Good Morning Most Reverend Friends,
Good Morning Very Reverend Friends,
Good Morning Reverend Friends,
Good Morning Fellow Believers,
In 1776, Our Declaration of Independence proclaimed to the world our right, as a sovereign people, to reject the rule of George III and Great Britain.
Jefferson famously wrote:
“That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”
“Unalienable Rights” endowed by their Creator:
After 8 bloody years of war and trauma, and 8 more of experiments in governance, these rights were immortalized, in 1791 in the Bill of Rights the first of which states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, a right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances”.
“No law… prohibits the free exercise thereof”- free exercise of religion. With that pledge, for over 200 years, we as a people have relied upon our governments respecting our right to worship and to practice our faith in the public square, in our work, in what we do and that which we will not do.
We were inspired, because this and each of our rights were “unalienable” having been endowed by our Creator – that is to say that which God gives, no government can take away.
Our rights – this right to freedom of religion – because it is derived from Our Creator is immortal and immutable – like the Creator.
But today, darkness is sweeping our country, a darkness that is seeking to envelope and distort our rights and the free exercise of them – to push freedom of religion into a dark, restricted space. A place without external, everlasting truth, a place of relativism, of bloodless secularisms, a place where acting upon one’s beliefs – as in the unchanging laws given by Moses, the prophets, the Father’s of the Church, the magisterium itself, are deigned to be anti-social, discriminating and un-American.
This change is widespread, but in few sectors is it as threatening as in Healthcare – especially Roman Catholic Healthcare.
Last fall we at Catholic Healthcare celebrated our 15th anniversary as a system with a joyous liturgy at our St. Agnes Cathedral. Like most families, we have had our ups and downs, but our challenges were mostly the same as we all face, maintaining our ability to continue Christ’s Health Mission by ministering to those in need while obtaining the resources to fulfill our mission, keeping quality improving, reacting to the fiscal environment. From four hospitals we now number six, from two nursing homes to three. Our Bishop McHugh centers continue Christ’s healing mission to those who are marginalized and ill. We have experienced several hurricanes, the awful pain of 9/11 and the wonder of thousands of births, while our hospice staff have gently supported those called home to God. CHS has offered numerous treatments and surgeries, therapies for rehabilitation and consolation to those who suffer. Our school for the developmentally challenged has sheltered and guided hundreds, and special programs have provided independent living, with many clients finding work at our sheltered workshops. Home care staff have entered the homes of thousands, supplying everything from beds to oxygen in a supportive network. Hundreds have ministered to those placed in our care through our chapels, chaplains, spiritual companions and other ministries. Thousands of hours have been logged by our valiant, generous volunteers—guild, league and junior volunteers.
Our CHS Associates have lived out the prayers of our foundresses, whose gentle hands started this great work. During these 15 years, three bishops have offered their counsel, example and unfailing support—none more than Bishop Murphy, supported by the vicar bishops, past and present. Together, we have carried on faithfully “with justice, integrity and respect for the dignity of each person” it is our prayerful hope to continue doing so for many years to come.
But the new order – hatched in the nations capital – The affordable Care Act – embroidered with secular charges and demands puts our role in jeopardy. To put our work, the work of your church, in context, let me share some recent, CHS statistics. In over 40 outreach events, we have performed 7,000 clinical assessments, for free, with follow up care, also for free, at our two Bishop McHugh Centers and our other acute care sites.
We have delivered nearly 7,000 [6,703] babies; made 390,000 home care visits; seen 590,000 ambulatory patients, responded to over 250,000 ED visits; provided 134,000 hospice days of care, 80,000 hospital admissions and 83,000 surgeries. We have also paid respect to the unborn by burying them reverently, in a prayer service in a concecrated ground. Several of our hospitals have been singled out for their quality and value. Our nursing homes each have been rated 5 Stars on the CMS 5 Star Quality Rating System.
