By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 6, 2008
Last week at the formal ceremony of the reception of the credentials of the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Mary Ann Glendon, the Holy Father remarked that American Catholics should engage in advocating for the formation of public policy based upon our moral values. By sheer coincidence last week was also the occasion for Catholics engaged in social justice ministries from throughout the United States who were gathered in Washington, D.C., to do just that.
I joined a fine delegation from the Archdiocese of Atlanta to meet with Washington elected officials to urge them to support legislation that respected human life in every one of its moments of existence according to the comprehensive categories of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Bishops of the United States.”
For more than two decades those who work in the Church’s arena of social ministries have gathered annually to encourage our elected officials to be mindful of the social agenda concerns of the Catholic Church as well as many other religious people. The elected officials from Georgia were gracious, attentive and interested in listening to our concerns. I pray that they will also see the wisdom and the righteousness of the matters that we presented.
Catholic social teaching is a rich source of good judgment and moral perspective on a host of public policy issues. Many other people of faith and those of good will find themselves in full agreement with many of our church’s principles on public policy. This is true because the Church’s social teaching is addressed to improving the common good, which includes all members of society.
Moreover, public policy does impact all of our lives. At our last Priests’ Council meeting, one of the pastors asked for an update on the issues that are found in the American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) laws that are intended to protect a person’s privacy in regard to medical information. This legislation, in addition to protecting a patient’s privacy, has also made it more complicated for pastors and others to fulfill their responsibilities to visit the sick. If a person upon entering a hospital does not agree to have their religion or parish affiliation released or made available, those from their parishes may not have access to visit them or even to know that they are in the hospital. This may result in their pastors not even knowing that their parishioners are in need of a pastoral visit.
Hospitals have little leeway in these matters and may incur hefty penalties for violating HIPAA regulations. I have written about the importance of having people inform the medical staffs that they welcome and want their parishes to know of their stay in the hospital because without their specific release the information cannot be shared with others. It would be helpful for our parishes to regularly remind parishioners through bulletin inserts that it is necessary for people who are about to enter the hospital to allow their parish and religious affiliation to be made known to their pastors and fellow parishioners. Our clergy want to visit the sick, but we need their release to do so.