Posts Tagged ‘Healthcare’

RAVENS, ORIOLES AND BISHOPS

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

I realize it has been some time since my last posting here and I will admit to a certain “desert” experience during which I felt neither the muse nor the motive. However, that brief period is now over and I am ready again to take “pen to hand” (well, not exactly literally) and share some thoughts with you again.

“A Sea of Bishops” at Mass on Monday morning. Thank you to Lisa Hendey, a Catholic blogger also at the Mass and who covered the USCCB meeting, for tweeting this photo and for graciously allowing me to post it. You can check out more photos and her tweets recapping the meeting by clicking here.

I am currently killing time in Baltimore awaiting my return flight to St. Petersburg after the fall meeting of the bishops of the US (USCCB). Admittedly, there was both some soul-searching and some navel gazing following the recent elections, but the work of the Church continues. Among the public actions taken, I think a special message on “preaching” written for bishops, deacons and priests who are privileged to have this special task was probably one of the best things which we accomplished during the two days of public meetings. It is a challenging document, sober in its analysis of both the challenge and efficacy of preaching. In my humble opinion, it is one of the better pastoral items coming from the USCCB in recent years. When published, I intend to give a copy to all of our priests and deacons but for those who cannot wait, Rocco Palmo of the “mother of all ecclesial blogs” has the text in its entirety and up even before the USCCB’s own website. You can read it by clicking here.

There is always a lot of “business” and “busyness” accompanying our annual meetings since the annual budget for the conference and the priorities and plans, in the case of this year’s meeting, for the next three years must be passed. Cardinal Dolan’s Presidential address on the need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation was different than what we usually hear and built upon Pope Benedict’s homily that the new evangelization must spring from the twin foundations of reconciliation and charity. The representative of the Holy Father to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, addressed us thoughtfully on a number of matters including the care of the bishops for his priests.

It was hard at times for me to concentrate as there is a major challenge awaiting me at home in the diocese. With somewhere near 1,500 employees whose health care plan is administered by United Healthcare, the battle between they and Baycare, whose doctors and hospitals many of our employees use, is approaching a decisive hour when major decisions will have to be made. I can not envision being a part of a healthcare plan which does not include St. Anthony’s and St. Joseph’s Hospitals, but Baycare is demanding a dramatic increase in reimbursement fees which will also impact the already stretched and tight budgets of our parishes, schools and institutions. Nowhere in seminary training, then or now, were we trained how to deal with a “Clash of Titans.” November 30th is the drop dead date after which some major decisions may have to be made by my administrative team.

Tampa is in the news in a tragic and unflattering way these days, as most of you know, which leads me to share some concluding thoughts on fidelity, marriage, ordination and consecration. I don’t know if it is just me, but it seems that infidelity has brought down too many role models in the last decade, be they athletes, religious leaders, politicians, and now, high ranking leaders of the military. That marriages fail is an understandable reality and fact of life. That dalliances prevail is a tragedy of modern life. Cheating on one’s firm commitment undermines the stability and trust not just of the promises, but also of the major institutions of society and the people we elect, chose or admire who hold those positions. Fidelity, where art thou? It seems to me that fidelity is in, shall we say, a “skyfall!”

With that last paragraph, you might wish that I re-enter the desert where there are no birds, no ravens, no orioles, and no bishops!

+RNL

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Photo taken from Google Images

With all due respect to Dickens, living in the bay area and reading its two newspapers reminds me of the opening lines of the great Dickens novel whose title I have borrowed for this post. “It [is] the best of times, it [is] the worst of times.” Thank God there is still a choice of newspapers in this area and there can still be a diversity of editorial opinion. The Tampa Tribune has twice editorialized on the public position which I and the Catholic bishops of the United States have taken in light of the decision of the Obama administration not to broaden the exemption from the HHS regulations which would in effect force many of our Church institutions to provide contraceptive services (including abortifacients). The Tribune got it right and I am grateful to them for the care and precision with which they have approached this matter. To read the first editorial, click here. To read the second editorial, click here.

