Weekly Pulse: Nun Excommunicated for Approving Lifesaving Abortion


This article was originally published by The Media Consortium, of which RH Reality Check is a member.

A nun in Phoenix, Arizona was excommunicated for approving a lifesaving abortion. Sister Margaret McBride‘s career in the Catholic church came to an abrupt end after she approved an therapeutic abortion at St. Joseph’s Hospital Medical Center, Robin Marty of RH Reality Check reports.

The woman was 11 weeks’ pregnant when she developed a life threatening case of pulmonary hypertension according to Ms. Magazine. Sr. McBride approved the procedure after consulting with the patient, her family, and the hospital’s ethics committee, but the local bishop excommunicated her anyway.

Sr. McBride’s excommunication is the latest salvo in a national battle over access to reproductive health care in Catholic hospitals. Between a fifth and a third of all hospital beds in the United States are administered by the Catholic Church. Catholic hospitals provide health care services to the community at large and often receive public funding—but they are not required to offer treatments that conflict with their religious teachings.

Excommuniqué

Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix wrote in a statement, “”If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action.” Note that the Catholic Church doesn’t automatically excommunicate priests who sexually abuse children.

“We always must remember that when a difficult medical situation involves a pregnant woman, there are two patients in need of treatment and care; not merely one. The unborn child’s life is just as sacred as the mother’s life, and neither life can be preferred over the other,” the bishop wrote.

This wasn’t even a choice between the life of the mother and the life of the fetus. An 11-week-old fetus is not viable. If the mother dies, the fetus dies with her. Evidently Bishop Olmestead would rather have seen the woman and the fetus die instead of saving the woman. How pro life.

Radical, even by Catholic standards

Amelia Thomson DeVeaux notes at Care2 that the bishop’s position is radical even by Catholic standards:

[N]ow, a dangerous precendent seems to have been established by Olmsted’s actions. Olmsted himself is extremely conservative, even by Vatican standards, and has been a strong critic of Obama. But [bioethicist Jacob Appel] claims that this is not really about Olmsted – instead, the decision is reflective of a general trend in Catholic heathcare. Competent adult women, Appel suggests, are no longer allowed to make their own decisions in Catholic hospitals, which comprise approximately 1/3 of medical services in the country.

Liliana Loofbourow passionately rebukes the bishop on the Ms. Magazine blog, “Catholics like Sister Margaret McBride are a ray of hope in the darkness. However, she is not a Catholic anymore. And as of this writing, neither am I.”

During the health care reform debate, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops flexed its political muscle to ensure maximally restrictive rules on abortion coverage for everyone. Reproductive rights groups fear that access to basic reproductive health care, and even lifesaving medical treatment in Catholic hospitals will be an ongoing point of contention.

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  • invalid-0

    As a matter of point, the Bishop didn’t technically “do” anything.  In the Catholic Church, nobody can excommunicate anyone else – you simply recognize formally that the person has excommunicated themselves from the faith.  Assisting someone in procuring an abortion is what is known as Latae Sententae; meaning that by your action, you have asserted your total separation from the faith.  That’s simply canon law, and not really a point of argument.  

     

    If DeVeaux things that stating canon law is “extreme”, someone ought to check the gauge on her brain fuel.  I’m not even sure what the argument would be that Sister McBride is NOT excommunicated.  Even if you’re pro-choice and want to argue whether or not she did the ‘right’ thing (and go ahead, that’s fine), she certainly acted outside of explicit Church teaching.

     

    If Loofbourow wants to leave the Church, she’s free to do so.  I have a hunch we won’t be missing her in the pews.

  • ahunt

    I have a hunch we won’t be missing her in the pews.

     

    And I have a hunch that the vast majority of American catholics would in fact, miss an individual like Margaret McBride. In fact, I have a hunch most American catholics would like Sister McBride sitting on any ethics panel deciding the life or death fate of their mothers, sisters and daughters

  • crowepps

    I have a hunch we won’t be missing her in the pews.

    Once you have excluded everyone who’s ever “acted outside of explicit Church teaching” by, for instance, enabling or procuring an abortion, using birth control, committing adultery, fornicating, etc., you might find yourself alone.

  • colleen

    If Loofbourow wants to leave the Church, she’s free to do so. I have a hunch we won’t be missing her in the pews.

