After a six-year hiatus, the official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue began a new phase in May, looking at unity within the church and at the way Christian communities deal with moral questions.
The third phase of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, known as ARCIC III, met May 17-27 at an ecumenical monastery in northern Italy.
Pope Benedict XVI and Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams authorized the new phase of the dialogue, which is focusing on “the church as communion, local and universal, and how in communion the local and universal church come to discern right ethical teaching.”
Since ARCIC II finished its work in 2005, the Anglican Communion has been experiencing strong internal tensions over the ordination of women as priests and bishops, the blessing of gay unions and the ordination of openly gay clergy. Differing positions on those issues also has created a sense that Anglicans and Roman Catholics are growing further apart, rather than approaching unity.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting said the commission hopes to use the “receptive ecumenism” approach in its discussions, an approach “which seeks to make ecumenical progress by learning from our partner, rather than simply asking our partner to learn from us. Receptive ecumenism is more about self-examination and inner conversion that convincing the other,” the statement said.
The commission is expected to work for several years before issuing a document on the themes.
The commission, the statement said, “will analyze particular (ethical) questions to elucidate how our two communions approach moral decision making, and how areas of tension for Anglicans and Roman Catholics might be resolved by learning from the other.”
According to Catholic News Service, the statement did not say whether commission members had identified the specific ethical questions they would explore.
Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Chattanooga has been elevated to a minor basilica, the first in Tennessee.
“The title ‘basilica’ is given to a church of great historic importance but is also a recognition of the people of the church,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville.
“For the church is empty without a vibrant faith, and this, the mother church of this part of the diocese has — along with the church of the Immaculate Conception in Knoxville — provided the beginnings of faith communities represented in my brother priests and deacons today,” he said.
Bishop Stika announced the new designation in a homily at the 159-year-old church’s noon Mass May 12. The bishop had received the news May 3 in Rome, where he had traveled to attend the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II.
A church designated as a minor basilica must be a center of active and pastoral liturgy with a vibrant Catholic community and may have unique historical, artistic or religious importance.
Sts. Peter and Paul, a Gothic structure that has stood in downtown Chattanooga since 1890, is the 69th U.S. church named a minor basilica and the first since St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York City received the honor March 17, 2010. More than 1,580 churches worldwide have been honored as basilicas.
Sts. Peter and Paul and Immaculate Conception are the Knoxville Diocese’s oldest parishes, both founded in 1852. The Chattanooga church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
Father George Schmidt, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish for 25 years, received the title of rector as part of the basilica designation.
Bishop Stika congratulated the members of the 600-family parish for their devotion to the church.
“This is just one small way in which the church universal under the title of the person who represents Peter in our midst,” he said, “has recognized the importance of this parish, of this faith community of the Diocese of Knoxville in East Tennessee, and especially this building that has housed so many celebrations of the sacraments.”
Then-pastor Father George Flanigen, in his history of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish published at its centennial in 1952, described the 1890 building as an “imposing Gothic structure of brick and stone, 165 feet long by 75 feet wide, seating 1,000 persons,” which “was one of the largest and stateliest churches in the entire South.”
The church has Tiffany stained-glass windows — executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany himself — that depict significant events in the lives of the parish’s patron saints. Fourteen large polychrome Stations of the Cross with more than 300 figures are placed between the windows and in the choir loft. The nave’s arched ceiling, 57 feet above the floor, has numerous ornate capitals suspended from it.
Its elevation as a basilica capped a process that began in spring 2010, when the diocese started preparing materials on Sts. Peter and Paul to make the case.
“We had to provide a history of the parish, and we had to testify to the fact that this is a parish of vitality, that it is an active parish,” said the bishop in a Catholic News Service report. “Father George was the tour guide on a DVD.”
The bishop submitted the materials to the Vatican last summer, after receiving the necessary approval from Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
At a news conference held following the Mass, Bishop Stika said basilica status for Sts. Peter and Paul recognizes it as “a center of spiritual life as it continues into the future within the diocese. … This beautiful basilica is a true spiritual icon in the state and surrounding region of the South.”
He said he was grateful to the pope “for honoring this beautiful place of worship and especially this faith community.”
