Abortion accusations widen against Catholic hospitals in Spain

Abortion accusations widen against Catholic hospitals in Spain

Holy Cross and Saint Paul Hospital in Barcelona. Credit: Javier Lopez Bravo (CC BY 2.0)
Holy Cross and Saint Paul Hospital in Barcelona. Credit: Javier Lopez Bravo (CC BY 2.0)

.- Various medical experts and pro-life leaders in Barcelona warned of reported abortions taking place in local Catholic hospitals and called for facility leaders to commit to the Church's pro-life stance.

Since April of 2011, CNA has reported on numerous complaints against hospitals connected to three dioceses in the Spanish region of Catalonia, where abortions, sterilizations and the morning-after pill are allegedly made available.

The hospitals are located in the Archdiocese of Barcelona and the suffragan Dioceses of Sant Feliu and Terrasa.

At the end of November in 2011, CNA spoke with Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, who said that although “there are public hospitals, and probably private ones as well, that perform them,” abortions are not available in Catholic hospitals, “at least in the Archdiocese of Barcelona.”

“What we want is to educate people,” he said. “First, there should be no hospital associated with the Church that performs abortions, and second, Christians should not obtain abortions, and that is the formation we want for people.”

However, in recent weeks, the agency has received numerous testimonies that appear to contradict the cardinal.

Dr. Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, a member of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, said that the fact that the head of gynecology at the San Pablo Hospital in Barcelona, Joaquim Calaf Alsina, is a public supporter of abortion is proof that the practice is taking place there.

Simon Castellvi, who is also president of the International Federation of Catholic Doctors Associations, said, “In medicine we say something is 'pathognominic' in the same way that in theology we say something is 'dogma.'”

“And what is pathognominic is that in a medium-sized or large hospital, if the head of the department is not one hundred percent pro-life, and there is no family care service, then abortions are done right there or referrals are given.”

Calaf has publicly expressed his support for abortion, telling local newspaper El Punt Avui that “Catalonia should firmly support drug-induced abortion,” referring to the morning-after pill. 

He also told local paper El Mundo, “The sooner a voluntary pregnancy termination occurs, the better, both for medical and psychological reasons.”

Simon Castellvi stressed the need to put pro-life doctors in charge of gynecology at Catholic hospitals and to implement social services, family care services and education in natural family planning.

On Nov. 25, 2011, Esther Armora, a reporter with the Spanish newspaper ABC, revealed that three Catholic hospitals – San Pablo, San Juan de Dios and Granollers – appeared on a list of medical facilities that perform abortions compiled by the government of Catalonia.

On the following day, without any explanation, the Catalan government closed down the website where the list that included the Catholic hospitals was posted.

The president of the pro-life organization Barcelona es Vida, Mariano Arnal, also questioned whether Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach was well-informed about the hospitals linked to his jurisdiction.

He told CNA that if one inquires directly at San Pablo Hospital, “The information you will get is not the same as what cardinal has. The cardinal has the information he wants to have.”

Arnal said many Spanish bishops “are completely asleep, and there is too much silence surrounding abortion, such that the laity has had to step up and say this cannot be.”

“We have been silent for too long, especially the clergy. The hierarchy has been silent for too long. It is time for (local Church leaders) to strenuously speak out,” he said.

Dr. Xavier Sanz, a member of the Association of Christian Doctors of Catalonia, told CNA that the director of San Pablo Hospital, Father Jose Maria Forcada, has often expressed a vague position on issues related to the defense of life. 

“We cannot have an unclear position,” he said. “We need to call what is black, black, and what is white, white.”

He said Fr. Forcada has a very calm personality and is very articulate, “so much so that when he speaks he doesn’t leave a clear impression of what his position is. It seemed like he was trying to defend the gynecologists at San Pablo a little.” 

Sanz said that on several occasions the priest has appeared to justify abortion and euthanasia.

Adding to the accusations against the hospitals are personal testimonies of women who claim that they were offered the procedure during clinic visits.

One woman who preferred to remain anonymous over fear of reprisals, told CNA that a few months ago she approached an administrator at San Juan de Dios Hospital in the Diocese of Sant Feliu, which is a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Barcelona, who told her that she could obtain an abortion at the facility.

The woman said she asked what she could do if she was pregnant and did not want the baby, and she was told she should go to the emergency room “and they will take it (the child) out of you, give you a pill or something, and you’ll no longer be pregnant.”

“I don’t agree that they do these things, because on the one hand as a hospital they are saving lives, but on the other they are inciting people to kill,” she said.

CNA also gained access to the confidential testimony of another woman who was taken to San Pablo Hospital after feeling dizzy, where she was told she was pregnant. 

The nurses caring for her asked how many children she had and if she wanted another one. In the emergency room she was told that if she was less than thirteen weeks pregnant she could get an abortion there, but that since she had been pregnant longer she would have to obtain one in another part of the hospital.

According to some media reports, the doctors at San Pablo Hospital claim that as of “very recently” abortions are no longer performed there.

However, Father Custodio Ballester, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Barcelona, said that abortions at San Pablo hospital “are performed on late-term pregnancies, because abortion clinics won’t perform them and send them to the Church’s hospitals.”

Fr. Ballester revealed that shortly before meeting with Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach on Jan. 29 of this year, a representative at San Pablo told him, “It is true, abortions have been done here for 25 years. They have deceived us.”

However, he added, “When you talk to the cardinal, his argument is that he has been told abortions are not performed at the hospital. I told him that they are deceiving him, but he said that they are not deceiving him, because he has to trust them.”

He said that during his meeting, the cardinal avoided discussing the pro-abortion stance of the head of gynecology at San Pablo, Joaquim Calaf Alsina.

Fr. Ballester said that in May of last year, the current Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Manuel Monteiro de Castro – who was recently raised to the College of Cardinals – assured him in a personal meeting that the Catalan bishops have been told to “leave those hospitals.”

In June of 2011, the Pontifical Council for Health Care sent a letter to Fr. Ballester regarding his complaints against the hospitals, assuring him that it has asked those responsible to find “concrete solutions” to the problems.