In the last edition of The Mirror, I tried to shed light on the document outlining the guiding principles of a Catholic hospital, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, commonly referred to as the ERDs.
Of course, this is a major concern for me in the Diocese of Springfield – Cape Girardeau because of the three Catholic hospitals in Joplin, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau, as well as smaller Catholic Hospitals in Dexter and Mountain View. At the same time, our major Catholic hospitals, Mercy and Saint Francis, also sponsor many smaller Catholic clinics throughout southern Missouri in areas where there is difficulty in getting access to quality healthcare. I recall a letter sent to me by a doctor in Kennett, MO, asking if a Catholic hospital could be established there because the local hospital in Kennett had shut down. People in that area have to drive over an hour just to reach Cape Girardeau for healthcare.
The ERDs clearly outlines the role of a Bishop:
“Catholic healthcare expresses the healing ministry of Christ in a specific way within the local church. Here, the diocesan bishop exercises responsibilities that are rooted in his office as pastor, teacher, and priest. As the center of unity in the diocese and coordinator of ministries in the local Church, the diocesan bishop fosters the mission of Catholic healthcare in a way that promotes collaboration among healthcare leaders, providers, medical professionals, theologians, and other specialists.
As pastor, the diocesan bishop is in a unique position to encourage the faithful to greater responsibility in the healing ministry of the Church. As teacher, the diocesan bishop ensures the moral and religious identity of the healthcare ministry in whatever setting it is carried out in the diocese. As priest, the diocesan bishop oversees the sacramental care of the sick. These responsibilities will require that Catholic healthcare providers and the diocesan bishop engage in ongoing communication on ethical and pastoral matters that require his attention.”
There is a lot expressed in the above quote from the document.
Bishop David L. Ricken, the Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, WI, was one of the presenters at the Workshop for Bishops that I attended, sponsored by the National Catholic Bioethics Center. In his experience, he was very honest and said it took him several years to truly learn about and appreciate all the Catholic health ministries that were in his diocese.
Here in southern Missouri, we have a long-standing and rich history connected to our Catholic hospitals. Hopefully, all of us are aware of the sacrifice of the Mercy Sisters, the Franciscan Sisters, the Visitation Nuns, the Sisters of Charity, the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, who brought healthcare to southern Missouri. There were generations of sisters that dedicated their entire lives to the care of the sick. And, as “pastor,” in a time when religious sisters are no longer directly involved, it is my responsibility to encourage the faithful to greater participation in this ministry of the Church into the future. As “teacher” the moral and religious identity, along with the guiding principles of our faith must always be upheld by all those working in Catholic hospitals and in our diocese, where less than 6 percent of the population are Catholics, it is important that those who work in our Catholic hospitals, see themselves as part of the mission of Catholic healthcare. As priest, I am responsible for the sacramental life of Catholics who may desire to receive Holy Communion, anointing of the sick, or have their confession heard while in the hospital. And even more, to offer pastoral care for those who are not of the Catholic faith.
I am aware of the fact that we do not have a full-time priest in the pastoral care department at Saint Francis in Cape Girardeau. This also speaks to the urgent need for all of us to foster a culture of vocation and actively pray for and encourage vocations to the priesthood and the religious life from our local Church and more so in your various communities. I greatly look forward to filling that position in due time.
Bishop Ricken, in sharing his experiences, said that communication and building a good relationship with hospital administrators is crucial. If the only communication occurs when there is a crisis, then there is a vast room for improvement. The bishop is to partner with Catholic hospital administrators on how to improve healthcare, keep alive the charism, the unique spirit of the founding sisters who established the Catholic hospitals, and to always fight the tendency to want to tolerate exceptions to the ERDs. As I’ve said numerous times, if a Catholic hospital has to rely upon prescribing contraceptives in order to stay afloat, then it is already in deep trouble.
One of the best questions Bp. Ricken posed to us was, “What consequences does the often-brutal competition among healthcare entities, some of which are owned and operated by fellow Catholics, have on Catholic identity and other Catholic issues?” I don’t have an answer to this question but we must fight the “creep factor,” where we let down our guard, cease to be vigilant, and push the ERDs to the side. When that happens, immoral practices can creep into our Catholic hospital systems.
I ask that all of you pray for our hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, and all hospital personnel, who over the last two years have been tested in ways that we cannot begin to comprehend—many of whom have and continue to struggle with exhaustion. We are indebted to these men and women for their heroic service during this ongoing pandemic.
May the Lord bless and keep them all. Together let us faithfully extend the healing hand of God to all those who come into our hospitals.