like the church having a role—I gotta tell you, that doesn’t mean you get to wipe us off the face of the earth.”

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Anne Chapman
7 years 1 month ago

Few would disagree that the Catholic health care network does enormous good. However, when it is the only health provider within reasonable driving distance for many, are the Catholic hospitals willing to give as much respect to the religious beliefs of ALL of their patients as they demand for themselves?

Does the concept of "religious liberty" also extend to those who have no choice for hospital care in their community other than a Catholic hospital in an emergency?

Perhaps a compromise could be forged. Elective, non-emergency procedures such as sterilization and most abortions could perhaps be done at other hospitals or clinics. The issues arise with emergency procedures.

The author has failed to include any discussion at all about some notable emergencies that made the news. She fails to mention that the decision of a Catholic hospital in Arizona to save the life of the mother when otherwise both mother and unborn child would die resulted in punitive action by the bishop to the religious order that operates the hospital. This bishop's actions were supported by the US bishops as a group.

Some kind of twisted reasoning made this bishop (and the Catholic church) decide that it would be more "moral" to lose two lives instead of only one. The article also fails to mention that a young woman in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar, who was thrilled to be expecting a baby, was denied an abortion when it was needed to save her life during a miscarriage at 17 weeks. The unborn child died. The mother died also. The celibate males who make policy in this church seem to have little respect for the religious beliefs of others (such as those of a Hindu woman who died because of Catholic intransigence), but for women in general. "Let them die" so that they can preserve their distorted theological purity seems almost to be a mantra.

The only silver lining to this tragic - and totally unnecessary - death in Ireland was a change in Irish laws regarding emergency abortions.

The refusal of Catholic hospitals to honor a natural death is also problematic. Few of those old enough to remember will forget the case of Terry Schiavo, forced to lie helpless in a bed for 15 years, a physical body supported only by modern technology. Many of us worry that our wishes for a peaceful, natural death will not be honored if we are in a Catholic hospital. I have given instructions to the family that I not be treated in a Catholic hospital if near death.

Religious liberty for a Catholic hospital that serves an entire community of people of all religious backgrounds must respect the religious liberty of those whose beliefs are not the same as those who own the hospital. If they refuse to respect the religious beliefs of those in their care, then their call for "religious liberty" is simply a self-serving sham.

Barbara Tamialis
7 years 1 month ago

Amen to all you said. Your stated my concerns beautifully. Thank you.

Dominic Deus
7 years 1 month ago

Dominic Deus here.

Lets hear a big shoutout to Anne Chapman who has both a heart and a uterus! That latter offers her some significant credibility over the men who have been blathering this, that or the other about women's bodies, uteri, incapacity to make sound moral judgments or to manage anything more complex than their menstrual periods which are disgusting and men do not want to even think about them. So there ladies. Don't worry your pretty little heads about a thing. Men, especially celibate men, will get back to you and tell you what to do. In the meantime, just keep thinking and doing what you have been for the last 200 years because nothing has really changed and that's the way it should be.

What could possibly go wrong.

[FULL DISCLOSURE: Although I, Dominic, Deus am an avatar, my author is a physician who practiced clinical medicine for thirty three years before becoming a medical consultant and a Catholic scholar of world religions and their scriptures. He has cared for thousands of women, delivered over 300 babies, and was fortunate to train at a major university medical school. As he always says, "Don't believe anything I say just because I said it. Test it in the reality of life and see if it works, then decide." Just imagine I am speaking from his life experience, mostly. Otherwise, if you want to go with me being over 500 years old, that's fine, too.]

Every sentence and every word in every sentence of Anne Chapman's post is factually accurate. She may have missed a spell check or two and made insubstantial minor reference incorrectly but I can vouch for her stories, which I remember, and more like them which you can read below.

The Catholic Church *never* addresses its failed morality when confronted with, for example, the pointless death of a young mother on the bloody alter of missed spontaneous abortion. It mumbles pieties and then turns its attention to anything but responsibility. This is a behavioral pattern found in more than one Church strategy for dealing with the suffering of others.

Anne is correct. Lets move on to the lesser lights of her critics.


Anne Chapman
7 years 1 month ago

Thank you Dominic. You speak with the voice of experience, while I simply speak from my conscience. I would like to add some additional thoughts. When I disagree with someone, particularly when it comes to "rights" of various kinds, I try to walk in the shoes of the other.

