I hardly know where to begin with this one.
You can read the full story here. The basics are this: Sister Margaret McBride, a nun in the order Sisters of Mercy and an administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, approved an abortion for a woman who was 11 weeks pregnant and seriously ill. Doctors agreed that the woman would have died had she continued with the pregnancy.
In response to the nun’s compassionate, and yet surely difficult decision, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted automatically excommunicated her. Defending the bishop’s decision, medical ethics director for the diocese, Rev. John Ehrich, said, “She consented in the murder of an unborn child. There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But…you can’t do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.” When a canon lawyer suggested a double standard at play, because no priest guilty of child molestation has been ex-communicated, Ehrich responded, “I’m not going to make a distinction between what’s worse.”
Yep, that’s right. He equated consenting to an abortion to save a mother’s life with pedophilia.
You can’t help but wonder what’s really going on here. Is this really the judgment of god almighty working through humble servants, or does it have to do more with an institution where many of the leaders are more concerned with power, control, and ego than the health and well-being of human life?
With his swift excommunication of this nun, the bishop accomplished at least two tasks for himself. First, he succeeded in whitewashing the fact that life is messy. He has sent the clear message to the church’s adherents that the rules are black and white and that there is to be no individual thought or reasoning. The punishment for such sedition will be swift and relentless. This is imperative for any established institution that wishes to retain control, and the Catholic Church is hardly alone in its efforts to maintain absolute control over its population. It is an effective and powerful tool, one designed to maintain a top-heavy, autocratic institution. At least until it collapses under its own weight.
Another accomplishment of his is the powerful message of who is in charge. Supposedly, the nun will be allowed back into the Catholic Church if she repents and goes to confession. Seems like the bishop needs to be reminded of some of the basics of repentance and confession. Repentance is a turning of the heart, and it is not meant to be a response to coercion. I thought the church learned that lesson after the Spanish Inquisition. And confession is a private sacrament between a person, their confessor, and god. The bishop, though, is using it as a means of public humiliation and subjugation. It is his actions, not the nun’s, that are abhorrent and repulsive.
Sister McBride has lost the community that was her family and her life, she has been violently and heartlessly amputated from the faith that nurtured her, and her career and future have been compromised. But her courage, intelligence, and strength saved a woman’s life. She will be embraced and loved by another community that shares her heart and spirit.