This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lessons from an abortion in Phoenix

If you read the Catholic press or blogosphere, you undoubtedly have come across the story of the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride, who served on the hospital ethics board and as hospital administrator where the board recommended that an abortion be performed on a pregnant woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension because of her pregnancy, which was way to early on to induce labor and put the child on life support. I have given ample comment on the NCR and America web pages, as have many others, as to whether ending the pregnancy was justified, either directly or indirectly and whether it is moral cowardice to stand behind such terms as "indirect abortion" in order to justify saving the life of the mother. You can read one article in NCR here and I am sure there are links to others:

I am not going to take the usual stance on this event. Its been done and done well, both from the feminist perspective and from the Catholic moralist perspective. I will instead bring a bit of scripture to the issue, as well as my training in organization theory and bureaupathology.

Part of the criticism of Sister Margaret's actions were that she did not notify the local bishop in advance of the situation to get his guidance. In other words, she broke the chain of command. I am not sure this is a valid criticism, since everyone knows what Bishop Olmsted would have done. It is demonstrated by his excommunicaiton of Sister. He would have said no. He really had no choice in the matter, since ascenting to the abortion would have caused him to share in the taint of it, even if he did not procure it himself. I suspect that in his mind, he would have been as culpable as Sister Margaret for the abortion (as if he could really stop it). In other words, he would have likely put the state of his own soul before the life of the woman who's pregnancy - and let's face it - who's child was killing her for a reason only known to the pathologist who did the post mortem.

Is the life of another worth your own soul? Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, in Chapter 13 (often read at weddings) asks what does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his own soul, however such an interpretation takes the concept of saving your soul out of context. Paul was talking about having love as the great gift that lasts. Putting one's own moral scruples ahead of the life of another hardly qualifies as a loving act, to either the woman or even to the child who is doomed should his mother die. The more applicable scripture is the one where the Lord cautions that he who would preserve his own life will lose it, but he who gives up his own life will save it.

Had Bishop Olmsted approved of the abortion ahead of time, or concurred with the action of the committee, he would have faced the same kind of consequences he felt necessary to impose on Sister Margaret. It would have been an act of moral bravery and faith in God one does not expect much from American Catholic bishops. It would have also had major blowback. Some fanatic who makes a fetish of life, probably one of his flock, would have complained to Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia, the USCCB as a whole and to the Papal Nuncio in Washington. There would be talk that he was excommunicate for putting the life of the mother ahead of the life of the child. Indeed, he would have been at risk of losing his Benefice - his diocese, the house, the towncar and the authority of office. He would have given up his life in order to save our as yet unnamed mother of four who was in danger of death.

I have no knowledge of whether these factors entered into his Excellency's moral calculus - however if they did he reached the wrong decision. Only he can answer for his own motivations - and answer he will - not to us, but to God. I would be remiss, however, if I did not urge him to consider the motivations for his decision and seek absolution if required. Indeed, I would urge the USCCB to examine their motivations on this question and see if their actions were motivated by love or by authority - not because they must answer to me or to all of us in the Church (although in reality they do), but because they must answer to God for both their actions and their motivations.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Archbishop Wuerl's comments

Washington Archbishop Wuerl offerred his perspective as the Chairman of the Committee on Doctrine for the American Bishops. It was an attempt to praise the role of women in the Church as a way to soft pedal the recent actions by the Vatican to raise the level of seriousness with which those who illictly ordain women are treated - which was released at the same time that the Church cracked down on viewing child pornography by the clergy and other aspects of how it will deal with sexual abuse by clergy. The timing of these announcements has universally been considered bad. You can find the Archbishop's statement many places. I read it on America Magazine's site, which you can see at

My comments, which are yet to be published on the site because they have upped their level of review, are as follows:

Ordination occurs within the confines of the government of the Church. It does not help matters to ordain women outside of this. To disobey this rule is to actively resist the structure of the Church and it is no surprise that the hierarchy will react badly.

Whether ordination of women is invalid does not depend on whether it is illicit. Ancient history indicates that there were women at all levels of the Church in its earliest times, but the counter-cultural nature of this was quickly overcome by the dominant male culture.

It is naive, however, to claim that a valid ordination will ever be accepted as licit without first gaining permission and it actually hurts the cause of female ordination to do so - at least within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. Within the context of a non-Roman Catholicism that seeks its own legitimacy, what Rome says is moot. I am sure we can debate what is more scandalous - strking out on one's own or forcing women into doing so.

