Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Service

Part 6: Forming New Partners with Health Care Organizations and Providers


Until recently, most health care providers enjoyed a degree of independence from one another. In ever-increasing ways, Catholic health care providers have become involved with other health care organizations and providers. For instance, many Catholic health care systems and institutions share in the joint purchase of technology and services with other local facilities or physicians' groups. Another phenomenon is the growing number of Catholic health care systems and institutions joining or co-sponsoring integrated delivery networks or managed care organizations in order to contract with insurers and other health care payers. In some instances, Catholic health care systems sponsor a health care plan or health maintenance organization. In many dioceses, new partnerships will result in a decrease in the number of health care providers, at times leaving the Catholic institution as the sole provider of health care services. At whatever level, new partnerships forge a variety of interwoven relationships: between the various institutional partners, between health care providers and the community, between physicians and health care services, and between health care services and payers.

On the one hand, new partnerships can be viewed as opportunities for Catholic health care institutions and services to witness to their religious and ethical commitments and so influence the healing profession. For example, new partnerships can help to implement the church's social teaching. New partnerships can be opportunities to realign the local delivery system in order to provide a continuum of health care to the community; they can witness to a responsible stewardship of limited health care resources; and they can be opportunities to provide to poor and vulnerable persons a more equitable access to basic care.

On the other hand, new partnerships can pose serious challenges to the viability of the identity of Catholic health care institutions and services, and their ability to implement these directives in a consistent way, especially when partnerships are formed with those who do not share Catholic moral principles. The risk of scandal cannot be underestimated when partnerships are not built upon common values and moral principles. Partnership opportunities for some Catholic health care providers may even threaten the continued existence of other Catholic institutions and services, particularly when partnerships are driven by financial considerations alone. Because of the potential dangers involved in the new partnerships that are emerging, an increased collaboration among Catholic-sponsored health care institutions is essential and should be sought before other forms of partnerships.

The significant challenges that new partnerships may pose, however, do not necessarily preclude their possibility on moral grounds. The potential dangers require that new partnerships undergo systematic and objective moral analysis which takes into account the various factors that often pressure institutions and services into new partnerships that can diminish the autonomy and ministry of the Catholic partner. The following directives are offered to assist institutionally based Catholic health care services in this process of analysis. To this end, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has established the Ad Hoc Committee on Health Care Issues and the Church as a resource for bishops and health care leaders.

This new edition of the ethical and religious directives omits the appendix concerning cooperation which was contained in the 1995 edition. Experience has shown that the brief articulation of the principles of cooperation that was presented there did not sufficiently forestall certain possible misinterpretations and in practice gave rise to problems in concrete applications of the principles. Reliable theological experts should be consulted in interpreting and applying the principles governing cooperation, with the proviso that, as a rule, Catholic partners should avoid entering into partnerships that would involve them in cooperation with the wrongdoing of other providers.


67. Decisions that may lead to serious consequences for the identity or reputation of Catholic health care services or entail the high risk of scandal should be made in consultation with the diocesan bishop or his health care liaison.

68. Any partnership that will affect the mission or religious and ethical identity of Catholic health care institutional services must respect church teaching and discipline. Diocesan bishops and other church authorities should be involved as such partnerships are developed, and the diocesan bishop should give the appropriate authorization before they are completed. The diocesan bishop's approval is required for partnerships sponsored by institutions subject to his governing authority; for partnerships sponsored by religious institutes of pontifical right, his nihil obstat should be obtained.

69. If a Catholic health care organization is considering entering into an arrangement with another organization that may be involved in activities judged morally wrong by the church, participation in such activities must be limited to what is in accord with the moral principles governing cooperation.

70. Catholic health care organizations are not permitted to engage in immediate material cooperation in actions that are intrinsically immoral such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization.44

71. The possibility of scandal must be considered when applying the principles governing cooperation.45 Cooperation, which in all other respects is morally licit, may need to be refused because of the scandal that might be caused. Scandal can sometimes be avoided by an appropriate explanation of what is in fact being done at the health care facility under Catholic auspices. The diocesan bishop has final responsibility for assessing and addressing issues of scandal, considering not only the circumstances in his local diocese but also the regional and national implications of his decision.46

72. The Catholic partner in an arrangement has the responsibility periodically to assess whether the binding agreement is being observed and implemented in a way that is consistent with Catholic teaching.


Sickness speaks to us of our limitations and human frailty. It can take the form of infirmity resulting from the simple passing of years or injury from the exuberance of youthful energy. It can be temporary or chronic, debilitating and even terminal. Yet the follower of Jesus faces illness and the consequences of the human condition aware that our Lord always shows compassion toward the infirm.

Jesus not only taught his disciples to be compassionate, but he also told them who should be the special object of their compassion. The parable of the feast with its humble guests was preceded by the instruction: "When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" (Lk. 14:13). These were people whom Jesus healed and loved.

Catholic health care is a response to the challenge of Jesus to go and do likewise. Catholic health care services rejoice in the challenge to be Christ's healing compassion in the world and see their ministry not only as an effort to restore and preserve health but also as a spiritual service and a sign of that final healing that will one day bring about the new creation that is the ultimate fruit of Jesus' ministry and God's love for us.


