Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Ugly scene at NIH chaplaincy

leave a comment »

From the Washington Post this morning:

The spiritual ministry department of the National Institutes of Health, which serves patients being treated in the nation’s premier research hospital, is in disarray and battling a lawsuit and discrimination complaints that allege bias against Jewish and Catholic chaplains.

In February, a federal panel ordered the hospital to reinstate a Catholic priest who was wrongfully fired in 2004. In January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had found that he was the target of “discriminatory and retaliatory animus.” Three other former chaplains have said that they also were wrongfully terminated.

They have accused O. Ray Fitzgerald, a Methodist minister and the former head of the spiritual ministry department, of anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. They say that NIH retaliated against them when they spoke up and invented reasons for terminating them.

Fitzgerald was demoted from the chief chaplain’s post two weeks ago after the EEOC, which cited the “animus,” and the Merit Systems Protection Board ordered the rehiring of and back pay for the priest, the Rev. Henry Heffernan.

NIH officials “endorsed intolerance, and they reinforced intolerance with intolerance,” said Rabbi Reeve Brenner, who testified last year in support of the priest and was fired as a hospital chaplain in February. He has filed a complaint with the Merit Board, an agency that hears federal personnel disputes, saying that he was removed by NIH as retribution for his testimony.

Another ousted chaplain, Greek Orthodox lay minister Edar Rogler, is suing the Department of Health and Human Services, NIH’s parent agency, saying that she also was removed for testifying in support of Heffernan. In her lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Maryland, and in her testimony in Heffernan’s case, she says NIH officials hatched a plan, “Operation Clean Sweep,” to purge staff members who cooperated in the priest’s complaint.

Rogler alleges that Fitzgerald made frequent anti-Semitic comments about Brenner. In her lawsuit, she says that Fitzgerald referred to Brenner as “the butthead Jew” and “the crass Jew.”

“He would not refer to the rabbi ever by his name,” Rogler said in an interview. “It was always ‘that Jew, that Jew.’ ” She was fired from her part-time chaplain’s job in 2005 after she said she informed NIH officials that she planned to testify before the EEOC on behalf of Heffernan. The EEOC called her testimony more credible than Fitzgerald’s.

Ugly, eh? It’s even worse than that. From later in the article:

In testimony and in an interview, Heffernan, who joined the department in 1994, said he protested that the hospital’s Catholic patients were being unfairly short-changed because Fitzgerald demanded that Heffernan minister to non-Catholic patients.

He said this left him with not enough time to minister to all of his Catholic patients. Heffernan also was concerned with what he called Fitzgerald’s “generic chaplaincy” approach, because non-Catholic chaplains are unable to perform the Catholic sacraments, such as hearing confessions and performing last rites.

Fitzgerald, the EEOC said, retaliated by suspending Heffernan for five days in early 2004 for coming in on his days off, despite Fitzgerald’s order not to. Heffernan held Mass for a priest who fell ill. Fitzgerald also demanded that Heffernan take entry-level training in hospital chaplaincy, despite his 40 years of experience in the field and the fact that other chaplains were not required to do so.

In July 2004, Heffernan was fired. At Heffernan’s EEOC hearing last year, Brenner and Rogler testified that they had heard Fitzgerald express anti-Catholic sentiments against the priest. Rogler testified that Fitzgerald told her that Catholic priests are pedophiles.

“They singled out Father Heffernan . . . so they could get him out of there,” Brenner said. “That was the most offensive thing — this 75-year-old man who had more wisdom and integrity in his fingertips than his superiors had in all their lives.”

In February, the Merit Board ordered Heffernan reinstated. In a separate ruling, the EEOC ordered NIH to accommodate the priest’s desire to see only Catholics, except in emergencies.

The EEOC said that Fitzgerald’s testimony was evasive and that statements by Rogler and Brenner at the hearing provided “corroborating testimony” to show that Fitzgerald was biased against Roman Catholics.

The article indicates that the hospital’s chief operating officer, Maureen Gormley, is hanging tough and still defending her actions.

Written by Leisureguy

14 April 2007 at 7:32 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: