We hope that you have been following the Baby Gianna Story (see Part I, Part II, and Part III) this week. Among the many things that we take away from this heartbreaking yet life affirming story is the critical need to keep Catholic hospitals Catholic.

It would be very easy to try and lay all the blame for the non-Catholic practices that occurred to Jessica and Rebecca at the feet of the St. Mary’s Medical Center administration. That might make us feel better but it would likely accomplish little.

For sure, St. Mary’s Medical is responsible for what occurs under their roof. The recommendation of a physician at a Catholic hospital to abort a child should never happen. Period. Further, whether or not under current law Catholic hospitals in Pennsylvania and elsewhere can prohibit doctors in good standing with the state from practicing within the hospital is one thing, what they say and do while there is entirely another. Catholic hospitals have a moral obligation to monitor and prevent any such recommendation from occurring.

The remedy to this unacceptable situation is not simple. This is a battle that must be fought on several fronts.

Visibility. There needs to be a system in place to provide the necessary visibility to Bishops and to those who desire truly “Catholic” health services. For every story about an abortion recommendation that becomes known, like in this case, there are likely myriad that never become known. We also know—and Matthew and I know first hand—that the practice of de-facto euthanasia, as well as several other un-Catholic practices, are widespread in Catholic hospitals. In all too many cases, these practices are known and accepted.

What is needed is a comprehensive and standardized monitoring system for Catholic hospitals. There is an obligation that comes with the “Catholic” banner. This process should not be left up to the individual hospital. A comprehensive and standardized methodology for monitoring needs to be put in place to provide the necessary visibility. Only with visibility can you have…

Accountability. Bishops, corporately and individually, need to make sure that these monitoring procedures are in place. With this visibility, Bishops must hold these hospitals accountable. Practices such as offering off-site abortions and other such efforts that seek to skirt the letter of the law while directly contradicting its spirit must be stopped at all costs. There is still a caché associated with the Catholic banner and Bishops must understand this leverage and not be afraid to use it. It is their only true weapon.

Just this week, Bishop Robert Vasa of the Diocese of Baker revoked the “Catholic” title from St. Charles Medical Center over their continued performing of sterilizations. It was regrettable, but necessary.

Bishops, in particular, need to be conscious and wary of the impacts of hospital mergers with secular institutions. When this happens, these hospitals desire to keep the Catholic name while acting as a secular institution. To get around such Catholic restrictions, hospitals will engage in disingenuous behavior.

“When non catholic hospital and catholic hospitals merge they’ve carved out a room and say that’s not part of the Catholic hospital even though its in the same physical structure,” says Lester A. Ruppersberger, D.O., a pro-life gynecologist on staff at St. Mary’s.

Bishops need to be alert to such things and ensure that they don’t continue. They should work closely with the hospital administration to ensure that such practices do not start and certainly do not continue, and hold the hospital accountable. It is tough to say, but any Bishop who does not hold them accountable and chooses to look the other way puts his soul in jeopardy. They should all follow Bishop Vasa’s example.

The Legal Battle. One of the things that came to light in the Baby Gianna story is that hospitals in Pennsylvania (and I am sure elsewhere) have no legal ability to prevent doctors who provide abortion services from practicing at their facilities. This is an unacceptable situation. Freedom of religion must allow for Catholic hospitals to only associate themselves with doctors who share their moral principles. Without this ability, Catholic hospitals will not remain Catholic.

However, it is too much to expect that individual hospitals can take on this battle alone. This needs to be a corporate effort led by the Bishops to pick and win this fight. It is no longer acceptable that the religious prerogatives of Catholics continue to be eroded day-by-day. A concerted effort to make the case and win the legal battle needs to be initiated soon, before it’s too late.

We have watched over the last decades as the right to distinctive Catholic health-care has been destroyed, step-by-step. The fight must be engaged now while there is still Catholic healthcare to fight for.