– We have two Magnet designated hospitals, quality stroke awards; rated excellence of Breast Care and Patient Safety Awards.
These are only some of our accomplishments.
We deserve, our Church has earned, a positive view of the future, but over the past year we learned that our optimism was misplaced. Indeed, worry and concern displaced my pride in our ministry. Instead of launching into our second century (Our Lady of Consolation was established in 1894 and our venerable St. Charles was founded in 1908), we may be preparing for our last hurrah, the evisceration of our moral compass, the secularization of our mission and the end of Christ’s healing mission. We have been ordered by the Federal Health and Human Services Department, HHS, to pay for so-called “services” we believe to be illicit—if we do not, fines and other actions will in effect force the Church to withdraw from the healthcare ministry. Because of our broad reach, these fines could bankrupt our Healing institution. No conscience clause, no room for belief.
Why? Because in more than 100 years of delivering health care, healing the sick, caring for the poor, educating the challenged and all the work we do, we have yet to perform or pay for an abortion, surgically or otherwise; neither have we approved sterilization, nor offered to counsel a woman on how to kill her baby. We have not financed nor countenanced chemical contraception or paid for proscribed abortifacients to the pregnant, nor do we view the bearing of a child as a disease. We won’t even give a 12 year old an abortion drug – Imagine!
According to certain political leaders, this means we are impeding healthcare, in fact we are denying women preventive health care; as defined by the federal and now State government, with absolutely no respect for the long-held and well-known beliefs of the people of the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, it may be said that this Administrative demand only requires our ministry to pay for or otherwise facilitate those proscribed “services”, not perform them…so where is the harm? And, now, having had trouble with the mandatory payments, we are told to rationalize that a good or service may cost nothing; therefore, we are not actually paying for anything.
First, we should resist the allure of a Pollyanna world view. Such forced activities will not stop with this ersatz preventative healthcare. Once these activities are forcefully mandated and accepted, can we believe that the State will step back and allow a conscience exemption for other, later identified, “essential activities”, which may be far more repugnant to our core beliefs? Is it plausible that the free exercise of our beliefs through non compliance or nonpayment within our institutions will be recognized after we accept this premise, that this mandate is a legitimate exercise of Federal or State power? Worse, much of this is not mandated through explicit law by our representatives, rather, they lack the moral fiber to stand up for our liberties – instead they punt – giving it to faceless bureaucrats to impose these demands upon us by regulation.
Is it believable, after this perceived victory for a “social good” (as abortion is characterized by so many), that the secular engineers will permit a large segment of health care delivery in this country to opt out of paying for these “services” now enumerated, performing others or accepting those which will inevitably follow?
In Nassau and Suffolk alone, CHS institutions represent 23% of health care provided. Note, also, we are the second largest employer on the Island. If these proscribed, amoral, mandated activities are seen as a public health good, can our minders permit so large a delivery and employment segment to fail to pay for such activities—allegedly crucial to the health care of women? And, if payment is mandated and accepted, can mandatory performance of those activities be far behind? Nearly 20% of all hospitals nationwide are Catholic; can we expect to be left out of these mandates? When the regulators believe only they are masters of the truth? We are not alone in our dark perception of these activities; other faith-based hospitals and systems share our convictions and would opt out as well. Thus, those who claim to know what is best for us as a people, irrespective of our deeply held beliefs, are confronted with the reality that an even larger proportion of health care providers and other related religious entities rather than just Catholic institutions alone, are opposed to the shallow, depreciated view of the value of human life and dignity and will refuse to fund or perform these activities. Those who push for these activities recognize the stakes that is why they are attempting to trivialize the dispute as one over contraception and set this menacing precedent.
I posit to you that an incremental defeat for our fundamental, first amendment rights will seed the future with inevitable other defeats. We shall be forced to choose our beliefs or be expelled from health care, not to mention other ministries yielding in particular a health care environment where there are no safe, moral harbors.