A Vatican cardinal opened an international conference on AIDS by strongly defending the church’s two-pronged strategy against the disease: education of consciences and mobilization of Catholic health resources for patients.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, told more than 100 invited experts May 27 that the church places human dignity at the center of its AIDS policies, which necessarily include a solid ethical dimension.
“Educating people to avoid high-risk behavior, when based on solid moral principles, fully demonstrates its effectiveness and translates into greater openness toward those already affected by the virus,” the cardinal said in a Catholic News Service report.
“When responsibility for one’s own behavior is affirmed, in fact, there is greater awareness of the connection with the rest of the community and greater sensitivity toward those who suffer,” he said.
Cardinal Bertone underlined the Catholic Church’s massive involvement in treating and caring for AIDS patients through its worldwide network of hospitals, clinics and dispensaries. He said part of the church’s effort was to help remove the “social stigma” that is still borne by those with HIV and AIDS.
The cardinal did not mention the question of condoms in AIDS prevention. In previous days, the Vatican newspaper ran two articles saying condom campaigns were unsuccessful in stopping the AIDS epidemic; one article said condom campaigns had increased the possibility of AIDS infection by promoting a false sense of security.
Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, told the assembly that the conference would take up the crucial issue of access to health care by AIDS patients in poorer countries.
The conference participants included a top U.N. official, medical experts from various parts of the world and theologians.
President Felipe Calderon jetted into Ciudad Juarez in mid-May and delivered a startling statistic: Homicides in the violent border city had dropped by 60 percent over the past eight months.
His comments generated nationwide headlines but drew mixed reviews from Catholic priests whose parishes are plagued by gang and drug cartel violence, extortion and kidnapping, businesses closing and residents abandoning their homes due to fears of insecurity.
“There was a decrease (in violence) in April,” said Father Oscar Enriquez, director of a church-run human rights center that has pursued complaints of wrongdoing directed at the military and federal police.
“But it’s too early to be proclaiming, victory,” added Father Enriquez, who has been critical of the federal government’s anti-crime strategies.
Father Martin Magallanes, pastor of the St. Toribio de Mogrovejo Parish, said crime in the poor barrio he serves has failed to improve, despite an influx of federal police officers.
“The numbers they’re giving (the president) are laughable,” said Father Magallanes, who is also the diocesan prison chaplain. “The federal police have acted like looters in uniforms. It’s a very common complaint people here have.”
Law enforcement remains problematic in the outlying Juarez Valley, where many residents have fled. Houses have been burned or abandoned, and the entire local police force — headed until recently by a 20-year-old female college student — has either quit or been murdered, said the local priest, Father Sergio Hernandez.
“The army and the federal police are barely here,” said Father Hernandez, pastor of the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in El Porvenir, which was attacked by arsonists in 2010.
Still, he acknowledged, “The rate of violence has dropped a little.”
The trend of declining homicides in Ciudad Juarez — if maintained — could prove a significant accomplishment in the crackdown on organized crime undertaken by Calderon immediately after he took office in December 2006.
The timing of the crime figures being released has raised some eyebrows, however. The figures come as critics of the drug war, led by Catholic poet Javier Sicilia, have undertaken protest marches and announced plans to sign a citizen declaration June 10 in Ciudad Juarez calling for a less-militaristic approach to fighting crime.
Calderon credited improved work by the federal police for driving down the homicide rate in Ciudad Juarez — considered a key corridor for smuggling drugs into the United States — along with a program for addressing social needs such as health, education and employment known as “Todos Somos Juarez,” (We’re All Juarez).
Alejandro Poire, technical secretary of the National Security Council, later said homicides fell from nearly 11 per day to 4 per day in the border city of 1.3 million residents.
Dr. Arturo Valenzuela, a surgeon who sits on the Todos Somos Juarez committee, also has noticed improvements: He said he performs approximately half as many emergency surgeries on crime victims as last fall.
He credits the state government, which took office last fall, for making changes in the attorney general’s office and paying more attention to neighborhood issues, such as jobs and education.
In the neighborhoods served by Corpus Christi Parish, Father Roberto Luna has seen improvements — small things such as residents coming and going later in the day, instead of locking themselves inside after dark.
“Bit by bit, there’s a perception of more security,” Father Luna said.
He also mentioned the outreach work of Catholics and attempts to draw locals — who traditionally have been distant from church activities in Ciudad Juarez — into parish life through service programs, youth groups and catechism classes.
