Posts Tagged ‘Cathlic Church’

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The Good Sister’s Hard Choice

May 21, 2010

Saint Mary’s Basilica, Phoenix, AZ.

Arizona is having a bad time of things in the public relations department lately.  Even if you agree with the draconian laws recently passed (the one dealing with people here illegally[i] and the one dealing with ethnic studies in school[ii], for instance) the negative effect on the state cannot be over stated.  As if that was not bad enough, now the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has added its two cents to the states negative standing.

While it is hard to criticize a religious organization for its beliefs, it is not so hard to criticize such an organization for its hypocrisy.  In this case, the hypocrisy of excommunicating a nun who faced a horrible choice while allowing pedophile priests to remain in the diocese.  Perhaps the spiritual leader of the diocese, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted believes priests that abuse children are a better example to follow than Sister Margaret McBride’s choice between two bad options.

In fairness to Bishop Olmsted, the abuse in the Phoenix Diocese occurred before he took over as Bishop and no cases of abuse were reported from his prior position as Bishop of the Wichita Diocese[iii].  Still, given the Catholic Church’s shortcomings in protecting children from abuse by priests; it is hard to understand the heavy-handed approach in dealing with a nun that only tried to do what was best for all concerned.

An article on National Public Radio’s (NPR) website by Barbara Hagerty covers the story in detail[iv].  Specifically, a 27-year old mother of four was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix last November.  She was eleven weeks pregnant with her fifth child but something was drastically wrong.  There was virtually no chance of her remaining alive as the pregnancy put too much strain on her heart.  It was determined to save her life the best course of action was to terminate the pregnancy, in other words, to have an abortion.  It was not something the young mother wanted or desired but was deemed a medical necessity to save her life.

As the hospital is a Catholic institution, the doctors sought permission from the hospital administrator, Sister Margaret.  In reviewing relevant church doctrine, she determined the procedure was allowed for this exceptional circumstance.  The procedure went forward and the mother’s life was saved.  No one involved with this case wanted to take this action but the choice was to save the mother or let both the mother and unborn child die.

Upon learning of the sad situation, Bishop Olmsted declared Sister Margaret excommunicated herself from the church.  In fact, rather than have any compassion the diocese position, as stated by Reverend John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the diocese is “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 — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can’t do evil to bring about good.  The end does not justify the means.[v]

They key, as Reverend Ehrich put it, is the “Catholic perspective.”  To extend his thinking, it is the Catholic perspective to excommunicate a nun faced with a horrible choice but allow pedophile priests to remain priests and protect them from prosecution by transferring them and allowing them to abuse children all over again.  That is taking the moral low ground to say the least.  To have the ability to save a life and do nothing is tantamount to murder. It’s like saying “sorry, I can save your wife’s life but I choose not to.”  To put rules in place that force good people into impossible situations is cowardly.  Is it really the Catholic perspective to tell a pregnant woman with a heart condition her only option is to die with her unborn child?

Courts across the globe are dealing with the Church’s inaction regarding the pedophiles it protects.  On the other issue at hand, the church has every right to take its action against the good sister; after all, it’s their club – their rules, but it does reflect poorly upon the diocese.  Furthermore, it reflects poorly upon the church as a whole, the state of Arizona, the United States of America, and humanity itself.  While Catholics must decide the matter for themselves within the church, it is for the remainder of humankind to judge its actions by the standards of basic humanity.  On that score, Bishop Olmsted fails.  While he may personally be OK with that, the end result is the further erosion of the Catholic Church as a preferred choice of religion.

It is unfortunate that hard choices like the ones in this situation are part of life.  Thankfully, there are people like Sister Margaret willing to put others before herself.  As sad as the loss of a child is, the loss of a child and mother is much worse.  It is much worse for the husband, the four children, and the rest of her family.  Rather than stick her head in the sand and hope for the best, this brave woman made a choice to save a life, not end one.  While the Diocese of Phoenix may shun her for it, humanity is better for having Sister Margaret as part of it.  In the end, it is the Catholic Church that will pay for such small-minded thinking.


[i] Archibald, Randal C. “Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html>.

[ii] Associated Press. “Governor Signs Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies.” Arizona Local News – Phoenix Arizona News – Breaking News – Az central.com.  11 May 2010. Web. 21 May 2010. <http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2010/05/11/20100511arizona-ethnic-studies-bill.html>.

[iii] “Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Cases by Country.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 21 May 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_sex_abuse_cases_by_country#United_States>.

[iv] Hagerty, Barbara B. “Nun Excommunicated For Allowing Abortion : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 19 May 2010. Web. 21 May 2010.
<http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072>.

[v] Ibid

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The Center of Truth’s Universe

February 1, 2010

From the beginning of time, history has indexed our universe.  Some history we know, some we will never know.  Moreover, some things we thought we knew, we learn were something else all together.  The truth we know today is in how we believe it to be, more than the fact of it – seems everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe until Galileo proved otherwise.  What belief of today will change tomorrow?

Galileo was not alone in his belief, of course.  He built on the works of another great from history – Nicolaus Copernicus.  The realization that the earth was not the center of the universe was a process that took over two-hundred years to understand.  Telling the truth can prove dangerous too.  In Galileo’s case, it cost him his freedom and nearly his life.  The Catholic Church was less than pleased with his proposals as it opposed the teachings of the day.  In 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Galileo held to his belief.  While he did recant, it was under threat of death.  Regardless of the Catholic Church’s efforts, his work remained in circulation and people quietly accepted the truth of it.  The truth of his work was undeniable.  Institutions, like the Catholic Church, are slow to correct mistakes; in Galileo’s case, they did not officially change their position until 1992 when Pope John Paul II expressed regret.  Now, there are plans to erect a statue of Galileo within the Vatican walls.

The lesson of Galileo is truth may be suppressed for a time but in the end it will prevail.  There is something indefinable that happens to a person when they learn a truth.  It changes everything they do from that moment forward.  Accepting one truth leads to other truths; the process of learning repeats itself with a perpetual motion of sorts.  It is the engine that drives humanity along our journey of discovery.

Looking back, the Church’s position may seem silly, but we cannot judge through hindsight; we have the advantage of knowing how events unfolded.  That is the point to keep in mind, when the world presents you with an idea that goes against a deeply held belief, the belief may need to change.  The fault did not sit with the Church as a whole, but with a belief system that did not allow for change.  The more we understand the universe, the more we will shed outdated beliefs.  There was a time when traveling faster than the speed of sound was thought impossible; today we routinely fly much faster.  Now, the speed of light presents the same dilemma.  Will we one day dismiss it as a barrier too?

Truth may seem dynamic; it is not.  While two plus two does equal four, other truths are not so easily defined.  In the end, it is our understanding that changes, not truth.  No evil comes from knowing the truth even if it breaks with tradition.  The evil comes in suppressing truth.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Galileo.

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