The Tampa Bay Times has twice editorialized against the position I have taken, in the first instance accusing me of wishing to create a “theocracy” and just today writes “Lynch mistakingly claims this is a matter of church-state separation” and then the paper adopts the specious argument that we are only a protected “church” when we are at prayer or worship, and not when we are caring for the sick, housing the homeless, teaching our faith to our children, etc. Wow! Let some future administration trample on the paper’s first amendment rights of protection of free speech (for example, the ability to hide the identity of sources) and one would hear a similar outrage emanating this time from the Times.

The establishment clause and religious liberty are two pillars of our Constitution and the first amendment. The present administration has deliberately and purposely given short shrift to both in search of votes in November. Other papers in the nation which usually embrace the Time’s postions have allowed their columnists and op-ed writers to present precisely (and perhaps more clearly than I) the position which the Catholic Church is taking at this moment in history. The Washington Post has recently printed two significant articles in opposition to the administration’s position (see the Michael Gerson article and the E.J. Dionne article) as has The New York Times. The legal argument has been made clearly and convincingly in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Not so our Times. Thus, in addition to our own Tampa Tribune there are many editorial and reporting voices out there who understand what we are attempting to conveyto Catholics and others worried about the growing intrusion of government into free exercise of religion.

As I indicate in my letter to be distributed and/or read in all our parishes (read it here in English or Spanish), I did not choose this moment which just happens to be an election year nor did my brother bishops. President Obama did and HHS Secretary Sibellius. It is generally acknowledged that within his own White House family, there were a number of voices including the Vice-President and his departing chief-of-staff who counseled against this. He almost promised Cardinal-designate Dolan in November that some broadening of the regulations would happen. I believe it would be wrong for me as a bishop to endorse any candidate for political office but it is entirely appropriate for me to point out error and dissimulation when I see it manifest in an act of Congress or of the Administration. But no administration in the history of this union has acted against my Church and its mission and work like this one. One is left with the impression that one must either buy their whole package or be left at the station waiting for a train to return which will never come again. Ask the women who we used to be able to help who were victims of human trafficing in the sex trade which operates in this country but who we can help no more (and the same agency that denied our continued participation also acknowledged that we were perhaps the best and most effective agency previously working in this area). All because we can not provide access to abortion to these women.  Ask those looking to adopt children in Illinois who Catholic Charities used to be able to give help and hope to but no more. Is it unfair to ask on whose watch all this has happened?

Finally, The Tampa Bay Times would do well to study the decision in the Hosanna-Tabor case of a few weeks ago in which a unanimous Supreme Court (including Justices Sotomayor and Kagan) decided against the administration in a religious freedom case which looks very much like what may wind up before the same court again if these regulations are allowed to stand. Congress may intervene but more than likely this battle will be won in the courts because the very freedoms we espouse are constitutive of our nation’s founding principles. So let others make fun of our religion, of our Church, of our core values and teaching all they wish. Amazingly perhaps to others,  I find the vast majority of Catholics whom I am privileged to serve equally worried about these recent events and more and more fiercely determined to make their positions known.

For further updates about how you can take a stand and let your voice be heard, please stay tuned to this blog and to the Diocese of St. Petersburg website at www.dosp.org. To read PDF versions of the letter to parishes, click here for the English version and here for the Spanish version.

+RNL

AN AMAZING ANNOUNCEMENT

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

*Originally posted on the Diocese of St. Petersburg website on Friday, January 20, 2012.*

The White House announced this afternoon that there would be no change in the regulations issued previously by the Department of Health and Human Services which would require the Diocese of St. Petersburg to change its existing health care plan that presently covers all employees (including priests and religious) to include provision for contraceptives and contraceptive and aborti-facient procedures. These prescriptions violate our institutional and personal consciences and I have warned before that this bishop and this diocese will not accept nor provide them. The callous disregard for long held personal and ecclesial beliefs augurs a chilling moment for believing and practicing Catholics in these United States. It is my hope that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will immediately challenge these regulations in court and right up to the highest court and that a stay of their implementation will await final judicial disposition. Our forbearers left Europe because of religious intolerance such as this and founded this nation promising religious tolerance and freedom.

