Phoenix Standard

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Thank you, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted.

St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is no longer a Catholic hospital. It provided a direct abortion. The New York Times today says that it was the hospital’s legal and moral duty. That’s chilling. “This is no small matter,” as they editorialize. Indeed. This is an issue of human rights, health care, compassion, and humanity. And Catholic hospitals jeopardize none of these things when they protect the human rights of both patients in their care.

Because most news reports gloss over the details and only further add to confusion and pain, I’d like to direct readers to the actual statements of Bishop Olmsted. His explanation here should be considered required reading for anyone who wants to begin to know what this is about. 

First, the now-infamous 2009 incident:

. . . 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.

Incidents involving contraception, sterilization, and other abortions also came to the bishop’s attention.

Of the hospital’s new status, he explains:

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.

What in Heaven’s name is unreasonable about that? What Bishop Olmstead has done is about integrity, plain and simple. These life-and-death situations aren’t always plain and simple — often far from it, of course. But when a hospital that says it is Catholic directly ends the life of one patient in favor of the other and defends the decision and doesn’t rule out doing it again, it simply cannot be considered Catholic.

Words have to mean something. “Catholic” has to mean something. Some who are attacking the Church in Phoenix are motivated by a sense of compassion for pregnant women. But consider that the bishop is, too. Compassion and truth and integrity. Catholic health care, which has been such a presence in the life of America, is Catholic health care. Reproductive health care at a Catholic institution isn’t — or shouldn’t be — quite the way the New York Times sees it. And direct abortion is certainly a line in the sand. What Bishop Olmstead expects from a Catholic hospital is neither illegal nor immoral. It’s being honest.