WASHINGTON, D.C., February 7, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Sr. Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic Health Association, has again expressed disagreement with Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix for revoking a local hospital’s Catholic status after it performed a direct abortion.

Keehan had appeared to affirm the local bishop’s authority to decide the morality of health practices in Catholic hospitals in January in an exchange of letters with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, the president of the U.S. Bishops’ conference.

“Publicly and privately, CHA has always said ... that an individual Bishop in his diocese is the authoritative interpreter of the [U.S. bishops ethical and religious directives],” she wrote in that exchange.  “We explain that a Bishop has a right to interpret the ERDs and also to develop his own ethical and religious directives if he chooses.”

The USCCB released the letter, along with Archbishop Dolan’s reply, on January 31, saying the two organizations had come to an agreement.

But the next day, Sr. Keehan told the Jesuit magazine America that she didn’t know the letters would be made public, and thought they were merely meant to be distributed within the conference.

She told America that they “have never questioned” the local bishops’ authority.  “But can we have a difference of opinion? Absolutely,” she said.  “The C.H.A. will continue to contribute its reflections and its input both on the pastoral and clinical needs of patients to the bishops and to the individual bishops within their dioceses.”

CHA’s respect for the bishops’ authority had been called into question in December when they sided with the Phoenix hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center, after Bishop Olmsted revoked its Catholic standing.  Keehan wrote that in committing the abortion the hospital had applied the ERDs “correctly” in the face of a “heartbreaking situation.”

Keehan told America on February 1st that CHA accepted Bishop Olmsted’s authority to “kick [the hospital] out of the diocese,” but she also affirmed her belief that the hospital had followed the ERDs correctly.  The hospital remains a member of CHA.

In Archbishop Dolan’s January 26th letter to Sr. Keehan he insisted that the bishop “provides the authoritative resolution” when a disagreement arises.  “Once such a resolution of a doubt has been given, it is no longer a question of competing moral theories or the offering of various ethical interpretations or opinions of the medical data that can still be legitimately espoused and followed,” he wrote.  “The matter has now reached the level of an authoritative resolution.”

CHA famously lent crucial support last year to the health care reform law in defiance of the U.S. bishops, claiming - contrary to the assertion of the bishops and every major pro-life group - that it did not include funding for abortion.  CHA has now backed Rep. Joe Pitts’ Protect Life Act, a bill aiming to ensure that federal funds won’t be used to fund most abortions, while at the same time affirming their original position that the health law won’t fund abortions.