I will write a letter to be read and/or distributed in every parish in the diocese next week-end and I hope that no Catholic voting adult will soon forget this egregious and insensitive intrusion by our government into our rights of conscience.

+RNL

HEALTH CARE LAW MAY “THWART” BOTH YOUR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND YOUR FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE PROTECTION

Thursday, December 1st, 2011
Attorneys in the congregation taking the Oath of Attorney during the Red Mass.

Taking the Oath of Attorney during the Red Mass. Photo courtesy of Maria Mertens.

Yesterday at beautiful Sacred Heart Church in Tampa we celebrated the annual Red Mass invoking the blessings  of the Holy Spirit on all judges, lawyers and clerks in our area. The Mass derives its name not from the color of vestments which the priests wear, but when the custom originated in Britain many centuries ago, the judges all wore red robes, hence “the Red Mass.” Yesterday was also the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle and since all the apostles suffered a martyr’s death, we always wear red when we remember them. The largest assembly of lawyers and judges in my time gathered to pray for the gift of divine guidance through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have great Catholic lawyers and judges and it has always been a pleasure to be with them. Each year on the Sunday prior to the first Monday in October opening of a new session of the Supreme Court, many of the nine justices travel to Washington’s St. Matthew Cathedral for what may be the largest and most important Red Mass held in the nation.

In my homily I chose to bring up a possibility arising from Health and Human Services regulations which bother me deeply precisely because I and many others find them   violative of the religious liberty assured us by the first amendment to our Constitution and also of our personal moral consciences. These regulations will apply to the implementation of the soon to be fully implemented federal health care law.

The Diocese of Saint Petersburg has approximately 2300 employees who participate in a generous health care plan as part of their employment. While it covers almost everything, it excludes contraceptives, abortifacients, sexual enhancements like “Viagra”, etc. The first draft of the regulations for implementation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services mandated these and more services which I and others think violate the freedom of religion of our Church as regards procedures which we believe to be not in keeping with God’s law.  Further, if a person is required by law to provide, perhaps in a hospital emergency room situation procedures violative of their individual conscience( in the past they have  been exempt because of conscience concerns), they would be forced by this law to do so. Reacting to the first wave of complaints from the Catholic Church the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services modified the regulations slightly to exempt only Catholics working for a Catholic employer (other religions with serious moral concerns would also be included). Alas, I would still be required by law to provide the services to non-Catholic employees. What kind of sense does that make?

But there is an even larger problem for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It is self-insured and our plan is only administered by a health care agency. Therefore the diocese by this law is an insurance company and all insurance companies must provide these services with currently no exemptions allowed. There are no exemptions to even include the situation outlined above. If the argument focused on abortion, a matter of public morality since the life of another person is involved, I suspect many more people would carry the fear which I have about this exercise of regulatory authority but because it seems to focus on contraception, a matter of private morality, lots of people do not understand what is at stake here. My genuine concern is that it is simply the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. In my homily I outlined perhaps the only option left for the diocese as an employer if these regulations stand and believe me, colleagues in ministry and service and I will experience a marked loss of health care insurance coverage. A Church cannot be forced to violate its teaching, do something which is possibly immoral, and stand idly by and watch our Catholic doctors, nurses and aids forced to perform procedures which are both against their conscience and previously protected.  That’s what involved in this and there is considerable opposition to the position of the Church coming from Planned Parenthood and other organizations which see this moment as an opportunity to close the conscience clause exemption which they have long despised. If you don’t believe me, read the blogs of those other groups. No one in yesterday’s congregation has the power to fix whats wrong with the Affordable Health Care and Patient Protection Act of 2010. Only the President of the United States and his Secretary for Health and Human Services can do that but a gathering for Mass such as yesterday’s does provide me a forum for vetting a serious question of the intersection of law and morality and learning from those far more skilled at interpreting and applying the law than myself. From the reactions which I immediately received and throughout the day yesterday by e-mail and personal contacts, posing the matter of religious freedom was appreciated and as you can see below, I asked nothing of those present but to listen, reflect and pray.

