Denver Archbishop decries “coercion” of Catholic hospitals in merger dispute

Denver Archbishop decries “coercion” of Catholic hospitals in merger dispute


Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, is pointing to coercion by pro-abortion groups and some state legislators in a local controversy over the merger of non-Catholic hospitals with a Catholic health care system run by the Sisters of Charity.

The arm twisting by the various opponents of the merger would have the effect of forcing Catholic hospitals into offering procedures that violate both human dignity and the hospitals’ religious mission, according to Archbishop Chaput.

The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System is seeking to buy two hospitals in the Denver area.  If the purchase is completed, the hospitals will follow Catholic ethical guidelines. 

Some have complained that the Catholic ethics code forbids contraceptive distribution and procedures such as sterilizations.  The code of ethics would also end the practice of medical abortions at the hospitals, which perform fewer than a dozen such abortions per year.

Critics of the merger have proposed two bills in the state legislature to hinder it.

In his February 22 letter, Archbishop Chaput defended the merger against its critics.

He noted that Catholic hospitals had served Colorado for more than a century.  He suggested that some critics, ignorant of this history, lacked both “memory and common sense.”  The hospital merger, the archbishop said, had sparked “unreasonable resistance” that should concern all Catholics.

In the archbishop’s view, the resistance to the merger centered on the two issues of financial control of the hospitals and distrust of hospitals with a Catholic identity. “The former is a matter for the Sisters and their attorneys.  But the latter is an issue that should trouble all Colorado Catholics,” Archbishop Chaput said.

He said that the health care provided in Catholic hospitals was inseparable from Catholic ethical beliefs. 

“The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth got into the healthcare business because of the Gospel; because of their Catholic vocation to serve the sick, poor and suffering. They can't compromise their Catholic beliefs without undermining their whole mission,” the Archbishop said.

Chaput summarized the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs), issued by the Catholic bishops of the United States, that describe the duties Catholic healthcare owes to patients and families.  The directives also prohibit abortion, physician-assisted suicide, direct sterilization, the withholding of food and water from patients, contraceptives, and some other procedures and treatments.

“These are not ‘new’ ideas. They've been part of the overall Catholic healthcare apostolate from the beginning,” Archbishop Chaput said.  “What's new in current debates about Catholic hospitals is the pressure from abortion and other activist groups, and some lawmakers, to coerce Catholic healthcare into offering procedures that violate its religious mission and basic human dignity.”

The archbishop emphasized that none of the Denver-area Catholic hospitals was owned by the archdiocese, saying he has no authority over hiring, firing, business strategy, board appointments, or routine internal policies. 

However, Archbishop Chaput said, “the local bishop does have the obligation to ensure that Catholic hospitals act in accord with their Catholic identity. Reasonable people will see very quickly that there is no such thing as ‘strictly’ or ‘loosely’ following the ERDs -- any more than a person can be strictly or loosely faithful in a marriage.  A husband is faithful, or he isn't.”

Archbishop Chaput concluded his letter with praise for Catholic healthcare and a caution against counterproductive legislation.

“There's a particularly dark irony in punishing the ministry of Catholic women religious in the name of ‘services,’ including ‘women's services,’ that destroy or prevent life,” the archbishop said.  “The Catholic identity of Catholic healthcare has always been the key to its heroic public service, both nationally and locally. If certain Colorado lawmakers now choose to interfere with that -- even indirectly -- through unwise and obstructive legislation, they'll be hurting no one but the people of Colorado.”

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