21 December 2010

What Makes a Hospital or College Catholic?

It is relatively easy when speaking of a human person to say who is Catholic and who is not. Only a validly baptized person who is in communion with the local Catholic bishop and through the local bishop with the Bishop of Rome and the whole College of Bishops is a Catholic. But how does one know whether an institution is Catholic or not?

For example, lots of Catholics own businesses, but that doesn't make their businesses Catholic. So, what does it mean to speak of a hospital or a college as Catholic? Is it a matter of ownership? Of the religious identity of the patients, students, or customers? Or is it something deeper.

For the better part of a millenium, the Church has understood that associations of Catholic persons can be so closely bound to the Church's mission to the nations that by extension the institution sponsored by an association of Catholics can itself be called Catholic. And the two classic examples of this are in education and health care, because of their obvious connection to the ministry of the Lord Jesus and the law of love which binds his disciples.

But what happens when the identity of an association and its institutions begins to change? How is one to know when a once-Catholic hospital or college is no longer truly Catholic? This is a bit easier with an individual person: If Uncle Joe becomes an Episcopalian or an  atheist, he is no longer Catholic. But who is to say when a hospital has so far departed from the mission of the Church that it no longer is and therefore no longer can be called Catholic? The question of identity may be a complex one, but the question of who decides is actually quite simple: the local bishop.

The Bishop of Phoenix declared today that a once Catholic hospital in his diocese is now no longer in truth a Catholic institution and therefore may no longer be called Catholic. This will bring howls of outrage from professional dissidents who long ago ceased to believe what the Catholic Church believes about the usual controverted questions of the day, but faithful Catholics everywhere should be encouraged by the bold leadership of Bishop Olmsted. A hospital in which babies are murdered cannot be a Catholic hospital. A hospital in which men and women are sterilized is not a Catholic hospital. A hospital in which the irreformable teaching of the Catholic Church about the intrinsic dignity of human life is not respected is not a Catholic hospital, no matter how many nuns may be on the board of trustees. This is a massive problem in the United States, and examples of this sort of infidelity can be found in most of our dioceses. Let us hope that Bishop Olmsted's example will lead to other instances of bold leadership from our shepherds. The time for excuses and equivocations is past. It is time to take a stand.