White Mass offered for healthcare workers Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, May. 30, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
white mass
Msgr. James Bartylla, diocesan administrator, accepts the Offertory gifts at the White Mass from Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, husband Kep, stepdaughter Annika, and daughter Addie. (Catholic Herald photo/Mary C. Uhler)

MADISON -- Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers gathered on Sunday, May 19, at St. Maria Goretti Church for the annual White Mass sponsored by the Catholic Medical Guild of the Diocese of Madison.

Msgr. James Bartylla, diocesan administrator, presided and preached at the Mass (see an article based on his homily here).

A brunch followed the Mass with Fr. Patrick Norris, OP, speaking on “Defending the Pro-Life Stance from a Natural Law Perspective.”

Father Norris is a chaplain and ethicist at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. He previously served as a pastor as well as associate director of the Center for Health Care Ethics at St. Louis University Health Sciences Center.

Catholic Medical Guild

Dr. Elizabeth Anderson, president of the local Catholic Medical Guild, said the guild was started here about six years ago. “The goals is to provide education and fellowship to those working in the medical field,” she said.

Four events are planned each year. Besides the White Mass, there are a summer picnic, a talk in the fall, and participation in the March for Life in Chicago in January. For more information, go to

Abortion debate

In his talk, Father Norris provided information for Catholics -- especially those in the medical fields -- on the issue of abortion. “This is an important moment in our country. We’re right in the middle of debate on the abortion issue. We should know how to frame the discussions and enter into the public arena,” he said.

In 1973, he said the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions allowed for an “unfettered right to abortion.”

He noted that the court did tie state regulation of abortion to the three trimesters of pregnancy: during the first trimester, governments could not prohibit abortions at all; during the second trimester, governments could require reasonable health regulations; and during the third

trimester, abortions could be prohibited entirely so long as the laws contained exceptions for cases when abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother.

However, Father Norris said “abortion was legal in theory for all nine months of pregnancy.”

Curtailing abortion rights

Since 1973, he noted there have been efforts to curtail some abortion rights.

Cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court include Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), which upheld a Missouri law that imposed restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counseling on abortions.

Another was Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), in which the constitutionality of several Pennsylvania state statutory provisions regarding abortion was challenged. Planned Parenthood v. Casey crafted the “undue burden” standard for abortion restrictions. It said that the state could regulate abortions at any point from fetal viability (when a fetus is able to live outside of the mother’s womb) and beyond.

Before viability at 23 or 24 weeks or earlier, regulations are allowed as long as that regulation does not pose an undue burden on the woman. Father Norris said society is still trying to figure out what “undue burden” means.

Church teaching

Father Norris noted that the Bible has no direct condemnation of abortion, but it does consider killing of the mother and child as homicide. “In the Bible, there is a sense that we’re made in the image and likeness of God.”

Church teaching early on, as documented in The Didache (circa 96 AD), said that “you shall not kill the child in the womb,” said Father Norris.

“With the early Church Fathers, there was a debate. Some saw abortion as homicide, or some saw it as homicide only in late pregnancy,” as did St. Thomas Aquinas.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the “Dogma of the Immaculate Conception”, saying the Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the moment of her conception, preserved from all stain of original sin. That dogma, said Father Norris, would strengthen the belief that life begins at conception.

In 1974, the Vatican condemned abortion and said that life is a fundamental good. In 1987, in an instruction on respect for life in its origin, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith discussed the development of scientific knowledge about human life and emphasized that the human beings should be treated with respect from the moment of conception.

In 1995, St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) condemns abortion as a “crime against humanity,” as are murder, euthanasia, and capital punishment.

Father Norris discussed the issue of personhood. “It makes sense to us that we have a person at conception,” he said, saying that personhood should not be dependent on whether a mother wants a child.

What to do

He encouraged members of the Catholic Medical Guild to bring pro-life teachings into the public square.

“It’s unclear whether we will overturn Roe v. Wade, but we can get laws that are more and more restrictive and reduce the number of abortions,” he said.

He also suggested improving access to health care and adoption, reducing poverty, and increasing the role of fathers in pregnancy decisions.

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