How Dare Declare Othewise?

by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
March 2012

National Statutory Hall in the U.S. Capitol has 100 statues, two for each state. My friend and state Catholic conference director in Rhode Island, Father Bernie Healey, recently pointed out that five of those statues honor Catholic heroes. (There are actually six, if you include Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.)

Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Charity is honored by Washington State. In the 19th century she built hospitals, schools, and orphanages in what was then the great Northwest Territory.

One of California’s statues honors
Blessed Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who established missions in the 18th century to minister to the needs of the native people from San Diego to San Francisco. His ministry led him to walk hundreds of miles, despite having a crippled, and often infected, leg.

Father Jacques Marquette represents Wisconsin. He was a 17th century French missionary who ministered to native peoples and immigrants throughout the Mississippi River region of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.  Father Eusebio Kino, representing Arizona, was a Jesuit Missionary who spent decades in the late 17the century ministering to the Southwest native peoples of Arizona and New Mexico.

One of Hawaii’s statues is of
Saint Damien of Molokai. Saint Damien was a priest from Belgium who voluntarily ministered to the lepers of the island of Molokai. After sixteen years of caring for them, he contracted and died of leprosy himself, becoming a martyr of charity.

The stories of these Catholic American heroes causes us to ask: Why would they do that? Why would Father Damien expose himself to the dreaded disease of leprosy? Why would Father Serra jeopardize his own health to check on the California missions? Why would Mother Joseph brave the wild west with no promise of even decent housing?

Father Bernie answers the question: “Because like all those Catholic heroes and heroines in the US Capitol and beyond: that’s who we are as Church.  We minister in imitation of Christ, to anyone and everyone who is in need of healing and love.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has ruled that all but a few employers must by law to provide and pay for health coverage that includes all forms of contraception including the morning-after abortion pill and sterilization services.  There are no exemptions for Catholic hospitals, colleges, schools, nursing homes or social service agencies.

On February 19, President Obama announced a “compromise” to address concerns about the mandate. Nevertheless, later that day the administration finalized the original rule without any changes. Even if at some unspecified later date the administration changes the rule, the announced “compromise” still treats religious institutions that serve the public as not truly religious. The President has declared that the work of Catholic hospitals, social service providers, schools, and universities are not deserving of being called religious.

The lives of Saint Damien, Mother Joseph, Blessed Serra, Father Marquette, and Father Kino, as well as the women and men religious who have healed, taught, and cared for North Dakotans since before statehood, prove otherwise. These American Catholic heroes, like the heroes of today who work for Catholic Charities, who serve the poor, feed the hungry, care for the migrant, heal the sick, bury the dead, teach our children, and provide numerous other acts of mercy and charity, do what they do because that it what it means to be a Christian.

How dare someone, especially the government, declare otherwise?