by Ian Millhiser
January 26, 2015
A Catholic Bishop compared requiring all couples to be treated with equal dignity to “the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire” last week. His statement was a response to a Catholic health system’s announcement that they may extend benefits to the legally married spouses of their lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees.
Mercy Health is a large Catholic health care system with over 40,000 employees in seven states. They recently announced that “in line with recent changes in government regulations, we will extend benefits to all legally married spouses effective this spring.” (Though, in another statement, they added that they are still “exploring how best to expand health care benefits for our co-workers.”)
This indication that Mercy intended to extend equal rights to their gay employees prompted Bishop James V. Johnston, the Catholic bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to raise the specter of Roman torture. “No believing Christian worthy of the name should violate God’s law because of ‘regulations,’” Bishop Johnson said in a statement. “Our ancestors refused to abandon the faith even when subjected to the cruelty and torture of the Roman Empire, but in our age unspecified ‘regulations,’ government funds, and fear of public ridicule is sufficient in order to secure the compliance of some.”
If the entire Catholic health system adopted a similar view, that could have profound implications for much of the greater American health care system. The Catholic Health Association estimates that approximately one in six patients in the United States are treated in a Catholic hospital. That is a massive network of employees that could be denied benefits under Bishop Johnston’s position — although it is worth noting that the Catholic Health Association has historically taken relatively moderate positions (at least as compared to Johnson) on questions such as birth control.