Clashing Values Undercut Healthcare

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I like to begin my mornings with “Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living,” a devotional based upon the sixth century writings of the man later known to Roman Catholics as St. Benedict. I find the passages inspirational in helping to frame each day.

So I was interested to read a recent complaint in this paper about my “bigoted hatred of Catholic Moral teaching.” It had to do with my recent columns protesting Hoag Hospital’s affiliation with St. Joseph.

Some readers have been put off by my reference to the Catholic hierarchy’s teaching as “libido-phobic.” I stand by the term but erred in not explaining it.

According to Article 6 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Catechism, self pleasure is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action, while birth control (excepting abstinence and the rhythm method) is forbidden. (The church has also resisted the use of condoms by sexually active men, contributing to the spread of AIDS.)

It considers homosexual acts to be “of grave depravity” – though, inexplicably, not depraved enough to warrant excommunication when a priest molests a boy or a bishop or cardinal covers up the crime.

To sum up, any sort of sexual expression outside heterosexual marriage is to be repressed. What else would one call such policies but libido-phobic?

While my criticisms are those of a Presbyterian, lay people and theologians within the Roman Catholic tradition are debating these same issues. Millions of Catholics are relying upon their consciences rather than bishops’ directives to practice birth control; gay Catholics are marrying. As the book “The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity” by Michael J. Lacey and Francis Oakley (Oxford University Press, 2011) states: “The important point is that in encyclicals, the catechism, or statements of bishops, more authority is claimed than accepted.”

So I argue that questioning the bishops’ directives is not “bigoted hatred” – it’s a discussion that can contribute to the health of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, its conservative wing – like that of the Presbyterian Church and any other religious institution — does not hold the patent on moral truths.

Which is why some local people of faith remain upset with Hoag’s board. When Hoag’s affiliation with St. Joseph was announced in February, the Daily Pilot reported that both hospitals would “retain individual identities and religious affiliations – Presbyterian and Roman Catholic, respectively.” That appears not to be the case.

Hoag’s ties to the Presbyterian Church date to its beginnings more than 60 years ago: The George Hoag Family Foundation and the Association of Presbyterian Members (APM) co-founded the hospital.Moreover, the Presbyterian Church in the United States upholds Roe v. Wade, though its position is “more nuanced,” according to W. Keith Geckeler, clerk of the Los Ranchos Presbytery, who wrote in an email dated August 7, 2013, that “The conversations at General Assembly have been going on for over 30 years…. As a result, there is a patchwork of positions that essentially favor access to legal abortions but do not encourage the practice. A woman’s right to access to abortion is clear; discouraging individuals from having one is also part of that policy.”

Hoag’s decision to abandon its Presbyterian values regarding elective abortion caused one member of the APM, Frank O. Andersen, a doctor, to resign. His letter to Bob Parker, St. Mark’s clerk of session, states: “I was present at a meeting of the APM when Dr. Afable assured us that the affiliation…would not impact the way medicine is practiced at Hoag Hospital…. In light of the above, I can no longer be part of an organization affiliated with Hoag Hospital.”

I believe in religious freedom and have no argument with those who choose to live under Catholic teaching. But respect for faith-based values should be reciprocal. Those of us who are not Catholic should not be subjected to that church’s regulations when we seek healthcare at a hospital that receives our tax dollars.

 The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s concern over acquisitions by Roman Catholic hospitals dates back several years. In 1999 it published a well-researched resolution, “The Curtailment of Health-Care Services Resulting From Hospital Mergers Involving Roman Catholic Hospitals,” that will interest anyone concerned about this trend. To received an electronic copy, please contact [email protected]


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