The Phoenix Hospital conflict and the Magisterium of Nuns

The Motley Monk has best summary I have seen so far (here and here – I am integrating his work here, but you should go there and read) of what is going on with the dust-up in Phoenix, Arizona between H.E. Most Rev. Thomas Olmsted and the “Catholic Healthcare West (CHW)” St. Joseph’s Hospital, where a direct abortion was committed with the consent of the woman religious who is the – get this – “VP of Mission Integration”.

This whole debacle demonstrates why a real visitation of communities of women religious was needed in the USA.

The Arizona Central says that the Diocese of Phoenix (read: Bp. Olmsted) “extended a deadline for St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center to comply with Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s demands that the hospital comply with Catholic moral teaching or lose its status as a Catholic hospital.”

Bishop Olmsted’s requires that CHW state that abortions will never be performed at their hospitals in the Diocese of Phoenix.  Otherwise Bp. Olmsted, will revoke the hospital’s standing as a Catholic healthcare facility.

What is interesting is that this is also a Magisterium of Nuns issue.

CHW operates more than forty hospitals and clinics and is the largest non-profit healthcare provider in California and the eighth largest in the nation. CHW runs St. Joseph’s Hospital.  In late 2009, an abortion was performed St. Joseph’s upon a mother who was eleven weeks pregnant and seriously ill with pulmonary hypertension.The MM continues with this:”They were in quite a dilemma,” says a theologian teaching at Boston College, Lisa Sowle Cahill.  “There was no good way out of it.  The official church position would mandate that the correct solution would be to let both the mother and the child die.  I think in the practical situation that would be a very hard choice to make.” 

Sr. McBride and members of the hospital’s ethics committee believed the abortion could proceed because of an exception—called “Directive 47” in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ ethical guidelines for health care providers—that allows, in some circumstances, procedures that could kill the fetus to save the mother.News of the abortion resulted in the self-inflicted excommunication of Sr. Margaret McBride, the hospital’s VP of Mission Integration and member of the ethics panel which approved the abortion.  Sr. McBride allegedly told Bishop Olmsted that performing the abortion under the circumstances “was a morally good and allowable act according to Church teaching.”

Okay.  That’s the Magisterium of Nuns.

By contrast we have the magisterium of the Successor of the Apostles, Bp. Olmsted.

Citing Church teaching, Bishop Olmsted disagreed.  He noted that the abortion was deliberate and directly intended to take the life of the unborn child, not a foreseen but undesired consequence of another medical procedure.  “Since she gave her consent and encouraged an abortion she automatically excommunicated herself from the Church,” Bhe Bishop’s office said at the time.

In a November 22, 2010, letter to CHW President Lloyd Dean, Bishop Olmsted gave the CHW until Friday, December 17, 2010, to agree to terms he specified or face canonical sanctions in the Diocese of Phoenix, according to the Arizona Central. CHW went out and found another expert to support the decision to perform an abortion:Dean has argued the contrary, citing a Marquette University professor, M. Therese Lysaught, who said the abortion was morally justifiable under the circumstances.  Dr. Lysaught’s institutional mission reads in part: “Marquette University defines itself as Christian, Catholic, Jesuit, urban, and independent” (italics added).

Episcopal Backbone Award

Episcopal Backbone Award

[Get this…] …[This] resolution disregards my authority and responsibility to interpret the moral law and to teach the Catholic faith as a Successor of the Apostles….

Until this point in time, you have not acknowledged my authority to settle this question but have only provided opinions of ethicists that agree with your own opinion and disagree with mine.  As the diocesan bishop, it is my duty and obligation to authoritatively teach and interpret the moral law for Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix.  The conclusion I take away from this analysis is that you do not intend to change anything.  While my objections and our correspondence have garnered your undivided attention, you have discounted my legitimate authority.  Because of this I must now act. I do so not only to assure that no further such violations of the ERDs [Ethical and Religious Directives] occur, but also to repair the grave scandal to the Christian faithful that has resulted from the procedure that took place at St. Joseph’s and the subsequent public response of CHW.

