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“It is not just about sterilization, abortifacients, and chemical contraception… It’s about religious freedom, the sacred right, protected by our constitution…”
– Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, October 29, 2012, responding to the President’s HHS healthcare mandates.
Cardinal Dolan, as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2010-2013, continued:
“The President announced…the choking mandates from HHS would remain – a shock to me, since he had personally assured me that he would do nothing to impede the good work of the Church…that he considered the protection of conscience a sacred duty…
“There was still no resolution about the handcuffs placed upon… Catholic charitable agencies…just because they will not refer victims of human trafficking, immigrants and refugees, and the hungry of the world, for abortions, sterilization, or contraception.”
The Catholic Church is the oldest institution in the Western World and the originator of “hospitals.”
Just as the Syrian Church did in the East, the Catholic Church in the West pioneered putting into practice the words of Jesus:
“I was sick and you visited me,”
“Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto me.”
Though some ancient cultures had some superstitious medical practices, they were primarily for the royalty and wealthy.
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Healthcare for the poor traces its roots to Christianity.
In the 4th century, under the ministry of St. Jerome, a wealthy Christian widow named St. Fabiola gave money to build a hospital for the poor in Rome and cared for the sick herself.
Around the same time, St. Basil distributed food to the poor of Caesarea, then built a poorhouse, hospice, and hospital.
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In 325 AD, the Council of Nicea directed that every city having a cathedral should also have a hospital, as people traveling on pilgrimages would often arrive ill.
The word “hosp” is Latin for “traveler,” the root word of hospital, hospitality, host, hostel, and hotel. Hospitals were staffed by religious orders.
In the 6th century, the Benedictine Order had every monastery establish an infirmary.
With the invasion of Islam, hospitals needed to be defended, giving rise to the order of Knights of Hospitallers.
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The Catholic Church founded the first universities. The Benedictine Monastery in Salerno, Italy, founded the oldest and most famous medical school.
Charlemagne decreed that hospitals which had fallen into disrepair should be restored.
In the 1300’s, the Bubonic Plague, or Black Death, ravaged Europe, killing 75 million people.
Crops were left standing in fields as there was no one to harvest them.
With often no one to bury the dead, an order of Catholic men called ‘Alexian Brothers’ collected the bodies and gave them a Christian burial.
They also ministered to the dying who were banished from the cities.
More Catholic religious orders formed to care for the sick, nurse the ill, change bed pans, and start leper colonies, such as:
-Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (founded 1633);
-Sisters of St. Joseph (founded 1650);
-Sisters of Mercy (founded 1827);
-Little Sisters of the Poor (founded 1839);
-Sisters of Providence (founded 1843);
-Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine (founded 1851);
-Fr. Damien’s colony for lepers in Hawaii (founded 1864);
-Sisters of St. Mary (founded 1872);
-Sisters of the Little Company of Mary (founded 1877),
-Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (founded 1883);
The nuns’ habit developed into the nurses’ outfit with its distinctive cap.
Some Catholic religious orders also collected alms and sailed to North Africa to ransom Europeans who had been kidnapped into Muslim slavery.
One of the oldest hospitals in Europe was the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris, founded in 660AD.
It was staffed from about 1217 on by Sisters who followed the Rule of St. Augustine.
In 1633, the Sisters of Charity began helping at the Hotel-Dieu of Paris.
They then established hospitals for the poor throughout France.
In that day, the wealthy had doctors visit them at their homes.
By 1789, there were 6,000 Sisters of Charity running 426 hospitals in France, and more in countries across Europe, such as Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Silesia.
During the atheistic French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, mobs broke into the Sisters of Charity’s mother house.
The nuns refused to deny their faith and embrace the new secular order, so the government shot them in front of firing squads and beheaded them with the guillotine.
In 1793, France’s new anti-Christian government attempted to disband the order.
The order survived and, in the 19th century, spread healthcare for the poor across the world to such countries as Portugal, Hungary, England, Scotland, Ireland, North and South America, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Abyssinia, and China, and to Jerusalem.
In 1809, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton brought the Sisters of Charity to the United States.
In 1830, Sisters of Charity established the first hospital west of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri.
At the request of President Abraham Lincoln, over 200 Sisters of Charity served during the Civil War on battlefields and in military hospitals.
Over 250 Sisters of Charity served during the Spanish-American War of 1898, where diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, and malaria killed more soldiers than combat.
Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, hospitals were also founded by Protestant Christian denominations, most notably Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians.
Whereas Catholic healthcare began by focusing more on the hereafter, being motivated to prepare a person’s soul for death and meeting God, Protestant healthcare focused more on the here and now, being motivated to clean up the slums in crowded cities and send medical missionaries to undeveloped countries.
Wealthy individuals donated and provided in their wills to continue these religious ministries of charity.
