.- Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association (CHA), have exchanged letters affirming that the local bishop is the authoritative interpreter of religious and ethical guidelines in Catholic health facilities.
The exchange also looked ahead to further cooperation on pro-life and religious freedom issues.
Sr. Keehanâs Jan. 18 letter to Archbishop Dolan, the president of the U.S. bishopsâ conference, noted previous discussions with the New York archbishop and Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida concerning the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) which govern Catholic hospitals in the U.S.
âI 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,â her letter continued. âWe explain that a Bishop has a right to interpret the ERDs and also to develop his own ethical and religious directives if he chooses.â
The letter expressed the associationâs âsincere desireâ to work with the Church and individual bishops to understand clinical issues and to bring Church teaching to bear on them.
âWe 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,â Sr. Keehan continued.
She said her organization has âconsistently workedâ to help its members and others understand the ethical directives while also noting that the local bishop is their âauthoritative interpreter.â
In his Jan. 26 reply, Archbishop Dolan said it was âso helpfulâ for Sr. Keehan to reiterate the Catholic Health Associationâs commitment to âcomplete fidelity to Catholic moral teaching and practice.â
The acknowledgment of the local bishopâs place in interpreting the ethical directives is âa welcome and crucial componentâ in understanding authentic Catholic moral teaching.
In cases of ethical dilemmas there is a need for âappropriate consultationâ with medical professionals and ethical experts, the archbishop said. However, where conflicts arise between these experts and the local bishop, the bishop provides the âauthoritative resolution based on his teaching office.â
âOnce 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,â the archbishop explained. âThank you for making clear that the
CHA and the bishops both share this understanding of the Churchâs teaching.â
Archbishop Dolanâs letter foresaw times when it will be âvery important for the Church to speak with one voiceâ on issues like the right to life, religious liberty, and serving the poor and the needy. He specifically mentioned the Pitts-Lipinski bill that would âdefinitively resolveâ questions about the 2010 health care legislationâs funding for abortion services.
The protection of Catholic institutionsâ ability to âcarry out their mission in conformity with our faithâ is also important because âthere are increasing political and social pressures that are trying to force the Church to compromise her principles.â
Archbishop Dolan closed his letter by thanking Sr. Keehan for her clarification and her âpersonal dedicationâ to the Churchâs healing ministry
The exchange of letters comes after almost a year of conflicted relations between the bishops and the Catholic Health Association.
In December of last year, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Ariz. stripped the Catholic affiliation from a Phoenix hospital which performed a direct abortion. Sr. Keehan defended the hospital, whose parent company is a CHA member. She said the hospital had âcorrectly appliedâ the Catholic bishopsâ ethical directives.
Sr. Keehanâs organization had also backed the 2010 health care legislation despite the opposition of the bishops and pro-life groups who considered its abortion funding restrictions to be severely lacking.