Many people think the Catholic Church's position on contraception is Medieval. They're wrong - it's several centuries older than that.
"Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted," wrote Clement of Alexandria in 195 AD.The church's thinking has changed very little in the roughly 19 centuries since then, so we have no doubt Clement of Alexandria would have approved of the decision announced this week by Robert Vasa, bishop of the Diocese of Baker, to end the church's 92-year relationship with St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.
For several years the diocese has had problems with some of the practices at St. Charles, such as selling contraceptives in its pharmacy, providing emergency contraception for victims of rape (as state law requires,) and allowing patients to sign do-not-resuscitate orders. But the big objection was to the hospital's performance of tubal ligations, a surgical procedure that makes women infertile by tying their Fallopian tubes.
"It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact," Vasa said in a press release. "It would be misleading for me to allow St. Charles Bend to be acknowledged as Catholic in name" when it's violating church doctrine.
In practical terms, the church's decision to divorce St. Charles won't mean much. The hospital - like its counterparts in Redmond, Madras and Prineville - is operated by Cascade Healthcare Community, a secular corporation. St. Charles will keep its name, and the big cross will stay on the building. The principal change will be that "Catholic items" will be removed and Mass will no longer be offered in the hospital chapel.
It's tough to come down too hard on Vasa for following the teachings of his church as he understands them - although we wish he could have given them a less rigid interpretation. Only a few Catholic dioceses in America have felt compelled to sever their connection with hospitals over the contraception issue. St. Charles has to provide care for non-Catholics as well as Catholics, and it would be unfair and inhumane for it to refuse to perform necessary and legal medical procedures because one church happens to object to them.
Fortunately, Cascade Healthcare Community President Jim Diegel and St. Charles's board of directors agree. According to Diegel, the board considered cutting back on the number of tubal ligations but decided that would be a disservice to the community.
While he was "saddened" to see the end of the hospital's relationship with the church, Diegel said, "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."
We couldn't say it better ourselves, so we won't try. We'll simply confer the GLASS SLIPPER on Diegel and the hospital board for sticking to their guns and putting patients' well-being ahead of religious dogma.