June 09, 2010

The Catholic Nun and Bishop In Arizona

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Thank you to those of you who emailed me, left comments or called.  Your feedback helped me to realize I was being a bit too dogmatic in my original entry, which has now been revised to provide more balance.

We have all seen the story about the Catholic nun, Sister Margaret McBride, in Arizona, who consented to aborting the baby of a woman who was 11-weeks pregnant and was suffering from pulmonary hypertension.  If not, read this

There has been much debate in and out of the Catholic Church about the appropriateness of her action, as well as the subsequent action of her local bishop, Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead.  To get proper perspective, we need to examine the teachings of the Catholic Church - and not of secular society - because this story is about a Catholic nun and a Catholic bishop, formal representatives of the Catholic Church who consented to live by Its tenets.

For simplicity, I will use the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  There are many other sources that can be used, e.g. Papal encyclicals, homilies, letters and addresses of the Pope, Conference statements, and the Didache.  Here are some excerpts that are germaine to this issue.

2268 The fifth commandment forbids direct and intentional killing as gravely sinful. The murderer and those who cooperate voluntarily in murder commit a sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance.
Infanticide, fratricide, parricide, and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break. Concern for eugenics or public health cannot justify any murder, even if commanded by public authority.

2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae," "by the very commission of the offense," and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2322 From its conception, the child has the right to life. Direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a "criminal" practice (GS 27 § 3), gravely contrary to the moral law. The Church imposes the canonical penalty of excommunication for this crime against human life.

2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."

Based on these teachings, which are founded on Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium's guidance, it is clear that the nun committed a grave, immoral sin - "abortion willed as an end or as a means, is a 'criminal' practice."  She was clearly complicit in this crime, although she was probably emotionally and spiritually torn as well. 

Unfortunately, her ultimate decision goes against Church teaching and she should have refused to choose between mother and child, with the hope, as remote as it may have been, that both would be saved.  It is not an easy thing to do, as is reflected by Sister McBride and the hospital's actions.
Given the above, it is clear that Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix reacted appropriately.  He let the rest of us know what the nun had already done herself, which was to excommunicate herself by choosing to do something gravely immoral in the eyes of the Church.  Should he have made it less public?  Maybe, but those of us who practice the Faith are grateful we know someone is taking our beliefs seriously.  On the other hand, should he have been more merciful and compassionate, like I probably could be in this entry?  Yes.  I imagine the nun and all else involved were torn about what to do and I imagine they have great sorrow.  That should have been acknowledged.

The full statements by the Archdiocese of Phoenix and St. Joseph's Hospital can be read here.

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Since the media reported things in a misleading fashion, let's correct some of the headlines for this story.

Arizona Nun Excommunicated for Saving a Patient's Life - Wrong
Arizona Nun Excommunicated Herself by Consenting to Abortion of Patient's Baby - Right

Arizona Hospital Nun Excommunicated For Allowing Abortion - Wrong
Arizona Hospital Nun Excommunicated Herself For Allowing Abortion - Right

The Catholic Church excommunicated an Arizona nun for carrying out an abortion when the mom's life was at risk... - Wrong
An Arizona nun excommunicated herself from the Catholic Church by consenting to the abortion of her patient's baby - Right

Arizona Nun Excommunicated For Authorizing Abortion To Save Life Of Mother - Wrong
Arizona Nun Excommunicated Herself by Authorizing Abortion - Right

===== A reminder of what is being aborted at 11 weeks =======

By pregnancy week 11 your baby is big enough to hold in the palm of your hand. Your baby is about 1.6 inches long and weighs almost .25 of an ounce. ...

..Your baby's skin will remain paper thin, but soon it will become a multi-layered membrane and lose much of its transparency. By this point in time, your little one should be able to open and close his or her fists, and little buds are forming in his or her mouththat will eventually develop into teeth! ... your baby's fingers and toes have lost their amphibious-like resemblance, now they are separated instead of webbed. Your little one is taking advantage of the huge space she is floating in by kicking and squirming about. In the next three weeks, your baby will go through a tremendous growth spurt, almost doubling in size. At no other time in your baby's life will she undergo as many rapid changes as are occurring during this stage of your pregnancy. - http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/pregnancy_week_11.htm

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images - https://www.stjudeshop.com/resources/StJudeShop/images/products/processed/508193.zoom.a.jpg
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/lifecycle/images/1-2-3-1-7-0-0-0-0-0-0.jpg
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