Monday, July 13, 2009

Pro Ecclesia et... Obama: A Catholic "Top Doc"

As one high profile Hispanic Catholic pick of the Obama administration sits today before the Senate Judiciary Committee and another awaits his hearing, the President drew further from the US church's diverse ranks this morning with the nomination of his Surgeon General -- this time, selecting an African-American Catholic.

Founder of a health clinic for Alabama's rural poor that's been destroyed and rebuilt three times (twice by hurricanes, once by fire) since its founding in 1990, Dr Regina Benjamin was reelected to a second term on the board of the US' Catholic Health Association at its yearly assembly last month in New Orleans. Even more notably, though, the family physician's work both at home and beyond was recognized in 2006 when Pope Benedict awarded Benjamin the papal cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("For the Church and the Pontiff") -- the Roman accolade reserved for laity, religious and permanent deacons who've given distinguished service both at the Vatican and in the wider church alike.

The first African-American woman to lead a state medical association, the 52 year-old nominee -- whose grandmother helped found a Black Catholic parish amid her era's forced segregation, its first Masses offered in her living room -- must be confirmed by the Senate before she can become the nation's "top doc." In the meantime, the CHA's president, Daughter of Charity Sr Carol Keehan "rejoice[d] for the nation" in a statement released just after this morning's announcement:
In Dr. Benjamin, we have a brilliant physician who understands health care, nationally and internationally; but even more important, she knows the health care needs of the people of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, who she meets on a daily basis.

Dr. Benjamin will enrich the nation because she brings competence and integrity to this very important role. This is coupled with the daily experience of trying to meet the health care needs of a very vulnerable community. Our nation will greatly benefit from her leadership and her background in national and international efforts to deliver quality health care.

CHA congratulates Dr. Benjamin and looks forward to working with her to improve the health of our great country.
Flanking Obama and Benjamin at their Rose Garden appearance was the other Catholic overseeing the nation's health efforts: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose support for abortion rights has garnered strong criticism from within the church, including her archbishop's public request that the former Kansas governor refrain from the Eucharist.

Given the President's own pro-choice stance, Pope Benedict gave Obama a copy of Dignitas Personae -- last year's Vatican instruction on bioethics -- at their first meeting on Friday; in a rare on-record moment, the pontiff's private secretary Msgr Georg Ganswein told reporters of the pointed gift, explaining B16's hope that it would give the President a better understanding of the church's teaching on life issues.

Among a Catholic population numbering about 64 million nationwide, African-Americans comprise some three million members of the Stateside church.

SVILUPPO: In its report on the Benjamin nod, the wire has a bit more on the General-designate's papal honor:
Msgr. Michael Farmer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., said Benjamin was nominated for the [Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice] because of "her commitment to her faith as well as for putting her faith into practice."

"I'm very happy with her being nominated," Msgr. Farmer told Catholic News Service in a phone interview. "She's a very good woman and a very good doctor."