Hospital mergers, Iran’s agenda, the pope in Cuba

Healthy Debate

In his article “Care Package” (August 17), Wayne Sheridan critiques Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s decision to halt the merger of state-owned University of Louisville Hospital Medical Center (UMC) with Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) and several regional Catholic hospitals. In order to understand the context for that decision, several important concerns must be addressed. It is true, as Sheridan points out, that Kentucky is one of the unhealthiest states in the union. The merger of the hospitals would have given a major infusion of money to our health-care programs, especially those designed to serve the poor. Kentucky is also one of the poorest states in the nation, with 26 percent of our children living in poverty.

But the state legislature’s failure to address the financial needs of UMC must be noted as a major reason the state’s poor are not properly served. Kentucky’s revenue system is outdated, unjust (the working poor pay up to 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes while those making over $250,000 a year pay just 6 percent), and inadequate (the state ran structurally imbalanced budgets several years prior to the 2008 recession, and since). It is the duty of the governor and legislators to reform tax laws to ensure money is available to HMC to provide for the poor, and to serve as an outstanding training center for future, much-needed health-care professionals. Asking CHI to come to the rescue without first addressing the systemic causes of the state’s problems was questionable.

In the debate over this merger, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville must be credited for clearly spelling out the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. He did so eloquently in a public forum that was well covered by local media. In response, many area Catholics opposed the merger on the grounds that it would cross the line that separates church and state.

To conclude, as Sheridan does, that the governor rejected the merger because he is eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate is highly speculative. When his term is up in three years he will be seventy-one, and perhaps at the end of his political career. The governor used sound reasoning in his statement rejecting the merger, just as the archbishop used sound reasoning to promote it.

In the future, I hope we can have other healthy debates about blurred lines between church and state. For instance, the USCCB could offer guidance on the role of ROTC programs on Catholic campuses in recruiting for the military during periods when the U.S. government is engaged in immoral, unjust, and illegal wars.

Jim Wayne

Louisville, Ky.

The writer, a Democrat, is a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

War Path

In his predictably astute essay “Inward Bound” (August 17), Rev. J. Bryan Hehir presents as fact what are really arguable propositions regarding Iranian foreign policy. Doubtless the Iranians seek greater influence in their region. Whether that amounts to a hegemonic ambition remains unproven. Prevailing Israeli-American military dominance may be preferable from our point of view, but it is at least understandable that the Iranians and others might have a different view. We are the ones determined to be in their backyard, not vice versa.

Similarly, it is true that Iran has an adversarial relationship with the United States, but is Iran solely to blame? There is a long history of American meddling in Iranian affairs, and our decision to resort to sanctions and threats to keep all options “on the table” suggests that we are not without fault.

Then there is the assertion of “a declared [Iranian] objective of eliminating Israel as a state.” Again, this is asserted, but not proven. Much of the evidence for this claim comes from the irresponsible rhetorical flights of President Ahmedinejad, who does not have the power to attack Israel militarily, and whose utterances can easily bear the interpretation of being predictive rather than prescriptive. Iran fishes in the troubled waters of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would do that less if the United States and Israel made a dedicated effort to reach a reasonable settlement with the Palestinians.

It’s clear to me that Fr. Hehir has no more enthusiasm for further U.S. military involvements in the Middle East than I do. Still, the road to war with Iran is made that much smoother when premises such as those in Hehir’s article go unquestioned.

Ed Mccarthy

Vienna, Maine

Studying Abroad

In “Benedict Goes to Cuba” (August 17), Tom Quigley describes his experience during two trips to Cuba: the first with Pope John Paul II in 1998, the second with Pope Benedict XVI. My wife and I had a different experience when we visited Cuba for a week in January 2002, hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches. Cuba had by 2002 achieved, despite an acute housing shortage and a thirty-year economic embargo, a high rate of literacy, universal compulsory education, long life expectancy, and excellent health services, resulting in a UN Human Development Index ranking of 48 out of 179 nations (the United States is 15).

What we saw confirmed this. (My wife and I speak Spanish.) The representatives of the CCC we met were very engaged with their pastoral work and seemed not so different from our church leaders and fellow parishioners. We visited church-run projects, a nongovernmental organization, a Presbyterian seminary, and a government school. A week does not make one an expert. But a week of intense interchange does give one a fair basis to make solid judgments. Religion thrives in Cuba. I’m sure the slice of the population we saw is not perfectly representative of the whole, but it was a part that operates very much like our churches here in New Jersey.

James T. Dette

Weehawken, N.J.

Published in the 2012-09-28 issue: 

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