The past year has been tumultuous to say the least. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire country, but minority communities have been hit especially hard. Black and Hispanic populations have experienced disproportionately higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death from the virus. However, disparities such as these are not a new phenomenon; the pandemic simply serves to highlight longer-standing inequalities in access to healthcare as well as in the quality of care delivered.
An additional consequence of such inequities is growing mistrust of healthcare systems and providers, which further hinders delivery of services.
Recognizing the inequities in the provision of healthcare, the leadership of the Catholic Medical Association created the Committee on Catholic Social Teaching and Justice in Medicine to address them. The Church has the marvelous gift of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to help guide us in developing policies and societal structures that promote human dignity and the common good.
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) can be traced back to the encyclical Rerum Novarum, issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 to address the injustices brought about in part by industrialization. Many subsequent encyclicals have further developed the doctrine of CST, often with nuances to address a concern relevant to the time at which a particular encyclical was written.
Catholic Social Teaching is based on three fundamental principles: Human Dignity, which is the foremost and foundational principal from which the other two, Solidarity and Subsidiarity, flow. It is vital to consider all three principles together when developing a policy. It is also important to recognize that Catholic Social Teaching will not always provide just a single solution. It is possible to develop different approaches to the same issue that are all consistent with these teachings and promote the common good.
Regarding the Committee on Catholic Social Teaching and Justice in Medicine, its mission is threefold:
We plan to provide education for members, healthcare administrators, physicians in training, and laity on Catholic Social Teaching as applied to healthcare. Towards that goal, we plan to present sessions on CST at the mid-year leadership meeting and the Annual Educational Conference.
We hope to use online platforms, radio and print media, for example diocesan newsletters, to further our educational efforts. In addition, we anticipate developing case studies that demonstrate and highlight the role of Catholic Social Teaching in addressing healthcare delivery.
The committee will evaluate current healthcare policy and advocate changes that promote more equitable access and treatment, based on and consistent with the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. These principles have universal applications, and advocacy can be more effectively promoted in collaboration with other entities that share the same goals. We will therefore work with the Health Care Policy Committee in networking with like-minded organizations and we will use their document, Applying Catholic Principles in Evaluating Healthcare Reform Proposals, to guide our committee.
Faith in Action
Perhaps the most challenging initiative for the committee is to develop “in the field” grassroots level solutions to resolving healthcare inequities. Much of this work will entail coordination with guilds to determine local challenges and opportunities. Sharing experiences among the guilds will also help us learn from each other and foster innovative, creative approaches. Some guilds may find relief agencies in their communities to partner with for facilitating access. Also, there are several existing Catholic health clinics and systems that can hopefully share their approaches to delivering healthcare in an equitable fashion.
Catholic Social Teaching has been said to be the best kept secret in the Catholic Church. Saint John Paul II issued the landmark encyclical Centesimus Annus in 1991, one hundred years after Rerum Novarum. In 1993, noting the need for the proclamation of these principles, he established Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontifice (CAPP) to spread the word about the great gift of the Church’s Social Teaching. Its mission is to form lay leaders with regards to the principles of CST so that they may be implemented in the various sectors of society.
Unique in that it is a lay-led organization headquartered at the Vatican, CAPP started with a group of European businessmen and has gradually spread worldwide. A chapter was established in the United States in 2003. My wife and I learned about the organization in 2007 and, struck by the relevance of Catholic Social Teaching, became members. I currently have the privilege of serving as President of CAPP-USA.
The members of the Committee on Catholic Social Teaching and Justice in Medicine have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. The diversity of our committee members and their skills and talents will be of tremendous benefit in carrying out the mission with which the group is charged. As our Committee begins its work, we pray that we can effectively address the existing inequities in the delivery of healthcare and serve the common good.
Frederick F. Fakharzadeh is the Chair of the Committee on Catholic Social Teaching and Justice in Medicine and is a hand surgeon in full-time private practice in Paramus, NJ. He has been a member of the Catholic Medical Association since 2013.