Archbishop Chaput says Catholic medical workers should face hostility with courage

Archbishop Charles Chaput speaks at a Knights of Columbus gathering.
Archbishop Charles Chaput speaks at a Knights of Columbus gathering.


Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered an address to health care professionals in Houston on Tuesday, inciting them to “have courage” and “speak up” in defending their Catholic faith within the workplace, especially as governments encroach on the rights of religious believers. The Denver archbishop challenged all Catholics to live the faith, saying, “there's no room in American life for tepid and easy faith.”

Hosted by St. Thomas University, the archbishop gave the Archbishop J. Michael Miller Lecture for Medical Professionals on March 2 at the Hilton Houston Plaza – Medical Center.

Archbishop Chaput opened his address by discussing the primary task of health care professionals, which he traced to the ancient Hippocratic Oath.

“That's your mandate, whether you're a doctor, nurse, pastoral care worker, or administrator. Your purpose is to serve the life and health of the human person; to help and protect; to do no harm,” he stressed. “The common ground that links Christian revelation with the founding philosophy of medicine is exactly this: the sanctity of the human person.”

“Unfortunately we live in a time when both of those simple words – 'human' and 'person' – have disputed meanings, and the idea of the 'sanctity' of human life is sometimes seen as little more than romantic poetry,” he noted. “And this cultural confusion, fueled by trends in our science and technology, is magnified in the current debates over health care reform.”

This confusion has also led to increased instances of hostility towards Catholics in healthcare, Archbishop Chaput said. “In Colorado, to name just one example, lawmakers recently tried to block the sale of two local hospitals to a large Catholic hospital system unless the Catholic system agreed to demands that it arrange for abortions, sterilizations and other so-called women's services.”

“This was a fairly bald attempt at bullying, and it failed.” Although the state attorney general sided with the Catholic system and the sale was eventually approved, Archbishop Chaput explained to his audience that “hostile lawmakers remain in the state Assembly. They haven’t given up. And they continue to work on undermining the conscience rights of religious believers, communities and institutions.”

“The question we should ask ourselves is this: What kind of a society would need to coerce religious believers into doing things that undermine their religious convictions -- especially when those same believers provide vital services to the public?” the archbishop said.

The recent statements of Massachusetts senate hopeful Martha Coakley, further underscored the willingness of government officials to force Catholics to sacrifice their beliefs, he noted, recalling a radio interview in Jan. in which Coakley, being asked her views on Catholic health care workers potentially having to administer abortifacients, said “You can have religious freedom, but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

“Embedded in that remark is a bias worthy of a 19th century Nativist bigot,” the archbishop charged. “And it captures the situation many Catholics now face across the country. In effect Catholics, because of their backward religious beliefs, should exclude themselves – or should be excluded – from some of society’s important health-care positions.”

At the root of Coakley's remarks is a belief that families, churches, synagogues, and fraternal and charitable organizations—any group that is not part of the government—ultimately derives its rights from the government. “And following that logic to its remote but real conclusion, human dignity and religious freedom are not finally God-given and inalienable rights, but benefits that government may distribute or withhold depending on its priorities,” he explained.

Archbishop Chaput also commented on the ongoing federal legislative health care debates, saying that “the health-care reform proposals with any hope of advancing now in Washington all remain fatally flawed on the abortion issue, conscience protections and the inclusion of immigrants.”

“But the even harsher reality is this: Whether we get good health-care reform or not, legislative and judicial attacks on Catholic health care will not go away, and could easily get worse.”

In consideration of the challenges health-care workers face, Archbishop Chaput offered his thoughts on what the Catholic response should be.

“The first thing all of us need to do – and I mean bishops, priests, deacons, religious, mothers and fathers, mechanics, lawyers, shopkeepers, business executives and doctors – is to ask God for the gift of honesty,” he said.

“We need to examine our hearts with real candor. And we need to ask ourselves how 'Catholic' we really want to be. If the answer is 'pretty much' or 'sort of' or 'on my own terms' – then we need to stop fooling ourselves, for our own sake and for the sake of the people around us who really do believe. There’s no more room in American life for easy or tepid faith.”

“If on the other hand,” the prelate continued, “you’re one of the many in Catholic health care – too many to count, starting with the people in this room – who see the Church and her teachings as the ministry of Jesus himself, and seek God in your vocation, and see the face of Christ in the suffering persons you help; then you are what the soul of the Catholic health-care vocation has always been about.”

“In God’s plan,” he pointed out, “you have a beautiful and demanding vocation. God asks you to be servants of life and guardians of human dignity through your healing and care of others. It’s a noble calling, and it’s threatened by trends in our society which are magnified in the current debate over health-care reform.”

“Have courage,” he urged. “Trust in God. Speak up and defend your Catholic faith with your medical colleagues. Commit yourself to good and moral medicine. Get involved and fight hard for the conscience rights of your fellow Catholics and their institutions. Remember the Hippocratic Oath. Dedicate yourselves again to being truly Christian and deeply Catholic health-care professionals.”

“You and I and all of us – we’re disciples first,” Archbishop Chaput concluded. “That’s why you gave your heart and all your talent to this extraordinary vocation in the first place. Remember that as you go home today. Use up your lives for the glory of God and the dignity of your patients.”

“You walk in the footsteps of the Healer of humanity and Redeemer of history. In healing the sick, proclaim his Kingdom with the witness of your lives.”

To read the full text of Archbishop Chaput's address, visit:

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