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Catholic Church's Informant Didn't Violate Privacy Laws in Blabbing Patient Info to Diocese, St. Joseph's Hospital Says

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If you've been following the news today, you already know that the Catholic Church stripped St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix of its religious affilation because of a surgery last year that involved the death of an unborn child. (Whether it was an abortion, per se, is apparently one of the issues up for debate.)

We think Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix is just pissed that the hospital didn't demote Sister Margaret McBride, a hospital official who decided the fetus' death was necessary to save the life of the 27-year-old mother.

But like us, you may also been wondering how Olmsted got so much specific info about the patient, when HIPAA prevents you from knowing if your spouse has an ingrown toenail?

Well, there was an "informant," as an Arizona Republic article pointed out a few days ago.

Kind of Da-Vinci-Code-esque, isn't it? We can't help but wonder whether Olmstead's tipster wears a black robe and has scars on his back.

Yet whoever blabbed to the bishop isn't facing any punishment. Hospital officials say no privacy laws were violated.

The hospital conducted a "complete investigation," according to an FAQ on its Web site. The FAQ goes on to say:

Since no individually identifiable health information was ever given to the Bishop or anyone else, it was determined that the applicable privacy rules under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) were not violated.

It's hard to believe. Especially when it appears the bishop was well-briefed on details of the medical procedure, which occurred in November of 2009. Catholic News reports today that:

After learning about the abortion earlier in the year, Bishop Olmsted met with hospital officials to learn more about the particular case, he said at the news conference. "It became clear that, in their decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld," he said. The baby "was directly killed," which is a violation of the ethical and religious directives.

Seems like Olmsted knew plenty.

And even if no laws were broken, does the church have any ethical responsibility when it comes to lending an ear to an informant's whispers?

"I don't have any information that would be helpful on that subject," the Diocese's spokesman, Rob DeFrancesco, tells New Times. He adds that he'll get back to us if he learns anything.

We pointed out to Carmelle Malkovich, spokeswoman for the hospital, that the main question on the FAQ, "How did the bishop find out about the terminated pregnancy?," is not answered by the FAQ. She says she'll find out if the hospital will release the report on its investigation into the privacy question.

We'll keep our eyes out for the dude in the black robe.

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