Bishop Strips Abortion Hospital of Catholic Status!

by Jimmy Akin

in Abortion, Canon Law, Current Affairs


Parts in this series: one, two, three, four, five

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix has stripped St. Joseph’s Medical Center of its status as a Catholic institution.

The decision was announced Tuesday at a press conference in Phoenix.  The following is the statement released by the Diocese of Phoenix in the wake of the announcement:

St. Joseph’s Hospital no longer Catholic

Statement of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted

December 21, 2010

Jesus says (Cf. Mt 25:40), “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me.”

Caring for the sick is an essential part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout our history, the Church has provided great care and love to those in need. With the advent of Catholic hospitals, the faithful could also be confident that they were able to receive quality health care according to the teachings of the Church.

Authentic Catholic care in the institutions of Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) in the Diocese of Phoenix has been a topic of discussion between CHW and me from the time of our initial meeting nearly seven years ago.

At that first meeting, I learned that CHW already did not comply with the ethical teachings of the Church at Chandler Regional Hospital. The moral guide for Hospitals and Healthcare Institutions is spelled out in what are called the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I objected strongly to CHW’s lack of compliance with these directives, and told CHW leaders that this constituted cooperation in evil that must be corrected; because if a healthcare entity wishes to call itself Catholic (as in “Catholic” Healthcare West), it needs to adhere to the teachings of the Church in all of its institutions. In all my seven years as Bishop of Phoenix, I have continued to insist that this scandalous situation needed to change; sadly, over the course of these years, CHW has chosen not to comply.

Then, earlier this year, it was brought to my attention that an abortion had taken place at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. When I met with officials of the hospital to learn more of the details of what had occurred, it became clear that, in the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld; but that the baby was directly killed, which is a clear violation of ERD #45. It also was clear that the exceptional cases, mentioned in ERD #47, were not met, that is, that there was not a cancerous uterus or other grave malady that might justify an indirect and unintended termination of the life of the baby to treat the grave illness. In this case, the baby was healthy and there were no problems with the pregnancy; rather, the mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed. This is contrary to the teaching of the Church (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, #62).

It was thus my duty to declare to the person responsible for this tragic decision that allowed an abortion at St. Joseph’s, Sister Margaret McBride, R.S.M., that she had incurred an excommunication by her formal consent to the direct taking of the life of this baby. I did this in a confidential manner, hoping to spare her public embarrassment.

Unfortunately, subsequent communications with leadership at St. Joseph’s Hospital and CHW have only eroded my confidence about their commitment to the Church’s Ethical and Religious Directives for Healthcare. They have not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion. Moreover, I have recently learned that many other violations of the ERDs have been taking place at CHW facilities in Arizona throughout my seven years as Bishop of Phoenix and far longer.

Let me explain.

CHW and St. Joseph’s Hospital, as part of what is called “Mercy Care Plan”, have been formally cooperating with a number of medical procedures that are contrary to the ERDs, for many years. I was never made aware of this fact until the last few weeks. Here are some of the things which CHW has been formally responsible for throughout these years:

• Contraceptive counseling, medications, supplies and associated medical and laboratory examinations, including, but not limited to, oral and injectable contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms, foams and suppositories;

• Voluntary sterilization (male and female); and

• Abortions due to the mental or physical health of the mother or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

This information was given to me in a meeting which included an administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital who admitted that St. Joseph’s and CHW are aware that this plan consists in formal cooperation in evil actions which are contrary to Church teaching. The Mercy Care Plan has been in existence for 26 years, includes some 368,000 members, and its 2010 revenues will reach nearly $2 billion. CHW and St. Joseph’s Hospital have made more than a hundred million dollars every year from this partnership with the government.

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 teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic.

The Catholic faithful are free to seek care or to offer care at St. Joseph’s Hospital but I cannot guarantee that the care provided will be in full accord with the teachings of the Church. In addition, other measures will be taken to avoid the impression that the hospital is authentically Catholic, such as the prohibition of celebrating Mass at the hospital and the prohibition of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.

For seven years now, I have tried to work with CHW and St. Joseph’s, and I have hoped and prayed that this day would not come, that this decree would not be needed; however, the faithful of the Diocese have a right to know whether institutions of this importance are indeed Catholic in identity and practice.

