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Bishop strips Phoenix hospital of 'Catholic' designation

December 21, 2010

Bishop Thomas Olmsted has declared that St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona “is not committed to following the teaching of the Catholic Church and therefore this hospital cannot be considered Catholic.”

In a statement he released on December 21—the date that he had set as the deadline for assurances from St. Joseph’s Hospital and its parent corporation, Catholic Healthcare West (CHW)—Bishop Olmsted said that he planned further steps “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.”

Bishop Olmsted’s detailed and pointed criticism of CHW policies will raise questions for other Catholic bishops in dioceses where CHW institutions are located, in California and Nevada. The bishops’ complaints indicated that CHW institutions had been engaged in contraception, sterilization, and occasional abortions. The American Life League has released a separate report confirming the same charges against Catholic Healthcare West. [See today's separate CWN headline story.]

In a thorough public statement explaining his decision, Bishop Olmsted reveals that he has had concerns about the moral standards for care at CHW institutions for some time, and has been in discussions with CHW officials for seven years—since his arrival in the Phoenix diocese. He reported that he has made repeated demands that CHW comply with Catholic moral teaching regarding health-care policy, but “sadly, over the course of these years, CWH has chosen not to comply.”

The situation came to a head, Bishop Olmsted explains, when he learned that an abortion had been performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital last year. “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…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.”

In accordance with canon law, Bishop Olmsted said, he told Sister Margaret McBride, the administrator responsible for the decision to peform the abortion, that she had incurred the penalty of excommunication. “I did this in a confidential manner, hoping to spare her public embarrassment,” he added. Knowledge of the excommunication became public as the hospital defended its decision to perform the abortion.

Since that time, Bishop Olmsted reports, “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.” Thus he felt compelled to take action.

Bishop Olmsted makes the point that the medical institutions performed many services that the Church condemns under the terms of government contracts. “CHW and St. Joseph’s Hospital have made more than a hundred million dollars every year from this partnership with the government,” he reports.


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  • Posted by: Father Fetus - Dec. 21, 2010 9:12 PM ET USA

    Sunday's Mass readings contrasted the corrupt king of Judah, Ahaz (who had sacrificed his own boy to Moloch) with St. Joseph, who spared Mary and Jesus' lives, thanks to his faith. I suggest the hospital's name be changed to "Ahaz Hospital", or perhaps, simply "Ahazpital".

  • Posted by: Hal - Dec. 21, 2010 2:47 PM ET USA

    Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all this is the willingness and indeed eagerness of CHW through these multi- million dollar government contracts, to become agents of Caesar, and not witnesses for the Catholic faith! God bless this Bishop and pray for more like him!