Monday, February 13, 2012

The Committed Catholic

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro began her epistle in the New York Post with the following howler: “As both a committed Catholic and a strong advocate of women’s health, I want to applaud the recently released guidelines for preventive health coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The guidelines Mrs. DeLauro approved have since been redrafted.

Mrs. DeLauro approves birth control, she said, because “We know that improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality and helps to reduce unintended pregnancies.” No kidding. The kind of “birth control” commended by Mrs. DeLauro and Planned Parenthood would, of course, include contraceptives, abortion and other means of fetal destruction in the Planned Parenthood medicine cabinet. Birth preventatives prevent births, and the decline in birth rates leads to reductions in “unintended pregnancies’ and “infant mortality.” If you employ means that cause pre-birth mortality, you will have less infant mortality because you will have fewer infants.

The Catholic Church to which Mrs. DeLauro is committed is also concerned with women’s health and infant mortality, which is why the church runs hospitals.

Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford was founded in 1897 and opened formally the same year under the direction of Mother Ann Valencia, a French nun of indefatigable energy and faith. The founding and early history of the growth of the hospital was celebrated – the word is here used deliberately – in an historical novel written by the late Father John Bond titled “So Falls The Elm Tree.” The early history of the hospital is inseparable from the history and motivations of its hands on founder, Mother Valencia.

Because she was French, Mother Valencia knew very well what a hospital should be. The word itself is derived from the Old French “hospital” a shelter for the needy. The original meaning of the word is preserved in the English spinoff “hospitable.” At first, the word signified a “guest house,” later a house where then poor were cared for. The word did not become associated with our understanding of a modern hospital, a place where the sick are treated, until much later in the 16th century.

From the founding of Saint Francis Hospital to 1908, when Ellen O'Flaherty, M.D., became the first woman to be named to Saint Francis staff, Mother Valencia, in her halting English, established a school of nursing and facilitated the chartering of Saint Francis by the State of Connecticut (1899), witnessed the blessing of the cornerstone on Collins Street (1900), oversaw the construction of a new building that provided an additional 52 beds (1901), marshaled the Sisters of Saint Francis in fighting a deadly scarlet fever epidemic in Hartford (1903), oversaw the construction of yet another building that provided 120 more beds (1904) and welcomed the first baby born in the hospital’s newly established obstetrical service (1906). Mother Valencia died in 1937 after having overseen every significant development in the life of Saint Francis Hospital.

If Hollywood were truly interested in making films celebrating the life of heroic women, it could not do better than to fashion Father Bonn’s inspiring book into a film that might go far in explaining how and why Mrs. DeLauro’s Roman Catholic Church founded hospitals. Hint: It was not to facilitate abortions or to provide “Morning after pills” to desperately confused women.

Catholic hospitals and other outreach institutions of the church, such as soup kitchens and Catholic Schools, are part of the religious mission of the church. The entire Church, lay and cleric, is called upon to care for the poor and wretched. The distinction between the clerical church and the larger Catholic Church of lay people who are, no less than clerics, called upon by their faith to love their neighbors and care for those who cannot fend for themselves is a false distinction. Religion is a matter of the head and heart, not a matter of brick, stone and clerical administration. The real Catholic Church is the communion of the faithful, living and dead. Why should anyone suppose that a Catholic nurse working in a Catholic or non-Catholic hospital is less Catholic than her local priest?

The Orwellian titled “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” as interpreted by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and heartily approved by Mrs. DeLauro, a committed Catholic, forced Catholic Hospitals such as Saint Francis to provide its employees with “health services” that include the dispensing of “morning after” pills and fetal killing medicines that Planned Parenthood itself regards as abortion inducing chemicals.

Meeting a wall of opposition to what was regarded by many American voters — some Christians, some Jews, some Muslims, some ornery constitutionalists – as an attack on what might be called the historic American consensus on religion and government, the Obama administration regrouped around a proposition that may all along have been its default position: The administration now intends to press insurance companies to provide for “free” payment for health services that some Christians, Jews and Muslims find offensively irreligious. Just as war is diplomacy by other means, so Mr. Obama’s readjusted attack on religious ethics, by the expedient of laundering objectionable payments through insurance companies – itself a dubious constitutional process -- is a continuation by other means of a long simmering secular war on primary religious institutions.

The moral – the reader will please excuse the language – of what appears be an unremitting assault on religious institutions in the United States might be summed up in two propositions: If at first you don’t succeed in destroying the historic balance between church and state in this the home of religious freedom, try, try again; the way to breach the impassable wall of Troy is through a destructive Trojan Horse, a seeming gift, in the belly of which are secreted opposition forces that, gaining entry by hook and crook, will open the gates to the besiegers. Some so-called Catholics, passionately committed to the destruction of their church, may most quickly be found leading the charge from the horse’s rear end.
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