Magisterium of a bishop v. Magisterium of Nuns and those aid and abet their undermining of the Church’s teachings.

Bishop Olmsted then wrote that CHW must acknowledge in writing that the abortion performed at St. Joseph’s violated Catholic healthcare ethical directives “and so will never occur again at St. Joseph’s Hospital.”  In addition, CHW “must agree to a review and certification process conducted by the Medical Ethics Board of the Diocese of Phoenix to enforce full compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives of the USCCB.”  Lastly, CHW “must agree to provide the medical staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital ongoing formation on the ERD’s, as overseen by the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the Medical Ethics Board of the Diocese of Phoenix.”

Failure to fulfill these three requirements will lead me to decree the suspension of my endorsement of St. Joseph’s Hospital, forcing me to notify the Catholic faithful that St. Joseph’s Hospital no longer qualifies as a ‘Catholic’ hospital…,” Bishop Olmsted wrote.

A suspension would include removing all Blessed Sacrament chapels and tabernacles, a prohibition Mass being offered at any of St. Joseph’s chapels, and a public advisory from the bishop’s office and in the diocesan newspaper that St. Joseph’s no longer qualifies as a “Catholic” hospital.

Lisa Fullam, professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, [I wonder if there is a pattern…. Boston College… Marquette… hmmmm another woman who takes a paycheck from Jesuits] blogged at Commonweal Magazine’s website that hospital administrators ought to stand up to Bishop Olmsted:

The hospital was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, and Catholic Healthcare West, the organization to which the hospital now belongs, is under the authority of Archbp. Niederauer of San Francisco.

My question is this: why doesn’t the hospital first appeal to Niederauer, then, if he refuses to get involved, why don’t they simply point out to Bp. Olmsted that, while under Church Law he can restrict who uses the appellation “Catholic,” he does NOT have a copyright to the term under US Law? [I suppose this is what the National catholic Reporter would argue…] If the administrators at St. Joseph’s believe it to be a Catholic hospital, they should continue to use the name, and let the canonical chips fall where they may. The bishop does not own Catholicism, in his diocese or elsewhere. This would require serious nerve on the part of the Sisters of Mercy. [Get this…] However, the RSM’s I know are people of faith, intelligence, and backbone. Come on, sisters–be the change!

I don’t think Bp. Olmsted is going to back down.Some links:

  • To read the Arizona Central article, click HERE.
  • To read Bishop Olmsted’s letter, click HERE.
  • To learn about M. Therese Lysaught, click HERE.
  • To read about Sr. McBride’s self-inflicted excommunication, click HERE.
  • To read the National Public Radio report, click HERE.
  • To read Lisa Fullam’s blog, click HERE.

Finally, note that Bp. Olmsted extended the deadline.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jack Hughes says:

    I would urge the Sisters (should any of them reading) to be Faithful to their Divine Spouse, to successor of the Apostles to whom he gave authority. Whilst Bishop Olmsted does not ‘own Catholicism’ he is the competent authority in his Diocese and therefore should he so decide can decide whether St Joseph’s can be called a ‘Catholic’ hospital

  2. Al says:

    Looks like the good Bishop deserves the Thomas Becket Award for showing the Old Episcopal Spine…here is hoping he goes farther and starts to personally investigate the entire order of nuns as well as any of the so-called “Catholic Universities” in his Diocese along with their “Theologians”…

  3. Thanks be to God for bishops like him. We need more of his kind.

    Catholic schools should be next.

  4. Fr. Basil says:

    \\here is hoping he goes farther and starts to personally investigate the entire order of nuns\\

    I think Sr. Margaret is the only member of her order resident in the diocese.

    \\ as well as any of the so-called “Catholic Universities” in his Diocese along with their “Theologians”…\\

    There aren’t any.

