Disagreements on ethics end Catholic sponsorship of Oregon hospital

2 16 2010 ceodude James A. Diegel, president and CEO of St. Charles Bend’s parent company Cascade Healthcare Community.

Citing continued disagreement on Catholic ethical directives such as sterilization, the Catholic Diocese of Baker on Monday announced its intention to end its official sponsorship of St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.

“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.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Tipton, Indiana founded St. Charles Bend 92 years ago to serve all patients in need in central Oregon. The hospital became a community non-profit organization in the 1970s but has maintained a relationship with the Catholic Church and had continued voluntarily to follow the Catholic ERDs for health care services.

In 2007 Bishop Vasa asked the hospital for an audit of its compliance with the ERDs. The hospital provided the bishop with the information he requested and the two parties have had a “number of discussions” about the hospital’s future as a Catholic institution, the Diocese of Baker statement reported.

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.”

James A. Diegel, president and CEO of St. Charles Bend’s parent company Cascade Healthcare Community (CHC), said the company was “saddened” by the decision because of the years of history the hospital has had with the Church.

“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,” he said.

Diegel said that the CHC Board of Directors intends to continue to use the ERDs as they have been “historically interpreted” by the hospital and will likely adopt its own version of the ethical directives in the near future, the Diocese of Baker statement said.

Bishop Vasa has encouraged the hospital to adhere to the directives as closely as possible.

“We are not going to abandon who we are,” Diegel said. “The mission of the hospital, to serve all in a spirit of love and compassion, and the Catholic values the hospital was founded on, will continue to guide St. Charles Bend’s leaders and caregivers.”

However, Catholic Mass will no longer be celebrated in the hospital’s chapel and all Catholic items will be removed from the hospital and returned to the Church. St. Charles Bend’s name will not change and the cross will remain on top of the hospital building.

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