Phoenix hospital no longer called Catholic

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A thorny matter of faith and morals between a bishop and a historic "Catholic" hospital has been settled: the hospital is no longer a Catholic hospital. Mass is not permitted to be celebrated there and the Blessed Sacrament can't be reserved there. Phoenix's St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center whose owner is Catholic Healthcare West (CWH) defied Catholic teaching and the authority of the Catholic bishop in whose diocese the hospital is located. St Joseph's is one of several hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona. For Catholics, the bishop of the diocese is the final authority on matters of faith and morals; the bishop is not a branch manager, he is the successor of the Apostles.

Contrary to an editorial in the NY Times today, hospitals who claim to be Catholic are not agents of the state and therefore are not bound to comply with legalities to provide emergency reproductive care.

St Joseph's Hospital was founded by the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1895.

In Catholic teaching we hold that no one, no institution is the authentic interpreter of faith and morals but the bishop. In this case, The Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmstead, Bishop of Phoenix, is the proper teacher and interpreter of Catholic teaching with regard to the faithful and Catholic institutions in the Diocese of Phoenix. But let's be clear: it is not Bishop Olmstead's isolated interpretation of Catholic teaching nor is Catholic teaching determined by him as a private body of teaching and interpreted arbitrarily. What we see in Bishop Olmstead is a man faithful to his word, a priest acting according to his calling and ordination. Catholic teaching is not a policy statement; Catholic teaching coheres to objective and divine truth not to positive law. Catholic teaching is based on sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition and the clear and consistent teaching of the sacred Magisterium through the years. It is the Church's theological and pastoral patrimony that the bishop is responsible for because he's responsible for the salvation of souls in his diocese. He's responsible to see that the faithful and all others meet God face-to-face.

The issue involves an abortion performed in November 2009 by physicians at St Joseph's Hospital on a woman who was 11 weeks pregnant and experiencing severe pulmonary hypertension thus violating Catholic teaching on doing abortion. Keep in mind that not all the facts are known because medical files are not public record. But it is safe to say that abortion is not the cure for pulmonary hypertension. the possible losing of a mother's life is not remedied by abortion. A few more weeks of physicians' care would have led to a stable situation for mother and child.  Physicians are In doing the abortion physicians violated the ERD Directive 47:

Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.

The ethics committee of the hospital decided to allow for the procurement of an abortion against the consistent pro-life theology of the Church. The committee says that their decision was not to intentionally kill the baby but to save the life of the mother who was expected to die due to the condition she had. 

CWH and the Catholic Health Association (CHA) do not hold to the teaching of the Church and have set themselves up as to what is and is not Catholic. Which contributed to the breakdown of talks regarding theology and practice. CHA is famous for supporting not the Magisterium of the Church but the liberal healthcare policies of President Obama, with all efforts between CWH and CHA coordinated by Lloyd Dean, president of CWH, and he sits on the executive committee of the CHA. To me, this is a concerted effort to weaken Catholic teaching and identity system-wide. See Bishop Olmstead's letter to Lloyd Dean.

The decree of the bishop concerning the loss of Catholic identity of the hospital will remain in effect until that time St Joseph's Hospital accepts Catholic teaching regarding healthcare ethics and the authority of the bishop in matters of faith and morals.

According to the Church's Law:

Canon 216: Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.


Canon 300: No association is to assume the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority according to the norm of canon 312.


Canon 312 § 1: The authority competent to erect public associations is:

1. the Holy See for universal and international associations;
2. the conference of bishops in its own territory for national associations, that is, those which from their founding are directed toward activity throughout the whole nation;
3. the diocesan bishop in his own territory, but not a diocesan administrator, for diocesan associations, except, however, for those associations who right of erection has been reserved to others by apostolic privilege.

§ 2: Written consent of the diocesan bishop is required for the valid erection of an association or section of an association in a diocese even if it is done by virtue of apostolic privilege. Nevertheless, the consent given by a diocesan bishop for the erection of a house of a religious institute is also valid for the erection in the same house or church attached to it of an association which is proper to that institute.

Calling your group or institution "Catholic" is more than posting a sign saying so.

With this case being bantered around the ACLU is now pressing the federal government to make sure Catholic hospitals follow not the ERD but to provide medical procedures contrary to the Catholic faith.

Sadly, the fact that St Joseph's Hospital is not a Catholic hospital, the decision of the bishop has little financial impact unless Catholics and members of good will boycott the hospital.

Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERD): Ethical & Religious Directives for Health Care 5th ed.pdf

The Decree issued by Bishop Thomas Olmstead: DIOCESE OF PHOENIX DECREE Dec 21 2010.pdf

Bishop Thomas Olmstead's letter to Lloyd Dean: Bishop Olmsted's letter to Lloyd Dean Nov 22 2010.pdf

Diocese of Phoenix Information and Resources webpage

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page contains a single entry by Paul Zalonski published on December 23, 2010 3:47 PM.

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