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Priests defend right to visit the sick

At government urging, hospitals update COVID-19 policies to allow clergy visits

A chaplain outside Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Ga. Associated Press/Photo by Brynn Anderson (file)

Priests defend right to visit the sick

Patients facing death or serious illness can take comfort in visits from their faith leaders. But pandemic-related restrictions have closed many hospital doors to priests, pastors, and rabbis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights recently helped two Catholics resolve disputes with hospitals about the balance between health concerns and patients’ religious freedom.

In one case, the Office of Civil Rights intervened after a Mary Washington Healthcare facility in Fredericksburg, Va., did not allow a priest to administer the last rites to a Catholic patient dying from COVID-19. After the federal office contacted the hospital, it allowed the priest to visit. In the other case, the office talked to a MedStar Health System hospital in southern Maryland after it stopped a priest from visiting a mother who was separated from her newborn because she tested positive for the coronavirus.

Roger Severino, director of the Office of Civil Rights, told reporters both hospitals have since updated their policies to allow clergy to call on COVID-19 patients as long as they wear protective clothing and undergo infection control training. Patients not on coronavirus units can receive pastoral visits at any reasonable time, he said.

As the pandemic has dragged on, other hospitals have also developed more clergy-friendly COVID-19 policies. Federal intervention led the University of Maryland Medical System to align its policy in July with HHS requirements that healthcare facilities make sure those under their care can access chaplains and clergy. “You can safely treat the patient without neglecting the whole patient—that’s mind, body, and soul,” Severino said.

Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C.



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Laura W

Masks reduce the risk. They do not make it zero. There is no inconsistancy here.


Why all the restrictions in medical facilities? We are told everywhere we go that masks save lives, masks are vital in preventing the spread of Covid, if everyone wears a mask, you and others are safe. The head of the CDC even said masks are more effective at protecting the wearer of Covid than a vaccine will be. If the medical community, and governement, really believe this, why do masks suddenly not work when you enter a medical facility, or school for that matter? There is such a bizarre level of inconsistancy everywhere.