    Indeed, the pews should be filled with those who would kill women who aren’t physically able to sustain a pregnancy because evil men need human sacrifice to buttress their absurd claims to moral authority. No wonder Randall Terry and Newt Gingrich converted.

  • amyc

    Is pedophilia against canon law? Why weren’t all of those priests excommunicated? If all they have to do is point out that they excommunicated themselves then it should be easy. This isn’t simply pointing out that somebody went against the faith. The catholic church consciously took action against the nun.

  • invalid-0

    using birth control, committing adultery, fornicating, etc.” are not latae sententae, but they are mortal sins.  Enabling/procuring abortion is latae sententae, though.  No one is perfect.

     

    If you don’t grasp the concept of latae sententae (and I’m guessing you probably don’t even care, anyway), why put up a stink?

  • invalid-0

    No wonder Randall Terry and Newt Gingrich converted.”

    Yes, we totally are missing them too.  Golly, I’m just not sure the Catholic Church can withstand your witty, intellectually superior viewpoints.

  • invalid-0

    Pedophilia is absolutely against canon law, and it is also a mortal sin.  In fact, if they used their position as Priest in assistance to the mortal sin, that is likely also latae sententae as well.  All sin is wrong (lying, cheating, etc.).  Mortal sins represent a separation or break from God’s law on grave matters (sexual sin, sins disrespecting the sanctity of life, etc.).

     

    Latae Sententia is not a different type of sin, really.  It goes beyond just succumbing to temptation (venial sin), or even succumbing to temptation on a grave issue (mortal sin).  It is a subset of actions for which there really is simply no explanation other than the person contemplatively, and consciously made the decision to defy a core Church teaching.  Abusing Priestly authority to abuse a child can certainly fall into that category, assuming that the Priest did not have a mental disease or suffer from some sort of unnatural sickness.

     

    I hope that clears up the difference.  As for how the Church decides to treat each situation, remember that a lot of your perception might be influenced by the media coverage of the activity.  Every time a pedophile issue is covered up (an arguably latae sententae action), it will be exploded by the media.  Every time they invoke latae sententia against a Priest for pedophilia (do the right thing) you will NOT hear about it.

  • invalid-0

    I have a hunch most American catholics would like Sister McBride sitting on any ethics panel deciding the life or death fate of their mothers, sisters and daughters”

    You’d be wrong.  Are you actually a Catholic and somehow more aware than me of the congregation’s opinion on this?  Or are you simply guessing/hoping that what you just said is true?

  • colleen

    Every time a pedophile issue is covered up (an arguably latae sententae action), it will be exploded by the media.

    So, you’re claiming that the pedophilia and the covering up (and, presumably, enabling) of the pedophilia are actions worthy of excommunication?

    Also, you’re claiming that the problem is ‘the media’? In that case do you include Grand Jury reports, government commissions, reports from and interviews with ex-priests as ‘the media’? How about the victims themselves?

    Every time they invoke latae sententia against a Priest for pedophilia (do the right thing) you will NOT hear about it.

    So, you’re claiming that the reason we never hear of the church excommunicating a pedophile is because they keep it a secret? That’s odd, because it’s not a secret when they defrock a Priest. (although they usually wait until he has actually been convicted of multiple counts of child rape and sentenced) And it’s not a secret when they excommunicate a mother who saves her pregnant 9 year daughter’s life nor is it a secret when they excommunicate a nun who seeks ordination. They never announce the excommunication of the man who raped the 9 or 10 year olds either. And they’re not at all shy about announcing the excommunication of a nun in Arizona who approved an abortion to save a woman’s life.

  • colleen

    Yes, we totally are missing them too.

    I apologise, I wasn’t clear. Both men converted to Catholicism.

  • invalid-0

    I never claimed any of those things.  I wrote what I wrote – don’t put words in my mouth, colleen.

  • crowepps

    Abusing Priestly authority to abuse a child can certainly fall into that category, assuming that the Priest did not have a mental disease or suffer from some sort of unnatural sickness.

    Why should the priest get to use the excuse of “mental disease” when a woman with a septic uterus and a 3 month fetus with a heartbeat can’t use the “excuse” of imminent death to get the necessary abortion?