Here follows my homily to those attending the Red Mass. I believe you will find it simply a pastor raising a moral v. potentially legal dilemma before people far wiser than I about the law, individual rights, and the danger to something many deeply cherish and love love about our country to date.

Distinguished Judges, members of the bar, clerks and friends of the courts

            It is an honor for me to join you once again in our annual invocation of the Holy Spirit for each of you in your respective and awesome responsibilities as dispensers and arbiters of justice in this time and place. Realizing fully my own need for the gift of wisdom from on high, I am certain that it is this gift of God and this gift alone which unites us this afternoon in this place and for this celebration.

           “Come follow me” is the invitation, which our Lord extends to Andrew, the apostle whose life and death the universal Church celebrates today, and to his brother, Simon. Such an invitation is also a generic call to all of us to follow Christ in the path of discipleship and service to humankind. No one living near Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee that day would have thought a thing about it because both men were simply uneducated fishermen. They were not antiquities forerunners of Rhodes scholars or McArthur fellowship award winners, they were what they were, fishermen.  But in addition to three years spent in the close company of the master teacher, Jesus, they would with nine others gather in one room and await the infusion of wisdom, courage, understanding, knowledge, piety, counsel, fortitude and fear of the Lord, all gifts of the same Holy Spirit to whom and for whom we pray today. The Lord heard their prayers, gave them the gifts necessary to shape, form, and lead His people then and  until His Son returns again in glory.

            Today in many ways attempting to follow the Lord requires that each of us know our limitations and return from time to time to seek divine assistance. I am sure that you can say the same as I do each morning when at prayer: “Lord, I do not know what is in store for me today but I am sure that today will be unlike any other, give me grace and strength, wisdom and patience.” The words of St. Paul in the first reading are assuring to those of us who realize that we were not born with all of life’s answers: “no one who believes in him will be put to shame. . . .For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. “

            Life on planet earth, the North American continent, and the United States has over time become exceeding complex and challenging and matters which the framers of our Constitution could never have envisioned now propel daily discourse. It is incumbent upon religious leaders like myself to present a consistent moral vision faithful to the law of Christ and the teachings of the Church and upon members of the judiciary and bar to navigate the tricky waters of law and precedent. But both of us are bound by vow or oath to be faithful to something, which must stand the test of time, be it creed or constitution. Occasionally our paths cross and less frequently but still occasionally they collide. I have such a fear at this moment in time.

            You probably have heard that the Catholic bishops of the United States have focused a significant amount of attention in the last few months on the matter of religious liberty and the rights of individual conscience. The matter is headed, of course, to the courts bit it is not that direction which I wish to call to your respectful attention today. Rather I think you should know that the Catholic Church through its bishops are in conversation with the Administration on certain published regulations of the recently enacted Health Care Plan which we find both unacceptable and worse still which we see as frontal attacks on our liberty of freedom of conscience. As employers we would be forced to provide in health care plans services and procedures which clearly are contrary to our beliefs and teachings and individual Catholics would be required to participate in procedures which in the past have enjoyed conscience protection in the law. So far the Administration has not publicly blinked on any of these matters of deep concern to us. If they fail to shift in their present positions, then 2300 employees of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will lose their health care coverage which they have come to treasure and rely upon – I would simply give them what we would have paid for their healthcare and tell them they have to look for coverage elsewhere. For the first time in my adult life, I foresee the possibility of some form of civil disobedience and I am extremely uncomfortable at even the hint of such a thing.

            We just celebrated the national feast day of Thanksgiving. The Puritans and Pilgrims of Massachusetts and the Catholics of Rhode Island and Maryland came to these shores precisely to found and build a nation which would respect and honor religious belief. The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion reflects those foundational principles. Our founding mothers and fathers fled and escaped precisely what my Church and other denominations are coming to see now as assaults on their freedom of religious exercise and conscience protection. As difficult as it is for me to understand the reluctance of Christian Scientists to seek medical assistance, it is at the heart of their creed, their faith, their belief and I would fight to protect their rights in conscience. I hope others will see what we find at stake in this moment in history. One federal judge in California has said that the guarantee of “religious freedom” and lack of interference from the government pertains only to what we do on Sunday in our Churches and Friday nights in our Synagogues. All else is subject to government regulation. Dear sisters and brothers, we need the Holy Spirit badly.

