Monday, January 23, 2012

The End of Catholic Hospitals?

On the heels of the DHHS announcement that, essentially, there will be no “conscience clause” for insurance providers to decline to pay for artificial contraception, Catholic HealthCare West says it’s changing its name and dropping its affiliation with the Catholic Church. Not too surprising, is it? (Hat-tip to veneremurcernui blog!)

Although my initial reaction was dismay, my second thought was, “What’s the difference?” (See my previous posts on Catholic hospitals here and here.) I am convinced that “Catholic” hospitals and hospital systems are not Catholic anyway, despite the lip service they give to Catholic teaching. We had Sr. Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association supporting Obamacare in the first place, contradicting the bishops’ misgivings; and we had Sr. Margaret McBride giving permission for abortion at a Catholic hospital in Arizona in 2010, with everyone then surprised that she had excommunicated herself and that the hospital was stripped of its “Catholic” affiliation.

Also in 2010, Bishop Robert F. Vasa, then of the Diocese of Baker, requested that St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon, drop its “Catholic” identification because of its history of performing tubal ligations. A National Catholic Register article pointed out that this may have been the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of rampant disregard of the Ethical Religious Directives’ explicit ban of tubal ligations at Catholic Hospitals.

Bishop Vasa noted that during the course of his negotiations with St. Charles, the hospital’s chief executive officer had been in contact with two or three very large Catholic health-care systems, and their question to him was: “Why did you tell the bishop you were doing this?”

The bishop was told that administrators in other Catholic health systems said, in essence, “This information should not have been shared so openly with the bishop.” (Read more here)

It seems to me that very few Catholic hospitals are actually run by Catholics, and those that are seem to be led by dissident sisters. And as I have noted previously, most of the websites of Catholic hospitals and hospital systems now do not explicitly mention the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD’s) to which they are supposed to adhere. But a news article about Catholic HealthCare West’s dropping its Catholic affiliation maintains (all emphases mine):

The change will have no effect on any patients or the medical care provided at the 25 Catholic and 15 secular hospitals in the system.

Really?! Then either those 25 Catholic hospitals are not currently adhering to the ERD’s, or they are following them and are not going to change with the name. I hate to be a pessimist, but I’m betting on the former. The article continues:

But executives hope it will make it easier to merge or affiliate with other hospitals, doctors’ practices and other health-care providers.

In the past few years, proposed mergers between Catholic and secular hospitals in Louisville, Ky., and Sierra Vista, Ariz., have collapsed in part because of concerns about the church’s bans on abortion, in vitro fertilization and sterilization.

Other mergers have succeeded only with unusual contortions, such as in Troy, N.Y., where a separately licensed maternity ward free from Catholic doctrine was created on the second floor of a secular hospital taken over by a Catholic system. In Seattle, Swedish Medical Center last fall agreed to fund a Planned Parenthood office next door to quell objections about its planned affiliation with a Catholic system.

So…it’s all about money? (I ask in innocent surprise.)

Lloyd Dean, the president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, said the concerns about his system’s Catholic affiliation have hampered some potential deals.

“I have been contacted over the last couple of years by many, many different constituencies who have an interest in Catholic Healthcare West and what we have accomplished,” Dean said. “But one of the things when we get down to what I’ll call the real discussions as they confer with their boards is, ‘What does the future mean if we’re a non-Catholic entity? Will we have to become Catholic? What will be the Catholic influence?’ “

The San Francisco-based system, which has $11 billion in revenues, making it the fifth-largest in the country, is seeking to triple in size. It treated 6.2 million patients last year.

Yep. It’s all about money.

As of Monday, the system’s new name will be Dignity Health. Dean said the system’s change to a nondenominational board will create “a tremendous opportunity that will help accelerate our growth.”

And do you really think a “nondenominational board” will be able and willing to maintain the Catholicity of any truly Catholic hospitals within the system? Oh well, that is perhaps a moot point anyway…

In the last part of the article, we find this information:

Catholic Healthcare West leaders said the change has been in development since 2009, when it was raised by the sisters. They said they consulted with Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco and he determined the governance change was consistent with the church’s teachings and that it could proceed.

Future secular hospitals added to the system will be required to adhere to the “Statement of Common Values” that apply to Catholic Healthcare West’s secular hospitals. In addition to abortions, those rules prohibit in vitro fertilizations but not sterilizations such as tubal ligations.

What?! Well, we can heave a sigh of relief that abortions will not be permitted, nor in vitro fertilizations. But not sterilizations? What’s up with that? And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that these hospitals’ pharmacies will be filling prescriptions for birth control pills and contraceptive devices? And, quite likely, “emergency contraception” will also be provided, since that’s mandated in many states now anyway.

The kiss of death for Catholic hospitals.
And yet, as Catholics we are now outraged (well, some of us are, anyway) that the Department of Health and Human Services, led by “Katholic” Kathleen Sebelius, will give the Catholic Church one year – a whole year! – to come to terms with the fact that it will have to violate its conscience with regard to paying for contraception. To add insult to injury, a statement issued by Sebelius notes:

This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule

In other words, the Obama administration will allow the Catholic Church one year of hand-wringing before insisting on compliance, but it’s not going to change anything.

 O God, please give our bishops the strength and wisdom to do more than just whine about it, because Obama and Sebelius are counting on their ineffectiveness. Sigh.

I wrote in a previous post:

So what is the “next step” for Catholic medical care? The cards are stacked against it, especially given the Obama administration’s stance on conscience clauses and health care in general; but some of those cards are, sadly, part of the Catholic deck. This suggests to me that a strong program of catechesis is necessary in order to bring errant-thinking Catholics back into the fold. Too long have the faithful been allowed – and in some cases, even taught – that it is okay to disagree with the Church on artificial contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and even abortion. In the almost ten years I have been Catholic, I have heard virtually no teaching on the evils of artificial contraception and sterilization from my parish priests. Although my experience is admittedly limited, a number of friends, acquaintances, and family members affirm my suspicion that this is not a topic anyone wants discussed. That would be tantamount to declaring that “the emperor has no clothes”.

And now Obama has completely thrown off any semblance of sympathy for religious freedom. Indeed, everyone can now see that the emperor has no clothes.

Not only that, he has no shame.

Be sure to watch this episode of The Vortex, too.


  1. True Roman Catholics will fight the immoral Obama administration and its cast of katholic characters to the bitter end. They will be called martyrs. The "average" catholic, i.e members of the American catholic Church (which includes far too many clergy) will give lip service protest, wring their hands, proclaim that they tried, and go on down the road with their social justice, do good focus salving their consciences.

  2. What happens when Catholics choose to become former patients of these formerly Catholic hospitals (and of the doctors affiliated with them)?

    I look forward to the 40 Days for Life prayer vigils that will be held in front of the former Catholic hospitals.


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