BREAKING: Phoenix hospital stripped of Catholic status – UPDATED

Details, from the wires:

A Phoenix hospital has been stripped of its ability to call itself Catholic because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted announced the decision to remove St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center’s Catholic status at a news conference Tuesday.

Olmsted says “the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld.” He called the surgery an abortion.

Olmsted says the hospital is in violation of ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops. The 697-bed hospital does not receive direct funding from the church, but it will be prohibited from celebrating Mass and must remove the Blessed Sacrament from its chapel.

Hospital officials say the surgery was allowable under exceptions to the church’s abortion policy.

Jimmy Akin at the National Catholic Register, meantime, has posted the Bishop’s statement.

Stay tuned.  I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the hours ahead.

UPDATE: For more, check out canon lawyer Ed Peters and American Papist.  National Catholic Reporter has additional details, along with the hospital’s response.

You can also watch video of the bishop’s press conference here.


  1. stripped because of 1 !!!!!! surgery?????

  2. I am very glad that when I had an ectopic pregnancy over 30 years ago, the only hospital available was NOT a Catholic hospital. I would hate to think that such a hospital could have lost it’s “Catholic” status for saving my life and preventing my 5 other children from being orphaned.

    Obviously, I don’t believe the bishop represents the compassion of Christ in this, or other similar situations. Too bad the patients and staff of that hospital are now deprived of the comfort of the Blessed Sacrament. Hopefully our Savior will none-the-less comfort them!

  3. Today?? As we as a church are preparing for the Incarnation? Some may say that is exactly why the bishop made this announcement today. It seems a bit ham handed to me … Merry Christmas, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the diocese of Phoenix.

  4. The bishop’s action was the result of multiple issues not just “1 surgury”. The bishop, in his letter, cites the following issues:
    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.

  5. Deacon Luis says:

    So is this the only Catholic hospital in Phoenix?

    Sounds like more of a power play then pastoral action- by both parties.

  6. I think Rick spelled out perfectly the reasons the Bishop HAD to act. It was not for “1 surgery”. If he had not acted he would not be fulfilling his obligations as Bishop.

  7. Rick, let’s not kid ourselves. The bishop’s action today was very much about this one particular effort to save the mother’s life. Did the bishop not in fact excommunicate the sister who was hospital administrator earlier this year? His main issue is with THIS patient and the medical efforts made to save her life.

    Yes, this was a pregnancy–an unborn life–that was, sadly, ended in the course of saving the mother’s life. Yet the intention was clearly not to have an abortion for the sake of having an abortion; that is, the goal was not to end the life of the unborn child. Rather, the adult mother would have died–would almost certainly (nearly 100 percent certainty) have died if the surgery had not been performed. That is the word from people with advanced medical degrees, degrees Bishop Olmsted does not possess. I am no fan of abortion, not at all. I imagine that hardly anyone who chooses to work in a Catholic hospital could take such surgery lightly. Yet what should they have done? What would you have done, if you had been in their shoes? Let both the mother AND her child die? Would that result truly have been the more moral, more “Catholic” solution? I tremble at the thought any of us would say yes, it would be better for mother and child to both die.

    As for contraceptive services and voluntary sterilizations: I believe the hospital has indicated it did so as part of its Medicaid contract, and only through a third-party provider. I find it tough to believe that a bishop in the modern, info-superhighway world could not get a handle on that fact years ago if he was really that interested in health care access.

  8. Steve, let’s not kid ourselves: the Bishop acted to perserve apostolic teaching and faith. The prohibition of abortion and birth control go back to the earliest times of the Church. If a Catholic hospital performs abortion and provides birth control services, many people will assume the teaching has changed. I think we have reached a point where is has become very difficult, if not impossible, for the Church to maintain orthodoxy in the medical practice.

    Regarding whether I could let my wife die–I doubt it. I’ve committed very serious sins in my life. But I don’t think the Church should change its teaching because I am weak and sinful. With grace, I hope my wife and I would do the Christian thing. If we failed we sinned and need mercy and forgiveness.

    Regarding contraceptive services required by Medicaid: perhaps we need to be more committed to the Gospel than to Title XIX.

  9. Rick, not to get into a personal back-and-forth here, but when you say “I hope my wife and I would do the Christian thing,” exactly what resolution are you supporting in the case of the pregnant mother in Arizona? Keep in mind that her physicians (not Planned Parenthood mouthpieces, not pundits) believed, based on medical data specific to her case, that she had almost a 100% chance of DYING if the pregnancy continued? Also keep in mind that the unborn baby was at 11 weeks gestation. I point that out to emphasize that what the doctors faced was not a choice between saving the mother or saving the baby. Rather, they faced the choice of the mother dying and her baby dying along with her.

    As horrifying as it is to contemplate, the doctors could let the mother and baby both die (evidently the “solution” Bishop Olmsted would have found preferable), or they could act to save the mother’s life. The death of a child is an awful, terrible thing. The death of two people, when one of those deaths could have been saved, is an even worse thing.

    There IS grounds for scandal in the church in this case, yes, but to my mind, it’s centered on the bishop’s decision to argue (by implication) that the death of mother AND child would have been a preferable result. That’s the thing that has most of us–Catholics as well as non-Catholics–shaking our heads. I’m overwhelmingly pro-life, yet the bishop’s decisions in this case make me wonder whether we really worship the same Christ. Plenty of scandal there. As for me, I am very sad that the baby died. I am also very relieved that the mother LIVED. There was no perfect solution here, notwithstanding your hope that you and your wife might do “the Christian thing.”