Both Catholics and Protestants pioneered free healthcare for the poor ‘uninsurable’ because they were motivated by Christian religious convictions.
The New York Times wrote, August 20, 2011, that Catholic nuns were trained to “see Jesus in the face of every patient.”
Mother Teresa reaffirmed this with the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, who were dedicated to “Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor.”
They began by gathering the sick from the gutters in India and bathing them, clothing them, and ministering to their needs.
Mother Teresa stated:
“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”
It is ironic that in the government’s takeover of healthcare it would force providers to abandon the very religious convictions which created healthcare.
The Judeo-Christian religious convictions which motivated people of faith to selflessly provide free healthcare for the poor for over a thousand years are now considered insignificant by utilitarian central planners.
The Catholic Church is the largest religious denomination in the United States and is the nation’s largest medical care provider with 624 hospitals and 499 long-term health care facilities.
Ten of the 25 largest health-care networks in the U.S. are Catholic affiliated, including:
-Catholic Health Initiatives-78 hospitals
-Ascension Health-67 hospitals, Daughters of Charity, Congregation of St. Joseph, Sisters of St. Joseph
-Trinity Health-44 hospitals, 379 Clinics, Catholic Health Ministries
-Catholic Healthcare West-41 hospitals, Sisters of Mercy
-Catholic Health East-34 hospitals, 9 religious congregations & Hope Ministries
-Catholic Healthcare Partners-33 hospitals, Sisters of Mercy, Daughters of Charity
-Providence Health & Services-26 hospitals, Sisters of Providence, Sisters of the Little Company of Mary
-Marian Health System-25 hospitals, Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother
On May 21, 2012, the Archdiocese of New York filed a historic Federal lawsuit against the HHS mandate:
“In order to protect our religious liberties from unwarranted and unprecedented government intrusion, the Archdiocese of New York has filed suit in federal court today seeking to block the recent Health and Human Services mandate that unconstitutionally attempts to define the nature of the Church’s religious ministry and would force religious employers to violate their consciences.”
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated October 12, 2012, regarding a supposed “exemption” to the HHS mandate:
“Last night, the…statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees…
“That exemption…does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown Hospital’…or any other religious charity.”
Georgetown Hospital was founded in 1898 as part of Georgetown University.
Georgetown University was named for George Washington.
It was founded JANUARY 23, 1789, by John Carroll, America’s first Catholic Bishop.
Regarding freedom of conscience, Bishop John Carroll sent a report to Rome in 1790:
“In 1776, American Independence was declared, and a revolution effected, not only in political affairs, but also in those relating to Religion.
“For while the thirteen provinces of North America rejected the yoke of England, they proclaimed, at the same time, freedom of conscience, and the right of worshiping the Almighty, according to the spirit of the religion to which each one should belong…”
Bishop Carroll continued:
“Before this great event, the Catholic faith had penetrated two provinces only, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In all the others the laws against Catholics were in force.
“Any priest coming from foreign parts, was subject to the penalty of death; all who professed the Catholic faith, were not merely excluded from offices of government, but hardly could be tolerated in a private capacity….
“By the Declaration of Independence, every difficulty was removed: the Catholics were placed on a level with their fellow-Christians, and every political disqualification was done away.”
Regarding religious freedom, Bishop John Carroll wrote in the National Gazette, 1789:
“The establishment of the American empire was not the work of this or that religion, but arose from a generous exertion of all her citizens to redress their wrongs, to assert their rights, and lay its foundations on the soundest principles of justice and equal liberty…
“An earnest regard to preserve inviolate forever, in our new empire, the great principle of religious freedom.”
John Carroll was the cousin of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, the longest living of the signers, and the wealthiest man in America.
John’s brother, Daniel Carroll, one of two Catholics to sign the U.S. Constitution, provided the land where the Capitol is built and was elected a Congressman.
John’s nephew, Robert Brent, was Washington, D.C.’s first mayor, reappointed by Jefferson and Madison.
John Carroll founded the nation’s first Catholic seminary and parochial school system, and persuaded Elizabeth Seton to start a girls’ school in Baltimore.
In 1776, the Continental Congress had John Carroll accompany Ben Franklin to Canada in an attempt to persuade that country to join the Revolution.
Esteem for Bishop John Carroll led several States to extend equality to Catholics.
Bishop Carroll wrote:
“Freedom and independence, acquired by…the mingled blood of Protestant and Catholic fellow-citizens, should be equally enjoyed by all.”
Bishop Carroll wrote of Catholics who fought in the Revolution:
“Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens.
“They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men, in recommending and promoting that government, from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order and civil and religious liberty.”
Assuring protection for freedom of conscience, President Washington wrote to Bishop Carroll, March 15, 1790:
“America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence…
“All those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government.
“I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality…”
“And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed…
“May the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.”
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.