“There’s been an upswing in church life,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The Diocese of Rockford has announced that its Catholic Charities offices will no longer offer state-funded adoptions and foster-care services when the new Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act takes effect June 1.
Because the law did not include an exemption allowing religious organizations to refer adoptions or foster-care arrangements involving same-sex or unmarried cohabitating couples to other agencies, “the Diocese of Rockford is forced to permanently discontinue all state-funded adoption and foster-care operations as of June 1,” said Penny Wiegert, diocesan director of communications, at a May 26 news conference.
During the debate over the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, the Catholic Conference of Illinois said the state’s six Catholic dioceses provide about 20 percent of the adoption and foster-care services in Illinois and had facilitated the placement of about 3,700 abused and neglected children with loving families over the past 10 years.
There has been no word from the other five dioceses about whether they would continue state-funded adoption and foster-care services after June 1.
In Rockford, the shutdown will involve job loss for 58 Catholic Charities workers who were notified that morning. Catholic Charities in the Rockford Diocese had been handling approximately 350 foster family and adoption cases in northern Illinois with a state budget of $7.5 million.
“Our caseworkers do this work not just because it’s their job but because it is their calling,” said Frank Vonch, director of Catholic Charities administration in the diocese, at the news conference. “The families they serve are just an extension of their commitment to serve humanity, so it is a very grave loss for them as well as for everyone involved with charities.”
Catholic Charities activities not funded by the state — including private adoptions, school counseling, private family and marriage counseling, outreach and emergency services, immigration and refugee services and crisis pregnancy counseling — will not be affected.
Wiegert noted that the Catholic Church “does not condone same-sex unions or unmarried cohabitation between individuals of the opposite sex.”
“We believe in the natural order of marriage and the sacrament of matrimony between one man and one woman,” she added. “We also believe and promote the optimal God-given privilege of every child to be reared in a safe and loving family with a committed and loving male father and female mother whenever possible.”
Vonch said that although “leaving this work will be very painful for our client families, employees, volunteers, donors and prayerful supporters, we can no longer contract with the state of Illinois whose laws would force us to participate in activity offensive to the moral teachings of the church — teachings which compel us to do this work in the first place.”
Meanwhile, the state’s six Catholic dioceses were working together to create a joint response to the law, said Bob Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.
He told the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper, that a recent conference call involving five of the six yielded what appeared to be a consensus to have their employment policies ensure that people who work for them understand they are working for the church, and are expected to conform to church teaching.
The state’s Catholic health care facilities also were among the entities discussing how the law will affect them.
The Illinois Catholic Health Association, which includes Catholic hospitals and other health care institutions, sent a memo to its members May 9 suggesting that they offer “employee plus one” benefit packages instead of “employee and spouse” benefit packages starting June 1.
Such a package would “provide any employee the opportunity to buy into a benefits package that would provide health coverage for themselves and one other person living with them. This person could be a sibling, relative, etc., the exact relationship would not need to be disclosed,” wrote Patrick Cacchione, the health association’s executive director, in the memo.
The memo was only a recommendation, he emphasized, and it would apply only to health care institutions, not to dioceses, Catholic Charities agencies or educational institutions.
More than 400 reports on the status of U.S.-based religious congregations of women will be sent to the Vatican by the end of the year by the apostolic visitator overseeing a years-long study of American religious life.
Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the apostolic visitator appointed by the Vatican, told Catholic News Service she started compiling the reports in September with the goal of completing them by Dec. 31.
The reports — the fourth and final step in the visitation process — will summarize information obtained from multiple sources, including the 90 onsite visits to religious communities that concluded in December, she said.
Mother Clare also planned to send a separate report offering an overview of U.S. religious life to the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and its retired prefect, Cardinal Franc Rode.
Some of the 405 reports will include comments from individual members of religious congregations who offered observations and comments outside of the official visits, Mother Clare said.
“We got some,” she said when asked how many individual responses were received.
“Some were very interesting,” Mother Clare added, declining to elaborate.
Responses from a questionnaire sent to the congregations in late 2009 as well as information Mother Clare obtained in earlier discussions and correspondence with superiors of religious communities also will be included in the reports.
