Archbishop Fights Health Plan Policy.

I have been trying to find the time to branch out to other topics on this policy blog, but material related to issues of the recently failed merger/acquisition of University of Louisville Hospital by Catholic Health Initiatives keeps rolling in. Yesterday it was reporting by Peter Smith in the Courier-Journal on local Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’s tough talk about the new federal law requiring employers offering health insurance to cover birth control pills, morning-after pills, and certain other basic necessary health services related to reproductive and womens’ health. The Catholic Church equates contraception to murder, although even the large majority of American Catholics and most of the rest of us do not agree.

The coverage requirements do not apply to churches or other purely religious communities such as convents, although presumably some (but not all) of the covered services would not be missed in such institutions. The new law only extends to entities such as hospitals and universities in the public marketplace that would hire non-Catholic employees.

Bishop Kurtz complains that, “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens,” and that his religious ancestors did not come to these shores “only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.” He complains further that the new law “has cast aside the first amendment … denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty.” The Bishop apparently fails to see any irony that by forcing employees or patients in hospitals like University Hospital to follow his religious dogma, that he is guilty of violating the freedoms of others, god-given or otherwise! Reverend Simmons, a minister and teacher of medical ethics in of Louisville says it better, “that the only freedom being cast aside is the “liberty to enforce their opinions on others.”

Bishop Kurtz is Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is said to be in line for higher offices here or in Rome. Perhaps he is interested in such advancement. If so he might be expected to take positions more in line with Catholic Church hierarchy. We are given some insight here into what would have happened had the University of Louisville and its Hospital actually partnered with Catholic Health Initiatives to run University Hospital and have some say over other University academic activities. I can’t imagine that very much professional leeway would have been extended as University physicians and trainees struggle to help people through some of the most difficult times of their lives. Kurtz’s language does not sound very “respectful” of the secular world in which Catholic institutions wish to compete economically.

There is a good bit of hypocrisy exposed in this business. We are told again that some local Catholic-sponsored Institutions cover contraception for their employees if it is prescribed by a doctor. I have written about this practice before. It is just one of the workarounds used to permit economic competition in the secular arena while passing off the moral dilemma to someone else.

The good Bishops are also highly critical of the national trend to honor same sex relationships. I cannot imagine that a CHI and Bishop-controlled hospital would look the other way as same sex partners (or unmarried multi-sex partners for that matter) sought to fill the supportive roles that one married spouse provides to the other in that relationship. We were told by those advocating the former proposed merger that there would be no problem. I do not believe it for a moment.

Some friendly advice for the Catholic Bishops. First of all, get over the fact that there are legitimate reasons why government at any level has the right to require you and other religious organizations to follow the laws of society. For example, it is illegal to impregnate children or practice polygamy under the guise of religious belief. It is illegal to expose children to snakes in a church. It is illegal to allow a child to die of a treatable disease just because a church would rather pray for the child. If the Catholic Church had paid more attention to your legal (and moral) requirements to report child abuse, perhaps you could have avoided this most recent of unforgivable moral blots on our civilization. Hiding in a cloak of religion does not excuse you from following the same laws as the rest of us. Lets face it, no one save a bigot would sit still if a Catholic hospital refused to hire a person of color. Nor should any of us allow a Catholic Hospital to refuse to hire a person based on their sexual preference or identity. If you open your doors to the public for healthcare services, you play by the rules of the public and you follow best medical practices. Not even the Catholic Church can define and select which “rights” you choose to exercise.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Feb 3, 2012