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Maypo December 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Whew, all I can say are two things after reading the article and all the comments at NCR: 1) God bless His fine Bishop 2) Poor Anne Rice needs a whole lot of prayers.

BillyHW December 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Shame on Lloyd Dean.

John F. Kennedy December 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm

I always regret going to Jimmy’s full articles because I start reading the comments. There are always a surprising great number of angry self deluded Catholics (once a Catholic always a Catholic) who publicly attack the Church and Her teachings. They need our prayers and the Holy Spirit’s grace.

Nancy December 22, 2010 at 5:44 am

The hostility makes me sad. The bishop revoked the hospital’s Catholic standing. The hospital still stands. They are free to continue to deliver healthcare however they choose. Tho “only” change is that they can no longer call themselves a Catholic hospital. There is no call for all that anger! Sigh.

Mike Melendez December 22, 2010 at 6:14 am

@JFK: Being a Catholic is a choice. It is more than just a label or a statement of cultural origin. Yes, let us pray for them.

Charlene December 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

Okay, I’m having real internal struggles understanding the problems re: what the nun did. I’m not clear how this violates the rules–given the danger to the mother’s life and the apparent inability to save the baby. The way it is being put across, it sounds as though the options were one dead or two dead and the nun/hospital opted for the lesser of two evils.
Forgive me if this has been covered elsewhere and I’ve missed it. I’m trying to research more.
I can understand the revocation of Catholic status for the birth-control/sterilization issues, but the specific case involving the excommunicated nun still baffles me a bit.
Does anyone have a link to a good run down as to why this case was handled this way?
For example: in RCIA the teacher said that a bank manager, whose wife/kids were held by thugs threatening to kill them if aforementioned bank manager didn’t rob a bank for them would get a pass on the sin of theft because the greater evil would be to let the robbers kill wife/kids. I’m struggling to understand how aborting, in a case were mom & baby would certainly die (as has been suggested), is a problem morally?
This isn’t to say that loss of life, in any case, isn’t a serious tragedy, but I’m trying to see how two people dead (mom & baby) plus four kids orphaned is more desirable as an outcome?
Forgive my ignorance. I would love to understand, because I’m having a difficult time with this.
As a person living in the area, I’m really not sure how I feel re: Bishop Olmsted. Living in his neck of the woods isn’t making the conversion process an easy one. I sincerely ask for prayers (added to my own) in helping to survive the RCIA process and come out on the other side as a newly minted Catholic with a good understanding of the faith.

Charlene December 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Okay, I found some more links on your blog, but I’m still hopelessly confused re: where the church stands when it comes to the situation i.e. what specifically makes this case a problem. When can a mothers life be saved, what makes treatment of a pregnant mother morally offensive, etc?
Still confused.

Ghosty December 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Charlene: I’m not sure what exactly your RCIA instructor said, but it’s possible that they were saying that given the circumstances the man who’s robbing the bank might not be culpable for the sin of robbing the bank because he is under severe duress. It is not true that robbing the bank would not be a sin, however, and objectively speaking it would be wrong to rob a bank to save a life. If your instructor was saying that we can commit a sin to avoid a greater evil, they were quite simply wrong. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:
1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”).
The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.
1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.
In the case of abortion, a direct, intentional abortion is always absolutely evil and wrong. The Catechism says the following:
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.
This doesn’t mean that both must die, it just means that one can’t be directly killed to save the life of the other. If the mother needed a treatment that might kill the child, the treatment would technically be good because the goal is to save the life of the mother, and killing the child is not intended by the action. The case of the hospital, however, was that the mother and child were both at risk, so the decision was made to directly kill the child to save the mother. It would be no different than if the child were already born, and someone handed you a gun and told you to shoot the child or both the child and mother would be killed.
Also, in this case the excommunications are automatic and not enacted by the Bishop; the nun excommunicated herself, the Bishop merely brought this to her attention.
Hope that helps!
Peace and God bless!

Charlene December 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Thank you. It does help!!
It is possible that I misunderstood the instructor. Or, that he was wrong in this one instance, because we’re all capable of being wrong–even the best of us. But, given my inexperience with Catholicism, I’m betting it’s my own ears that got in the way this time.
This is a horrible situation, really. My heart goes out to the nun, because the temptation would be immense. The hospital, also, and all of the staff are also being horribly tempted, it would seem, by the lure of funding to “do good” and the lure of “saving at least one life”. Honestly, I hate the evil of this world for its temptations. My heart also goes out to the bishop for trying to weed all of this out.
Everyone: Bishop Olmsted, the family, the poor baby, the nun, and the hospital workers will be in my family’s prayers.