The visitation was initiated in January 2009 by Cardinal Rode to learn why the number of members in religious communities of women in the U.S. had declined since the late 1960s. The visitation also was to examine the quality of life in the communities for some 67,000 religious women.
Under Cardinal Rode’s guidelines, the report when submitted was not to be shared with the religious communities.
The church investigation initially sparked questions from some congregational leaders, who said that Cardinal Rode’s announcement came without warning and seemed to imply that the congregations were doing something wrong. Some congregations also were slow to respond to the visitation questionnaire, leading to Mother Clare to resend letters encouraging their participation in the process.
Mother Clare said she has spent much of her time since September working on the reports in Hamden, Conn., where the U.S. province of her congregation is based, making occasional trips to Rome to handle her responsibilities as head of her order.
“Hopefully, by the end of summer I will have the majority of the reports done,” she said.
“It’s been an enriching experience to see the variety of charisms, the ways different communities live the same values regarding religious life and vows and also the beautiful ministries that are done by sisters throughout the country and beyond,” she said.
In March, the apostolic visitation office gathered the dozens of religious who visited the congregations in Hamden for a three-day meeting to review their work. The meeting offered the visitors the chance to share their impressions of the onsite visits and their observations of some of the common challenges and hopes U.S. religious communities face.
American-born Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, addressed the gathering.
“My own team and the visitors were very much encouraged by the great sensitivity and the listening by Bishop Tobin and the assurance that he would be taking to heart and working with the members dicastery to see that the Holy See will do whatever they can to help with the revitalization of our congregations,” Mother Clare said.
Meanwhile, a team from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious recently met with officials of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and learned “there were no new concerns” with the organization, said Sister Annmarie Sanders, LCWR director of communications.
The news was received during the team’s annual visit to the Vatican April 27-May 4, said Sister Annmarie, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
LCWR, whose members represent 95 percent of women religious in the U.S., was the subject of a doctrinal assessment ordered by U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation, in April 2009. Bishop Leonard P. Blair of Toledo, Ohio, a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, completed the assessment in July.
More information about the apostolic visitation can be found online at http://www.apostolicvisitation.org.
Pope Benedict XVI sent his condolences and words of hope to the residents of Joplin, the Missouri town struck by a devastating tornado that killed at least 123 people, the Vatican said May 25.
The pope was following “with deep concern” the aftermath of the May 22 tornado that flattened much of the small town and left debris, destruction and hundreds of injured in its wake, according to a letter from Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, addressed to Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
Pope Benedict said he was close to the people of Joplin in prayer and “conscious of the tragic loss of life and the immensity of the work of rebuilding that lies ahead,” the letter said.
The pope asked God “to grant eternal rest to the departed, consolation to the grieving, and strength and hope to the homeless and the injured,” the letter said.
He called on the wisdom, fortitude and perseverance of rescue workers and local authorities to get through the tragedy, the letter said, according to a Catholic News Service report.
Members of seven diocesan review boards that consider clergy sex abuse cases said their work never has been impeded by diocesan officials or church hierarchy as they developed recommendations on whether an accusation was credible or not.
The review board members also said they worked collaboratively with officials within their dioceses to ensure that priests who posed a danger to children were removed from ministry as quickly as possible.
Review board members talked about their work in response to inquiries from Catholic News Service following an account by the chair of the Philadelphia review board criticizing archdiocesan officials.
Ana Maria Catanzaro, who chairs Philadelphia’s board, charged in Commonweal magazine May 12 that church officials failed “miserably at being open and transparent” in their dealings with board members.
In response, the archdiocese explained that its understanding of the best way to investigate and act on abuse allegations, especially those not pursued by civil authorities, has continuously changed over the years. The archdiocese has pledged to “improve that process from beginning to end.”
Catanzaro’s revelations cast a shadow on the work of review boards across the country and likely will open the review board structure to deeper examination by victims’ advocates and the U.S. bishops.
The board structure is outlined in the “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing With Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.” The norms, with the Vatican’s approval, spell out procedures for dioceses to offer assistance to clergy abuse victims, provide guidelines for establishing a review board to consider cases and offer advice to a local bishop and specify steps to carry out disciplinary action against clergy when necessary in accordance with canon law.
The norms were developed to implement the bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which mandates policies and procedures for responding to abuse allegations.
