Catholic hospital and bishop at odds over sterilizations

Bishop Alvaro Corrada
Bishop Alvaro Corrada


Controversy over alleged unethical sterilizations performed at a Catholic hospital continues in the Diocese of Tyler as Trinity Mother Francis Hospital and the local bishop dispute whether the hospital has performed tubal ligations and if the procedures violated Catholic medical ethics.

A statement from the hospital insists it does not perform direct sterilizations and reports that the provincial superior of its sponsoring religious order hopes to meet with Bishop of Tyler Alvaro Corrada.

However, an official with the Diocese of Tyler accuses the hospital’s statement of being equivocal and reports that the hospital erroneously does not consider tubal ligations to be direct sterilizations.

The hospital’s December 11 statement states: “Trinity Mother Frances does not perform direct sterilizations.”

The statement claims that “Medically necessary indirect sterilizations” are permitted as provided in “the second sentence of ERD #53.” Medical necessity is determined on a case-by-case basis by OB/GYN physicians in consultation with the hospital’s ethics committee.

Catholic Health Services ERDs, or Ethical and Religious Directives, are guidelines that have been laid out to inform medical institutions and professionals about Catholic medical ethics.

The hospital claims to have had “ongoing communication” since “at least July 2008” with the Diocese of Tyler regarding the alleged ethics violations. It also reports that the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Trinity Mother Frances’ religious sponsor, has requested a personal meeting with the bishop.

Father Gavin Vaverek, Promoter of Justice in the Diocese of Tyler, responded to the hospital’s statement in an e-mail obtained by CNA. He said that Bishop Corrada’s investigation found that the hospital had performed tubal ligations, but had reduced the number of procedures by fifty percent.

“The bishop explicitly noted that most of these [procedures] were tubal ligations which Trinity Mother Frances had been allowing and continued to allow because it was using a ‘serious mis-interpretation’ of Catholic teaching,” he wrote.

The bishop issued a December 1 statement calling on the hospital “publicly to admit its error and pledge to cease the procedures.”

“It does not deny offering tubal ligations,” the priest said about the hospital’s statement.

“Having admitted the procedures, Trinity Mother Frances now wishes to continue them in the face of clear teaching and directive of the bishop by reasserting its discredited opinion that the procedures really are not ‘direct sterilizations.’ Essentially, it is saying the bishop is wrong when he asserts that tubal ligations are direct sterilization.”

Father Vaverek noted that the ERD cited by the hospital’s statement refers to a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document which “explicitly states that tubal ligations are direct sterilizations that may never be justified and that any procedure to render a patient infertile to avoid dangers from future pregnancies are direct sterilizations.”

It “denies utterly” tubal ligations and other direct sterilizations are therapeutic procedures that can be considered medically necessary. 

“And it states that all contrary opinions are mistaken and may not be used at Catholic hospitals to justify tubal ligations and other direct sterilizations by the evasion of calling them ‘indirect sterilizations.’ The Vatican statement cited in the footnote, in fact, is directed precisely against the sort of claim Trinity Mother Frances is trying to make.”

In a Friday phone interview CNA spoke more about the matter with Father Vaverek.

“Bishop Corrada was very saddened that the hospital chose to release such an equivocal statement without communicating it to the diocese directly,” Father Vaverek said. “The diocese has always released its public statements to the hospital prior to their release.”

Father Vaverek said the bishop was also saddened that the hospital’s statement did not address the issues “in any substantive fashion.”

He also questioned the hospital’s description of its communications with the diocese as “ongoing.” He reported that there had been “some initial contact” between the bishop and the hospital in connection with the initial investigation into the alleged ethics violations, but “there has been limited contact since then.”

“They have not replied to the bishop’s letters asking for a direct reply,” the priest told CNA, before criticizing the hospital’s statement.

“It says less than nothing. At best, it is a very equivocal statement.”

Referring to the statement’s assertion “Trinity Mother Frances does not perform direct sterilizations,” Father Vaverek argued: “Strictly speaking, the only way one can interpret that is that they are no longer doing tubal ligations. But I don’t believe that is the case.” Instead, Father Vaverek believes that the hospital erroneously considers tubal ligations to be a form of indirect sterilization.

“Indirect sterilization has to deal with a present pathology, and that is not the case in tubal ligations,” he continued, referencing several statements made by the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith.

“The hospitals have never put forward an argument that they do not do tubal ligations,” he stated.

Father Vaverek also disputed the hospital statement’s claim that the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth has requested a personal meeting with the bishop.

“The provincial has not requested a meeting with the bishop, as far as the bishop knows.”

CNA contacted Trinity Mother Frances for comment but did not receive a response by press time. CNA also tried to contact the hospital’s vice-president of legal counsel without success.

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