     

    I’m not at all sure what you mean by “unnatural sickness”. If being healthy is ‘normal’ than ALL sickness is unnatural but if sickness naturally occurs then it can’t be unnatural.

  • colleen

    don’t put words in my mouth, colleen.

    I’m hardly putting words in your mouth. I was trying to understand what you were saying. Take, for instance, the sentence:

    Every time they invoke latae sententia against a Priest for pedophilia (do the right thing) you will NOT hear about it.

    WHY will we not hear about it? Are you claiming that we don’t hear about their excommunications because ‘the media’ consistently fails to report this or because the excommunication is a secret.

    Because I cannot recall ONE case where a Catholic man, Priest or not, was excommunicated for raping children. Not one.

    Whereas this nun was excommunicated for approving an abortion which saved the life of a woman (and a woman who may or may not have been Catholic) whose body was unable to sustain a pregnancy.

  • crowepps

    ‘Do what you’re told or go to hell” doesn’t sound any more reasonable just because it’s in Latin.

     

    I just think that it’s kind of ironic to structure the ‘moral law’ so everyone gets all wraught up about women SOLVING a problem pregnancy with abortion while routinely absolving the sins of their partners who by committing adultery and fornicating CREATE the problem pregnancy.  Surely the stepfather who has unprotected incestuous sex with a 9-year old and creates a child she isn’t old enough to be capable of sustaining is as morally culpable for the resulting abortion as the ethics committee who approve it.

  • crowepps

    Because I cannot recall ONE case where a Catholic man, Priest or not, was excommunicated for raping children. Not one.

    So far in my following this story, I never have either.  What I have heard is a whole BUNCH of discussion about whether or not it was ‘too harsh’ for them to LOSE THEIR JOBS and the access to children it provided.

  • invalid-0

    Nobody’s asking you to be a Catholic.

  • crowepps

    Are you actually a Catholic and somehow more aware than me of the congregation’s opinion on this?

    Why would being “actually a Catholic” somehow make a person aware of the opinion of “the congregation”? Judging by the rates of use of both birth control and abortion, the average Catholic MAN has little insight into the opinion of “the congregation”, predominantly female.

     

    Do not confuse the opinions of the Vatican, the right-wing Council of Bishops or Opus Dei with “the congregation”.

  • crowepps

    We don’t have to BE Catholic, we just are going to be forced into ACTING as those we are Catholic by being subject to Catholic law and having no choice but to tolerate Catholic health care’s obsession with controlling our bodies.

     

    The only reason the Church isn’t STILL insisting we BE Catholic is that pesky liberal democracies no longer allow the Church to torture and burn heretics.  That doesn’t mean the Church doesn’t still think it would be a great idea to revive that tradition.

  • colleen

    What I have heard is a whole BUNCH of discussion about whether or not it was ‘too harsh’ for them to LOSE THEIR JOBS and the access to children it provided.

    reaction of the institutional church in the US has been to fight tooth and nail any laws which would extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse and, thus, allow the victims to seek justice.
    Likewise I’ve heard various Bishops and Archbishops and a Cardinal or two blame the ongoing global scandal on (to name just a few scapegoats) “petty gossip”, the Jews, the NY Times, Satan, President Obama, the freemasons and the victims themselves.

    On another topic, thanks so much for:

    “‘Do what you’re told or go to hell” doesn’t sound any more reasonable just because it’s in Latin.”

  • invalid-0

    Of course you can’t recall it.  Why would that be news if the Church investigated, prosecuted, reported and then finally recognized the excommunication of a pedophile?  (Guess what – it happens.)  What sort of news station would pick that up?  How boring!  It’s far more reportable when they fail to do so, don’t you think?  And more people get hurt because of it?

    And of course they’ll report it when a Catholic nun excommunicates herself. Look how much controversy it stirs up! 

    I’ll remind you that excommunication is not something the Church “does” to anybody – they do it to themselves by their actions.  The Church officials simply recognize it.  One’s standing with God has nothing to do with the decree of another.  The Bishop was simply stating Church teaching, and stating it accurately.  Whether or not people want to claim that the teaching is wrong is up to them, but I don’t understand people arguing that this Bishop did anything reprehensible.

    So, if a Priest commits pedophilia, you want a statement from the Church that it’s morally wrong?  Is that really necessary?  Or, on behalf of the Church, can I simply provide you right now with a big ‘ol “DUH”?