The old bulls who insist that female ordination is invalid will retire or die soon enough. Time will not wait for them nor will time end when they are gone. This explains the stridency of their current rhetoric. The fact that A/B Wuerl is joining the chorus is only proof that they are dangling a red hat in front of his face. Whether he maintains the status quo after he receives it and the old bulls have retired will be one of the most interesting questions in the life of the Church.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Focussing on Africa

In the Fiscal Times, my old colleague, Bruce Bartlett, summarizes what has been written recently on economics and development in the motherland. You can read his summary on Many of the articles he summarized highlighted the population policy impacts on African development, with the usual connotation that development demands controlling population. I commented on the site. What Bruce did not address, and I did, is how this all links to development policy that is made in this town. You may hear an echo between my comments and the Vatican's stance against population control in the recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate. That echo is intentional. You can read the comments there or you can keep reading and leave your comments below.

Africa v. OEDC is largely improving because OEDC is in the crapper. I quarrel with the view that rising populations are a bad thing in a subsistence economy. Indeed, having an excess of people is historically a precursor to industrialization. Eliminating family planning policies would likely help Africa in the long term. Chinese workers are begining to demand higher wages and consumer products. Indian workers will likely soon follow suit, although there is much Indian labor that is still untapped. The global south has much potential for industrialization, particularly Africa. Indeed, Buckminster Fuller's dreams of automated factories and Nicholas Kelso's dream of two-factor income won't be realized as long as there are low wage labor markets which are untapped.

A final note: the other reason family planning policies for Africa should be considered as tenuous is that one day someone will tell the President that they are directed at his relatives and others that look like him - not for their benefit but because they are considered inconvenient. If he gets that message, expect the family planning budget for Africa to sink - especially if Obama shames Gates and Buffett into defunding them - or raises their taxes enough so that they can no longer afford to do so (and takes family planning off of the list of legitimate charities).

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Funding Extended Unemployment and Bailout Out the States

For the umpteenth time, funding extended unemployment has been brought up, fillibustered and debated. In the past, the leadership kept Congress going until someone caved. This time, it did not happen, largely due to the pressures of the July 4th recess and to take time out to bury Robert Byrd.

In the interim, people are losing their benefits. At the same time, many states, indeed the vast majority, are facing budget cuts - some draconian - as the new fiscal year begins.

I am not sure that letting Senators and Members go home and face the music is not a bad idea. I would hope that whenever one of them makes a public appearance or holds a town meeting, they hear from local government officials, people who have lost or are about to lose their benefits and those agencies who are providing stop-gap assistance.

Of course, in DC (where this diary is being written), the member is always at home and knows full well how bad the problem is - although joblessness among the poor in DC is not as sexy as joblessness in the hinterlands. Additionally, because she has not vote and there are no voting (or non-voting) members of the Senate, the voice of DC voters on these issues does not matter.

In Virginia and Maryland, this is another matter - although most area members are on the right side of the issue - although it is still a good idea to remind the Democrats that we feel this is important and give them some stories to use in debate when this issue comes up again. E-mail is also a good way to tell your story to your Senator. Go to and to share your story. You can also make policy suggestions on how to deal with this issue. Here is what I told my Congressman, Jim Moran, and my Senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner (feel free to cut and paste):

It is time to get serious on extending Unemployment Insurance. The Republicans keep demanding that we pay for extending coverage. I say we call their bluff and fully fund extended unemployment on a permanent basis in the only way that it is appropriate to do so, by raising the payroll tax on employer who have layed people off (leaving the base rate unchanged). Indeed, while we are at it, the amount of benefits should also be increased (and funded by an increase to the base rate). Put this proposal front and center and dare the Republicans to vote against incentives to avoid unemployment and the extended unemployed. If this is the only alternative, we will hear nothing more from them again on funding this emergency through deficit spending.

On a related topic, I hope that during this recess you have heard from our local elected officials on their fiscal situation and are ready to come back to work with a stimulus that includes aid to the states.

Finally, let me suggest that a tax rebate that distributes money in November and December will be just in time for Christmas. Indeed, for some families, it will be the only Christmas they see - and for retailers too. This rebate should be for everyone - including people with no tax liability and even for people who owe back taxes to the IRS (normally rebates go to tax debt - this year the merchants need it more).