Earlier this fall, Gov. James E. McGreevey waded into a bitter, highly charged dispute between two New Brunswick hospitals by hosting a private meeting with the major players at the governor's mansion in Princeton.
Metuchen Bishop Paul Bootkoski wanted McGreevey to halt a proposed state regulation allowing Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to establish a regional perinatal center, which would care for high-risk pregnant women and very ill premature infants. Bootkoski argued the move would put a neighboring Roman Catholic institution, St. Peter's University Hospital, out of business.
"Bishop, I am a governor, not a king," McGreevey said, according to Harvey Holzberg, president and CEO of Robert Wood Johnson. Others at the meeting did not recall those exact words, but said the Governor refused to intervene. Ten days later, the state Department of Health and Senior Services adopted the regulation.
The bishop did not go away quietly. Instead, he mounted an extraordinary campaign to pressure McGreevey, at one point declaring, "We are at war with our Governor."
McGreevey's wife Dina suffered pregnancy complications earlier this year and gave birth to their daughter at St. Peter's Hospital. In a homily to 600 parishioners at the Immaculate Conception Church in Clinton, the bishop said St. Peter's had "saved the lives of Gov. James McGreevey's wife and child just a few months ago. Now we are at war with our Governor."
Speaking from the pulpit in churches throughout the diocese, Bootkoski said it was a matter of conscience for Catholics to rally behind St. Peter's Hospital. He charged that "this move by Robert Wood Johnson and Gov. McGreevey is nothing less than trying to get us out of health care."
During another homily at St. Charles Borromeo in Skillman on Oct. 12, Bootkoski said Catholics represent 42 percent of the population in the counties of the diocese, while less than 3 percent of the area is Jewish. In an interview, Bootkoski said he cited those numbers because he feels there is too often a "malaise" among Catholics on issues that affect them and or their faith.
"We as Catholics can take an example from our Jewish brothers and sisters. When they see something wrong, they speak up, they unite, which I respect them for," he said. "Catholic health care is very important to our church."