The church does not do these things for money or profit or because they're nice to do.
When the church treats the sick and injured, or feeds the hungry, or teaches, or provides assistance to those in need, it does so as an answer to the call made by Jesus Christ.
We are obligated to do these and other works of mercy and to give voice to moral truth because He asks us to.
The church has made these and other indispensable positive contributions for two millennia.
Indeed, the Catholic Church was essential to the formation of Western civilization as we know it.
Scholars point out that it was the church that established the modern university and hospital systems. Modern-day music, art, architecture, economics, philosophy and our legal system all have their roots in the Catholic Church.
Concepts such as natural rights and social equality, not to mention the idea that government and religion are separate spheres, were developed in Catholic thought.
And it was Catholics supported by the church - with its dogmatic ideas that faith and reason are complementary and that the universe is orderly - who led the way in the sciences, including astronomy, cosmology, physics, chemistry, genetics, optics and seismology.
The church is dogmatic, and that is good - even if it means that the church is a sign of contradiction in the world and the object of animus and disdain.
It is a positive, attractive feature that what we profess is unchanging and unchangeable - the good news of a love and truth that we are called to share with the world. It is good for Catholics and non-Catholics.
Were the church to compromise its creed, if we were to simply go along with today's secularized culture, not only would the church cease to be the church but the common good would suffer greatly.
The writer, a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, is the archbishop of Washington. His column first appeared in The Washington Post.