When the U.S. bishops meet in Seattle in June, they will review implementation of the charter as well as whether the system broke down in Philadelphia.
Under canon law, a review board — as any diocesan consultative body — only can offer recommendations to a bishop, leaving the final action to him. The board members contacted by CNS said they could not recall when their bishop did not follow their advice.
Among board members interviewed, the desire to serve at a time when the church was mired in crisis was a widely held feeling. Members said they felt their particular expertise or their standing in the community was needed to lend credibility to the review process and so they responded when the church came calling.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Rosemary Baron, chair of the review board in Salt Lake City, recalled about first being approached by the diocese. “I was very angry and upset with our priests. When I received a call from our vicar general, I declined and he said, ‘You need to do this.’”
So she did. The now-retired public school principal is glad to have joined the effort.
“Personally, I have seen the strength of our bishops as they united together … to give direction to every diocese on how to address this issue,” Baron said. “Unification was significant to me and that we as a diocese without fail followed every one of those norms to the ‘T.’ That was the direction of our review board.”
In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, review board member Ann DeLaney said she harbored doubts when Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein invited her to serve. On the board since 2003, she said she has found that the process established under the norms works well.
“Transparency has been surprisingly good,” said DeLaney, a former prosecutor of sex crimes and child abuse cases who now is executive director of the Julian Center, which assists domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
“My first concern about this at all was that we weren’t going to be a rubber stamp. If our advice was going to fall on deaf ears and we were going to be used as a Band-Aid, then that was not going to work. But that hasn’t been the case. I cannot think of a time that we recommended something and it wasn’t done,” she said.
DeLaney’s concerns were expressed initially by review board members elsewhere as well. They said they did not want to be viewed as being complicit with the failures of the church in addressing clergy-caused sex abuse.
Patricia Ritzert, longtime chair of the Cleveland Diocese’s review board said both Bishop Richard G. Lennon and his predecessor, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, insisted that the board function independently as it investigated abuse accusations.
“The review board is permitted and does examine information firsthand and examines documents and assembles documents,” she explained to Catholic News Service. “The bishops we’ve served under have asked the diocese to cooperate with requests of the review board.”
Bishop Lennon was the apostolic administrator of the Boston Archdiocese for six months after Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned in the fallout of the abuse scandal in December 2002. There’s no telling if his experience in that heated setting shaped his approach, but Ritzert credited Bishop Lennon for ensuring that transparency reaches across the diocese.
“If there has been any difficulty, the bishop smoothed the way,” she said.
Elsewhere, review board members lauded their bishops for ensuring that the process specified by the norms works, but expressed frustration about external matters that affect their efficiency.
Psychologist Shane Haydon, chair of the review board in Portland, Ore., said the slow pace of the legal system has been the most significant hurdle to board action. He cited cases where the board has postponed hearing from an abuse victim as attorneys negotiated conditions for the appearance or finalized a settlement in a civil lawsuit.
“We feel badly for the parties (both victim and priest) involved,” he said. “It’s that justice delayed is justice denied.”
In the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., review board member William Cunningham said that under Bishop Salvatore R. Matano since 2005 cases have moved more quickly for consideration than during the first few years he served. He said his comment was not meant as a criticism of retired Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, but simply was an observation.
“It’s my sense in the earlier years there was quite a bit of internal investigation of what may or may not have transpired,” he said. “But this current bishop … proceeds quickly.”
Attendance by bishops at board meetings varies, board members said, but an observer from the diocese is always on hand. In Davenport, Iowa, one observer is Bishop Martin J. Amos.
Board member Clarence Darrow, a retired circuit court judge from Illinois, said Bishop Amos sits quietly at meetings, taking notes and listening intently. The bishop speaks only when spoken to, Darrow said.
“If we’re going to make a recommendation to him, he wants to know the basis,” Darrow said. “He’s always followed our recommendations.”
On the other hand, Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J., does not attend board meetings, instead choosing to hear reports from Msgr. William Benwell, vicar general and moderator of the curia, who serves as board chair. The bishop’s practice is more typical of bishops around the country.
Board member Richard S. Rebeck, a retired New Jersey Superior Court judge, said it is not necessary for the bishop to attend meetings, especially because Msgr. Benwell takes board recommendations directly to him.
“Our intentions have been good and we have not run into criticism that I’m aware of,” Rebeck said.