            You heard the Gospel of Matthew a short while ago and its retelling of the call of the apostles. There is a different account to be found in the Fourth Gospel of John. There Andrew sees Jesus and asks, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “come and see.” After spending a few hours with Jesus, in John’s Gospel Andrew then quickly seeks out his brother Simon and says, “we have found the Lord.” Today we pray that the work of the Lord can be found in our system of laws and their administration, in the women and men of the bar, rooted in justice and desirous of proclaiming liberty to all. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Pray for your country and its leaders. It is not too late to fix what needs to be fixed.

+RNL

WHEREIN DO WE CAPTURE THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

I know, I know, we have no such thing as a “king” in these United States but then Shakespeare had no such thing as a “president” when he was writing plays and sonnets either. So I have inverted titles to make this point: in his famous commencement speech given at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, President Obama said this: “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

We shall soon learn how committed the President is to drafting “a sensible conscience clause” as his administration ponders whether or not, I as an employer, must provide contraceptive opportunities as a part of the health care program which I (the diocese) provide to all our employees. That’s the present assertion of the draft language in a portion of the health care bill which deals with services which must be provided to all employees. The President of Notre Dame University, the same man that President Obama praised for his wisdom and leadership in the same speech quoted above, joined by twenty-eight other college and university presidents has said that to do so would violate his (their) individual as well as institutional consciences. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. bravely went on to say that unless a conscience clause exempting religious institutions from providing such services was included, then he would cease to provide Notre Dame employees health care coverage and would be forced to remunerate them so that they would have to purchase a health plan individually and on their own, resulting in a loss of services and coverage and an escalation of health care costs. I would do the same here in the diocese. What a sad day that would be.

In the closing days of September, I asked all of y0u to write to Secretary Sibelius and ask her for conscience protection for those of us who hold religious beliefs that may be at variance by the letter or intent of the health care legislation. Although I am sometimes at a loss to completely understand everything about Christian Scientists, they are a Christian Church and they deserve protection for their religious beliefs and I would fight for them as I hope they would fight for us in this regard. Final wording has not yet been forthcoming from the US Department of Health and Human Services but it can not be far away. Then and only then will we be able to capture the conscience of the President and his administration in providing for an religious conscience exemption from requirements that violate people’s moral code and system of beliefs.

Should we be worried? I believe so. I feel the same attack on religious liberty and its exercise in this nation that drove the founders to flee their native lands and establish this government, for the people, by the people and Under God, is suddenly front and center here in my country. Migration and Refugee Services, a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been denied a grant from the government because we do not provide contraceptive assistance to the newly arrived whom we have helped resettle with great distinction over decades, especially the Vietnamese following the war. Catholic Relief Services has been told “shape up or ship out” because we do not distribute or advocate condom use in the countries where we serve the poor. Now I must confess that during the administration of President George W. Bush, USAID which is a program of the State Department was at one time going to deny CRS any PEPFAR funds because we did not advocate and teach the use of condoms. Someone woke up and smelled the coffee of the potential risk of failure of the new anti-AIDS retroviral program and made CRS a lead agent in initially nine countries so the pressure is not just a reflection of one party. Catholic Charities in Illinois has been stricken from receiving any state funds for any program because of their conscience belief on gay and lesbian adoptions. What a shame! Today the question is whether those  in office now will also “smell the coffee” and allow us the conscience protection so strongly embraced by our nation’s founders. We will see, will we not and only then will be capture the conscience of the king!

