Abortion dispute endangers hospital's Catholic status

In the wake of a decision by Phoenix-based Catholic facility St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center to proceed with an abortion on a dying woman last May, the city's Catholic bishop has given the hospital an ultimatum: meet demands for church compliance or be stripped of your religious status, USA Today reports. 

The controversial procedure, which was initiated after the woman developed a potentially fatal condition of pulmonary hypertension, almost immediately was denounced by the bishop--Thomas J. Olmsted--upon its announcement. "An unborn child is not a disease," he said in a statement. "While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child." 

Olmsted disagrees with the hospital's opinion that the surgery was similar to removing a cancerous uterus from a pregnant woman, thus, making it OK by Catholic standards, according to the newspaper. He also thinks that Catholic Healthcare West, St. Joseph's parent company, has no intention of changing that opinion. 

"There cannot be a tie in this debate," he wrote in a November letter to Lloyd Dean, the system's president. "Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question." 

Olmsted's support hinges on the hospital system: 

  • Admitting he was right and it was wrong with regard to its stance on the procedure and its "interpretation of a church healthcare directive regarding so-called indirect abortions."
  • Allowing a diocesan review and certification.
  • Training its medical staff continuously on the Ethical and Religious Directives, which explains Catholic moral teachings in health settings. 

Financially, the consequences of non-compliance aren't immediately apparent. According to USA Today, almost all of CHW's money is derived of patient payments for treatments; it is not reliant on Catholic funding. 

What is known is, should the hospital be stripped of its Catholic status, it no longer would be allowed to conduct Mass on its campus, and Communion wafers would be removed. 

To learn more:
- here's the USA Today piece