With HHS Battle Looming, New Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance Emerges

Peter Jesserer Smith | National Catholic Register

WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services prepares new sweeping mandates that could devastate Catholic health providers, five major Catholic organizations have created a new broad-based coalition that unites their expertise in law, medicine, ethics and public policy to protect and advance Catholic health care rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On Jan. 20, the Catholic Medical Association, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Catholic Benefits Association, the Catholic Bar Association, and the Christ Medicus Foundation launched the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance (CHCLA) with an introductory event at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington, D.C.

The alliance’s mission is to “support the rights of patients and professionals to receive and provide health care in accordance with the moral, ethical, and social teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church.”

According to the alliance’s website, membership in the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance is “open to anyone in the health care profession, whether individual providers, practice groups, hospitals or health systems.” It also adds that membership is “also available to any allied individuals or organizations that are aligned with the mission and vision of the organization, which may include the fields or areas of academia, law, business, insurance, and advocacy.”

Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, the coalition’s first episcopal advisor, told the Register that the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance is composed of “proven organizations that have produced great fruits in their particular areas,” and will be an asset to Catholic bishops and everyone looking for a “one stop shop” on Catholic health care issues.

“What unites all of them [in the alliance] is that they’re absolutely faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said. “They’re reliable, trustworthy, and you know you’re to receive information and assistance totally in line with the teachings of the magisterium.”

Today’s questions, he explained, involve how to deal with moral and ethical issues, such as abortion, euthanasia and gender dysphoria treatments; navigating questions surrounding vaccines or mandates; and business and legal issues in health care, such as complex insurance matters.

Bishop Conley said his hope is that the alliance “will be able to be a place for people to go, whether they be bishops, pastors, healthcare leaders, small upstart Catholic clinics.”

“We want to do everything we can to help those involved in health care to keep their eyes on Jesus and continue to teach and witness to the beautiful vision of the human person,” he said.

Franciscan Health Signs On

The alliance is gathering new members, and Jan. 20 announced its first hospital system member: Franciscan Health, also known as Franciscan Alliance. The Catholic health care system operates a 12-hospital health system in Indiana and Illinois, with more than 18,000 employees.

The Franciscan Alliance had successfully litigated for Catholic religious freedom in health care against the HHS transgender mandate. However, as the Register reported in November 2021, court filings uncovered by the Catholic Benefits Association showed HHS is working with activist groups to establish sweeping sex-discrimination regulations and dismantle hard-won religious-liberty protections in health-care law.

“Our sacred obligation to attest to and uphold the moral teachings of the Church considering the sanctity of life throughout its natural progression from conception to natural death is being challenged by those who wish to secularize all health care providers,” Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, the board chairwoman of Franciscan Alliance, said in a video announcing the decision to join the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance.

Sister Jane Marie explained Catholic health care serves “the poor and the elderly, the marginalized, and those without a voice [who] struggle to receive adequate care,” while the government itself has underfunded services to these groups. She said the new coalition will be their advocate, and a “beacon of light and truth.”

“Franciscan Alliance is proud to be a part of an advocacy forum that defends both the dignity of all persons and religious freedom,” she said.

Four Pillars of the Alliance

The alliance states its vision for renewing Catholic health care in the mold of the Catholic Church’s teachings and the healing ministry of Jesus Christ rests on four pillars of “ongoing evangelization, education, advocacy, and mutual support.”

Louis Brown, executive director of the Christ Medicus Foundation and its representative at the alliance, told the Register the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance foundations were laid in earnest more than a year ago, after Bishop Conley initiated conversations about the need for a united organization with this vision.

“We believe that the alliance will be an instrument of greater collaboration of best practices within Catholic health care,” he said. “We believe the alliance will be an instrument of assisting various Catholic health-care entities in growing in their Catholic mission and identity.”

Brown, who served the HHS from 2017-2019, added the alliance will also “provide an important voice for defending the civil rights of medical conscience and religious freedom at the federal level as well as the state level.”

Dr. Steven White, the alliance’s president, told the Register the new coalition is the result of a year of those prayers and conversations. White, a physician with 40 years’ experience and a past president of the Catholic Medical Association, said he is a “devotee of the social teachings of the Church.” He explained the Church’s social teachings can provide the framework for “a new spring time” in health care rooted in “the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of life,” as well as “subsidiarity and solidarity.”

White said the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance is already working on reform proposals, but also the pressing matter of how to respond to the looming HHS regulations, which he expected would be worse for Catholic religious freedom than what emerged during the Obama administration.

“We’re already planning how we’re going to respond to that with this united, clear, strong Catholic voice,” he said.

Building a United Movement

Dr. White is also looking for more allies to join in creating a “grassroots movement” of people who will demand “health care that’s in harmony with their own values and beliefs.”

“It is vitally necessary to push back the culture of death, and eventually to replace it with a culture of life, and a culture of love in the vocation of medicine, which is God’s will,” he said.

Joshua McCaig, founding president of the Catholic Bar Association and the organization’s representative on the Alliance, told the Register that the Catholic Bar Association recognized that the same ideology at work in the legal profession, to force Catholics to “leave their beliefs at home or at church,” was also at work in the medical profession. He said the Catholic Bar Association formed after Catholic legal professionals watched with alarm the attacks on U.S. Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett over her Catholic faith, and on other judicial nominees over their membership in Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus.

“This ideology is one of the main reasons that the Catholic Bar Association is supportive of the mission of this alliance,” he said. McCaig said his organization would bring the expertise of its members to the alliance, which will be working to “ensure that healthcare providers can practice their faith and still provide the type of care that is in accordance with their values and the teachings of the Church.”

“It’s our hope that this alliance, and the expertise brought by its members in areas of medicine, law, policy, advocacy, education, and bioethics,” he said, “will serve as a unique resource to healthcare providers, to patients, to the Church, and the country in general.”