Church and hospital parting ways

Debates about what a Catholic hospital must (and must not) do to be considered fully “Catholic” are nothing new, but this latest step by Bishop Vasa perhaps is: The diocese of Baker, Oregon, has announced that it will be “ending its official sponsorship” of St. Charles Medical Center, a historically Catholic hospital:

“It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact,” Bishop of Baker Robert Vasa explained in a statement provided to CNA by the hospital. “It would be misleading for me to allow St. Charles Bend to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while I am certain that some important tenets of the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) are no longer being observed.”

Bishop Vasa and hospital administrators have “respectfully disagreed” on the meaning of some Catholic ERDs, such as the provision of tubal ligations. The procedure is a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization which violates Church teaching. . . .

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Bishop Vasa said the hospital has “gradually moved away” from adherence to Catholic ethics without “clear knowledge” it was doing so.

“Unfortunately, that distance is now too great to sustain a formal sponsorship relationship,” he explained, adding that using the Catholic ERDs as a basis for the hospital’s ethical guidelines is “a good idea.” 

The hospital will keep its name and the cross on top of its building, but all the Catholic identifiers within will be returned to the Church. 

What interests me about this story is how little acrimony there seems to be between the two institutions. The hospital sees sterilization procedures as part of their “obligation to provide comprehensive health care services,” which is clearly contrary to Church teaching. There’s not much room for compromise there — and while having the hospital return to the fold on that point would be ideal, the logical step if it doesn’t happen seems to be to cut those ties, so that there’s no confusion as to what one or the other believes. And yet Bishop Vasa clearly wishes them well, even to the point of encouraging them to follow the Church’s ERDs to the best of their ability.

As far as culture wars go, this doesn’t seem very warlike at all. It’s a hard balance to strike between standing up for the Truth and not appearing angry or sanctimonious about it — kudos to Bishop Vasa for doing the right thing with charity.


  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at

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