International Catholic healthcare leaders see a growing need for a united front against economic pressures bearing down on the Catholic healthcare mission worldwide.
They will take one step toward creating such a bulwark this summer when the Vatican hosts a three-day meeting of Catholic healthcare leaders from around the globe. One item on the agenda will be rejuvenating an international federation of Catholic healthcare hospitals, which was created in the early 1990s but never got off the ground.
Such a federation could foster collaboration among Catholic healthcare providers, says the Rev. Michael Place, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
"By bringing together people from across the world, there will be a greater shared understanding of the ministry of the universal church," Place says.
Richard Haughian, president of the Catholic Health Association of Canada, in Ottawa, who also plans to attend the meeting, says he sees "value in such a group in terms of the contacts and networking."
Worldwide, Catholic healthcare takes many forms, such as sophisticated delivery systems in the U.S., missionary-run clinics in less-developed countries and hospitals in Italy whose only connection to the church is the priests assigned to them.
It's not clear how a single federation would represent these diverse organizations, or even if they would all be included.
Place's association, headquartered in St. Louis, represents about 1,200 Catholic healthcare providers. However, he says, it's not clear whether hospitals would belong to a federation or whether the federation would represent trade associations in each country.
Place says the idea for the meeting, scheduled for July 1-3, resulted from a gathering last fall of 20 people-including Vatican officials and healthcare leaders from Germany, India, Italy, South Africa, Spain and Togo-who met to discuss reviving the dormant federation.
Like the July meeting, the fall gathering was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, which is led by an archbishop appointed by Pope John Paul II. The council would oversee the federation if it were rejuvenated.
Francis Sullivan, executive director of the Australian Catholic Health Care Association, says the Catholic imperatives of caring for the poor and putting patients first are in jeopardy, given the increased commercialization of healthcare and government efforts to withdraw funding.
Joining in an organized effort could help combat those threats, he says.
"There is going to be a need, in my view, for some sort of storehouse of intellectual experts on how to ensure that the imperatives of the ministry move into the new millennium," Sullivan says.