The Masked Chicken December 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

…in RCIA the teacher said that a bank manager, whose wife/kids were held by thugs threatening to kill them if aforementioned bank manager didn’t rob a bank for them would get a pass on the sin of theft because the greater evil would be to let the robbers kill wife/kids.
As far as robbing a bank to prevent killing wife/kids, while stealing is a sin (as Ghostly points out), nevertheless, there are times when things only look like stealing, but are not. The RCIA instructor choose a poor example or, rather, he gave a poor explanation of the moral theology involved.
If one is hungry to the point of dying, for example, it is morally permissible to steal food. The reason for the permission is contained in the definition of stealing: taking something from someone that they have a right to have for themselves. In the case of extreme starvation, no one has a right to withhold food from the person starving. In that case, the ownership of the food must be surrendered by the owner for a greater good. Indeed, if the owner denied the man the food, he would be guilty of aiding murder. Thus, although there is a sin potentially involved, sin must be properly defined. Stealing is taking something that another man has the right to own – one does not have that exclusive right to food, under charity, when confronted with a starving man. Negligent homicide is death that occurs when one does not do something within one’s power and knowledge. If it is within the power of the owner of the food to give the man something to eat and he knows that the man needs it, the owner would be guilty of negligent homicide should the man die.
The bank case is not a simple example to give an RCIA class. It does not depend on doing the lesser of two evils, as your instructor said.
As in the case of the man starving, the same reasoning applies in the bank case. The bank has no moral right to hold onto money that would prevent the death of another person. Thus, if it could be reasonably established that the thug would, in fact, kill the wife/child and the bank were made aware of this, they would have a right to neither withhold the money from the manager nor charge him with the sin of stealing.
In moral theology, if to act leads to an evil, but not to act also leads to an evil, one has what is known as a perplexed conscience. In this case, moral theologians counsel that one should simply do what one feels is best based upon the facts at hand. These perplexed cases do not always occur when one is contemplating doing the lesser of two evils, since doing the lesser of two evils depends on the existence of two evils, but sometimes the context removes one of the two evils, as in the case of the man starving who steals. Perplexed cases are strictly those of being in a situation where whether one acts or does not act an evil will occur.
The bank case is not a perplexed case, because stealing the money (with proper notification to the bank as to reason) is not evil, per se (see reasoning, above).
Now, abortions are intrinsically evil and therefore not dependent on context. That is why one may not abort a child even in the situation where it would save the mother’s life. Robbing a bank can be, in rare situations, morally allowable, since taking money from a bank to save another’s life is not intrinsically evil since the bank has no right to the money under that circumstance, as it would be aiding in murder to keep it. Killing another, deliberately (and not as an accident of saving a life, thereby invoking the doctrine of Double Effect) is intrinsically evil, since no one has right to take a life, deliberately (as stated in God’s Law).
That is the difference: extrinsic (context-dependendent) evil for the bank case, but intrinsic (context-independent) for abortion. In intrinsic evil, the evil resides in the act; in extrinsic evil, the evil resides in a relationship to the environment of the act and may, in certain cases, render the act morally permissible, generally under Double Effect, or, as in the bank case, by removing one of the attributes of the evil.
Hope that helps.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken December 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

