The Catholic Church has been ordered by a federal judge to provide water to its priests, even though the water supply is not yet up and running, as part of a broader crackdown on the practice of priests using water from private wells to wash their hands.
The order comes from U.S. District Judge John Bates in San Francisco.
It also orders the bishops of California, Washington, New York, and Oregon to provide their parishes with bottled water, as well as a supply of clean water to priests in those jurisdictions.
The move by the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to health and well-being has drawn criticism from some conservatives, who see it as a step backwards for Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, which are supposed to provide safe drinking water for all, as mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.
“We’re really concerned that the bishops, in order to meet the demand of their dioceses, are not complying with their obligation to provide bottled water to the priests,” said Andrew Weinstein, executive director of the National Catholic Reporter.
The U. S. bishops issued a statement Tuesday that the order “reflects the widespread ignorance about the importance of water for the health and welfare of the church and the community.”
“The Catholic Church is an institution that seeks to live a life of charity, service, and holiness,” the statement said.
“The health of the Catholic community is our highest priority, and this order is designed to help our institutions provide safe water to our priests as well.”
While the order does not specify the amount of water the bishops are to provide to priests, it does mention that the church is required to provide clean water for parishioners.
“Any public water system that serves the people of this country is required by law to provide drinking water to every person in need,” it said.
However, the order specifically notes that it does not require that a parishioner or person in the community drink from the water system.
The bishops’ statement said that the use of bottled water in a diocese is not a violation of the Clean Water Acts of 1980 and 1990.
The Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic health care organizations, welcomed the order.
“This order provides a clear, robust, and clear legal framework for the use and distribution of bottled drinking water by Catholic institutions, including those in California,” the group’s executive director, Michael Dolan, said in a statement.
“These protections and safeguards are needed to protect the health of those who are already at greater risk from waterborne diseases, such as drinking contaminated tap water, in California, where the majority of residents have no drinking water.”
The ruling comes just days after a similar order by Bates in California prompted the resignation of the state’s water regulator, who had ordered that public water systems provide drinking and sanitation services to at-risk populations.