Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, December 17, 2010

Lisa Fullam's dangerous advice should be ignored

When informed that the Vatican would oppose him, Joseph Stalin shrugged and asked “How many troops does the pope have?” To the dictator, the only views that mattered were those backed-up by men with guns.

Lisa Fullam has offered authorities at Catholic Healthcare West / St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix similarly myopic, even dangerous, advice when she suggested that, because the word “Catholic” is not copyright-able, the enterprise should continue to call itself “Catholic” despite Bp. Thomas Olmsted’s threatened prohibition of such use, and simply “let the canonical chips fall where they may.” Apparently Fullam believes that, since men with badges will never show up to enforce a cease-and-desist order (that will never be issued) by a civil court regarding the word “Catholic”, Catholic hospital officials need not worry about bishops tossing a few “canonical chips” their way.

I strongly suggest that St. Joseph's seek advice from another expert.

If the only criterion for authentic Catholic conduct is “what Church rules are enforceable by civil courts?”, then there won’t be much left of Catholic codes of conduct. Thank God. I don’t want states being the final arbiter of what is acceptable Catholic conduct and what is not, and I would hope that Fullam doesn’t want that, either.

But if Fullam’s point is that a bishop’s authority over the use of the label “Catholic” is, absent state enforcement options, nugatory, then she needs to study up on some elementary canon law (and ecclesiology, for that matter). A bishop’s authority over the use of the word “Catholic” is reflected in, e.g., 1983 CIC
216 and 300, and those norms just get the conversation started. Canons 1319 comes next to mind, but an exploration of those options goes beyond what I can cover in blog post.

Fullam’s nonchalance about ecclesiastical authority notwithstanding, I suggest that Catholic Healthcare West / St. Joseph's Hospital officials put a careful reading of these and related canons on the agenda for their next meeting.

I’m pretty sure that Bp. Olmsted has them memorized.