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.


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