Parish Nurse or Government Welfare Worker?


“What some have even called a 'preferential option" for the poor, does not free us from the needto prudently and wisely consider the most appropriate ways in which this obligation is to becarried out. we do well to reject the confusion that equates a preferential option for the poor witha preferential option for the state.” - Rev. Robt, Sirico, Detroit News, 12-20-1992. The Church: Lobbyist for the welfare State.

"For the first time churches have become aware that they actually have the potential to be communities of health," says Granger Westberg of the International Parish Nurse Resource Center - Last Acts Campaign to Improve End-of-Life Care, 1998.

April 30, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - - The Parish Nurse Program was the brain-child of Chicago based Lutheran Minister, GrangerWestberg. Early in his ministry which began in the mid 1950’s, he accepted assignment as ahospital chaplain and began to perceive a need for both hospitals and church ministries to form asort of wholistic healing partnership ministering to the whole person - mind, body and spirit.During his hospital chaplaincy and later while on fact-finding tours in third world countries, heobserved that patient/doctor relationships were missing an important element of communication.This brought him to the conclusion that churches, along with ministering to the soul shoulddevelop an expanded ministry to the physical and mental needs of parishioners. In other words,creating health clinics within the parish context which would act as a type of preventive healthcare service.

In his observations he saw that:

1. Patients often had social and emotional problems underlying the physical ills which theyneeded to share with an understanding and compassionate person. The doctors were too busyfor this.

2. Parishioners were not comfortable speaking with their ministers about their daily concerns,aches and pains.

3. Patients felt more at ease speaking with women, especially nurses.

4. What if Nurses could be established within parishes thereby creating physical and emotionalhealing centers right along with the Pastor’s spiritual healing?And, so, began a life long mission for Pastor Westberg creating parish nurse training programswithin the college setting.

This concept was well received within many Christian church circles but received its greatestpromotion during the 1990’s when President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, became involved withthe promotion of universal health care.

By the late 1990‘s the concept of establishing health clinics within the church setting was furtherexpanded by the passage of legislation authored by then U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, known as theFaith Based Initiative. This initiative authorized non-profits, which included churches, to receivefederal tax funding for partnering with the government to provide health clinic services to thegeneral community.

Parish nursing, funded mainly with private Foundation grants, became eligible for tax fundedgrants. California, however, resisted what its legislators saw as mixing church and state until aSouthern California Republican legislator succeeded in obtaining passage of a bill that mandatedCalifornia’s participation in funding non-profit and church based government welfareprograms.

In 1998, while still a state Senator, Diane Watson,(later a U.S. Congresswoman) Chairman of theHealth and Human Services Committee, penned a memo sent out to all interested state and localschool and community groups informing them of their opportunity to form partnerships with thestate in delivering health services through establishment of health clinics which could be used togain new applicants for the newly formed Healthy Families Program.

An interesting sidelight to creation of the Healthy Families Program was the involvement ofHellan Roth Dowden, state employee and former Director of California’s Planned Parenthood, aswell as numerous other Feminist organizations and unions such as the SEIU. On Watson’s memoDowden is listed as the contact person for Healthy Families. Her current associations andactivities can be found by googling her name.

The memo explained just how community organization volunteers could qualify to becomeApplicant Assisters and be eligible to receive the $50.00 fee (increased from the previous $25.00fee) for successfully completed applications for Healthy Families.Volunteers working in a church setting assisting parishioners to complete Healthy Familyapplications also qualified to receive this fee. The Assister could either receive the fee ordesignate her church to receive the fee.

What began as perhaps a very well meaning and compassionate idea of ministering to the wholeperson, with the Good Samaritan as the prototype, has now assumed the mantle of the biggovernment promotion to burrow into the churches accessing the unsuspecting faithful in thepews for a new source of welfare applicants. And, a nurse shall lead them.

Literature on the Parish Nurse Program indicates that this Parish Nurse person need not be anactual registered nurse although she often times is. If the Parish Nurse is not an actual nurse shemust develop a corp of volunteer registered nurses for programs such as blood pressurescreenings, vaccinations and other actual medical type services the parish nurse might want toprovide that, by law, require a nurse or a doctor.

The foremost qualification for this position is a compassionate disposition, an ability to gain theconfidence of parishioners, the time to spend listening to people recite their litanies of mental,emotional, financial and physical woes and, most importantly the ability to reach out and partnerwith a wide variety of community service provider organizations to which the parish nurse candirect the parishioner for assistance.

The position of Parish Nurse is considered so vital to the well being of the individual within thechurch that she is given a position of prominence within the parish equating her position withthat of the Pastor.

Funding to carry out this program is often provided initially by an outside, non parish, nongovernmental funding source from which the parish nurse may take a remittance. Often shechooses not to. At some point the outside funding source expires and it becomes necessary forthe parish to come up with the funding even to the point of applying for government assistance tocontinue what has now become a permanent entity within that parish. The parish has nowbecome a partner with the state for the delivery of non religious, humanistic social services.In 1992, this move toward encouraging church leaders to advocate for government fundedwelfare and health care programs within churches caused the Reverend Robert A Sirico, Directorof the Acton Institute, to write an editorial entitled The Church: Lobbyist for the Welfare State,published in the Detroit News for December 20.

