Catholic health clinic fights back against defamatory video

Marisol Health threatens liberal advocacy group ProgressNow Colorado with legal action

Roxanne King

Marisol Health threatened legal action publicly May 23 against ProgressNow Colorado demanding that Marisol’s image and reference be removed from a propaganda video that mischaracterizes the women’s health care and implies it to be a “fake clinic.”

Marisol, which is run by Catholic Charities, held a press conference at its Denver clinic after its attorneys received no response from a May 17 letter giving ProgressNow, an aggressive liberal advocacy group, three days to meet their mandate.

“It’s a clear case of defamation, called libel, and we are prepared with Marisol to take this to the next level if ProgressNow and its affiliates don’t respond to our demand letter,” attorney Michael Norton said at the media event. “As of this moment there has been no response.

“That is not surprising for drive-by organizations like ProgressNow whose political interests outweigh truth. The truth here is that Marisol Health does provide comprehensive health care for women, it is a quality organization and it will do what it needs to do to defend its reputation.”

Norton was joined by Jan McIntosh, vice president of Marisol Services, and Dede Chism, co-founder and executive director of Bella Natural Women’s Care and Family Wellness, which partners with Marisol.

Through its partnership with Bella, Marisol runs clinics in Denver and Lafayette that provide a full range of women’s health care services provided by licensed medical professionals. Marisol’s health care services include comprehensive obstetrics, gynecological and prenatal care, infertility care, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, and abortion pill reversals.

On staff are three board-certified doctors, four nurse practitioners, a certified nurse midwife and case managers.

Through its partnership with Bella, Marisol runs clinics in Denver and Lafayette that provide a full range of women’s health care services provided by licensed medical professionals. (Photo by Vanessa Chavez | Marisol Health)

“We provide these services to all who come to our door no matter whether they are able to pay or not,” McIntosh said. “In fact 45 percent of our patients have no income or income less than $15,000 per year; 45 percent have Medicaid and 32 percent are uninsured.”

Marisol also offers counseling and social services to its patients who need them, McIntosh said. Those services include mental health and substance abuse treatment, domestic violence intervention, and housing for single expectant mothers, single mothers with children and single women who are experiencing homelessness.

“We are shocked and offended that an organization would use our name to make false statements about our licensed medical staff and seek to deter help for so many women who are often without food, housing, jobs, emotional support and quality medical care,” McIntosh said.

The ProgressNow video titled “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” includes photos of four crisis pregnancy centers in the metro-area, including the Denver Marisol Health clinic, as a woman, identified only as Aubrey, a 40-year-old art teacher, recalls her college experience of being referred to an unidentified clinic when she found herself with an unexpected pregnancy.

Aubrey relates that the pregnancy center lacked medical personnel outside of an ultrasound technician, which concerned her as she had a seizure disorder that could have been fatal to her pregnancy. As the video shifts to city scenes, bold white text over the photos declare: “There are more than 60 crisis pregnancy centers in Colorado; Staff rarely have any medical training; They often lie or refuse to provide accurate information.”

“It’s a clear case of defamation, called libel, and we are prepared with Marisol to take this to the next level if ProgressNow and its affiliates don’t respond to our demand letter,” attorney Michael Norton said at the media event May 23. (Photo by Vanessa Chavez | Marisol Health)

The video is posted to ProgressNow Colorado’s Facebook page. It is also on the No Fake Care website of ProgressNow affiliate, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. COLOR also put up billboards around Denver that say, “In Your Neighborhood: Fake Health Center” and include the nofakecare.com web address.

The video and billboards are part of a trend by pro-abortion groups to undermine the work of pro-life pregnancy centers. The US Supreme Court is now deciding a case—National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra—to determine whether a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to inform women of the availability of abortions elsewhere violates their First Amendment and free speech rights.

“We demand that all video footage of and references to Marisol Health on ProgressNow’s website or Facebook page, including the website or Facebook page of COLOR or any other ProgressNow affiliate, and posted to YouTube, be immediately deleted or redacted from all such websites, Facebook pages or YouTube postings,” Norton wrote in the letter to ProgressNow Colorado.

ProgressNow didn’t respond to requests from the Denver Catholic for comment.

Client response to Marisol Health is proof that its groundbreaking services are valued, Chism said.

“The forging of services between Bella and Marisol brings a new level to health care,” she said at the press conference. “The need for this innovative style, this new style of women’s health care, has been evident in the overwhelming response we have received in the last three and half years … in the caring for over 5,000-plus patients.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story misstated what the propaganda video actually said in reference to Marisol Health. It has been updated to more accurately reflect the mischaracterization of Marisol Health by ProgressNow.

COMING UP: Honored for 50 years of service at Cabrini Shrine, man says it’s been ‘blessing after blessing’

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Every workday, facilities manager Tom Francis starts his morning the same way. He enters the chapel at Mother Cabrini Shrine on Lookout Mountain, turns on the lights and addresses a statue of the shrine’s namesake.