  10. Rick: “With grace, I hope my wife and I would do the Christian thing.”

    And what is the Christian thing in the case of a wife who will die if she does not receive medical care that results in the termination of the pregnancy? Is the Christian thing to die and leave the remaining children motherless?

  11. I think that the timing of this is abhorrent. I am thinking of 1 Peter chapter 3 and returning evil with evil. Bishop Olmstead understands the letter of the law, the spirit of the law, maybe not so much. His juridical skill is apparent, his pastoral approach leaves much to be desired.

  12. You know, I also said I have been guilty of very serious sins in my life and I do not know that I would be able to follow Church teaching. If I failed to follow it I would be outside the Church. The gospel doesn’t change just because I am weak.

    When I sin, and I’ve sinned a lot, I’m called to repentance–not justification of the sin. The people involved were in a horrible situation without easy or comfortable solutions. The solution they chose was to take an innocent life. A sin was committed. A life was taken and it was contrary to Catholic teaching. The Church can’t say abortion is okay if you don’t intend it, or torture is okay if you really want to save innocent lives, or an unjust war is okay if you save your citizens. Intention is important, but it’s not everything.

    If I understand the Church’s position correctly, the husband and wife are probably less guilty of serious sin in this case. In a sense, due to the extrimity of the the case, they were not acting freely–they were acting on emotion. The more serious sin was commited by the medical professionals. I do not think anyone in the situation, including the Bishop, had an easy decison to make. The Bishop’s job is to protect the faith–that is what he is doing.

  13. Rick: “The more serious sin was commited by the medical professionals.”

    Are you suggesting by saying this that allowing both the woman and the baby to die would not have been a sin?

    I’ll admit that, not being a Catholic, I sometimes am confused by Church teaching. But in this case I think many, many others (including many Catholics) see no wisdom in this particular teaching. In both cases the baby would die, yet the Church calls the act of saving the life of one of them (the mother) to be a sin.

    As I see it to NOT save the life of the mother when the opportunity to do so exists is the sin. Again, given the facts as we know them the baby was not going to survive. The technology does not exist to take an 11 week old child, remove him/her from the uterus, and continue the pregnancy successfully. It just is not going to happen. So, as sad as this fact is, the baby was dead already.

    Faced with that the hospital chose to save a life, that of the mother. The doctors did this for the sake of those people who were going to live: the other children, the husband, and the other members of the family of this unfortunate woman.

    To say that the hospital should have allowed both the mother and baby to die is inhumane in my opinion. I appreciate Rick’s admission that he and his wife would likely “sin” by doing exactly the same thing if it ever came to that. I think most loving fathers and mothers would do just that, as painful as it may be.

  14. I did not say I was likely to sin–I said it’s a very hard teaching and if faced with that dilemma, I don’t know if I could live up to the teaching because I have failed to live up to important teachings in the past.

    Living by the Gospel is hard and it doesn’t always make sense and it isn’t always easy. I understand why someone would pray, “let this cup pass by me.” There are a lot of things I don’t know if I would have the strength to do.

    Daniel, I don’t know if it would have been a sin to let the woman and baby die–that would have been a tragic but natural process. I do know it was a sin to purposely kill the baby. From a different perspective: many people consider torture wrong. People who condone torture in the War on Terror say, “but torture gives us information that helps us to prevent further violence.” That’s true, but I till believe torture is immoral (sinful) and should not occur. Does that mean that I am culpable if there is another attack that could have been avoided by torture?

    If the family and the doctors really thought that an abortion was the only choice, was it truly necessary for a “Catholic” hospital to perform it? The family had a right to decide to go to another hospital and the Catholic hospital would have had the obligation to transport the patient. Most Catholics don’t try to hold people hostage.

    Ultimately, it goes back to whether the Catholic Church should sponsor hospitals and social service agencies any longer. The distance between the values of the culture and the values of the Church has become so great that, I think, the Church must decide between serving the gospel or serving the culture. I don’t know that it’s possible to serve both any more.

  15. Rick, you’ve said that allowing both mother and child to die, when the means clearly existed to save the mother (which is what happened), would have been “a tragic but natural process.”

    I think I get your reasoning on that point. Nonetheless, your reasoning is, I think, flawed. If I were a physician and I came across a man in the hospital hallway having a heart attack, a man who could be revived but who would otherwise die if I did not intervene, the death-by-heart-attack would also count as a “natural process.” My sitting on my hands as a physician in that instance, however, would have grave moral implications (as well as legal implications for me, most likely), despite the fact that the man died of natural causes.

    Yes, an unborn child died. I don’t hear anyone associated with the hospital denying that. I don’t hear anyone saying the unborn child’s death at 11 weeks gestation was a good thing, or a desired outcome, or anything like that. It was, in that circumstance, unavoidable. There was no way to bring that child to viability, sadly. There was, however, a way to save the mother’s life. I thank God that woman’s life was indeed saved. I am glad for her, for her children and husband as well. And I, like most people who are pro-life yet aghast at Bishop Olmsted’s logic, am sad for that same family, and the medical staff involved, in the wake of the unborn child’s death. How very tragic. Yet it is a good thing, a very good thing, that the mother lived.

  16. I am curious, maybe someone can help on this. There is a good chance that the mother should not have anymore children. If this is the case and to prevent the same situation from happening why would it be a sin to use birth control? I personally have never read in the Bible that birth control was a sin. Using birth control could save this woman in the future so I see it as life saving medication unless the Catholics feel the husband and wife should restrain from sex which I think is non biblical. I am interested what others might think?

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