Corporate hijack or Catholic health? An ever-changing story

December 27, 2011 

A year has passed since the announcement by Denver-based Catholic Healthcare Initiatives (CHI) of the proposed merger of St. Joseph Health System (SJHS) with the University of Lousville's University Hospital and other Louisville hospitals. Much has been said and written of the merger, much of it confusing and increasingly contradictory.

Merger leaders initially held that the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) must be followed by merger partners. These directives prohibit procedures that the Catholic Church views as intrinsically evil such as contraception, direct sterilization and abortion.

On June 3, an SJHS spokesman stated, "The Catholic facilities in the network will continue to follow the ERDs. The other-than-Catholic facilities in the partnership will not do anything to cause {CHI} to fall out of compliance with the ERDs."

Likewise, on Aug. 1, a CHI release stated, "While there are challenges to simultaneously upholding the academic requirements of the (U of L) School of Medicine and abiding by the ERDs of the Catholic Church, we will do both."

On Oct. 3, a new national CHI manual was released saying, "Employees and individuals associated with a CHI organization are required to abide by the ERDs."

An Oct. 24 (Louisville) Courier-Journal article noted that on June 14, U of L Dean Halperin, "made a promise that we'll respect the ERDs of the Catholic Church," and on June 30, University Hospital CEO James Taylor stated, "we've also made the commitment that by joining the network with (SJHS) ... we will adhere to the ERDs."

Now that a merger might be imminent, a different stance has surfaced. The merger partners state in an Oct. 19 Metro Board of Health (BOH) release that University Hospital "will not become a Catholic hospital and will not be required to follow the ERDs."

The Courier-Journal calls this "legal mumbo-jumbo." Nonetheless, University Hospital spokesman David McArthur would not concede that it was a position change, but "an evolution of our explanation."

St. Joseph's and its seven sister Catholic hospitals, are in the Diocese of Lexington. Yet, in another evolution, it appears that Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer has now been taken out of the loop, and his approval is no longer relevant or required.

There are other recent developments. An Aug. 4 C-J article stated, "(Archbishop) Kurtz said Thursday he would only approve a merged hospital system under Roman Catholic ownership if all the participants, including UH, agreed to follow the church's rules for medical care. ... Kurtz emphasized that all Catholic directives on health care must be followed. ... The approvals of Kurtz and Gainer are required for the combined entity to officially be a Catholic institution, as is planned."

As recently as Oct. 24 the C-J had noted that, "the deal needs the approval of area bishops." Now instead of adherence by all participants to all ERDs with both bishops approving, it appears that adherence by some participants to some ERDs with one bishop approving will suffice.

In the wake of the sex-abuse scandals, Pope Benedict XVI has called for "truth and transparency." In contrast, the details of the deal remain secret despite two pending lawsuits.

CHI, moreover, rather sanctimoniously pledges that it will not permit sterilizations in its institutions. Nonetheless, it has established a $15 million fund to pay for these "intrinsically evil" procedures at another facility. Is the young girl being hauled to the abortuary sinful, but the demanding boyfriend who is paying for the procedure a sinless model of Catholic virtue?

The abortion story has also evolved from, University Hospital does not do abortions to, it doesn't do elective abortions to, medical abortions are done for the life of the mother to Halperin's recent statement that abortions are done "if the mother's health is in danger."

This last statement is the same high-sounding ethical slippery slope that has resulted in the slaughter of 50 million future Americans.

Questions still remain. Is this a merger or a mess? Does CHI stand for corporate hijacking or Catholic health care?

Would the courageous and "unconditionally pro-life" Blessed John Paul II, who faced down Communists in tanks to celebrate Midnight Mass in an open field, have blessed this merger?

Will our beloved St. Joseph's be saved, or will this dreadful deal go down through deed or silence?

A. Patrick Schneider is private practice physician in Lexington and holds boards in family and geriatric medicine. He has been on active staff for 23 years at St. Joseph Hospital but his views are his alone.

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