The Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance

Joseph Meaney, PhD, KM | The National Catholic Bioethics Center

There are providential moments when the time is right for significant events and movements to emerge. I see this very clearly with the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance (CHCLA).

Launched just before the 2022 March for Life in Washington DC, this initiative has come at a time when ethical and cultural challenges to Catholic health care abound. Several decades ago,

Pope Saint John Paul II had already made a key critique of the societal trends that he called a “culture of death” and contrasted them with the Church’s insistence on the immense dignity of the human person, which must be not only respected but deeply cherished, especially in the most vulnerable.

We are living in a period of terrible confusion about such key questions as the sexual identities of persons and the need to refrain from directly killing human beings for “compassionate” reasons. Biomedical scientific research and experiments that are frequently in news headlines today would have made good plots for the science fiction horror films of the past. These unprecedented challenges for humanity call for an outpouring of love, clearheaded bioethical reasoning, and concerted action to assist those in need.

The Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance seeks to renew Catholic health care in the direction of being ever more Christ-centered by promoting the moral and social doctrines of the Magisterium and the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs). CHCLA believes that health care professionals are called to participate in Christ’s healing and saving mission in a way that manifests His truth, love, and mercy.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, is chairing the CHCLA Episcopal Advisory Board. He was very much at the origin of the Alliance when he reflected on the need that he and his brother bishops have for a trustworthy resource to help them to exercise their pastoral office more effectively in overseeing the increasingly complex Catholic health care ministries in their dioceses. He said, “this Alliance brings together the best minds in medicine, law, business and theology.”

The CHCLA is a diverse alliance of institutions and individuals who have an important message for our society. All these founding organizations take a strong principled approach to promoting and defending the Catholic vision of Christ-centered care. The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) is proud to be in this elite group. We are joined by the Catholic Medical Association, the Catholic Bar Association, the Catholic Benefits Association, and the Christ Medicus Foundation. Catholic patients and Catholic health care professionals have the right and duty to strive for life-affirming health care that nurtures the body and the soul.

I believe the CHCLA will continue to expand as many see their beliefs reflected in the Alliance. For instance, conscience and religious freedom rights are bedrock ethical protections against terrible human rights abuses. Respect for all, but particularly the most fragile and least powerful, is fundamental to our civilization and Judeo-Christian heritage. Health care institutions and professionals must not be punished for refusing to perform procedures that violate the right to life or innate dignity of human persons.

It was a real joy to have Franciscan Health, a Catholic health care system from the Midwest, join the Alliance. Led by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, this hospital system puts prayer and Catholic principles first. They have challenged unacceptable government mandates in court and won. They have a beautiful commitment to the poor and sick in neglected locations. The bold and joyful spirit of these sisters and the health professionals they employ are a model for Catholic medicine.

We need to recognize the immense good that is quietly being done by so many Catholic health care professionals and groups. Their generous efforts should be supported and recognized. New initiatives and ideas can help even more people. The CHCLA will strive to protect and promote the Catholic vision of seeing and serving Christ in the sick and suffering. There is more to care of the sick than just scientific medical treatment. The supernatural motivation of Catholic doctors, nurses, and others can shine through in beautiful ways. Both body and soul can be broken, and true healing, the kind practiced by Jesus and His disciples, neglect neither.

Dr. Steven White, a former president of the Catholic Medical Association, is the first president of the CHCLA. He has for years treated patients in examining rooms with a crucifix on the wall. He frequently assists his patients spiritually as well as physically. Dr. White does not bring up spiritual issues first, but the trust-filled doctor-patient relationship, and his clear stance as a Catholic doctor, lead many to confide in him and ask for help. He refers quite a few patients to the doctors of the soul—priests—who bring healing through the sacraments of the Church.

The CHCLA wants to make this kind of holistic Christ-centered care more common and more appreciated, and the NCBC will be a vital contributor to this mission.