FEAST OF THE VISITATION
In loving honor and devotion to the Mother of the Church, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and the holy Evangelist and Patron of Physicians and Healthcare Professionals, Saint Luke, I invoke peace and good for all those to whom these words are directed.
In recent weeks, various serious concerns have been expressed regarding the association of Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare in La Crosse with various personnel and practices that seem to be incompatible with Catholic moral teachings and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services (ERD).
Because of the gravity of the concerns, the local and national media coverage, and the many questions that have been raised, I find it necessary, as Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, to offer the following clarifications. I do so having considered carefully the concerns raised and in dialogue with the administration of Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare as well as meaningful and fruitful discussions with the leadership of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA), the Catholic Religious Order of Sisters who sponsors the hospital.
First, to dispel all doubt, as Bishop of La Crosse, I am unambiguously, unswervingly, and unabashedly pro-life in all circumstances, without exception, and have a history of being such. I have always been and will always be committed to being decidedly and proudly pro-life. I call upon all the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse and all those of good will to continue to spread the Gospel of Life, in faithfulness to the natural law and to our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the Bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, I have been entrusted with the duties of teaching, sanctifying, and jurisdiction on behalf of the People of God in the Diocese. In accord with my duty to teach and to safeguard faith and morals, the situation at Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare requires me to clarify that a Catholic institution is one that has received a Catholic identity. That which defines an institution as Catholic is its designation by association with a Catholic entity, its backing or sponsorship by a Catholic religious institute (in this case the FSPA), and/or its adherence to a particular body of laws or policies. This Catholic identity is formalized usually through the recognition or designation of an institution as a “Catholic” entity by the local Bishop.
Yet beyond mere formal designations, Catholic institutions cannot be “Catholic” just in name only. Rather, as a Catholic entity, each must strive continually to conform itself to what it holds itself out to be so that it is truly Catholic not only in designation or recognition but also in reality, in concrete policy, and in actual practice. This must be so in all aspects. Action must follow upon being.
As the Bishop of La Crosse, I have the grave responsibility of protecting the Catholic identity of those institutions in our diocese privileged to bear the name “Catholic,” whether parishes, schools, charitable organizations, or healthcare facilities. The safeguarding of the Catholic identity of these institutions is a duty that I do not take lightly since these are outward expressions of the truth that we believe about God, human beings, and our duties to both.
Catholics, and even non-Catholics, who come to a Catholic healthcare institution should be able to expect from the institution and from healthcare providers conformity to the Catholic identity of the institution. Catholic women, in particular, who come to our Catholic healthcare institutions, should be able to have the reasonable expectation that they will be treated in accord with the Catholic mission of these institutions, namely, that they will receive care that is consonant with Catholic teaching and within the scope of the ERD. In coming to any of our Catholic healthcare facilities, they should be free from any pressure, counseling, or referrals towards immoral practices such as direct sterilization (cf. ERD 53), artificial contraceptives or contraceptive practices (cf. ERD 52), the killing of a pre-born child through abortion (cf. ERD 45), or genetic counseling not in accord with Catholic moral teaching (cf. ERD 54). When such care is denied or disallowed, there exists a breach of promise, an alienation of trust, and a serious inconsistency with the Catholic identity of the institution.
Thus, it is a scandal, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2284-2287, when any Catholic healthcare institution associates itself with individuals who perform or counsel at the institution practices incompatible with the Gospel of Life and Catholic moral teaching. This is so particularly when the cooperation is formal but, as ERD 71 stipulates, the “cooperation which in all other respects is morally licit, may need to be refused because of the scandal that might be caused.”
It must be said that the recent concerns regarding the association of Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare with possible abortion counseling or referral is scandalous. It must be noted, however, that abortions have not been performed in the past, nor will they be tolerated in the future at Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare. Counseling for abortion, referring for abortions, or offering abortion as an option for treatment, is in direct contradiction with Catholic moral teaching and the Gospel of Life. Mayo Clinic Health System—Franciscan Healthcare presents itself and publically identifies itself as a Catholic institution. Doctors and healthcare professionals in Catholic healthcare facilities are expected to uphold the teachings and mandates presented by the sponsoring religious institute and those established by the competent Church authority.
As Shepherd of the Diocese of La Crosse, I soberly call upon all involved to protect vigorously the implementation of the ERD’s in accord with Catholic teachings through regular evaluations and reviews of policies, procedures, and internal actions with the established Ethics Committees who work in collaboration and consultation with me as the local Bishop.
Entrusting ourselves to Our Lady of Guadalupe, I pray she might intercede for us before our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may all safeguard the Catholic identity of our healthcare institutions and so that we may all be firmly committed to the Gospel of Life.
+William Patrick Callahan
Bishop of La Crosse
31 May, 2014
Feast of the Visitation