Spain: Abortions in Church-Associated Hospitals Cause "Concern"

Vatican Says Catholic Institutions Are Called to Protect Life

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BARCELONA, Spain, JUNE 23, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican is expressing its concern over the relationship between the Archdiocese of Barcelona and several hospitals in the area that continue to carry out abortions.

The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry stated this in a letter sent June 6 to Father Custodio Ballesteros, a priest of the archdiocese, who had sent a report last month detailing the number of abortions that are being performed in hospitals that are associated to the Church, and the lack of response by the Archdiocese of Barcelona.

"The Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry is conscious of the challenge faced especially by Catholic hospitals, as they are called to protect and defend human life in the midst of a culture of death," the letter states, which was signed by the council's undersecretary, Msgr. Jean-Marie Mupendawatu.

"The situation of some hospitals of Catalonia in relation to abortion," illustrated by Father Ballesteros in an ample dossier given to the dicastery, arouses the concern of "the universal Church," the note added, which was sent on behalf of the dicastery's president, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski.

The letter revealed that the health care council had already received information on this situation in Barcelona on other occasions, "and we have had the opportunity to speak with those responsible," it said.

The pontifical council urged the archdiocese "to find out in detail what is happening so that concrete solutions can be found, as soon as possible, to eventual individualized problems."

Response

Saint Paul's Hospital of Barcelona and the General Hospital of Granollers appear in the official register of the Health Ministry as health centers that carried out legal abortions in 2009.

A spokesman of the Archdiocese of Barcelona told ZENIT today that "the hospital's administration has given orders to ... not practice abortions."

Last August, representatives of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Barcelona, a body of clerics formed to advise the archbishop, released a statement saying that the administration has "always manifested themselves in favor of human life from the very moment of conception, and work so that this principle will govern the hospital's conduct."

The communiqué explained that in that hospital of Barcelona, "in keeping with the ethical principles by which it has been inspired since its foundation, voluntary interruptions of pregnancy are not practiced, although, exceptionally, medical circumstances can occur that lead to action that can have as a consequence the loss of the fetus."

And they affirmed that if any of the ethical and moral principles of the Catholic Church -- which in the functioning of that hospital must be respected by agreement -- has been infringed, "appropriate measures will be taken for their compliance." 

Represented in equal parts in the administration of St. Paul's Hospital are the archdiocese, the municipality of Barcelona and the Generalitat of Catalonia.

For its part, the Diocese of Terrassa publicly condemned the carrying out of abortions in the Hospital of Granollers and requested that it be a center exempt of these practices.

Msgr. Fidel Catalan, the secretary-general and chancellor of the diocese, told ZENIT that he has "raised a consultation to his superiors," but that he has not received an official answer, nor has he seen a change in behavior.

The vice-president of the six-member Board of the Hospital of Granollers is designated by the St. Esteve Parish of Granollers, which belongs to the Diocese of Terrassa, and the parish's rector also serves on the board.

By Law

According to the Spain's "Organic Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy," which came into force last July, "the voluntary interruption of pregnancy will be carried out in centers of the public health network or linked to it."

The norm guarantees "all women equal access to the procedure," without restriction up to 14 weeks, and with medical approval up to 22 weeks.

Moreover, the law only provides conscientious objection for individual persons and not for clinics or hospitals.

Father Xavier Pares, the vice-president of the board of the Sant Hospital de La Seu d'Urgell and parish priest, told ZENIT that after the passage of the organic law, some hospitals are receiving more pressure to carry out abortions.

"In a meeting of the board half a year ago, a doctor said that in this hospital abortions were still not carried out, but that in the long-term they will have to be practiced," explained the priest. "I said that we cannot permit this practice in a hospital that is managed by the Church, and all fell silent."

In the management of this regional hospital, the vice-president, the secretary and two members belong to the Church. "We will fight for life to be respected and for abortions not to be carried out," added Father Pares.

Father Ballesteros told ZENIT that he has held conversations in Rome with top Vatican representatives who indicated that if the Church is associated with the management of a hospital, then abortions cannot be carried out there. If abortions are carried out, he added, the Church must withdraw.

The priest said that the Church-associated hospitals could give up public funding to avoid not having to carry out abortions, but that would entail reducing the reach of its hospitals.