Posts Tagged ‘Humanity’


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 –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 23 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 May 2010. <>.

[ii] Associated Press. “Governor Signs Bill Targeting Ethnic Studies.” Arizona Local News – Phoenix Arizona News – Breaking News – Az  11 May 2010. Web. 21 May 2010. <>.

[iii] “Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Cases by Country.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 21 May 2010. <>.

[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.

[v] Ibid

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