Why Health Care Is the Next Big Identity Fight

This post originally appeared at CatholicVote.org.

The Catholic identity confusion in higher education led to Ex Corde Ecclesiae … which sowed the seeds of today’s (still early) springtime in Catholic colleges.

Here are ten reasons why, today, thinkers like these are so focused on health care as the next big Catholic identity battle.

10. Errant Catholic Hospitals Are Losing the Public. In the new Gallup Poll 61% of respondents see “few or no circumstances” in which abortion should be legal. Health care providers who think differently are no longer trend followers: They are becoming misfit defenders of death.

9. Errant Catholic Hospitals Are Losing State Houses. State legislatures across the land are gearing up to build stronger pro-life laws. “Kansas now is a culture of life state and we’re not looking back,” Gov. Sam Brownback said at Benedictine College’s commencement this year. “This year the Kansas legislature passed four pro-life bills, and I’m going to sign every one of them.” Our students are working on post-Roe strategies.

8. Humanae Vitae Dissent Is Forcing the Issue. In Humanae Vitae, the Church provided a timely and prophetic way to stop the contraceptive revolution that cheapened sexuality, downgraded marriage and devalued human life.  But dissenters blocked that play so effectively that they have made it hard for Catholic hospitals to even claim their own faith. Benedictine College’s own Father Matthew Habiger, OSB, former president of Human Life International, cites figures suggesting that the number of Catholic OB/GYNs who prescribe contraception approaches 99%.

7. Conscience Rights Are Eroding. In 2009, Cardinal Francis George used strong language about Obama’s opposition to conscientious objector rights for health-care workers, saying it “could be the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.” Obama blinked and, at Notre Dame, promised conscience-rights protections. This year he broke that promise.

6. Boomers Face Pressure to Die. The pressure to end elderly lives prematurely has been growing for years. The perverse incentives of social security costs, Medicare costs, and increased bureaucratic involvement in health care is making a bad situation worse ― precisely when baby boomers are facing old age.

5. Hospital Mergers Make for Unquiet Marriages. Catholic hospital mergers take the tangled web of Catholic identity issues, and tie them in knots. And mergers haven’t slowed down.

4. The Culture of Death is Cutting-Edge, Precisely When Catholic Identity is Dullest. New medical technologies require a new breed of moral theologian who understands science, is committed to the Church’s moral principles, and is willing to make tough distinctions ― some which are hard for the world to accept and some that are hard for Catholics to understand. (And easy answers like “only adult stem cells work” increasingly won’t cut it.)

3. Bishops Are Still Gaining Their Footing. Bishop Olmsted in Phoenix famously stripped a Catholic hospital of its Catholic affiliation. Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann shared with Benedictine College students the possibilities and difficulties in that approach. New U.S. bishops’ directives help ― and are the kind of approach Pope Benedict sees as a model for Catholic hospital systems worldwide.

2. Catholic Health Association at Odds With Bishops. In every battle there is a provocation. In the Catholic identity battle in higher education, it was the 1967 Land O’Lakes Statement in which Catholic universities firmly rejected all human and divine authority … except the numerous secular accrediting agencies and academic associations to which they submit wholly. In the Catholic health care battle the provocation may have been the health care reform debate, when the Catholic Health Association seemed to follow corporate healthcare interests instead of the U.S. bishops.

1.  Government-run Health Care Lacks Compassion. It takes either great depravity or great bureaucracy to make human beings act in radical contradiction to their nature. (In fact, the principle of subsidiarity warns that when you separate actions from responsibility, you become less human.) Doctors fear that government-run health care will drag the United States toward the same place it has dragged other countries.

What to do about it? Promote Catholic identity in public health care. And that means both the doctrine of the Church, and the love for patients. (Here is one way Benedictine College is doing that.)


Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.