Phoenix hospital that performed abortion no longer Catholic

Bishop Thomas Olmsted

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 21, 2010 ( – A Catholic hospital that performed a direct abortion last year has lost its official endorsement as a Catholic institution by the local bishop.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Az. announced in a news conference Tuesday morning that St. Joseph’s Hospital was no longer Catholic after it refused to comply with the bishop’s terms, which included renouncing the direct killing of an unborn baby of a woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension, at 11 weeks gestation.

Olmsted said that, “Communication with leadership at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Catholic Healthcare West has only eroded my confidence about their commitment to the church’s ethical and religious directives for health care,” according to local news reports.

“They have not addressed in an adequate manner the scandal caused by the abortion,” said the bishop. “Moreover, I have recently learned that many other violations of the ethical and religious directives have been taking place at Catholic Healthcare West facilities in Arizona throughout my seven years as bishop of Phoenix and far longer.” Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) is the parent company of St. Joseph’s hospital, and is based in California.

In a statement published Wedesday, Olmsted explained that he had “hoped and prayed that this day would not come,” but that it had been a losing battle since he first began discussing with CHW how to resolve its violation of the U.S. bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD) seven years ago.

The bishop said that he learned, in only the last several weeks, that both the facility and CHW had administered contraceptives, performed sterilizations, and conducted other direct abortions “due to the mental or physical health of the mother” or after rape or incest.

“In all my seven years as Bishop of Phoenix, I have continued to insist that this scandalous situation needed to change; sadly, over the course of these years, CHW has chosen not to comply,” said Olmsted.

Olmsted said that in the case of the abortion fueling the current scandal, it was “clear” that “the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld” and that the baby’s death was brought about directly, rather than as an unintended effect of therapy for the mother.

While outside commentators have lambasted the bishop’s actions as an overreach of power, a decree from the diocese explained that Olmsted’s decision followed upon his authority over the name of “Catholic” within his diocese according to the Catholic Church’s canon law. Canon 216 states: “no undertaking [by the Christian faithful] is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.”

While the bishop has limited power to remove the hospital’s public Catholic identity, he plans to remove its association with the Church as far as possible by disallowing priests to celebrate Mass there, and by maintaining a public notice of the hospital’s new status on the diocesan website.

Olmsted emphasized that his actions do not impede the hospital’s operation, but only affect its public standing with the Church.

“The Catholic faithful are free to seek care or to offer care at St. Joseph’s Hospital but I cannot guarantee that the care provided will be in full accord with the teachings of the Church,” he said.