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Texas bishop condemns sterilization, rips FOCA, urges Catholics to rally against culture of death December 05, 2008

Bishop Alvaro Corrada of Tyler, Texas, has issued a powerful public statement condemning surgical sterilization and warning against legislation that could deprive health-care workers of their right to refuse involvement in such immoral procedures.

Bishop Corrada indicated that his concern not only about sterilizations, but about the broader question of whether Catholic individuals and Catholic institutions will stand up against pressure to engage in immoral medical procedures. He expressed particular concern about the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) championed by President-elect Obama, noting that the legislation could require doctors to cooperate in procedures that they find objectionable, including abortion and euthanasia as well as sterilization.

The bishop opened his statement by saying that he wants to promote a strong Christian witness in the Texas diocese. He says that he is "particularly concerned that our witness remain strong in the field of health care."

However the bishop cites two "serious threats" to the clarity of the Catholic witness in the health-care field. The first is the involvement of Church-related hospitals in sterilizations. The second is FOCA< which would "deny freedom of conscience to health-care workers and institutions to refrain from participating in medical procedures contrary to human dignity."

In November, after an investigation into practices in local Catholic hospitals, Bishop Tyler acknowledged that Church-run institutions had been performing sterilizations. Saying that the procedures were a clear violation of Catholic moral teachings, the bishop added: "I have to admit my failure to provide adequate oversight of the Catholic hospitals as regards their protection of the sacred dignity of each human person." He promised new efforts to bring Catholic institutions into line with Church teachings.

In his new public statement, dated December 1, the bishop followed up on that theme, saying that the Catholic individuals who had participated in surgical sterilizations should repent and confess their sins. He added:

Catholic institutions that have been involved in such procedures should cease and issue public statements acknowledging the full extent of their failure and pledging to establish means by which they will ensure violations never happen again.

Surgical sterilizations such as vasectomies or tubal ligations are inherently immoral, Bishop Corrada writes. He notes that in some cases sterilization will take place as the unintended result of other necessary medical procedures. Such procedures are justifiable, he says; intentional sterilization for its own sake is not. He explains: "Direct sterilization is not an example of compassion or medical care because it destroys-- it does not heal-- the body's reproductive capacity."

The bishop's own investigation concluded that two local Catholic hospital systems, Christus St. Michael and Trinity Mother Frances, had provided direct sterilizations for patients. In November he ordered those services stopped. Christus St. Michael has announced that it has halted sterilizations in response to the bishop's order. Trinity Mother Frances has issued an ambiguous statement, saying that the procedures were carried out in a "good faith" belief that they conformed to Catholic moral principles. The bishop notes that he has not yet received a clear indication that Trinity Mother Frances has stopped the procedures.

The bishop rejected the argument that the sterilizations could be justified. The immorality of these acts, he said, “cannot be altered by appeals to erroneous theological opinions or unjust legislation.” Citing Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae and statements by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said that the Church's condemnation of intentional sterilization was clear and consistent, and belongs to the deposit of faith "infallibly and universally taught by the Catholic Church."

Moving beyond the single issue of sterilization, Bishop Corrada issues an urgent call for Catholics to rally in opposition to FOCA and other pieces of legislation that would compromise the consciences of health-care workers. “I call upon every Catholic to act in defense of human dignity with a conscience formed in accord with the Gospel and request that that they contact their legislators to support freedom of conscience for those providing health,” he says.

Catholics have a grave responsibility to oppose the "culture of death," the bishop argues, at a time when practices that violate human dignity are becoming ever more commonplace in the medical field. He urges Catholic citizens to "vigorously seek to protect the human dignity of the patient and the right of conscience for health-care workers and institutions."