BALTIMORE — U.S. Catholic bishops on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved revising directives that eventually would make it easier for Catholic health care providers to work with secular providers while maintaining doctrinal positions on birth control, abortion, euthanasia and other health issues.
In a 213 to 2 vote, with one abstention, the 2014 General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an action item to move ahead with the revision to a section of the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which will need to be brought back to the bishops in draft form at a later date.
“The medical field is advancing so rapidly, it’s very important for us to address these issues as well [as] for the sake of our people,” said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and chairman of the conference’s committee on communications. “It’s not something that’s adversarial.”
The last time the section of the directives was revised was 2001.
According to the conference, the Vatican outlines principles “to ensure that Catholic healthcare institutions neither cooperate immorally with the unacceptable procedures conducted in other healthcare entities with which they may be connected nor cause scandal as a result of their collaboration with such other entities.”
As hospitals and medical providers have merged, a gray area has developed between secular and religious providers.
Federal health care mandates also have prompted challenges and court cases, notably the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court determined that the administration cannot force closely held private companies to pay for contraception in their health insurance plans if it violates their religious beliefs.
“I stand to say how important it is from my point of view that we do undertake this study because of what has happened in the last 12 years in health care,” said Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York. “Twenty years ago we were talking about cooperation today we are involved in such things as buying physicians’ practices, [and] different groups are looking at what we’re doing and who we can work with in insurance coverage. It makes it really very important for us to do the best we can to illuminate Catholic principles in cooperation.”
In other matters, the bishops also approved Tuesday the first English translation of the ritual book “Exorcisms and Related Supplications,” and gave the go-ahead to draft updates to the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities.”
“The current document was approved by the body of bishops in 1995, but since 1995 a number of significant developments in medicine and research have taken place,” said Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey. “Our goal is to ensure those with special needs have easy access to sacraments with appropriate accommodations.”
This can include people who cannot receive Holy Communion because they have celiac disease and cannot eat gluten — and thus the Eucharistic wafer — and Catholic faithful who might have a form of autism or other disability that limits verbal speech, to name just a few examples, said Bishop Serratelli, chairman of the Conference’s committee on divine worship.
“I can tell you, brothers, there are still horror stories of people disabled in various ways rejected by the church because of ignorance or bad will,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas. “That’s one thing we don’t have to do at all. It could be [we were] nervous about these things that’s why this could be of assistance to us [in providing] sacramental life for our brothers and sisters.”