Tim Drake is an award-winning writer and former journalist and radio host with the National Catholic Register/EWTN. He currently serves as New Evangelization Coordinator for the Holdingford Area Catholic Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota. He resides with his wife and five children in St. Joseph, Minn.
In the creeping secularization of the past 40 years that has impacted so many Catholic colleges and universities, charitable organizations, and hospitals, the responsibility has sometimes fallen on the local ordinary to declare that an organization that once was Catholic is so no longer.
That just happened to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend, Oregon.
Diocese of Bend, Oregon Bishop Robert Vasa details the history of St. Charles in a column in The Diocese of Bend’s Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Sentinel.
“It is not uncommon for faithful Catholics to question the Catholicity of these public institutions especially when they seem to be expressing and holding public views which are, or strongly appear to be, contrary to the clear teachings of the Church,” wrote Bishop Vasa in January. “At what point are these institutions no longer ‘in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth?’”
Bishop Vasa said that he has struggled to reconcile the practices of the hospital with Catholic beliefs over the past several years. In particular, St. Charles-Bend offers patients tubal ligations, a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization, which goes against the Church’s teachings.
Bishop Vasa asked St. Charles Bend in 2007 for an audit of the hospital’s compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives. In the end, Bishop Vasa decided that the hospital was no longer Catholic.
“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.”
“I have come to the very difficult conclusion, after much discussion and discernment, that it is time to acknowledge that which has become very clear to me, namely, that St. Charles is a community hospital and should no longer be identified as a Catholic institution.”
Other Catholic institutions may want to take notice. Being Catholic in name only doesn’t count.