The preservation and protection of the Catholic health care worker’s conscience is a benefit to everyone, said San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone in his keynote address to Phoenix-area health care professionals following the annual White Mass.
“The patient’s best interests are best served when their doctors can act with integrity,” the archbishop said.
The annual White Mass, which took place on Oct. 15 at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, is celebrated each year close to the Feast of St. Luke, patron saint of physicians, and brings together doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists and all Catholics who work in the health care field. The Mass and dinner, which was held at the Phoenix Country Club, are sponsored by the Catholic Physicians’ Guild of Phoenix. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted celebrated the Mass, and Archbishop Cordileone concelebrated along with Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, guild chaplain Fr. Ignatius Mazanowski, FHS, and other priests.
“It’s a physicians’ organization, but we welcome participation of all healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Jim Asher, guild president. “In this fight against the culture of death, really at the bottom of it, it’s about patient care. It’s the patients that are going to suffer from this.”
In his homily, Archbishop Cordileone said that every time period comes with its own unique challenges and St. Paul challenges us to proclaim the Word regardless of whether it’s convenient.
“How do we do this?” the archbishop asked, saying the answer was in St. Luke’s Gospel, to “pray always without becoming weary.”
“We become weary if we are inclined to stop praying because we do not feel the effect,” he said, “not sensing the inner peace we are seeking; not growing in virtue such as becoming more patient, or curbing bad habits such as gossiping; not perceiving an answer to our prayers such that there seems to be no improvement in what we are praying for; not sensing a greater presence of God or deeper spiritual experience.”
“Praying in order to ‘get something out of it’ is a trick of the evil one,” the archbishop added. “He wants us to grow weary and give up praying, because — one might say — if you don’t pray, you are easy prey.”
Archbishop Cordileone concluded his homily by noting that the Gospel passage is the only one designated for Mass that ends with a question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” St. Luke, he said, provides the answer.
“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? He will if we pray, and only if we pray,” said the archbishop.
During his keynote address, Archbishop Cordileone noted the inconsistency of those politicians who may be personally opposed to abortion but don’t want to impose their values because they’ve sworn to uphold the law by noting that many of them chose not to uphold or defend laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman. “Why did they allow their personal beliefs to affect their public duty, indeed, to the point of refusing to do their sworn public duty?”
He also said that the idea of imposing religious beliefs on others was strange since “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal” are part of the Ten Commandments, making a distinction between natural law and revealed truth.
“Wouldn’t it be equally logical for a public official to say, ‘I’m personally opposed to stealing, but it’s not right for me to impose my religious beliefs on others, so the law of the land must respect the individual’s right to choose to steal if the belief that stealing is wrong is not a part of their own religious beliefs.’”
Through the natural and moral law, self-evident right and wrong can be apprehended with reason alone. The role of the conscience in guiding our decisions presupposes a knowledge of what is right and wrong and is not a “subjective determination of such for oneself.” However, he said, there are forces in society trying to confine conscience to the private realm when it would lead one to act in accordance with an “inconvenient truth.”
“We are not asking Congress, for example, to pass a law requiring people to attend weekly religious services, or to cross themselves every time they pass in front of a Catholic church out of respect for the Real Presence,” Archbishop Cordileone said. “We are, however, asking the government to respect our God-given right to serve in accordance with our values just like everyone else.”
There are two fronts where the Church is fighting the battle for religious freedom — the freedom of Catholic institutions to carry out their missions without government interference and the freedom of individuals to act according to their own consciences.
“Given the significant role that Catholic institutions, religious orders, and individuals play in providing health care, it is vitally important that religious freedom be safeguarded everywhere … so we must remain vigilant in protecting the right of Catholic individuals and institutions to deliver health care in accordance with our moral principles — that, after all, is what got us involved in this aspect of life to begin with,” the archbishop said. “And let us not forget that the very concept of the hospital in the modern sense came from the Catholic Church.”
Dr. Tom Shellenberger, a surgical oncologist who attends St. Mary’s Basilica, said that as a doctor he does feel the pressure of the culture of death.
“Our employers are pushing us in ways we don’t want to go,” he said. “The Hippocratic Oath can’t exist if you have abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide. More and more our voice in the public square needs to be a part of that discourse.”
Alexa Williams, a medical student at the University of Arizona College of Medicine who attends St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, said that as a student she’s seen some of the issues that the archbishop addressed.
“It makes me concerned about the future, but his speech here tonight helps me feel like we don’t have to give up and give in to that culture,” she said.
Archbishop Cordileone said that Catholic physicians find common ground with health care providers of other religious traditions and none at all in safeguarding the rights of physicians to follow the dictates of their consciences when treating patients.
“As Catholics, we have much to be proud of in our 2,000-year history of providing Christ-like, patient-centered health care to the suffering, the neediest, and the abandoned,” he said. “Thank you for doing so in a way that witnesses to the integrity of your faith and of your profession.”