To seek one's own religious freedom while denying the religious freedom of others represents a difficult challenge in a pluralistic society such as our own. Those who insist that religious groups operating hospitals in areas where they are the only practical choice in an emergency have the right to deny treatment to those whose religious beliefs are different from their own should imagine themselves in a similar situation. One should never force a doctor, nurse or other staff member to participate in a procedure that is against their conscience, even if the procedure will save the life of the patient. But most Catholic hospitals employ many professionals who are not Catholic, for whom the life-saving procedure would not violate their conscience. They should be asked to assume the care in emergencies. Non-emergency procedures could be scheduled elsewhere.

Those who are upset by the idea of extending religious freedom to patients of Catholic hospitals need to try to imagine themselves in a similar position. Assume, for example, that the only hospital within 50 miles is operated by Jehovah's Witnesses. Imagine that your child has been in a serious car accident - one that causes excessive bleeding. The EMTs rush the accident victim to the nearest hospital - in fact, to the only hospital where it might be possible to save the life of the person injured because the next closest hospital is simply too far away. The religious beliefs of the Jehovah's Witnesses prohibit blood transfusions. So, imagine following the ambulance that is carrying your child to the hospital and arriving there to discover that the hospital will not provide the blood transfusion needed to save your child's life. There is no time to move your child to the next closest hospital. Would you be angry that the religious beliefs of the JW meant that your child would die - when his or her life could have been saved? Angry and anguished that the JW hospital had no respect for your own religious beliefs? A hospital meant to serve the entire public, not simply their own members?

Most members of the Jehovah's Witnesses will refuse a transfusion for themselves. The legal system does not permit them the "religious" freedom to refuse it for a minor child.. One would assume that if a hospital were operated by the JW, they would be legally required to provide a blood transfusion to all minors. But maybe the person in the ambulance wasn't a minor. Maybe it was your 18 year old, coming home from college. Allowing the JW the same degree of religious freedom that Catholic hospitals ask for themselves might mean that you son or daughter will die.

Do those who demand unlimited religious freedom for Catholic hospitals in emergency, life and death cases, also agree that the Jehovah's Witnesses' hospital would have the right - due to their religious beliefs - to refuse the lifesaving procedure your child needs?

Leonard Villa
7 years 1 month ago

The ACLU attacks Catholic hospitals because it has been taken over by pc ideology which is inherently anti-Catholic and anti-Christian. This is not a surprise because pc was born in Marxism which is inherently anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-family, anti-natural law. The only reality in pc is the ideology to be imposed by power-elites on the opposition hence the predilection for unelected judges especially those who share the ideology and decide according to that rather than the law in order to impose the ideology on unwilling institutions and citizens. PC has a totalitarian flavor.

Ann Chapman would deny the religious liberty of Catholic institutions to adhere to natural law and Catholic teaching in her own institutions as a component of the religious liberty of others. Contra Chapman Terry Schiavo did not die from her illness. She was starved to death. What she is arguing for is euthanasia and abortion and the end justifies the means. Chapman would have a Catholic hospital be bound by whatever the pc religion deems to be "true" in the name of religious liberty: gender ideology, sex-change operations,and the list would go on and on. What she really wants are Catholic hospitals in name only.

Dominic Deus
7 years 1 month ago

Dominic Deus here.

"PC ideology,...anti-Catholci...anti-Christian...Marxism...power elites....unelected judges...law in order or law and order(?). Do you have any original thoughts or do they all come from Breitbart and the Heritage Foundation handbook on quick talking points/bumper stickers? This is a Jesuit publication and I suggest we approach it with intellectual honesty and some original thinking. I am confident you can do better. Please.

PS. I followed the Terry Schiavo story for years. I was doing medical reporting. It was the most shameful act of political pandering and failed morality on the part of Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the Christian Right I have ever witnessed. The worst part is that they all knew what they were doing, knew that Terry Schiavo had died and her body was supported artificially. Her brain had shrunken to a very small size consistent with non-cognitive function at best and no function at all at worst. When he body was removed from artificial life support an autopsy was performed and confirmed the findings of brain death or more properly, "persistent vegetative state."

Bush did it for political gain--we all know how that turned out. Jerry Falwell made great deal of money out of the suffering and gave it to Liberty University. He died of pneumonia the same year Terry Schaivo was taken off life support. He was not placed on life support--he just died. No money in it for anyone. Cheery thought, eh?


