Bishop threatens to strip hospital of Catholic status

You probably remember the controversy that erupted earlier this year when a nun approved an abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital.

The story isn’t over.

Details, from USA TODAY:

The Catholic bishop of Phoenix will strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status on Friday if the hospital’s parent company, Catholic Healthcare West, does not meet his demands to guarantee compliance with church teachings.

Three demands were contained in a Nov. 22 letter Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted sent to Lloyd Dean, president of Catholic Healthcare West. The bishop wants the hospital to give him more oversight of its practices to ensure it complies with Catholic health-care rules, provide education on those rules to medical staff and acknowledge that the bishop is correct in a dispute over a procedure the diocese says was an abortion.

“There cannot be a tie in this debate,” Olmsted wrote. “Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question.”

St. Joseph’s and San Francisco-based CHW did not immediately comment on the letter.

If the bishop were to revoke the hospital’s Catholic status, Olmsted said, he would prohibit Mass and some religious items at the building. How the loss of Catholic identity would affect the facility’s mission, funding and perception by patients and the public remains unclear.

The letter is the culmination of a debate that began in November 2009.

A pregnant woman at the hospital suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function and is made worse, possibly fatal, by pregnancy. After consulting with Sister Margaret McBride, a member of the hospital’s ethics committee, doctors terminated the pregnancy.

Olmsted condemned the surgery as an abortion, which is prohibited by church doctrine, and at the time said the decision effectively meant the excommunication of McBride, a St. Joseph’s vice president.

St. Joseph’s has since argued that the case was more akin to removing a pregnant woman’s cancerous uterus, which is permissible under church doctrine, than to a standard abortion. McBride remains a nun on the hospital staff.

Check out the rest.


  1. Eugene Pagano says:

    The hospital’s medical position was that it could not save the child, only the mother, and that the mother could be saved only by aborting the child. There is something gravely wrong about a pro-life rationale that says that mother and child must both die rather than save the life of one, the mother, when only she can be saved.

    Many canon lawyers and moral theologians criticized this bishop, but he is adamant. The Pope’s recent comments about condoms indicate that the principle of the double effect is still alive and well in Rome — if not the Phoenix chancery. That principle could have supported the hospital’s decision.

    Full disclosure: I have left the Roman Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church and cannot see returning while the Roman Catholic Church still allows such false teachers as this bishop to exercise authority.

  2. Katie Angel says:

    The bishop seems to be trying for a power grab and I hope that the hospital continues to refuse to give him control. A bishop should be given respect and honor in his role as a spiritual leader but is not qualified to be making decisions about comprehensive care of patients. That is best handled by medical staff. I have no problem with teaching the staff about Catholic ethics and theology – after all, it is a Catholic hospital but that is as far as they should go. The bishop’s time would be better spent ministering to his “flock”.

  3. I sincerely doubt that the bishop thinks that he is qualified to make medical decisons. I think that his concern is that a Catholic hospital’s ethical and moral delimmas should be guided by the Church’s moral teachings. The bishop is the chief moral teacher of the diocese–not the chief medical practitioner. He is asking for the hosital to acknowledge his moral authority not his medical authority.

  4. Being a Catholic is certainly a roller coaster. I read this story about the Church and the hospital and shook my head in disgust. Later on in the day, I read this one (linked below) and I teared up. Being a Catholic is not easy, huh?–07.00

  5. Frank Hannon says:

    Mr. Pagano, the suggestion of abandoning Catholicism in order to escape false teaching bishops for the Episcopal church is high irony indeed. See wife abandoning, outwardly homosexual, homosexual advocate Episcopal bishop Eugene Robinson, a true Christian authority, he.

  6. wineinthewater says:

    Eugene Pagano,

    I don’t think you understand the principle of double effect. One of the fundamental aspects of the PDE is that evil means may never be used. Therefore, killing a child in order to save a life can never be justified with PDE. And that was what the Phoenix case was (purportedly). The abortion was not an unintended consequence, but the means.

    You can sum up PDE this way:

    1) The action must be good or at least morally neutral. This means that no evil means may be used in order to secure a good end.

    2) The good effect must be greater than the evil effect.

    3) The evil effect may not be desired.

    As to the pope’s comments about condoms, I don’t think you understand those either. He did not say that condom use would be moral or permissible under those circumstances. He said it would represent a step in the direction of morality. I’ve heard this as an analogy. If you are going to rob people by beating them with pipes, beating them with padded pipes would not be moral, but would represent a step in the direction of morality.

  7. pagansister says:

    When did the Bishop become a doctor who can make decisions regarding the life or death of a woman whose life was in danger by continuing the pregnancy? He isn’t a doctor. The decision was not made lightly, but after much consideration. Perhaps the Bishop would have preferred to chance the life of both the mother and fetus, hoping that at least one of them might survive. NO rules broken in that situation. My vote always was with Sister McBride, who after careful consideration, made, IMO, the right call. I’d want her on my side, if I was in that situation.

  8. Bishop Olmstead is doing the right thing, though perhaps not in the best fashion. Defending what we teach and profess about the sanctity of human life should always have with it an awareness of human freedom – and the mess it often entails.

  9. The moral principal behind the decision isn’t that it is preferable for both people (the mother and fetus) to die. The principle is that it is murder, a sin, to kill an innocent human to save another human (even if the person being saved is innocent too). No one wants to take “chances” with anyone’s life–but taking a chance, at least from the Catholic perspective, is morally superior to taking an innocent life.

  10. pagansister says:

    As my husband put it when there was a problem in the delivery of our first child—I can make another baby—I can’t replace my wife. Wife first. Everything turned out fine, a healthy girl. Fortunately it wasn’t a Catholic hospital as it was with our 2nd child, who didn’t have any delivery problems.


  1. RT @TopsyRT: Bishop threatens to strip hospital of Catholic status

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