Phoenix bishop strips hospital of Catholic affiliation

PHOENIX Tue Dec 21, 2010 3:30pm EST

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The Catholic bishop of Phoenix on Tuesday stripped a local hospital of Catholic affiliation after it ended a woman's pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmstead said he had no choice but to sever ties after St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center violated church teachings in the November 2009 case. He called the surgery involving the 11-week pregnancy "an abortion."

Linda Hunt, St. Joseph's hospital president, said she is saddened by the Olmstead's announcement but stands by the decision.

The patient suffered from pulmonary hypertension that could limit the functioning of her heart and lungs, the hospital said. Allowing the pregnancy to continue could have exacerbated the condition, it said.

Hunt said the medical procedure to end the pregnancy was performed only after consulting with the patient and her family, doctors and the hospital's ethics committee. Olmstead later ex-communicated one member of the ethics committee, Sister Margaret McBride.

Olmstead, at a news conference, said the hospital failed to adequately address "the scandal caused by the abortion" and that it has for years violated other ethical and religious guidelines set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He told reporters the violations included offering contraceptive counseling and supplies, providing voluntary male and female sterilization, and performing abortions due to a mother's mental or physical health or when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

"The faithful of the Diocese have a right to know whether institutions of this importance are indeed Catholic in identity and practice," he said in a prepared statement.

Olmstead, who has presided over the nearly 765,000-person Phoenix diocese for seven years, negotiated for months with St. Joseph's and its parent company, Catholic Healthcare West, to try to resolve the differences. His original deadline was extended as talks continued.

The practical impact of the bishop's decision is that the 697-bed hospital, the Phoenix area's oldest, will no longer be able to hold mass at its chapel and communion wafers will be removed.

Hunt said that the 115-year-old hospital has no plans to change its name or mission.

"Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save," she said.

(Reporting and Writing by David Schwartz, Editing By Greg McCune)