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September 3, 2012

About 2,500 years ago, Ezekiel issued a prophecy of woe to those leaders who used their positions to their own material advantage. "Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you cover yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the sheep" (34.2-3).

Down through the centuries, these words stand as a point for examination of conscience for anyone in a position of Christian leadership. No Christian leader should use his or her position to feather his own nest. Alas, this has happened numerous times.

Any reference to people turning over in their graves is but a figure of speech. The dead, of course, show no signs of movement. Yet, one must wonder how the religious women who founded Catholic health care in Alberta while living in extreme poverty and hardship would react to the revelation that the executives of Covenant Health have received tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses on top of their generous salaries. One can only speculate on what their judgment might be.

Still, if there is any point in having Catholic or Christian health care, it would lie in the difference between such a system and secular health care. Of course, Catholic hospitals do not perform some medical procedures that are morally wrong. That is one difference.

Catholic hospitals must also be well administered and well governed. Administration and governance, however, are not value neutral. They involve more than having efficient, well-run institutions that do the best job of caring for their patients.

One of the follies of secularism is that it sometimes purports to operate by moral principles, principles, which upon examination are often little more than window-dressing that conceals a deep-seated moral and spiritual dysfunction. When an institution is truly committed to morality, then a different spirit is in evidence. There may be various ways of describing that spirit, but it is nevertheless palpable.

Another folly is that of individualism. Any Catholic institution should strive for a communitarian ethos. In today's society, that is not easy to achieve. At least to some degree, we all swim in the same water. Nevertheless, we need to be self-critical, to examine our own needs and desires in the light of the Gospel. That is the central role of those charged with the governance of Catholic organizations.

Executives of Catholic institutions - and all their employees - should be properly compensated. More than anything, however, Catholic institutions must provide a Gospel witness in contrast to the all-pervasive materialism of 21st century secularism.

Letter to the Editor - 10/01/12