Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bishop Vasa ends diocese’s sponsorship of hospital that performs sterilizations

In "a difficult decision for all those involved," the Bend, Oregon-based Catholic Diocese of Baker announced Monday its intention to dissolve the official sponsorship relationship of St. Charles Medical Center-Bend by the Catholic Church over sterilization procedures performed at the hospital.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Ind., founded St. Charles Bend 92 years ago with a mission to serve all patients in need in Central Oregon.

Although the hospital became a community nonprofit organization in the 1970s, it has maintained a relationship with the Catholic Church and has continued voluntarily to follow the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services.

Recently, hospital administrators and Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Baker have respectfully disagreed on the meaning of some of those directives.

In particular, St. Charles-Bend offers patients the service of tubal ligations, a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization, which goes against the Church's teachings.

"It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact," Vasa said. "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 are no longer being observed."

Vasa asked St. Charles Bend in 2007 for an audit of the hospital's compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives. The hospital has been transparent about its practices and openly provided the Bishop with the information he requested. Since that time, the two parties have had a number of discussions about the future of the hospital as a Catholic institution.

"We are saddened by this decision because of the 92 years of history the St. Charles Bend hospital has had with the Catholic Church," said James A. Diegel, FACHE, president and CEO of Cascade Health-care Community, the parent company of St. Charles-Bend. "But we have an obligation to provide comprehensive health care services to our patients while remaining true to our values of compassion and caring for all."

Vasa has encouraged the hospital to stay as close to the Directives as possible in the future.

"St. Charles has gradually moved away from adherence to the requirements of the Church without a clear knowledge that it was doing so," Vasa said. "Unfortunately, that distance is now too great to sustain a formal sponsorship relationship, but I believe that using the Church's Directives as a basis for their local ethical guidelines is a good idea."

Vasa and Diegel agreed that for all practical purposes, very little will change at St. Charles Bend as a result of this decision. However, Catholic Mass will no longer be celebrated in the hospital's chapel, and all items considered Catholic will be removed from the hospital and returned to the church.

St. Charles Bend's name will remain the same, and the cross will remain on top of the hospital building.

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