Stuart Meisenzahl
7 years 1 month ago

Sister Keehan speaks strongly in other Articles in America (See Republican Plan Can't be Fixed) about the inherent need for Obamacare for which President Obama credited her as one of the essential midwives. She fails to recognize that her concern about the ACLU noted in this Article is intrinsically connected to the very government programs she supports.

Sister simply fails to note that "mandates" set by the government under Obamacare could easily include "abortion" , "transgender modification ", tubal ligations ,etc. (all of which are the subjects of the ACLU suits against Catholic Hospitals).
Such mandates would be unquestionably included if there were a government single payer plan.
Medicare rules already provide that an "institutional provider" (like Catholic Hospitals) must accept all Medicare patients or be excluded from any participation in Medicare reimbursement ......ditto for Medicaid. You can be assured that this rule would be in place for a single payer.system or an expanded Obamacare system. The Little Sisters of The Poor case was a result of just such a regulatory interpretation with a very limited mandate. Recall Cardinal Dolan was assured by President Obama that such mandates would not apply to Catholic Institutions

Under such a system the government would give the ACLU an absolute winning legal argument.......no need for the Justice Dept to even get involved with this ACLU club standing ready , willing and able to step in to enforce the government dictated" right" to abortion , tubal ligation, etc, all established under the guise of government paid health care. The argument is simple: "if you accept any government insured patients you must accept all such patients for all the mandated coverages."

Sister Keehan needs to remember that fable about " the camel getting its nose under the tent ......it means the camel will soon occupy the entire tent." Beware the Government Camel.....the ACLU is riding it!

Dominic Deus
7 years 1 month ago

Dominic Deus here. Stuart, thank you for an issues focused response.

In my opinion the Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the exercise thereof. That means you are free to exercise your religious freedom and you cannot prevent others from doing the same even if their religion is different than yours or if they have no religion at all. It also means that the government cannot legislate religious matters. It can however legislate public matters such as Medicare, Medicaid, insurance regulation and various other standards of public service, commerce and public safety. If the Catholic Hospitals want to remain in the public sphere, they must conduct themselves as a public personas. If they cannot, then must withdraw to the private sphere of personal religious observation and practice. I would hate to see all Catholic hospitals sold, but the Church and it's believers must do that if they place the life of the Church over the lives of their patients.


Stuart Meisenzahl
7 years 1 month ago

The point I wish to make is that Congress could never constitutionally do directly what it seeks to do through the cover of offering health care payments by adding "mandates" that require one to transgress the practice of his faith. It is possible that a private insurer could do so but only because you would have a choice whether or not you wanted that package of mandates. With the government individual choice is replaced by government coercion (see e.g., the tax penalty for a person who refused to buy insurance under Obamacare). The most direct coercion in Obamacare was the requirement that states must expand Medicaid availability etc. That provision was struck down by the Supreme Court precisely because it constituted unconstitional coercion.
As a practical matter if threatened by Federal health mandates then all the church affiliated institutions have to do is to threaten to close down....then watch the reaction when the government "requires" them to stay open or tries to seize them in violation of the due process clause. Watch the communities react with outrage at the loss of services. Watch the politicians run for cover!
But most of all watch the Supreme Court determine whether it is unconstitutional coercion and a violation of the First Amendment.
That Amendment does not contain the magic legal words "directly or indirectly " but the application of those words is used in just about every court challenge based on constitutionality under any of the constitutional amendments.......it hides under the Sandra Day O'Connor created euphemism "burden" ; as in "the law does/does not burden the exercise of X right" . Justice O'Connor developed this "mirabile dictu" to fit within the progressive Justices previous "mirabile dictu of a penumbra of the Constitution" that contained the right to privacy and right to abortion.
The issue was superficially avoided in the Little Sisters of the Poor case but the Court vacated the order against the Nuns and sent it back down with a stern indication that it was close enough that it wanted the government to compromise. The long and the short of it is:that the government violates the establishment clause of The First Amendment if it directly or indirectly burdens the practice of one's faith in a material fashion. The Trojan horse of government sponsored/directed/ controlled insurance with universal mandates requiring compliance through activity or procedures that violate the religiously based consciences of medical staff are quite likely to be struck down. If the threat or closure of an institution in response is added to the mix then the chances of these requirements being deemed "a burden on the practice of one's religion" is quite high.