  5. TJerome says:

    It would be nice if his brother bishops gave him some public support on this. If the Church in the US doesn’t start publicly excommunicating nuns (priests too) who violate Church doctrine and law, grave harm will be inflicted on the Faith. It will only serve to demoralize faithful Catholics

  6. Brad says:

    To reveal just how inferior the average person (even a “holy” person) is, in this world, when compared to our proximate model, a saint, we just need to wonder if these two women’s eponyms, I’m assuming the Little Flower and Margaret of Scotland, would have, while living, approved of an abortion, talked back to a bishop, etc etc etc.

    People are really rank.

    For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    All the nuns, bar two who are in habits, I know in this area and in the Catholic college where I used to work, all, voted for the most pro-abortion president in United States-all, and I know these women well. They have lost their First Love, Jesus, who is their Spouse and asks them to come away from the crowd and love Him and His ways, alone.

    They have resisted His call to love for something ephemera–politial or local power.
    They have replaced the Gospel of Love and Sacrifice with the Gospel of Political Correctness and Liberal Ideology. How can one pray to the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer and be in love with Jesus Christ? They have lost their First Love. Those of us who are not nuns or sisters cannot imagine throwing away such a precious and personal gift….

  8. rakesvines says:

    O for the love of God, why have they still not stopped? If they truly want to do something meaningful and important then they should obey. Even Sr. Keehan appears to feign remorse after finding the abortion funding in Obamacare and after knowing how the bishops whom she defiantly contradicted were right not only in terms of the law but most specially in terms of morality. And she makes a million bucks and has a ton of degrees.
    I hope the Church, the People of God, will run these spiritual adulterers back to their homes where they can at least try to be good lay people. Religious life is not for faithless disobedient dissenters. It does not matter how many degrees they have; even Lucifer has memorized the Bible and was the brightest of them all. They can dialogue in private with the bishop or his delegate and hash out what they don’t understand. But open rebellion is unacceptable.
    If they’re having a mid-life crisis, then they need to express that in way that does not harm the community. They can get a new assignment in Iraq or Pakistan – something.

  9. TNCath says:

    Thank you, Bishop Olmsted! I hope this is the beginning of many, many more confrontations between bishops and hospitals, colleges, universities, high schools, and other institutions that claim Catholic status.

  10. Joseph-Mary says:

    To paraphrase our dear Holy Father:
    If I am not being persecuted, then I probably am not doing my job!

    And a quote from the persecuted Servent of God, Fr. John A. Hardon:
    Christians have a very simple but awful choice: whether to remain faithful to the Savior and pay the price, or remain Christian in name only and be rewarded by the same world that crucified its Master.

  11. Malateste says:

    I haven’t followed this issue from the beginning, so perhaps that’s why I am somewhat confused by this?

    The quotation from that poor benighted Boston College theologian is a little misleading, because it makes it sound as though the ethics board knew and believed the abortion to be against Catholic teaching, but went ahead with the authorization anyway. But the next few paragraphs (about Directive 47) make it seem, by contrast, as though the ethics board honestly thought that the validly-interpreted teachings of the Church would allow abortion under the circumstances. At the very least, it seems that it was an arguable and open question whether this abortion was, or was not, licit according to the USCCB guidelines.

    So what happened, as far as I can see, is that (1) an ethics board made a decision, using proper procedure and within its standard sphere of authority, on a very debatable medical question, (2) the hospital carried out the abortion in accordance with the board’s decision, and (3) the bishop retroactively disagreed with the board’s reading of the USCCB’s Directive 47, and made sanctions accordingly?