The editorial stated, in part:

“Polls indicate that there is a preference among Americans for social programs to promote selfsufficiency,not dependency. Yet, when Michigan Gov. John Engler last year acted to fulfill hiscampaign promise to reduce the size of government and proceeded to eliminate 80,000 ablebodiedgeneral assistance recipients from the roll, his most vocal critics were welfare advocacygroups headed by prominent mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic religious leaders.

It would be another matter altogether if these governmental transfer payments were actuallyeffective in ameliorating poverty and minimizing crime. Yet, just about everyone, regardless ofpolitical stripe, seems to agree there is a crisis in the welfare system and that the massive welfarestate doesn't work - just about everyone, that is, except perhaps a few ill-tutored theologians.With all the use of that terribly obscure and unnecessarily narrow phrase ‘family values’ in thispast election season, perhaps the real issue we are attempting to get at is functional values or howwe go about fostering a society whose members learn how to function well and productively.

There is a growing body of literature indicating that governmental programs, owing to theirpolitical nature, instill a sense of dependency in those they are designed to help. They create thevery situations they profess to cure. With the failure of socialism in central Europe and theintellectual and moral bankruptcy this represents for Marxism, the current debate shifts to themoral legitimacy and practical effectiveness of the welfare state. The welfare state fails in itsobjectives for the same reason that socialism failed in its - a rejection of sound economicthinking. The key practical problem with the welfare state is the presupposition that it canobserve all social problems and needs, and is able to regulate the necessary sectors of society insuch a way as to best meet those needs. But no one group of planners, no matter how wise andsensitive to human needs they may be, can see the deepest needs of the human soul, whichfrequently are at the root of economic problems.

The specific problem this confusion presents to the church is that it disintegrates charity into anentitlement and collapses love into justice. If all relations are based merely on state-enforcedjustice, what becomes of the virtue of love? Especially when viewed from a religiousperspective, the disadvantages of an expansive welfare state are sadly apparent. Promoting thegovernment as the resource of first resort lessens the incentive of people in the pews to becomepersonally involved in needed projects and relegates the church to the role of lobbyist.To the extent that the church functions as a lobbyist, rather than itself clothing the naked, feedingthe hungry and performing the other traditional acts of charity, the church loses a rich source ofits own spiritual nourishment. This has, in turn, led to a secularizing of the social assistancesystems (schools, hospitals, orphanages, health clinics). This development minimizes the moralinfluence of religious mediating institutions which are so critical in helping to stabilize troubledfamilies.”

I recently interviewed a parish nurse who had been featured in the Oakland Diocese Newspaper.She had attended a parish nurse training program in her former state of Wisconsin but could notfind a position there. She later moved to her current location and recently found acceptance as aParish Nurse in her own parish in Antioch, California.

She shared her enthusiasm for her work in a community consisting in large part of recentimmigrant parishioners of low income and somewhat poor health and nutrition. Her parish andPastor are well recognized for partnership activities with a community organizing group entitledContra Costa Interfaith supporting Community Organization - CCISCO which is itself a partnerwith a statewide community organizing lobby group called PICO - Pacific Institute forCommunity Organizing. These groups along with SEIU and the California Nurses as well asPlanned Parenthood, have spearheaded lobby days in Sacramento to advance the cause ofuniversal health care.

I asked this Parish Nurse if she refers parishioners to the Healthy Families program? She saidyes. She, further, affirmed that referrals to Planned Parenthood were also included in thosereferences. I then asked her why a Catholic Church would be referring its parishioners to anorganization that promoted abortion and family planning which are in opposition to the CatholicFaith teaching? At that point her whole demeanor changed. She stated that she merely madereferrals to those agencies most appropriate for type of service needed by the parishioner. It wasnot her responsibility as to what services the parishioner actually accepted.

Several years ago a parish in Concord, California, also within the Oakland Diocese providedassistance to the county health department in the refurbishing of an old van to be used as amobile medical services van for residents of the Monument Corridor. This area is heavilypopulated with legal and illegal residents. Members of the Concord Parish saw this van as a wayto obtain needed health services unobtainable any other way. This Van parked at a localshopping center and at various neighborhood grade schools to deliver health care and referrals.People volunteered to drive patients to referral sites if necessary. Planned Parenthood was one ofthe referral organizations.

When I inquired about the morality of a Catholic Parish facilitating its parishioners attendance atabortion and family planning programs I was told that providing services to needy people wasthe first and foremost concern. Abortion was not their problem.

Genesis chapter 3 contains the story of how the devil seduced Eve into eating the fruit of theforbidden tree. He didn’t suggest that Jesus was lying about the fruit. He didn’t suggest sheshould ignore Jesus warning. He merely pointed out the advantages to her of consuming thisfruit. The opportunities it would present to her to gain knowledge which God didn’t want her tohave. You know the rest of the story. Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge assuming toherself the right to make her own decisions without outside guidance. Chapter 3 is entitled: TheFall of Man.

So, too, the seducer of the mind has approached the churches to suggest that there is nothingwrong with taking the money from the government. The work of the government is good. Itprovides social justice to the worker, the poor, the underserved. The church should be able toparticipate in this work of human mercy and reap the rewards of recognition and acclaim.Does your church have a Parish Nurse?

©2010. Camille Giglio. All rights reserved.