“I tell her, ‘OK boss, this is your place. I’m just a pair of hands. You need to help me or we won’t be able to be here for those who come.’”

On December 1, Tommy, as he is affectionately called, marked 50 years as an employee of the shrine, which is named after St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The shrine staff honored the energetic 71-year-old with a Mass and luncheon.

“Tommy has a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini,” said JoAnn Seaman, Development Director. “He has had a huge impact on the shrine and what it has become. … He is very humble and gives all the credit to Cabrini.”

In 1880, the native Italian nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart by means of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Desiring to do mission work in China, instead Pope Leo XIII urged her to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. From 1889 until her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini did so, even becoming a naturalized citizen in 1909.

Tommy was recognized for service that started when he was a 21-year-old college student who labored summers, nights and weekends at the shrine and lived with his parents, grandmother and siblings in the caretaker’s house. But in reality, his service began when he was still a child and his father Carl worked as the maintenance manager for Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. Located in north Denver, the orphanage operated from 1905-1967. It was torn down in 1969.

“I was blessed to work with my dad and to be around the [Missionary] Sisters all the time,” Tommy said. “By the time my dad passed [in 1984] he’d spent 54 years of his life working for them. It was from him I learned respect for the sisters and their mission.”

Even after Tommy finished college and was working fulltime as a math teacher, he continued working part-time at the shrine. Upon retiring from a successful 30-year teaching career in 2003, he began laboring fulltime at the shrine.

“Mother Cabrini bought this property in 1910, primarily as the summer home for the girls at Queen of Heaven Orphanage,” Tommy explained. “In 1938, when she was beatified, they started building a chapel as there was a lot of interest in Mother Cabrini…. After she was canonized in 1946, that’s when the real development started. In the 1950s the statue of Jesus was placed at the top of the hill. That’s how the shrine got started.”

By the time Tommy started working there, Mother Cabrini had been canonized more than 20 years and was recognized as the patron of immigrants. The shrine was already attracting pilgrims who wanted to walk where a saint had once walked.

Tom Francis has worked at Mother Cabrini shrine for 50 years, continuing the legacy started by his father, who began working for the Shrine in 1930, when it was operating as Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. (Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

They were also drawn by a spring that was discovered in 1912 when Mother Cabrini’s sisters complained to her about the lack of water on the property. The saint told them: “Lift that rock over there and start to dig.” They did and found a spring that runs to this day. Many pilgrims believe that through faith, the water has brought healing and peace to their lives.

A replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, was built over the spring in 1929 and replaced with the current one in 1959. The historic Stone House dormitory, completed for the orphan girls in 1914, now serves as a retreat house.

The 22-foot statue of Jesus, which stands on the highest point of the 900-acre site and serves as a landmark for the shrine, is reached by a prayer path of 373 steps built in 1954. At the foot of the statue is an image of Christ’s Sacred Heart made with white stones by Mother Cabrini with help from her sisters and some of the orphan girls in 1912.

The original pump-house is now a charming museum about the saint and the 50-year-old main building housing the chapel, gift shop and convent is constantly busy with visitors.

In his years with the shrine, Tommy, with the help of many volunteers, has further beautified and enhanced the tranquility of the grounds with his landscaping skills.
“Not only does he take care of the grounds and buildings, but he designed and built all of our meditation and prayer gardens,” Seaman said. “He knows every inch of this place like the back of his hand.”

“Our sisters would not have been able to maintain this ministry without Tommy and his family, who worked for the sisters since the time of the orphanage,” said Missionary Sister Roselle Santivasi, noting that when she arrived to the shrine nine years ago, Tommy’s mother Elda, who died in 2012, was still a helpful presence at the shrine.

“Every Missionary Sister knows Tom Francis and his family,” declared Sister Roselle. “Our whole ministry here was so dependent on Tommy and his family and continues to be. They are a large part of why the [shrine] mission has succeeded and has brought the presence of God to so many people.”

A widower for 27 years as he raised two daughters after losing his wife to cancer, Tommy met his current wife Sarah, a speech therapist, in 2005 when she moved to the shrine from Green Bay, Wis., as a Cabrini Mission Corps lay volunteer. The couple will mark their 10th wedding anniversary in March.

Sarah is just one of the blessings Mother Cabrini has brought Tommy as he labors at her shrine.

“You can feel a connection with Mother Cabrini here — you can feel her presence,” Tommy asserted. “Even though we no longer have orphans, about 50 percent of our visitors are immigrants who have great devotion to Mother Cabrini. The sisters still work with the poor and it’s still the Cabrini vision to spread God’s love through the world.”

The shrine remains a prayerful place of pilgrimage to foster one’s relationship with Christ, whether for a day or for a longer formal retreat. Tommy said he loves his work and plans to go on keeping the shrine vibrant.

“Since my dad started working for the sisters in 1930, it’s my goal to continue working to 2030 so we can have 100 [consecutive] years of service to St. Frances Cabrini in Denver,” he said, not satisfied with the 104 combined years they’ve already given. “The shrine is a wonderful place to be. It’s blessing after blessing here.”