+RNL

CONSCIENCE CAUSES

Friday, September 16th, 2011

There is no misspelling in the title of this blog. I wish to address the issue which will be before my sisters and brothers in the Diocese of St. Petersburg this week-end and is before the United States Department of Health and Human Services for another week before a crucial and critical decision will be reached. First, I will restate a personal feeling which I have had for a number of years, many of them spent working with the government in Washington. That feeling is that I do not trust government officials either in the legislative or executive branch who in an effort to appease religious groups promise conscience exemptions for matters which are violative of a person’s clear religious beliefs. Most of the time they seldom hold up over the long haul. However, hope springs eternal and we as Catholic Christians have a duty and responsibility to ask government to protect our rights derived from our fundamental religious beliefs.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has already decided that the provision of contraceptive services to women will be included in the basic health care services arising from the new law enacted by Congress last year and signed by the President. There was a period for public comment and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and individual bishops like myself weighed in asking that these services not be covered. They decided to the contrary and little can be done about that now. Now the issue is that the department is receiving comments on whether or not religious employers must be forced to provide a service to its employees which is against its teaching and whether or not a Catholic health provider can be forced to provide the same. In the diocese, our employees have a very fine health care plan as they will tell you but contraceptive medicines and services are not provided. That can change with a ruling from HHS. I believe twenty-one states already mandate even the Church as employer to provide these services to women who are employees but the federal government never has required it. Additionally, even though in some states Catholic health care providers must provide the service, the federal government has not required it. So all embracing is the Affordable Care Act of 2010 that without our speaking out and asking for an exemption, for the first time it may become the law of the nation.

I believe strongly that we should stand our ground in order to avoid the next step which is to rule out all conscience protection for those who wish nothing to do with abortion. It is quite simply “the camel’s nose under the tent.” We have been assured that there is no right to an abortion to be found in the new health care law and two federal judges have said as much. But times and actors change in this drama and its behooves us to secure the future. Please follow the directions in your parish bulletins this week and next and write or e-mail Secretary Sibelius as soon as possible.

GREAT SCOTT!

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).

Governor Rick Scott meets with the Florida Bishops

What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.

On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.

We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.

The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.

Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.

The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.

Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.

+RNL

 

CELL TALK

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Recently and amazingly a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Judge Royce Lamberth, ruled that two scientists who appeared before his court seeking injunctive relief would indeed suffer immediate and non-reversible harm if he did not place a hold on embryonic stem cell research while the constitutionality and ethics of the procedure were under judicial review. Embryonic stem cell research has been approved by President Obama and federal funds directed to it. The two research scientists convinced the judge who ordered a temporary halt to further research pending the outcome of the larger case. On Tuesday, not unpredictably, a three-judge federal appeals court over-ruled their lower court brother and voted to allow the federal government to keep on financing embryonic stem cell research. Editorially this morning THE NEW YORK TIMES crowed about the appeals court ruling, seeing it as providing relief for victims of Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries and other serious ailments. There are two things horribly wrong with this line of argumentation.

Embryonic stem cell harvesting precludes human life from coming into existence and is a form of abortion, against the law of God and also the laws of humankind for most of our history. There is little argument about the fact that taking embryonic stem cells takes human life. The second never mentioned fallacy of the proponents of embryonic stem cell research (Florida voters should take note of the positions of the candidates for the U.S. Senate on this issue) is that after about a decade of the deadly embryonic stem cell research, there has yet to be one success, one result which would sustain the hope of those with these horrible diseases. Bluntly put, immoral means leads in this instance to totally unsuccessful end.

There is real promise to be found in adult stem cell research, however, and there are already successful applications arising from the research. One sign of hope is occurring here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and involves St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa. Our Church allows and strongly encourages adult stem cell harvesting and research. A company begun in Pittsburgh by two venture capitalists with an uncompromising commitment to what is both ethical and moral has opened a laboratory in Clearwater for adult stem cells. Stemnion, Inc. began its life with research grants from the United States Government, the United States Department of Defense, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a few other sources to produce ethically and morally a protocol for more rapid and complete healing of severe burns. Archbishop Donald Wuerl while still bishop of Pittsburgh visited Stemnion’s Pittsburgh lab and blessed it and those engaged in the search for a real cure (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Article). The results today have been very positive and now the company awaits FDA approval to begin marketing its findings. To continue its forward looking and thus far successful research, Stemnion approached the Catholic Health Association and its President, Sister Carol Keehan, DC, to held them find a source for adult stem cells taken from the placentas of women who have just given birth. She suggested they contact St. Joseph’s Womens and following the statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which said, “We must pursue progress in ethically responsible ways that respect the dignity of each human being. Only this will produce cures and treatments that everyone can live with” St. Joseph’s Women’s began their Placental Tissue Donation Opportunity. Stem cells from adult tissues, umbilical cord blood and placenta can be obtained without harm to the mother or child and with the expectant mother’s prior consent and when the birth is by C-section only, the placenta is donated to Stemnion, Inc to be used to manufacture investigational treatments that promote rapid healing of tissue of burn victims and other types of wounds. C-section birth mothers are told that “at a time when you are starting a new life with your family, consider giving the gift of your placenta to help others have a better chance at life.”

This was no small commitment for St. Joseph’s Women’s to make as there is no money in it for the hospital or mother and the former must at a very busy time when the mother who has just given birth and her prior consent require the first and immediate attention, the nurses must harvest and collect the placenta, put it into a proper transportable container, give it to a waiting courier and get its to Stemnion’s lab where the window of opportunity is open for only two hours from delivery to freezing in the Stemnion Lab after proper analysis of the incoming tissue. One bad day on the Howard Franklin and the effort will have been for naught as the window is only 120 minutes.

So like Archbishop Wuerl at the Pittsburgh Lab I blessed and invoked God’s blessing on the Clearwater Stemnion lab and employees. Their work is already bearing substantial results from a moral and ethical procedure. But, politicians and newspapers still back a horse which has yet to make it out of the starting gate and tend to ignore those who are already rounding the three-quarter pole and sprinting for the finish.

+RNL

Update: You can read the article from the Catholic News Service on the web site of the Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and about the whole process in Catholic Health World.

THROUGHOUT THESE FORTY DAYS, O LORD

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010
Bishop Lynch gathers with a group in prayer at the 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil

Bishop Lynch gathers with a group in prayer at the 40 Days for Life Prayer Vigil

The Diocese and other sponsoring Churches have just begun the now annual “Forty Days for Life” effort which spans some of September and all of October which in our Church has traditionally been RESPECT LIFE MONTH. Father Bob Morris, our Vicar General and I have been gathering for prayer vigils within the legal distance of abortion offices throughout the diocese. Happily we are joined by ministers of other faiths who are either themselves pro-life or their Churches are. We pray, sing and hope during these vigils for an end to abortion-on-request as currently practiced in our country. Throughout these days at least two people will stand vigil on the sidewalks outside of the abortion parlors, praying that women who enter will change their mind. They know for certain that during last year’s forty days, at least four women did and their babies are now alive. It is impressive to me that every hour is covered at the Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa abortion sites from eight in the morning until five at night, Monday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. This principle of the exercise of free speech is peaceful and non-confrontational but highly symbolic. We are slowing changing public opinion on abortion-on-request in our country and courageous and dedicated people standing vigil aid in this educational effort.

Respect Life Program 2010-11 PosterWhile the 40 Days observance focuses on abortion, RESPECT LIFE MONTH from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops concentrates on many other life issues as well. These span the gamut from abortion and euthanasia to access to health care, immigration, affordable housing and care for the elderly and, of course, to the one life issue that only Popes and Bishops seem prone to talk about, capital punishment.

It is not by accident that Respect Life month comes in October because this month for generations has been the month of the Holy Rosary and second only to May, the month of the Blessed Mother. But once every two years it is also the month just prior to national elections. No political party that I am aware of is truly pro-life according to the teachings of the catechism, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae or the materials annually prepared by the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And quite frankly, I for one do not find one party even more amenable to pro-life issues or any candidates for that matter. I had occasion to review last week the early responses of the candidates for Governor and Senator for and from Florida and none of them perfectly meets the matrix of the broad range of “pro-life” issues. So once again, as so often before, the voter of conscience spends these forty-days wondering  who is the lesser of two evils. The Florida Catholic Conference Candidate Questionnaire with the responses of our candidates will be published shortly and well before the election.

