Board accepts theology white paper, advances membership study

May 1, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At their April 11-12 meeting here, the CHA Board of Trustees formally accepted the theological "white paper" they had commissioned as part of a three-year study of association membership criteria.

The paper, "Caritas in Communion," was developed by theologian M. Therese Lysaught, who presented it to the board for approval. Lysaught researched and authored the document while serving as a visiting scholar at CHA during a sabbatical from her teaching post at Marquette University.

Traditionally, membership in the association has been restricted to nonprofit organizations that are recognized as Catholic by their local bishop. In recent years, several CHA member organizations have changed from nonprofit to for-profit status, and others have transitioned to entities without official diocesan recognition as Catholic. Those changes provided the impetus for the study of association membership criteria. CHA's special Membership Study Committee identified the theological reflection as the work of the first year of that endeavor.

Lysaught conducted an extensive literature review on topics of Catholic identity, ministry, for-profit and nonprofit status, and the principle of cooperation in Catholic ethics. The process began with interviews of CHA board members, mission leaders, sponsors, and others in key roles in the health ministry. As the work progressed, an interdisciplinary group of scholars from health care and academic institutions provided direction and feedback. They represented specialties in theology, mission, economics, public policy, ecclesiology, canon law and more.

During the process of developing the document, Lysaught presented her work at several CHA meetings, to audiences of system mission leaders, sponsors, ethicists and theologians. With each presentation, she refined the white paper, incorporating the feedback from these stakeholder groups.

Drawing on the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, the white paper identifies caritas, the Trinitarian God's love for the world and humans' love for God that motivates care for, and service to, others, as the center of a theological foundation for Catholic health ministry. This view of charity is much broader than traditional understandings of charity care or uncompensated care, she told the board members. "All aspects of Catholic health care should be examined through this lens of caritas," she said.

Also, "the concept of 'ministry' is central to the identity of Catholic health care," she said, "but this is relatively new, and little has been developed theologically about Catholic health care as ministry. There is more work to be done on how Catholic health care is church."

Although the board concluded that Lysaught's white paper satisfied the need for theological reflection identified at the start of the membership study, she emphasized throughout her presentation that there are numerous questions that will require more thought and research. She also expressed her gratitude to the board for allowing her the opportunity to pursue the complexities and richness of the questions raised by the current changes in Catholic health care organizations.

Lysaught will present the white paper in an Innovation Forum session at the 2013 Catholic Health Assembly June 2-4 in Anaheim, Calif. By the start of the assembly, the white paper and a summary of its key elements will be available to all CHA members on the association's website. Assembly attendees will be asked to participate in a short survey regarding issues related to the membership study.

In the second year of its work, the Membership Study Committee will concentrate on collecting and understanding the lived experience of ministry organizations that have changed their official Catholic status and/or tax status. In the third year, the committee will determine the need for revised criteria for association membership and recommend those to the membership for approval.

Members are encouraged to submit questions and comments regarding the membership study to: [email protected].


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.