Vincent Van Gogh’s "The Good Samaritan"

The arch-conservative purity police of the Roman Catholic church in the US have been hard at work in Bend, OR:

The Diocese of Baker has ended the church’s official sponsorship of central Oregon’s largest medical center, citing the hospital’s refusal to adhere to some Catholic teachings.

Baker Bishop Robert F. Vasa said St. Charles Medical Center in Bend “gradually moved away” from church ethical and religious standards and can no longer be called Catholic.

According to the Catholic News Service, the problem was this: “The main point of contention is tubal ligation, a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization.” God forbid, says Bishop Vasa, that a woman be allowed, in consultation with her doctor, to have such a horrific operation. If getting pregnant is so dangerous to the life of the woman, better that she not have sex than have this operation.

Kudos to St. Charles Medical Center for not buying into that nonsense.

But it’s not just on the left coast that these battles are going on. On the other side of the US, the Archdiocese of DC has been squabbling with the DC city council over providing benefits to same-sex spouses/partners. Catholic Charities in DC decided to get out of the foster care business rather than treat its employees with equity. To their credit, Catholic Charities turned over the entire program — staff and all — to another provider, rather than simply going home and leaving someone else to clean up the mess.

Even so, in both Bend OR and DC the message from the arch-conservative end of the Roman Catholic church is clear: given a choice between serving those in need and enforcing doctrinal purity over those who do the serving, purity takes precedence. This isn’t surprising, in that they pledged to do this, along with other religious conservatives, and now they are following through on it.

The idea of a bishop like Vasa trotting out his canon law degree and saying “We’re too pure to let our name be associated with those people at that hospital” is a sad reflection on the Christian faith. Indeed, I seem to recall Jesus saying a few things on the subject of people providing health care services (or not) in an exchange with another religious lawyer:

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

That whole “but wanting to justify himself” is the line that reveals the problem of the lawyer. It’s about control, not service. Bishop Vasa, who came to Oregon after serving on the staff of the Bishop of Lincoln NE (one of the most conservative bishops in the US), said this at the end of his column on withdrawing the sponsorship of the church from St. Charles hospital, revealing that he’s got the same problem as the lawyer in the story Jesus told:

In practical terms there should be very little change in how St. Charles presently functions. One major shift will be the absence of the Blessed Sacrament at the hospital. The chapel will no longer be a Catholic chapel and Mass will no longer be celebrated there. In our secular culture most do not recognize the extreme grace of our Lord’s Real Presence but I suspect his absence from the chapel will be deeply felt.

Vasa seems to be operating under the theological illusion that he controls where Jesus is and isn’t present. He might want to re-read Matthew 25 once more, especially this part, where those who thought they were aware of such things received a rude surprise:

Then [the king] will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

If I were a bishop (like that’s ever going to happen!), I’d be very careful about proudly walking away from a hospital or foster care program. You never know when you’re going to run into one of the least of these.