April 11, 2011

TORONTO - The influence of secularization has reached not only into the religious sphere, but also into health care, Toronto Auxiliary Bishop William McGrattan said March 24.

"At the outset of our reliance and dependence on rational thought we attribute to the Enlightenment, certain forces have gradually eroded not only the authority of religion, but also social groups such as health care professionals and medicine," McGrattan told an audience of about 50 people at the annual Cardinal Ambrozic lecture.

McGrattan discussed the relationship between health care and Catholic spirituality at the lecture, hosted by the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.

Secularization has influenced our concept of spirituality at its core, he said.

"It is a philosophical anthropology and it seems to determine not only medicine and society itself, but how we sometimes reduce the human person to simply rational concepts and physical and material realities."

As well, this secularization has affected society's perspective on how we approach death and dying.

"Of particular importance is the simple materialistic conception of human life, void of any spiritual or transcendent component," said the bishop.

In general, health care and bioethics can sometimes ignore the deeper questions, said McGrattan.

"We are very much focused on the issues and the medical interventions. . . . But we are dealing with people and situations which are very profound."

Another major issue is the increased separation of Church and state, he said. "The views and arguments made by religious people, whether they be Catholic, some other Christian denomination or some other religion, sometimes now are not being received in the open debate on such issues."


McGrattan said the response to the marginalization of the religious voice is to ask for justice, that is, to allow people with religious beliefs to have a voice in public discourse.

He noted that in this climate of secularism, it's interesting that spirituality has been acknowledged as an important aspect of health care both by individuals and the health care system.

"But the reality is that pastoral and spiritual care has sometimes become subordinate to medical care."

Although in health care we see that holistic and spiritual care is important, it is often described in vague terms.

"Inner spiritual well-being is achieved from having faith and knowing the human possibilities in life and death."

In terms of spirituality, the Catholic response over the last 20 to 30 years has been the establishment of the pastoral and spiritual care departments in both secular and Catholic hospitals, he said.

McGrattan said the medical profession is important in terms of healing, almost as an extension of the ministry of Christ. But a positive relationship of love needs to be established, based on an encounter of compassion, not empathy.


"Compassion offers the possibility for the medical fields to integrate into a spiritual vision. Medicine is not technologically applied in terms of mercy and compassion. In Scripture, the body is seen as the place where communion among people and communion with God is possible."