Remember that there is no constitutional right to health care.....the government and the Supreme Court might well legislate and approve such a right but it will compete but not outweigh the very explicit First Amendment which was the first of those Ten Amendments critical to obtaining final approval of the States to sign the Constitution in 1789. To hold otherwise would permit these issues in the penumbra of the Constitution to swallow up the Constitution itself ....Very much like your shadow becoming the real you.

Irene DiSanto
7 years 1 month ago

An excellently researched and informative article. Eye-opening. As a Catholic, I find it disturbing that our religious liberties continue to be eroded. Catholics who practice healthcare because of their religious beliefs are now being asked to practice healthcare but ignore the very core religious beliefs that impel them? Poorly reasoned. We believe first. What is practiced comes from love and that love chooses life.

Dominic Deus
7 years 1 month ago

Dominic Deus here.

Irene, the idea that mainstream middle class religious freedom, Catholic or otherwise, in America is being eroded is largely unsupported. There is a strong body of law, constitutional, statutory and judicial that stands as a bulwark against the the diminution of religious freedom. If science fiction based crackpot-ism calling itself Scientology and hate based familial perversity calling itself the Westboro Baptist Church are religiously protected (and they are), you can be pretty sure that largely white, middle class Christians don't have a thing to worry about.

On the other hand, if a person's religious beliefs prevent them from practicing science based medicine regulated by professional boards, equally available to all citizens, for the sake of the patient rather than for the sake of their doctor, nurse or pharmacist, then they are obligated to go into another line of work.

Catholic hospitals can't have it both ways. Moral decisions can be very difficult but they still have to be made. It's in or out and for the sake of dignity if nothing else, I wish my Church and its hospitals would quite pleading for special treatment. America will be better off for it.


Stuart Meisenzahl
7 years 1 month ago

Contrary to your assertion, the Catholic Hospitals have in fact had it both ways for centuries ......the new creation of a government right to health care is the intruder in this issue. So I ask you : will America be better off if these Catholic Institutions go out of business? This new found right to health care will evaporate itself by destroying the very Institutions it must have to even practically exist !

Dr. Stella Maris, MD
7 years 1 month ago

Ms. Slade, That was a very beautiful article. Thank you for writing it.

As a physician of many years I have worked at a few Catholic hospitals. I recall working with Orthodox Jewish physicians who marveled at what the Catholic Religious did for our patients. Whether atheist, nominal believer or fervent Jew/Catholic, we treated them all, as did the Religious Sisters.

It has been sad to see the Catholic hospitals close across the nation. As I have remarked to many patients and colleagues who miss them, the Catholic Religious were not in the service of making money but rather serving all. With the business paradigm encroaching upon medicine, the Catholic Religious were out maneuvered, bought out or run off. The ACLU is doing what the for profit hospitals chains did years ago.

If a person does not share in the services of a Catholic hospital, they are welcome to open their own flavor of hospital services. Or they can join the Catholic hospital, if they can find one, and start a ministry that tends to the need the person thinks is lacking. Otherwise, we should all be scared when the ACLU prefers to throw stones than get their hands dirty and smell like the sheep. I have and I am in debt to the Catholic Religious who ran their hospitals. They are sorely missed.

Dr. Stella Maris, MD

Ed Connolly
7 years 1 month ago

Thank you, Dr. Maris. And I couldn't help but notice that you didn't find it necessary to hide your identity by using an "avatar" unlike some.

Jeanne Linconnue
7 years 1 month ago

A small point, but since you raised the issue, I will comment. I had the opposite impression as to whether this writer used an avatar. I assumed automatically that it is not a real name, but that the name Stella Maris IS an avatar. It means "star of the sea" and is often used to refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Perhaps it is also meant to refer to an organization. Using "Dr." and "MD' together also implies that it is not the name of a medical doctor. Normally, a medical doctor would use this form for a signature - Stella Maris, MD. "Dr. Maris" might be used in conversation or speech "I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Maris". "Dr. Stella Maris MD" is not a usual form, either in writing or in speech. Perhaps there really is a medical doctor named Stella Maris, but it seems likely that the person who wrote this is using an avatar. That is not wrong, but can be the best way to protect oneself from internet trolls. Dominic Deus understands this and should not be criticized for protecting himself. Those with relatively common names have fewer reasons to be concerned when using their real names on the internet.

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