If the mischaracterization of this debate as being about “women’s health” is allowed to stand, we shall lose the first of our “unalienable rights, endowed by our Creator”—freedom of religion. As Pope Benedict observed; freedom of religion means more than just the freedom to worship.
One might say, as many have, that the Church’s withdrawal from health care would be a non-event. Look around: All nine of the last Catholic hospitals in New York City disappeared within just a year. Does not a 150 years of reaching out to all people in a moral atmosphere count? Recently, “Catholic Health West”, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the entire U.S. and one of the largest Catholic systems, decided to abandon its Catholic identity, rebranding itself as “Dignity” without “Catholic”. They have removed the founding congregations from their oversight roles, yet they claim they will maintain fidelity to their former governance philosophy. Really? And for how long? Will nonaffiliated, non-faith-based facilities have any grounds to refrain from paying for or even performing proscribed services? How likely is that?
Just as important, if we walk away or permit Holy Mother the Church to be pushed away, we are abandoning a charism that She has nurtured for more than 2,000 years. Recall that the Church invented the concept of a hospital in the first place as a manifestation of our Lord’s own example set throughout His earthly ministry. Moreover, once lost, the Church’s ability, Her standing, to infuse a moral dimension into the debate over providing only services and activities that accord with the inherent dignity of the human person—from conception until natural death—will be lost as well.
When I suggest that mandated payments may be only the beginning of the proliferation of practices that challenge Catholic moral teachings, please consider other current themes, for example:
• The use of fetal stem cells from aborted children for therapeutic research and treatments
• Rules on euthanasia—already legalized in some U.S. jurisdictions
• The use of opiate and other drugs to hasten death not relieve pain- stealth euthanasia
• Gender-selection abortions
• Mandatory abortion counseling
• Provision of “Plan B” abortifacients to women and even little girls
• Illicit withholding of hydration and nutrition at the end of life
• Non-physician abortions—recently being considered in Albany
• Abortions up to 24 weeks – 6 months! A decision also considered in Albany
• The instigation of the so-called “POLST”, Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (also “MOLST”, Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). This last is now legal in 11 states, with many more evaluating them. In simple terms, these “POLSTs” permit a physician, NP or PA to, in effect, sign an actionable medical directive, without a patient’s or his or her representative’s approval, ordering activities that are intended to hasten or facilitate death.
Clearly, my friends, the future of health care is obscure and changing. Yet, most certainly there is an appropriate place for the exercise of religious belief and for a certain moral compass to be alive and guiding. It is also clear that, as believers, we must prayerfully discern our duty to protect our Church’s ancient charism, to actively protect Her prerogative, guaranteed under the constitution, and thereby restore our hope, the hope I expressed earlier in this discourse that CHS and all Catholic health care providers are beginning a new century of development, not winding down an old, outdated concept. Our hospitals were built with the pennies of our people – before the vast growth of Federal and State bureaucracy. They were led and nourished by consecrated women and men who needed no administrator or regulator or enforcer to show them the right thing to do. Our institutions reflect that old America – the one we built with our hands and hopes and yes, with our prayers; the government, however draped with regulations and impositions, lacks the moral right to diminish our work and witness. The dignity of the human person is the core of humanistic, Christian health care. The ability to provide healthcare in this moral context is what has been placed in jeopardy. Don’t allow the secularists this victory it will only lead to more defeats. Together we need to stand for Human Dignity.
So let us stand together to protect Catholic Healthcare recalling that the right we assert, the activities we dare demand to avail, the morals we are commanded to live up to; each and all are –
“Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of Justice:…
Never forget, that those rights – later detailed in the 1st amendment and Bill of Rights are a Gift of Our Creator and thus immortal and immutable just as he is.
No one should dare infringe upon, limit or deny us the right to live a moral life – even in the administration of Healthcare and Medicine.
Above all the healing Arts – as practiced by faithful people for centuries ought not be twisted and mangled into tools of harm.
Thank you for your kind attention.