Monday, January 25, 2010

"Being the Minority" or "On Catholic Identity"

Two years into my medical career and the pressure is already intense.  No, not the pressure of being able to make the diagnosis or pass that exam, but rather the pressure to conform.  As a 24 year old, white male in medical school, I am the minority.  How can this be you ask? Well, it is because I desire to be a Catholic who is faithful to the Creed he professes, faithful to the Magisterium to whom he pledges obedience, and faithful to all that the Church stands for.  In short, I desire to identify myself as Catholic in every aspect of my life.  No picking or choosing, no cafeteria Catholicism.  I simply want to be 'Catholic'.  This means that as a husband, I am Catholic; as a father, I am Catholic; as a medical student and later a physician, I am a Catholic. 

Of course, in the field of medicine, this continuously places me into a state of conflict with other individuals.  Simply by claiming and defending the legitimate Catholic position, I have been attacked and called many names.  It has been unfortunate, but this is the state of my existence.  Moreover, some of the greatest opposition I have faced has been from fellow Catholics in my class.

Having an opinion that differs from another individual in my class is not a bad thing, per se.  At times there is opportunity for fruitful dialogue.  Moreover, I have great respect for an individual who has thought through their positions and remain consistent in what they say and how they act.  However, when I encounter an individual who claims to be Catholic and yet is emphatic and extremely vocal about their support for contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia I am flabbergasted.  I am not going to explore in this post how such a person can be intellectually honest, rather I want to discuss the pragmatics of this situation.

In my class of 180 students, I have been lucky enough to have found about 5 individuals who desire to take their Catholic faith seriously.  This does not mean that there are not others in my class, but I have not encountered them after a year and a half of trying.  I do know that there are at least 30 other Catholics in my class, probably more.  Moreover, I know that there is a reasonably vocal portion of those individuals who use the name Catholic and yet still hold to positions contrary to the Catholic faith.  Some might say "No big deal, so they are bad Catholics."  And yet, it is this attitude that has destroyed Catholic medicine.  As the numbers of people in this category rise, it becomes more and more difficult for faithful Catholics to maintain their freedom to practice medicine as Catholics.  When I am on the floor, doing my OB/GYN rotation and I have to tell my attending that I am unwilling to participate in abortions, sterilization, and artificial contraception, what am I suppose to say when they tell me "So and so is Catholic and he has no problem doing those things..."?  Or worse, what do I do when my attending says "I am Catholic and I don't see any problem with those things..."?  And thus, I am the minority.  The number of individuals who seek to practice faithful medicine is much smaller than the crowd of those people who use the name Catholic and yet support immoral actions.  Due to this, we have situations like Martha Coakley in Massachussets who claimed that if individuals could not prescribe emergency contraception in the emergency room because of their religious beliefs, then they should not work in the ER.  And would you believe it? Martha Coakley calls herself Catholic!

There is but one solution to this problem.  We must reassert our Catholic identity, particularly in medicine.  As Catholic physicians, we need to know our faith inside and out so that we can defend ourselves against the pro-death onslaught.  Catholics have been at the forefront of medicine since the Church was born (thank you St. Luke, Saints Cosmas and Damian, and many others), and this is particularly true in the United States where many of the first and later finest hospitals were established by the Catholic Church.  Today there are over 600 Catholic hospitals in this country, and yet we see our ability to practice medicine as faithful Catholics slipping away because a majority of the Church will not stand up against the culture of death.  We must reclaim our identity and proclaim it in every aspect of our life.  In that way, people will know that we do intend to practice medicine, and yes, as faithful Catholics.  If we continue to do this, the minority may just become the majority.


  1. "Be for a single day unfashionable, and you will see how much eternity you have within you." ~ Rilke


  2. Hi Brian!
    I will pray for you as you continue your studies. I think I saw you last night during the state of the union address on Catholic Vote Action? If so, I loved your responses there too! Thanks for your witness, we need good strong Catholic Dr's out there!

  3. Patty- That was me last night! I enjoyed the live blogging immensely. Thank you for your prayers, and please check back, new posts coming soon!


  4. Anonymous5:14 PM

    Hi There,

    I came across your blog in my search for some answers from a Catholic prospective. While engaged in dialogue with some rather "militant" advocates of "sexual freedom", I have been tasked with the rebuttal to the assertion that: "homosexuality is indeed biologically innate". While the general subject is quite vast and little objective evidence has been conducted to support the claim, I was provided with a link to research conducted in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology. I guess my question would be: how is endocrinology objectively related to homosexuality? Any thoughts or leads on the subject would be fantastic.

    Kind Regards,

    Patrick from Canada

  5. Patrick, I honestly could not tell you without seeing the article. I suppose they may try to use certain hormone levels to justify the actions. Or perhaps refute the actions, I do know.

    In reality, it is a fairly logical rebuttal (we simply are not built for homosexual activity, and when it is practiced it increases the rates of disease and death in those individuals, which is not exactly the best thing for the gene pool).

    That said, if they are 'militant' than they will not listen.

  6. Anonymous5:49 PM

    Hi Brian,
    I am a fouth year medical student who like yourself has felt uterly alone in standing up for my Catholic faith in the hospital. The phrase "it didn't bother other Catholic students" has been thrown in mt face as well.OB/GYN was one of my least favorite rotations as I was surrounded by people who value "reproductive freedoms" over the sanctity of life. The birth of a new child was always overshadowed by the routine question of "what form of birth control do you plan on using now?". Pediatrics clinics encouraged their young patients to start OCPs instead of encouraging virtue. Families of brain dead young adults were comforted by the thought of organ donation without considering that organs are removed before cardiac death. Nothing is more difficult for me than being surrounded by an ethical dilemma that nobody else recognizes. I am strengthened and encouraged by your moral courage and will continue to fight the good battles as they come to restore integrity to the medical field. Thank you for your post and my prayers are with you.
    In Christ,
    Misty from Upstate New York

  7. Misty, thank you for your note and your prayers. Praise be to God that there are others out there, and in the end, we know who will win the fight. God bless you.

  8. Anonymous7:21 PM

    Thanks Brian,

    You have a great thing going! Keep the courage and faith strong! It does not go unnoticed.

    As I receive info on the source (papers from the particular journal), I hope you would not mind me getting back to you? As you stated, it is indeed tricky to communicate objectively when the opposing side does not bring an open mind to the table. With our "Faith based in reason" and some Christian compassion, I hope to bring some truth to the discussion.

    Thanks again, God Bless

    Patrick in Canada

  9. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Hi Brian,

    So glad to have found your blog! I am a 1st year PA student, and not looking forward to that moment on my OB/GYN, peds, and end-of-life rotations when I will almost inevitably have to stand up for life. I admire your courage, because it certainly not easy. Keep it up!

    Rita from DC