Once again, I picked the wrong day to go on vacation.
While driving to Michigan to spend Christmas break with family and friends, the announcement was made that Bishop Thomas Olmsted has indeed decided to revoke the Catholic status of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
This is the final fruit of a communications between Bishop Olmsted and representatives of the hospital which has been ongoing for seven years. CHW and St. Joseph’s had plenty of time to avoid this if they had so desired.
Bishop Olmsted has explained his reasons in this statement:
The reason for this decision is based upon the fact that, as Bishop of Phoenix, I cannot verify that this health organization will provide health care consistent with authentic Catholic moral teaching as interpreted by me in exercising my legitimate Episcopal authority to interpet the moral law.
[Read the entire decree here]
The most disturbing and significant point to be gleaned from Bishop Olmsted’s accompanying statement is that St. Joseph’s, and the umbrella group Health Care West, have been participating in a whole host of policies and procedures contrary to Church teaching, including but not limited to:
1) contraceptive counseling, medications, supplies and associated medical and laboratory examinations, including, but not limited to, oral and injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms, forms and suppositories; 2) Voluntary sterilization (male and female); and 3) Abortions due to the mental or physical health of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
[In addition, American Life League has published an extensive expose revealing in detail the immoral practices CHW has been engaging in for some time. The report leaves little doubt about the fact that CHW is deeply guilty of violating the Church's guidelines for providing ethical healthcare.]
Bishop Olmsted reacts to these findings of fact as follows:
In light of all these failures to comply with the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Church, it is my duty to decree that, in the Diocese of Phoenix at St. Joseph’s Hospital, CHW is not committed to following the teachings of the Catholic Church and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic.
Concretely, while Catholics are still free to seek medical care at St. Jospeh’s, Mass will no longer be allowed to be celebrated at the hospital and the Blessed Sacrament may not be reserved in its chapel.
I have two quick observations to make:
I have no doubt that Bishop Olmsted will be attacked for this brave decision, but consider this: it’s really St. Joseph’s and CHW who are guilty of “false advertising.” While claiming to be Catholic hospitals and health care systems, they have in fact been gravely violating the Church’s ethical and religious directives for years. Anyone who wishes to support CHW and St. Joseph’s in this debate should at least acknowledge that they are supporting a position that is in fact duplicitious. The Church defines what constitutes ethical health care – what is healthcare worthy of the name Catholic – not hospital administrators.
Second, I’ve written before, time and time again, that Catholic hospitals face grave threats to their identity when they give up their autonomy and become enmeshed in federal programs. The US Government/federal healthcare regulatory agencies and the Catholic Church have simply incompatible visions of what constitutes human flourishing and what type of healthcare is “ethical.” What CHW and St. Joseph’s have been doing is providing health care that is practically indestinguishable from what every nonreligiously-affiliated hospital in this country provides. In this sense, purely as a matter of definition, CHW and St. Joseph’s haven’t been Catholic in a long time.
My prayer is that this awful state of affairs changes, and that St. Joseph’s and CHW sincerely (and soon) attempt to reestablish their Catholic identity. The first step towards achieving this goal is for them to acknowledge that right now they do not possess a truly Catholic identity.
Obedience to the legitimate authority and wisdom of the Church is a good concept to try out next.
UPDATE: My father canon lawyer Ed Peters comments that “Bp. Olmsted’s decision to decertify St. Joseph’s as a Catholic institution is quite well grounded.” Continue reading here.
UPDATE 2: A friend observes that Bp. Olmsted’s action follows perfectly the mandate found in Veritatis Splendor #116 (underlining mine):
A particular responsibility is incumbent upon Bishops with regard to Catholic institutions. Whether these are agencies for the pastoral care of the family or for social work, or institutions dedicated to teaching or health care, Bishops can canonically erect and recognize these structures and delegate certain responsibilities to them. Nevertheless, Bishops are never relieved of their own personal obligations. It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title “Catholic” to Church-related schools, universities, health-care facilities and counselling services, and, in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away.
UPDATE 3: Predictably, the Catholic Health Association (led by Sr. Keehan) has come out in support of … St. Joseph’s and CHW and against Bp. Olmsted. Also, this tidbit:
… the San Francisco archdiocese — where Catholic Healthcare West is headquartered — issued a brief statement Dec. 21 saying that Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco “intends to initiate a dialogue with the leadership of Catholic Healthcare West” regarding questions Olmsted has raised “about the implementation of the ERDs” within the CHW system.While it offered no judgment on the merits of the conflict between Olmsted and St. Joseph’s, the two-paragraph archdiocesan statement affirmed Olmsted’s “authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith” within the Phoenix Diocese and to judge whether Catholic institutions in his diocese are in accord with the bishops’ ERDs.