The bishop of Phoenix stripped a Roman Catholic hospital Tuesday of its ability to describe itself as "Catholic" after ruling that the hospital had performed abortions and been involved with other procedures contrary to church teaching.
At a news conference, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted cited in particular a case that prompted a public spat with the administrators of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in which a pregnant woman with a history of abnormal blood pressure was admitted to the hospital in November 2009 and her pregnancy was terminated.
The hospital defended itself in recent months and again Tuesday by saying doctors had determined the woman's death to be certain if no abortion was provided. Thus, they argued, the procedure was licit because it was intended to save the mother's life.
Bishop Olmsted brushed aside that claim Tuesday, noting that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for hospitals declaring that even in dangerous pregnancies, both the mother and child are human beings who should not be killed, even for the sake of saving the other.
"In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld," Bishop Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. "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."
St. Joseph's President Linda Hunt said the hospital was "saddened" by Bishop Olmsted's order but said the hospital had done nothing wrong.
"If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman's life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case," Ms. Hunt said. "Morally, ethically and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save."
The immediate impact on St. Joseph, which was established by the Sisters of Mercy in 1895, is likely to be minimal since the hospital is owned by a parent company, Catholic Healthcare West, and does not receive funds directly from the church. Bishop Olmsted's statement also specified that Catholics may continue to provide and receive medical care there.
Bishop Olmsted ordered that Masses will no longer be celebrated at the hospital and that the Blessed Sacrament, a consecrated host that the church teaches is Jesus's body and blood, be removed. Hospital administrators said they will comply with the bishop's orders.
Bishop Olmsted already had excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride, R.S.M., the nun who had approved the 2009 abortion.
In a statement issued afterward, Bishop Olmsted said he also had "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."
He cited Catholic Healthcare West and St. Joseph's involvement in the Mercy Care Plan, which he said involved "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."
Its involvement with Mercy Care deliberately involved the Phoenix hospital, though the bishop did not elaborate on how, with contraception and related services, voluntary sterilization and abortion.
He said he had "a meeting which included an administrator of St. Josephs Hospital who admitted that St. Josephs and CHW are aware that this plan consists in formal cooperation in evil actions which are contrary to Church teaching."
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