Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted revoked his endorsement of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center as a Catholic hospital today following a heated debate over an abortion performed at the Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) hospital.
“Though we are deeply disappointed, we will be steadfast in fulfilling our mission,” said Linda Hunt, president of St. Joseph’s. “St. Joseph’s Hospital will remain faithful to our mission of care, as we have for the last 115 years. Our caregivers deliver extraordinary medical care and share an unmatched commitment to the well-being of the communities they serve. Nothing has or will change in that regard.”
Olmsted, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said in a statement that the decision was made after months of discussions between CHW, St. Joseph’s and the Phoenix Diocese.
At issue was the termination of an 11-week pregnancy to save the mother’s life in November 2009. Hunt said it was not possible to save both the lives, and the decision was made to terminate the pregnancy.
“We continue to stand by the decision, which was made in collaboration with the patient, her family, her caregivers, and our Ethics Committee. Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save,” Hunt said.
The Phoenix Diocese viewed the situation differently.
“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,” Olmsted said in his statement.
ERD stands for the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which are the moral guides for Catholic hospital and health care institutions.
The nurse who terminated the pregnancy was excommunicated privately, but Olmsted said St. Joseph’s had “not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion.”
This “only eroded [his] confidence” in St. Joseph’s commitment to the church’s ERDs, he added.
Olmsted said the hospital’s Mercy Care Plan, which includes “voluntary sterilization,” contraceptive counseling and abortions due to the mental or physical health of the mother, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, helped him come to the conclusion that St. Joseph’s was not complying with the church’s standards.
“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,” he said in his statement.
Although St. Joseph’s will not change its name or its mission, the Blessed Sacrament has been removed from the hospital’s chapel, and Mass will no longer be held there.
“St. Joseph’s will continue through our words and deeds to carry out the healing ministry of Jesus,” Hunt said. “Our operations, policies, and procedures will not change.”
A 697-bed hospital in Phoenix, St. Joseph’s is a part of CHW, a Catholic network of hospitals and medical centers. St. Joseph’s is a not-for-profit hospital that provides a wide range of health, social and support services.