The Colorado Catholic Conference applauds the passage of SB22-053, which ensures that a hospital patient or a nursing or assisted living facility resident has at least one visitor during a pandemic. This includes “compassionate care visits,” which can be clergy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Catholic Coloradans were denied Last Rites by healthcare facilities due to the institution’s COVID-transmission restrictions. Because of these restrictions, many Coloradans’ sincerely held beliefs were disregarded, even at the point of their death. That is a violation of human dignity and religious freedom.
Catholic “Last Rites” encompass the Sacraments of penance, Holy Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick. The Sacraments provide the sick person with the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or old age. Some stories of healthcare facilities denying Last Rites due to the COVID-19 pandemic include:
- A priest was denied access to dying patient at a hospital in Wheat Ridge and dying patients in an assisted living facility in Arvada. He eventually was given access through a closed window where he could only hear confession, but not Anoint the sick or celebrate Communion.
- Another priest was called to a hospital in Thornton where an elderly woman was near death. She had been in the hospital for over 2 weeks and not allowed a visitor. The priest was denied access for days before he could deliver Last Rites to her.
- Another priest was denied access to his elderly parishioner at a hospital in Wheat Ridge and only allowed to video call. He was also deterred from his chaplain visits for a dying COVID patient by a hospital. He said these situations are deeply disturbing for the clergy and the families, but even more so for the patients who were in fear of dying alone or in a state of sin.
- Another priest said that a hospital in a Denver suburb only allowed video calls – no family or priests for dying COVID patients were permitted to enter.
- Another priest was asked to anoint a 102 year old man in a convalescent home. The home refused the priest’s access, saying that the man wasn’t close enough to death.
- Another priest was denied entry to deliver Last Rites to dying parishioners at two hospitals in the Denver area because he wasn’t one of their chaplains.
- Another priest was also denied access to his dying parishioners at a hospital and a nursing home. Because of the hospital and nursing home’s actions, both patients died alone, without the necessary Sacraments, which caused more suffering for them and their families.
These are selected stories of seven different priests, but are the stories of several families and individual lives. There are many more across the state.
This is a matter of human dignity, religious freedom, and ultimately respect for Coloradans at the end of their lives.