So you may not be joining us in the prayer service near abortion clinics or on a picket line but you can use these “run-up” days to study the issues and the stand of the candidates on the broad range of pro-life issues. Abortion is the worst of all the evils but it is not alone in its threat to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

+RNL

DOME REDUX

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I must have something of a death wish for reopening this issue but I was thinking about what has happened in the year since the University of Notre Dame held its last commencement ceremony with all the attendant publicity and controversy. What prompted this reflection was the splendid Laetare Medal recipient’s speech given this year and available on the “mother of all Catholic blogs,” Whispers in the Loggia (worth a listen!) What are the givens a year later after President Obama’s appearance, commencement address, and award of an honorary degree? Notre Dame is still the premier Catholic university in the country; its current President enjoys more support from faculty, students, Board of Trustees and nation than he did prior to the contretemps; more parents than ever seek admission to Notre Dame for their daughters and sons; and in a moment of truth, many bishops in the United States would tell you that ND produces more signs of hope for the faith and its transmission from its young graduates than any other Catholic college or university. True, some alumni may temporarily or permanently cease giving to their alma mater but my sources tell me that this backwash has been very minimal. So the University continues along doing good things, preparing students to live in a religiously pluralistic world and embracing a strong Catholic identity as well as core beliefs.

How about President Obama, who along with the university president, took his lumps during the controversy? Well, “the most pro-abortion president ever elected” as he is often referred to has not exactly led the pro-abortion movement as was feared. His actions to date, and I emphasize to date, are no more pro-abortion, anti-life than the Clinton administration’s in their eight years with whom I had to deal during my Washington years. His actions on behalf of born human life have led to a lessening of the chance of nuclear war; extended health care which the Church posits as a basic human right soon to be available to millions of additional Americans even if, as I suspect, the legislation has severe flaws; he promises a genuine, just and effective immigration policy for the future; and so on. In other words, last year’s Notre Dame commencement speaker with the worrisome exception of being   unacceptably pro-choice/pro-abortion  has done other things which embody much of Catholic social teaching and its concomitant dreams for a better society. The jury is still out on this president in many ways and the history of his presidency is yet to be written. We will have to see.

How has the Church fared through this controversy and its fallout? Some bishops chose to take a strong stand. I was not among them then and am not now. I merely publicly stated that the exclusion of the local bishop from the decision making process on something which would be controversial was sad, as I understood it at the time. I would hate to be blind-sided by such an occurrence in this diocese, even if the college or university chose to reject my position and proceed anyway. I believe that a university can remain solidly Catholic while allowing for a certain freedom of expression. Inviting the President of the United States and having him accept, even if there are substantial differences of opinion on major issues, is not beyond the scope of my thinking. President Bush was invited to Notre Dame very early in his time in office with rumblings already in the air about an attack on Iraq which was a challenge even then to the traditional Catholic just war theory. He also unabashedly supported capital punishment.  Anyone who thought then or thinks now that the nature of the college or university in the United States is likely to change because of the assault on Notre Dame last year is deceiving themselves. Perhaps colleges and universities will be more cautious (thoughtful?) in making the choices, and perhaps local bishops where these colleges and universities are located may be more involved prior to a public announcement, but that, or so it seems to me, is about all that was accomplished last year. Zero sum gain for the Church, in my mind.

I remain proud of the University of Notre Dame, our own St. Leo University, St. Thomas and Barry University in Miami, and of all our Catholic colleges and universities. They need a certain amount of autonomy within the framework of a dedication to Catholic identity to remain credible in the higher education ethos in which they are found. As I have often said in this space in the last year and a half, as shepherds we need more energy and assistance in inviting people into the Church than drumming them out. As a religious minority in a pluralistic society we have much to be proud of  in our elementary and secondary schools, our colleges and universities, our hospitals and nursing homes, our charitable outreach through various ministries of mercy. Only close collaboration has a chance of keeping all these disparate elements in the fold. Attacks do little good for the common weal other than make the attacker feel better. Finding common ground remains the Christian and Catholic way of dealing with those things which can be accommodated while boldly but perhaps more empathetically teaching that which can not be changed. This is the reflection I draw from last year’s dome days.

+RNL