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WASHINGTON (January 31, 2011)—In response to questions raised about the authority of the local bishop in the interpretation and implementation of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), conversations have taken place among Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president of the Catholic Health Association (CHA); Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, who is a member of the CHA Board of Directors. Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth, episcopal liaison to the CHA, was also part of the consultation. Following those conversations, Sister Keehan and Archbishop Dolan exchanged letters to underscore the agreement evident in their conversations.
In her January 18 letter, Sister Keehan affirmed to Archbishop Dolan CHA’s acknowledgement of the role of the local bishop as the authoritative interpreter of the ERDs in such Catholic facilities. In a January 26 response, Archbishop Dolan thanked Sister Keehan for making clear that CHA and the bishops share this understanding of the Church’s teaching.
The full text of each letter follows.
Dear Archbishop Dolan:
Thank you again for taking the time to talk with Bishop Lynch and me about CHA’s position regarding the ethical and religious directives. I was pleased to hear of your appreciation of the role of Catholic hospitals in providing the healing ministry of Jesus to our country.
I was happy to have the opportunity to assure you that publicly and privately, CHA has always said to sponsors, governing board members, manager and clinicians that an individual Bishop in his diocese is the authoritative interpreter of the ERDs. We explain that a Bishop has a right to interpret the ERDs and also to develop his own ethical and religious directives if he chooses.
CHA has a sincere desire to work with the Church and individual Bishops to understand as clearly as possible, clinical issues and bring the majesty of the Church’s teaching to that. We are absolutely convinced that the teaching of the Church, in combination with a clear understanding of the clinical situation serves the people of God very well. CHA has consistently worked to help its members and others have a general understanding of the ethical and religious directives, while at the same time, noting that the local bishop is the authoritative interpreter in that diocese of the directives.
Thank you for your efforts and your support of Catholic healthcare.
Sister Carol Keehan, DC
President and Chief Executive Officer
Dear Sister Carol,
Thank you very much for your letter of January 18, 2011, following our recent telephone conversations. It was so helpful to hear you reiterate the commitment of the Catholic Health
Association to fulfilling the Church’s healing ministry in complete fidelity to Catholic moral teaching and practice during our call with Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, a member of the CHA Board. Your acknowledgement that the local bishop is the authoritative interpreter of the Ethical and Religious Directives in his diocese is a welcome and crucial component in understanding what is authentic Catholic moral teaching.
As you, Bishop Lynch and I discussed, any medical case, and especially one with unique complications, certainly requires appropriate consultation with medical professionals and ethical experts with specialization in the teaching of the Church. Still, as you have reasserted, it is the diocesan bishop’s authentic interpretation of the ERD’s that must then govern their implementation. Where conflicts arise, it is again the bishop who provides the authoritative resolution based on his teaching office. Once such a resolution of a doubt has been given, it is no longer a question of competing moral theories or the offering of various ethical interpretations or opinions of the medical data that can still be legitimately espoused and followed. The matter has now reached the level of an authoritative resolution. Thank you for making clear that the
CHA and the bishops both share this understanding of the Church’s teaching.
As we look to the future, Sister Carol, there are many moments on the horizon that could present a challenge to both Catholic health care and to the USCCB. But these are also opportunities for us, as a Church, to reaffirm our commitment, especially to the poor and needy, as well as to our Catholic respect for the right to life, and for religious liberty. It will be very important for the Church to speak with one voice on those occasions, and I would welcome the continued support of the CHA for these issues.
Two areas already come to mind: first, the Pitts-Lipinski Bill. Now that the Patient Care Act is being discussed again, we have an opportunity to definitively resolve the outstandingquestions about its inclusion of funding for abortion services and for plans that include abortion.I am so pleased that the CHA has expressed its support for this bill as stated in your letter toCongressman Pitts dated January 24, 2011, and that our staffs have recently met and are workingtogether on this and other policy matters. We look forward to CHA’s collaboration with thebishops and the USCCB staff as we advocate for the Bill’s passage and implementation.
The second area will be to protect the ability of our institutions to carry out their mission in conformity with our faith. As you so eloquently described on the phone, there are increasing political and social pressures that are trying to force the Church to compromise her principles.
The Church has felt these pressures in many areas, but for the present I am gravely concerned about the problem of illegitimate government intrusion in our health care ministries. For example, significant and immediate concerns exist regarding the threats to conscience that we already identified while the Patient Care Act was under consideration. These were unaddressed in the final law. We bishops have some specific ideas on how to address this problem, and we would welcome your suggested solutions as well. For the sake of the common good and to assure the moral and doctrinal integrity of the exercise of the apostolate, we should work together to confront this and similar threats to conscience.
Again, Sister Carol, I thank you for your letter of clarification and your personal dedication to the healing ministry of Christ and His Church. I renew to you my profound respect for all of those involved in this apostolate, so close to the heart of Jesus, and am especially grateful for the contribution of our consecrated women religious.
Faithfully in Christ,
Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Keywords: Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Sister Carol Keehan, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Catholic Health Association, CHA, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, ERDs, letters, local bishop, authoritative interpreter
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