“We know the health of the church is at stake. It’s not been an adversarial experience,” he added.
Still, board members are considering naming a new chair, one who is not a priest. Msgr. Benwell said the change will preempt the appearance that a clergyman is guiding the process so that outcomes benefit the church.
Pope Benedict XVI greeted members of Italy’s pro-life movement and encouraged them to continue their concrete efforts on behalf of women and couples who are dealing with difficult situations of pregnancy.
The pope made the comments at his noon blessing May 22 to several thousand participants in a brief pro-life march that led to the Vatican. The event marked the 33rd anniversary of legal abortion in Italy.
“Dear friends, I congratulate you in particular for your commitment to helping women who face difficult pregnancies, as well as engaged couples and spouses who desire responsible procreation. In this way you are working concretely for the culture of life,” he said.
“I pray to the Lord that, thanks to your contribution, the ‘yes to life’ may be a cause of unity in Italy and in every country of the world,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
The day before, the pope underlined the Christian duty to respect life in a talk to students and faculty of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.
“To serve the human being is to operate with truth in charity, to love life and respect it always, beginning with situations in which life is the most fragile and defenseless,” he said.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed legislation May 12 that would require abortion clinics to adhere to the same standards as other outpatient health facilities in the state.
The measure, H.B. 574, mandates more stringent fire and safety regulations, personnel and equipment requirements, and adherence to quality assurance procedures as is currently required of the state’s ambulatory surgical facilities, such as laser eye surgery centers or colonoscopy clinics.
The bill passed by a vote of 148 to 43 and will be sent to the state Senate.
It began as a response to a grand jury report that detailed deplorable conditions at the Women’s Medical Society, a clinic that Dr. Kermit Gosnell ran in West Philadelphia.
The report cited illegal late-term abortions that Gosnell performed there, which led to the death of one woman and at least seven newborn babies. The deaths, according to the report, resulted from “the reckless and illegal manner in which Gosnell operated his clinic.”
“The investigation of Dr. Gosnell’s government-approved clinic revealed filthy, unsafe conditions and evidence that unlicensed workers illegally treated patients,” said Amy Hill, communications director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
“Basic standards of cleanliness and infection control were not met. The office had no access for a stretcher in the case of an emergency. Exit doors were padlocked shut or blocked, resulting in a delay in the ability to respond in previous emergencies,” she said in a Catholic News Service report.
According to Hill, other free-standing ambulatory surgical facilities must comply with regulations designed to protect their patients.
“They are subject to unannounced annual inspections and sanctions or fines for not meeting the most basic health standards,” she said. “Clinics are required to have a registered nurse on site, follow infection control and equipment sterilization procedures, and must accommodate emergency equipment. Therefore, if a crisis occurs, the ambulance crew can get a stretcher into the clinic and quickly get the patient to a hospital.”
Hill added that the failure to require basic health standards and the practice of the Pennsylvania Department of Health to refrain from inspections “allowed for the existence of this horrific abortion clinic. House Bill 574 will prevent this from happening again.”
“The need for reform is evident,” said Rep. Matt Baker, the Republican who wrote the bill. “We cannot allow the type of treatment endured by women at a West Philadelphia clinic to continue there or anywhere else.”
“Simply put, under House Bill 574 the state’s abortion industry would not be exempt from commonsense safety standards that apply to other ambulatory surgery centers,” he said in a statement. “Abortion centers are performing serious surgical procedures and should be regulated in state law to prevent the horrors that transpired in the Philadelphia abortion clinic.”
Hill said critics of the bill claim abortion clinics will be forced to close if they must comply with regulations they call “cumbersome.”
“To comply, some (clinics) may have to make changes,” she said. “They claim a similar law in Texas put 18 of 20 abortion providers ‘out of business, never to return.’”
Hill said the statement is misleading, noting that an Internet search for abortion facilities in Texas revealed there are “at least 25 facilities performing the procedure all across the state. In fact, the number of abortions in Texas has increased in recent years, not decreased.”
She said it is not clear whether abortion clinics in Pennsylvania would close as a result of the legislation.
Instead, she said, “Pennsylvanians will agree that it is reasonable to expect clinics where surgical abortions are performed to be held to the same standard as a clinic performing any other surgical procedure.”