    Unless it’s standard procedure to require the bishop’s approval for every decision of the ethics board, or unless there was some communication from the Bishop’s office at the time of the board’s sitting that was ignored, I don’t understand how the decision is being read as some sort of grave disobedience. It would certainly make sense if the Bishop wished to move, going forward, for a restructuring of authority that would allow tighter control and supervision of the hospital ethics board, or if he wanted to pull strings to engineer the replacement or re-formation of members whose judgment he questions. But if there really was a chain of command in place, and everyone followed it, according to the dictates of their consciences, their reason, AND their educated understanding of Catholic teaching and authority, it seems to me that this should fall under the heading of “ugly, unfortunate mistakes,” not “flagrant, sinful flouting of legitimate authority.” Certainly, take steps to ensure that things are done better in the future. But where is the sin in the past? Is there some subtlety I’m missing?

    Also, for what it’s worth, I thoroughly enjoy your blog, Fr. Z, and agree with much of what’s posted here, but I don’t believe the weird over-emphasis of gender in these “Magisterium of Nuns” posts does any favors to the cause. With plenty of heterodox and disobedient men out there, why should it matter that Lisa Fullan is “another woman who takes a paycheck from Jesuits”? I wholeheartedly agree that in many cases there are real problems with the behavior of the religious in question, but that sort of misogynist sniping makes it seem as though this is just a matter of men who have a problem with women exercising authority or expertise. The very best way to ruin a good argument for something is to supplement it with a bad one– why embrace the other side’s straw men?

  12. benedetta says:

    It seems the hospital staff made a decision (which really belongs not to mortals but to God) that the mother’s life was worth more than the baby’s. It is hard to tell whether couching it in terms of the policy exception is disingenuous. I think that it is still worth examining though, the broader trend that is at work, namely, that the hospital staff consulted an expert from a Jesuit institution not especially known for faithfulness to the magisterium, and now, their position is backed up and amplified by a blogger at another Jesuit institution not famous for its faithfulness to the magisterium, and who writes for a publications which is a cauldron for dissenting expression in the U.S. There are many Catholic experts and theologians the hospital could have consulted, lay, clergy, religious, men and women. So it would seem that the Bishop is being prudent to look into it.
    The other aspect worth looking at is this argument advanced for defying the Bishop completely framed in terms of the commercial, monetary, ownership, copyright. The idea that the practice of the faith could appropriately be expressed in terms of monetary transaction or commercial ownership will have a clever appeal to secular thinkers and those who despise the Church either way, but doesn’t quite get the true picture in the end of what Church authority is all about. I suppose that now it would look bad for these experts to simply say “my bad”…their academic reputations are at stake so they have nothing to lose by grasping at all kinds of straws and crafting novel arguments out of thin air to appeal to the dissenters’ constant drumbeat and add fuel to the fire.

  13. Jack Hughes says:

    I really don’t get Brides of Christ who have walked away from their Spouse – you have been Espoused to the Second person of the Trinity and you walk away from that?

    much prayer and sacrifice is needed methinks

  14. irishgirl says:

    OOORAH to Bishop Olmstead! A Shepherd with SPINE!
    Don’t back down, Your Excellency! Be like St. Thomas Becket! Don’t let ‘the magisterium of nuns’ with their feminist allies in academia [the ones with the intellectual cholesterol in their brains] and the ACLU cow you or intimidate you! Stand firm!

  15. rakesvines says:

    @Malateste: Re: the emphasis on the gender, one needs to frame this crisis in the context of the on-going conflict of feminist nuns vs. the hierarchy. Consider the backdrop of the visitation, LCWR and Keehan going against the USCCB, the recent anger of the nuns for not being recognized enough – among others. All these rests on feminism, the need to correct the injustice against women in a patriarchal Church and the need to consider the feminine psyche in Church governance. So, the focus on the feminist nuns is not being side lined to an irrelevant detail, rather, it is honing in on the crux of the problem – imho.

