Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bp. Olmsted, Canon 216, and St. Joseph's Hospital

Well, the situation at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, in terms of its compliance (or lack thereof) with several fundamental points of Catholic medical-moral teaching, was apparently worse than we thought. Bp. Olmsted’s decision to decertify St. Joseph’s as a Catholic institution is quite well grounded. Two documents are essential reading here, the Bishop's Decree of December 21, and the Bishop’s Statement of December 21.

From the Bishop’s Statement we learn that:

1. The problems in regard to compliance with Catholic moral teaching at Catholic Healthcare West institutions are apparently not limited to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. Significant problems at CHW’s Chandler Regional Hospital in Arizona were flagged by Olmsted seven years ago (!), to no avail.

2. The problems at St. Joseph’s
go well beyond a single instance of abortion (as terrible as that was, per 1983 CIC 1398 and CCC 2270-2272). Apparently, St. Joseph’s is, and has been for some time, formally (i.e., intentionally) cooperating in contraceptive counseling and services, including voluntary sterilizations, and in multiple abortions.

3. The excommunication of Sr. Margaret McBride for her role in an abortion at St. Joseph’s in 2009 was formally declared by Olmsted in a private exchange with the religious.

From the Bishop’s Decree we see that:

Canon 216,
as predicted, is being invoked, and Olmsted is already signaling that he is prohibiting the use of the word Catholic “in any way” by St. Joseph’s. Olmsted’s revocation of permission for reservation of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Joseph’s would be grounded in 1983 CIC 934 § 1, n. 2; while the specific mechanism for his revoking permission to celebrate Mass at St. Joseph’s was not included in the decree, there are a couple of ways that the bishop could secure that.

Olmsted is plainly grounding his actions today on his responsibility to determine what is, and is not, Catholic in the territory entrusted to him (I might add, entrusted to him by Christ, through the authority of the Church, and for which entrustment he must someday render an accounting to God. Olmsted takes Judgment Day seriously.)

No direct action against Catholic Healthcare West has been taken, at least as of now. My guess is that there are jurisdictional issues to be addressed, because CHW is based in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, not Phoenix. But that’s not an insurmountable bar to action by Olmsted, and/or others, even if there are a couple more steps involved.

Other good comments: American Papist; American Life League

And this, from a fellow canonist who loves his JPII encylicals: "A particular responsibility is incumbent upon Bishops with regard to Catholic institutions. Whether these are agencies for the pastoral care of the family or for social work, or institutions dedicated to teaching or health care, Bishops can canonically erect and recognize these structures and delegate certain responsibilities to them. Nevertheless, Bishops are never relieved of their own personal obligations. It falls to them, in communion with the Holy See, both to grant the title Catholic to Church-related schools, universities, health-care facilities and counselling services, and, in cases of a serious failure to live up to that title, to take it away." Veritatis splendor, 116, my emphasis.

Radio interview (22 Dec 2010) with Bp. Olmstead, canonist Fr. Christopher Fraser, and ethicist Fr. John Ehrich concerning this case, here, lasting about 37 minutes.