Dr. Ashley Fernandes speaks to Catholic health workers Oct. 18 at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland.
Dr. Ashley Fernandes speaks to Catholic health workers Oct. 18 at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland.
Oregon’s Catholic health care workers heard Oct. 18 they should hew to their faith and do so proudly because the Catholic model of care is superior to the secular model.

The annual White Mass, named for the white coats medical personnel wear, drew doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other caregivers to St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Northwest Portland for a liturgy followed by dinner and a lecture.

“We pray for you in your difficult ministry of healing,” Archbishop Alexander Sample told worshippers in his homily before laying out some bad news: Polls show a significant drop in the number of Americans who consider themselves religious, the archbishop said, concerned about a culture lacking an awareness of God.

But he told the medical congregation that there is an opportunity for a new kind of evangelization, one that is characterized by steadfastness — and health workers have an important role in it.

“You live in a world now in which it becomes more and more difficult to be true to your Catholic faith,” Archbishop Sample said, citing pressure to participate in abortion, assisted suicide and sex change procedures. “It’s getting very complicated.”

Citing St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, the archbishop urged listeners to stay true to their beliefs “whether convenient or inconvenient.”

In remarks at the dinner to about 80 people at the Multnomah Athletic Club, Msgr. Gerard O’Connor cited his countryman St. John Henry Newman, who left Anglicanism at the prompting of conscience and became Catholic, sacrificing his position, friends and prestige. The Portland Catholic Physicians Guild is taking Cardinal Newman as a patron.

Dr. Ashley Fernandes, associate director of the Center for Bioethics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, gave a keynote talk in which he said that church concern for the welfare of the whole person makes Catholic health care better than other models. While the secular model focuses on the patient’s idea of good and the biomedical good, Catholic medicine adds the person’s broader human good and spiritual good.

“This is about the patient,” said Dr. Fernandes, a fellow of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Pediatrics. “We are solely oriented toward the human person. We recognize the infinite good of the human person.”

That’s why Catholic doctors refuse to perform procedures that violate human dignity and natural law, like abortion and assisted suicide — acts Dr. Fernandes said do not fit the definition of health care. That should comfort patients and will attract them to Catholic medicine in the long run, he argued. “Our motto should be something like: Come to St. Elizabeth Hospital. We won’t kill you,” Dr. Fernandes said.

Explaining new federal conscience protections, he told Oregon providers they now have tools to use against state laws that seem to compel them to abrogate their beliefs.

“We should demand conscience protection because it’s the only way we can provide superior care to our patients,” he said.

In the secular model of medicine, by contrast, patient choice becomes the priority, separated from what is good, he said.

Dr. Fernandes promotes what St. John Paul II called Christian personalism, in which people are only truly free when they choose what is objectively true and good and do so with the community in mind.

Dr. Fernandes said Catholic health professionals are characterized by loving not just people in general but loving individual persons one by one.

In addition to his serious message, Dr. Fernandes had fun during the evening. Explaining that his ancestors are from India, he joked that no one can call the Portland Catholic Physicians Guild racist. “You invited a person of color to speak after something called the White Mass,” he said.