What makes health care Catholic?

St. Mary's Hospital Training School for Nurses...
Image by vernon_dutton via Flickr

This semester, I’m working with a senior Honors student who wants to look at Benedictine and Franciscan health care institutions.  That’s a good project, but I would prefer she get a better picture of Catholic health care in general.   I hoped there would be books like Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Documents Concerning Reception and Implementation that would point to central documents and their interpretation, or overviews like Hesburgh’s The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University, or more general discussions like Landy’s As Leaven in the World: Catholic Perspectives on Faith, Vocation, and the Intellectual Life.

But I was disappointed.  The website of the Catholic Health Association and of the Catholic Medical Association have a variety of statements on particular issues, and updates on business-oriented news about Catholic health care.  I found one or two books on Catholic health care ethics.

Every Catholic health system I’ve encounter – not only those sponsored by our monastery, but others begun by the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Franciscans, the Mercy Sisters, all have a core idea that health care that is Catholic would be different in some way.  Inspired by Matthew 25:31-40 as most are – that in caring for the sick one is caring for Christ himself – Catholic health care should have some characteristics other than particular ethical decisions.  If Catholic higher education should be grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, then, I thought, Catholic health care would be grounded in the Catholic health care tradition.

And yet I’m stymied: I can’t find that over-arching view of the tradition anywhere.  Before Ex Corde there wasn’t that much written in a general way about Catholic higher education; maybe we’re still waiting for someone to write such a definitive viewpoint for health care.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be trying to create an anthology!

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