1 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Health and Health Care: A Pastoral Letter of the American Catholic Bishops" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1981). [Back]

2 Health care services under Catholic auspices are carried out in a variety of institutional settings (e.g., hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities, urgent-care centers, hospices, nursing homes and parishes). Depending on the context, these directives will employ the terms institution and/or services in order to encompass the variety of settings in which Catholic health care is provided. [Back]

3 "Health and Health Care," p. 5. [Back]

4 Vatican Council II, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 1. [Back]

5 Pope John Paul II, "On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World" (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1988), No. 29. [Back]

6 As examples, see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974); Declaration on Euthanasia (1980); Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day (1987). [Back]

7 Pope John XXIII, "Peace on Earth," (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1963), No. 11; "Health and Health Care," pp. 5, 17-18, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 2000), No. 2211. [Back]

8 Pope John Paul II, "On Social Concern," (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1988), No. 43. [Back]

9 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy" (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1986), No. 80. [Back]

10 The duty of responsible stewardship demands responsible collaboration. But in collaborative efforts, Catholic institutionally based health care services must be attentive to occasions when the policies and practices of other institutions are not compatible with the church's authoritative moral teaching. At such times Catholic health care institutions should determine whether or to what degree collaboration would be morally permissible. To make that judgment, the governing boards of Catholic institutions should adhere to the moral principles on cooperation. See Part 6. [Back]

11 "Health and Health Care," p. 12. [Back]

12 Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canons 921-923. [Back]

13 Cf Canons 867, §2 and 871. [Back]

14 To confer baptism in an emergency, one must have the proper intention (to do what the church intends by baptism) and pour water on the head of the person to be baptized, meanwhile pronouncing the words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." [Back]

15 Cf. Canon 883, §3. [Back]

16 For example, while the donation of a kidney represents loss of biological integrity, such a donation does not compromise functional integrity since human beings are capable of functioning with only one kidney. [Back]

17 Cf Directive 53. [Back]

18 Declaration on Euthanasia, Part 4; cf also Directives 56-57. [Back]

19 It is recommended that a sexually assaulted woman be advised of the ethical restrictions that prevent Catholic hospitals from using abortifacient procedures; cf Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, "Guidelines for Catholic Hospitals Treating Victims of Sexual Assault," (1993). [Back]

20 Pope John Paul H, Oct. 29, 1983, address, to the World Medical Association, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 76 (1984): 390. [Back]

21 Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965), No. 49. [Back]

22 Ibid., 50. [Back]

23 Pope Paul VI, "On the Regulation of Birth," (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1968), No. 14. [Back]

24 Ibid., 12. [Back]

25 Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra (1961), No. 193, quoted in "Respect for Human Life in Its Origin," 4. [Back]

26 Pope John Paul II, "The Splendor of Truth" (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1993), No. 50. [Back]

27 "Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose" ("Respect for Human Life in Its Origin," Part II, B, 6; cf also Part I, 1, 6). [Back]

28 Ibid., Part II, A, 2. [Back]

29 "Artificial insemination as a substitute for the conjugal act is prohibited by reason of the voluntarily achieved dissociation of the two meanings of the conjugal act. Masturbation, through which the sperm is normally obtained, is another sign of this dissociation: Even when it is done for the purpose of procreation, the act remains deprived of its unitive meaning: 'It lacks the sexual relationship called for by the moral order, namely, the relationship which realizes "the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love""' ("Respect for Human Life in Its Origin," Part II, B, 6). [Back]

30 Ibid., Part II, A, 3. [Back]

31 Cf. Directive 45. [Back]

32 "Respect for Human Life in Its Origin," Part I, 2. [Back]

33 Cf ibid., 4. [Back]

34 Cf Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Responses on Uterine Isolation and Related Matters," July 31, 1993, Origins 24 (1994): 211-212. [Back]

35 Pope John Paul II, "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering" (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1984), Nos. 25-27. [Back]

36 National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Order of Christian Funerals (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1989), No. 1. [Back]

37 Declaration on Euthanasia. [Back]

38 Ibid., Part II, p. 4. [Back]

39 NCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities, "Nutrition and Hydration: Moral and Pastoral Reflections" (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1992). On the importance of consulting authoritative teaching in the formation of conscience and in taking moral decisions, see "The Splendor of Truth," 63-64. [Back]

40 Declaration on Euthanasia. Part IV. [Back]

41 Ibid. [Back]

42 Cf ibid. [Back]

43 "Respect for Human Life in Its Origin," Part I, 4. [Back]

44 While there are many acts of varying moral gravity that can be identified as intrinsically evil, in the context of contemporary health care the most pressing concerns are currently abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization. See Pope John Paul lI's 1998 ad limina address to the bishops of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas (1998). See also "Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Sterilization in Catholic Hospitals," March 13, 1975. "Any cooperation institutionally approved or tolerated in actions which are in themselves, that is, by their nature and condition, directed to a contraceptive end ... is absolutely forbidden. For the official approbation of direct sterilization and a fortiori its management and execution in accord with hospital regulations is a matter which, in the objective order, is by its very nature (or intrinsically) evil." This directive supersedes the NCCB's "Commentary on the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Sterilization in Catholic Hospitals" published Dec. 8, 1977. [Back]

45 See Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil" (No. 2284); "Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged" (No. 2287). [Back]

46 See "The Pastoral Role of the Diocesan Bishop in Catholic Health Care Ministry," (1997). [Back]

1, 2, 3,