We have seen this movie before, and it ain’t The Bells of St. Mary’s.
The conflict in Phoenix between Bp. Thomas Olmsted and St. Joseph’s Hospital exemplifies a deeper problem, which more and more is going to tear the unity of the Church in the United States.
St. Joseph’s Hospital, run by the Religious Sisters of Mercy with the administration of Catholic Healthcare West based in San Francisco, at the okay of their ethics panel, did a direct abortion. They have also provided contraceptive services and, apparently, done other abortions, according to the statement made by Bp. Olmsted.
Since the Hospital’s administration will not obey the local bishop in these matters, the local bishop has determined that the hospital is not Catholic and may not identify itself as such.
The ultra-liberal National Catholic Reporter, condemned by the local ordinary in Kansas City, Bp. Charles Helmsing as long ago as 1968, today published that the Catholic Health Association has backed the hospital against the bishop. Under the direction of Sr. Carol Keehan, the CHA gave cover to pro-abortion “Catholic” Democrats to vote in favor of health care legislation which the Catholic bishops warned would provide taxpayer money for abortions.
Sr. Keehan parroted the statement released by St. Joseph’s Hospital after Bp. Olmsted’s decree, “They carefully evaluated the patient’s situation and correctly applied the ‘Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services’ to it, saving the only life that was possible to save.” Of course, it is the local bishop who makes these determinations, not Sr. Carol and the Catholic Health Association, and the bishop disagrees.
Just as an aside, the Chairman of Catholic Health Association’s board is Catholic Healthcare West’s CEO, Lloyd Dean.
To our eternal shame there were also Catholics on the side of the Holocaust.
The liberal, small-c catholic left in the USA is evolving a parallel church, once again in this case under a “Magisterium of Nuns“, claiming the right to teach over and against the legitimate pastors of the Church, the bishops.
St. Joseph’s Hospital will go on functioning. Many people will seek care there. Many of those who are paying attention will decide to back the hospital against the bishop, determine that the administrators are the authentic interpreters of Catholic teaching, not the bishop. This has played itself out in the past one more than one occasion. The Donatist Church and Priscillianism come to mind. Groups which break off from the Church will always have a following.
But the fact remains that St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix is no longer a Catholic Hospital and it was the bishop who made that determination, not some corporate board who decided to jettison the baggage of the heritage of which they are so proud… when they are fund-raising. The bishop removed the title.
“So what?”, some cynics will snicker. “So the bishop took away their title. Big deal.” Others, perhaps of the more conservative stripe will fume that the bishop should have done even more, that his measures didn’t go far enough.
No. This isn’t a “big deal“. This is a huge deal.
“This changes very little”, some will say, “and it is only a symbolic move.”
Of course it is symbolic! Symbols are, for Catholics, important and powerful.
You may be tempted to think, “Is that all the bishop can do? Remove this symbol? Remove the title ‘Catholic’?” But, had this been a Methodist Hospital, would it matter if the hospital lost its “Methodist” title? Would it matter if it kept it? No, because symbols are not important to Methodists in the way they are to Catholics. Catholicism is immersed in a profoundly symbolic world, like no other religion in history.
When a Catholic bishop issues a formal decree to confirm that you have stripped yourself of your Catholic identity, that is monumental. This is what schism smells like, friends.
Be clear: the administration of the hospital stripped itself of its Catholic identity and Bp. Olmsted confirmed their decision.
Bp. Olmsted’s move reaches far beyond that one hospital.
Our proximity to Christmas, and this sad tale of conflict, leads me to the image of Bp. Olmsted playing the role The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, pointing his finger at a dismal future for “Catholic” institutions, hospitals, universities, which have eroded their Catholic identity to the point where they no longer accept the authority of the bishops to teach and discipline. Instead, they embrace, once again, a Magisterium of Nuns.
We have seen this all before.