Bishop declares Phoenix hospital no longer Catholic

Can no longer be trusted to meet Catholic ethical standards


News Conference at the Phoenix Diocesan Pastoral Center,
Dec. 21, 2010

See Video, Note Bishop's Responses to Questions

PHOENIX, AZ, December 21, 2010-- Today, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix released a statement declaring that St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix could no longer call itself Catholic because it could no longer be trusted to provide care that meets ethical standards conforming to Catholic doctrine. The decision has been attacked by the Catholic Health Association (a trade association of Catholic Hospitals) and the dissident group, Catholics United. This could have ramifications for other Catholic Healthcare West hospitals in Arizona and in other dioceses as well. In a statement issued by the San Francisco Archdiocese indicates Archbishop George H. Niederauer "intends to initiate a dialogue" with the Catholic Healthcare West leadership regarding the questions raised by Bishop Olmstead. (see list of Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals below)

The withdrawal of a hospital's Catholic identification is not without precedent.

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., announced in February that St. Charles Medical Center in Bend had "gradually moved away" from the church's ethical directives and can no longer be called Catholic.

The two primary reasons behind this difficult decision include:
• St. Joseph’s Hospital’s sanctioning and performing a direct abortion in late 2009, and
• St. Joseph’s admitting to being in formal cooperation in abortions, sterilizations and contraceptive services administered through their Mercy Care Plan — a $2 billion endeavor covering about 368,000 of Arizona’s poor.

Bishop Olmsted's Statement Follows:

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.

Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals
Chandler Regional Medical Center  Chandler , AZ (East Valley )
Mercy Gilbert Medical Center  Gilbert , AZ (East Valley )
Barrow Neurological Institute  Phoenix , AZ (Phoenix )
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center  Phoenix , AZ (Phoenix )
Sequoia Hospital  Redwood City , CA (Bay Area )
St. Mary's Medical Center  San Francisco , CA (Bay Area )
Saint Francis Memorial Hospital  San Francisco , CA (Bay Area )
St. Mary's Medical Center  San Francisco , CA (Bay Area )
Arroyo Grande Community Hospital  Arroyo Grande , CA (Central Coast )
St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital  Camarillo , CA (Central Coast )
St. John's Regional Medical Center  Oxnard , CA (Central Coast )
French Hospital Medical Center  San Luis Obispo , CA (Central Coast )
Marian Medical Center  Santa Maria , CA (Central Coast )
Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta  Mt. Shasta , CA (North State )
St. Elizabeth Community Hospital  Red Bluff , CA (North State )
Mercy Medical Center Redding  Redding , CA (North State )
Woodland Healthcare  Woodland , CA (Sacramento)
Mercy San Juan Medical Center  Carmichael , CA (Sacramento )
Mercy Hospital of Folsom  Folsom , CA (Sacramento )
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital  Grass Valley , CA (Sacramento )
Mercy General Hospital  Sacramento , CA (Sacramento )
Methodist Hospital of Sacramento  Sacramento , CA (Sacramento )
Bakersfield Memorial Hospital  Bakersfield , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Mercy Hospitals of Bakersfield  Bakersfield , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Mercy Southwest Hospital  Bakersfield , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Mercy Medical Center Merced Community Campus  Merced , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Mercy Medical Center Merced Dominican Campus  Merced , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Oak Valley Hospital  Oakdale , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital  San Andreas , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
St. Joseph's Behavioral Health Center  Stockton , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
St. Joseph's Medical Center  Stockton , CA (San Joaquin Valley)
Dominican Hospital  Santa Cruz , CA (Santa Cruz )
Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center  Glendale , CA (Southern California )
St. Mary Medical Center  Long Beach , CA (Southern California )
California Hospital Medical Center  Los Angeles , CA (Southern California )
Northridge Hospital Medical Center  Northridge , CA (Southern California )
Community Hospital of San Bernardino  San Bernardino , CA (Southern California )
St. Bernardine Medical Center  San Bernardino , CA (Southern California )
St. Rose Dominican Hospitals - Rose de Lima Campus  Henderson , NV (Henderson )
St. Rose Dominican Hospitals - Siena Campus  Henderson , NV (Henderson )
St. Rose Dominican Hospitals - San Martín Campus  Las Vegas , NV (Henderson )
Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center Reno , NV (Reno

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). (emphasis added)

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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