The Vatican’s head delegate to the World Health Assembly said that while the Church supports universal health care access, states must respect and welcome the efforts of the private sphere in achieving that goal.
In each nation, “the progress towards universal coverage cannot be the effort of the state machinery alone. It requires support from the civil society and communities, whose contribution to health service delivery is fundamental,” Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski said in his May 23 address to the World Health Assembly.
The assembly is the forum through which the World Health Organization is governed by its 194 member states. It is the world's highest health policy setting body, and is composed of health ministers from member states.
In his address, Archbishop Zimowski said that states should “generously acknowledge and support initiatives” aimed at helping those in need, including those that come from faith-based organizations.
The Catholic Church, he noted, is helping to provide affordable, universal health coverage all around the world and, most often, in an amicable partnership with the state.

At the same time, Archbishop Zimowski cautioned governments to respect the principle of subsidiarity and called on them to respect the legitimate autonomy of Church’s health care institutions and the freedom of conscience of Catholic healthcare workers.
“The efforts and contribution of such organizations and institutions towards universal access, merit the recognition and support of both the state and the international community, without obliging them to participate in activities they find morally abhorrent,” he stated.
At the global level, the Catholic Church is a major provider of health care, a fact that the archbishop noted comes from a commitment to charity. He informed the assembly that the Church runs “over 120,000 social and health care institutions worldwide,” and is in “many developing countries, one of the key partners of the state in health care delivery, providing services in remote areas to rural low-income populations.”
According to the Catholic Health Association, the Church operates 12.6 percent of U.S. hospitals and accounts for 15.6 percent of hospital admissions and 14.5 percent of all hospital expenses. In addition, more than 400 health centers and 1,500 specialized homes are operated by the Catholic Church.
However, the U.S. Catholic Church is fighting a mandate from the Obama administration that requires employers to offer insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.