That should be Ghosty, not Ghostly. Sorry. The gray name makes it hard to read.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken December 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I should also point out that it has been determined by the bishop that an abortion occurred – the direct killing of a baby in the womb and not the mere accidental death of an infant in the process of trying to save the mother.
A good discussion of the doctrine of Double Effect may be found, here.
There are four positive and one negative criteria needed to be satisfied:
- The intended act must be good in itself. The intended act may not be morally evil.
- The good effect of the act must be that which is directly intended by the one who carries out the act. The bad effect that results from the act may be foreseen by the agent but must be unintended.
- The good effect must not be brought about by using morally evil means.
- The good effect must be of equal or greater proportion to any evil effect which would result.
- Acts that have morally negative effects are permissible only when truly necessary, i.e., when there are no other means by which the good may be obtained.
The hospital failed in criteria three, above. The good of saving the mother’s life was brought about by the morally evil means of abortion. The article and others on the Internet are worth reading to get some background in why the hospital committed abortion and did not satisfy double effect.
It is hard being a mother. My hat is off to those with the courage.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken December 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Finally, some of the information in the matter is privileged under HIPAA Laws, so I cannot speak to the facts of the case except for what has been reported in the media and it is sometimes difficult to know the validity and impartiality of that information. All I can say for sure is that the bishop, who has had access to all of the information and is certainly both an informed Catholic and the Shepherd of the diocese, has made the determination that an abortion was performed. Anyone who has information that he has been derelict in the performance of his duty should make the information known to the appropriate authorities (hint: combox posters are not the appropriate authorities). Barring any evidence to the contrary, one must assume, in charity, that the Bishop has performed his duties faithfully and his determination as to the status of the hospital stands.
It really makes me angry that people will jump in and post in comboxes about matters that they are only partially informed and create a great deal of controversy.
The matter is simple. Bishop Olmsted has made a decision to the best of his ability. Others may disagree, but either they should forward their arguments to the Vatican and let them overturn the Bishop’s decision (highly unlikely) or wait until they become Bishop of that diocese to reverse his decision. Shouting matches in comboxes do not a Magisterium make.
The Chicken

Ben December 23, 2010 at 12:46 am

Chicken, I’d like to give you the opportunity to clarify a nuance.
The “evil means” is the removal of the fetus (if fetus is the correct term). Yet, that is precisely what is done in every c-section operation, no? The major difference is that the fetus survives under current science at X weeks of age, but not before. In fact if the removal of the fetus into an appropriate alternate incubation system was likely to be successful, does that change the nature of the removal of the fetus? Could a doctor say, “My intent with this removal is to do my best to incubate new baby in this other prepared chamber to the best of my skill to save its life?” In effect, that is what he says with a c-section at some level. The difference is that he knows with the science available to him one will most likely work and another doesn’t have a chance (at least, to current knowledge).
So, since the removal act is the same (roughly?) in both cases, it seems like something else needs to be added to the double effect formula regarding substantial certainty of an action’s results, or else the removal of the fetus under the doctor’s forlorn hope criteria would be morally licit.
Comments most welcome. Ben

Ghosty December 23, 2010 at 9:10 am

Ben: The evil isn’t delivering the child, it’s killing the child directly. If part of the necessary treatment to save the mother is delivering the child early, that can be moral even if the child is likely to die. All possible treatment for the child must be made after delivery too, of course. In that case the child’s death would be foreseen, but totally unintended as the death of the child is not the treatment itself, but a side effect of the treatment.
With an abortion, as performed at the hospital, the death of the child is the direct intention of the procedure. It was not delivered with the intention of saving both the mother and child, even with the knowledge that the child would almost certainly die barring a miracle.
Peace and God bless!

Ben December 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

Strongly agreeing with Chicken, I am certainly not going to talk about the procedure carried out at the hospital, since we don’t know all the facts, and there is apparently a backdrop context coloring apparent intent which we don’t fully know either.
I’m talking about the theoretical level. So, to put it another way, can someone remove a life-threatening fetus in general at, say, 8 weeks with the firm intent to incubate knowing that with our current scientific knowledge such incubation actions, honestly intended, will still only provide chances of survival at .0000000000001 or lower percent?

Ben December 23, 2010 at 10:03 am

I should also add, in this hypothetical that waiting until the 9th week is extremely dangerous to the life of the mother.

Brother Cadfael December 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm

What you have described is not an abortion, as Ghosty explained.
You must, in the circumstances you have laid out, also consider whether the means utilized to save the mother’s life are necessary and proportional. If, for example, (a) early delivery of the baby is the only way to save the mother (not just the best way), (b) further delay of immediate delivery is substantially certain to result in the death of the mother and the death of the undelivered baby, and (c) small further delays in the delivery are not likely to meaningfully improve the chances of the baby’s survival, you can probably deliver the baby early despite knowing with substantial certainty that the death of the baby will result, because the intention to save the mother is good and the means (delivering the baby) are not intrinsically evil and are proportional.
(Note for clarification: proportionality is only considered once you have a legitimate object and legitimate means; proportionality cannot be used to justify anything that is intrinsically evil.)

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