  16. Joshua08 says:

    The “Jesuit School of Theology” is not at Santa Clara University. It is in Berkeley. Formerly called the JSTB rather than JST. Being in Berkeley, it physically is located not in the San Jose diocese (where Santa Clara is) but in the Oakland diocese where Bishop Cordileone rules. Before him was Bishop Vigneron

    Now Bishop Cordileone is a staunch bishop. I have been to four Masses of his. One when he was an auxiliary. He had just attended in choro a Solemn Mass done by the head of the FSSP, and said the Latin Novus Ordo after it. He stopped the altar boys who were reorienting the altar to face the people and taking off the marvelous candlesticks to put on dinky ones, and insisted on ad orientem. Two of the other Masses were Solemn Pontifical Masses from the Throne, one with the Institute and one with the FSSP (where he ordained a priest in the old rite). The fourth Mass was a low Pontifical Mass preceded by confirmation in the old rite. At each of these his sermons were staunchly orthodox and traditional. He has also gotten involved in a local educational institute, threatening to revoke Catholic status if they do not shape up (I will leave the name out)

    So the JSTB anticipated him. They, who were independent, only recently affiliated themselves with Santa Clara to hamper any attempt of Bishop Cordileone to challenge them. What Fullam is doing is arguing from what her school itself did. Claim to be under someone else’s jurisdiction. With a school it is different though and this will not fly in a hospital, but it is a tactic already used successfully…liberals are clever

  17. Gail F says:

    Malateste: That is the first thing I thought, but it doesn’t seem to be true. If that had been the case, the staff would have said “Well, we thought it was the right decision but apparently we were wrong.” Instead they are saying, “You can’t tell us what to do! We know more about theology than you do, you BISHOP you.”

  18. Joseph James says:

    That letter from Bp. Olmstead gave me a warm tingly feeling. That might make me weird, but to a former protestant for whom the latest and best-written trendy theology was almost unanimously accepted solely on the basis of its novelty and the apparent erudition of its proponents, the letter was a clear and sweet reminder that I am under the protection and guidance of the Holy Church that the Son of God founded. May God be praised.

    When I read the clear, written, official message that the amassed work of all the top theologians of the world doesn’t possess a fraction of the authority that the local ordinary does as the Successor of the Apostles, I literally laughed for joy. I am so glad to be home. Where I was raised, theologians, archaeologists, and linguists were essentially raised to episcopal status.

    St. Joseph, pray for us.

  19. Tony Layne says:

    Dr. Ed Peters has posted on Lisa Fullam’s dangerous advice to St. Joseph’s. However, I think he misses Fullam’s point: outside of removing the Blessed Sacrament from the premises and stopping celebration of the Mass at the hospital chapel, there’s damn-all the bishop can do to stop them from calling themselves a “Catholic” hospital. And I’m not convinced the formal stripping of the title will have that drastic an impact on CHW’s bottom line from St. Joseph’s. It all depends, then, on whether the corporate heads of CHW are businesspersons first or Catholics first … and whether they have a “what Catholic means to us” attitude about it.

    Nevertheless, kudos to Bp. Olmstead! Especially priceless is this line: “While the issues discussed in the moral analysis you provided are certainly technical and deeply philosophical, they are also foundationally ‘theological.’ And the theology of the Catholic Faith, as concretized in the Code of Canon Law, dispels any doubt whose opinion on matters of faith and morals is decisive for institutions in the Diocese of Phoenix.” (In other words, Mr. Dean, not yours, and not your hired-gun theologians’.) If you can only do a little, Your Excellency, do it without apology or shame!

  20. my kidz mom says:

    Jack Hughes wrote: “Bishop Olmsted…is the competent authority in his Diocese and therefore …can decide whether St Joseph’s can be called a ‘Catholic’ hospital.”

    ABSOLUTELY. Thank you God for our Bishop, who knows how to bish.

  21. The CINO’s are going nuts alright, over at Jimmy Akin’s blog lead by “Anne Rice” who “quit Christianity”.

    I think a little balance could be used in the combox over there if anyone wants to help.

  22. Pingback: WSJ picks up on Catholic Hospitals vs. the Bishops | Fr. Z's Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say?

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