  • invalid-0

    The “woman with a septic uterus and a 3 month fetus with a heartbeat” wasn’t the one who excommunicated herself, hot shot.  We don’t even know if she was Catholic, do we?

  • colleen

    Nobody’s asking you to be a Catholic

    No one was asking the hypertensive woman who needed an abortion because her body could not have sustained a pregnancy to ‘be’ a Catholic either. So what? They were going to kill her anyway.

  • invalid-0

    Why? I don’t know – perhaps because actually being a Catholic might have something to do with whether or not you attend Mass regularly and meet this congregation that we’re discussing?

    Additionally, I suggest you do not confuse “the congregation” with “people that claim to be Catholic in polls”.

    Catholicism is not the result of a democratic poll, friend.  Yes, in fact a bunch of men run the organization and issue encyclicals and such, that the faith’s adherents are bound to recognize and accept.  I’m not trying to make you like the system, but the fact of the matter is that if you disagree with Church teaching on issues of sexuality and abortion, you are free to leave.  Last I checked though, it’s still the most popular religion in the world.

  • invalid-0

    Also, there’s no “excuse” for that behavior.  There might be contributing factors, but people are still responsible for their own actions.  The young woman who had the abortion committed on her might have experienced some contributing factors, but Sister McBride did not.

  • colleen

    Why would that be news if the Church investigated, prosecuted, reported and then finally recognized the excommunication of a pedophile? (Guess what – it happens.)

    It’s not as if there is a dearth of pedophile priests and the press DOES report the few cases where they are defrocked.

    So, if a Priest commits pedophilia, you want a statement from the Church that it’s morally wrong? Is that really necessary?

    Your church does not excommunicate pedophiles, it has consistently and in literally thousands of cases protected and enabled pedophile priests. This is all well documented, irrefutable and I would be more than pleased to post links to mountains of evidence. The usual response has been to silence the victims, pretend it didn’t happen and reassign the ‘problem’ priest to a job where he could and did continue to molest children.
    This pattern has been consistent both in the US and in other countries. In cases where they were required to report the offenders to law enforcement they seldom complied with the law. This has also been a consistent pattern.

  • jayn

    Why would that be news if the Church investigated, prosecuted, reported and then finally recognized the excommunication of a pedophile?

     

    It should be news.  Our moral authorities should not be getting caught with their hands down their pants so regularly that it ceases to be news, regardless of if they get defrocked or not.  My initial response to this sort of thing shouldn’t be ‘not again’.  Even without the cover-ups, if the Church were defrocking priests for this behaviour so regularly that it wasn’t noteworthy, there would still be a problem.

     

    And at this point, the Church could really use a little good publicity from actually doing the right thing.

  • prochoiceferret

    Additionally, I suggest you do not confuse “the congregation” with “people that claim to be Catholic in polls”.

    Oh, so they’re not real Catholics, then?

    I’m not trying to make you like the system, but the fact of the matter is that if you disagree with Church teaching on issues of sexuality and abortion, you are free to leave.

    You’re also free to work to change the Church’s teachings. (Do they still teach that you can buy your way into heaven?)

    Last I checked though, it’s still the most popular religion in the world.

    Are you sure? What do the numbers look like once you leave out all the people that claim to be Catholic in polls?

  • deb-r

    I wonder what would have happened if the woman said she wanted to die and had been considering suicide–I’ll bet they would have performed that abortion immediately without question! Yes, people are free to not be a member of the Catholic church so the bigger concern is would the doctors have performed the abortion regardless of what the ethics committee decided if the woman wanted it(assuming she would rather live than be a Catholic)? From the info we have–she could not be moved to another hospital since she was so sick. So if the hospital denied the patient life saving care I would think that would qualify as manslaughter? I personally feel everyone has the right to die if they want–so if the mother were to choose to die (and is not being coerced) then that is her right–though I am having a hard time understanding how the CC could condone her death since they are usually saying they are always pro-life–this is just not consistent. It also seems to me that conservatives keep changing their minds–I remember not so long ago when pro-life/anti-choice people were ok with abortion to save the mothers life. Another thing that is relevant that we don’t know –is this the only hospital available to go to? I have a friend who was living in a small town in Montana(this was almost 30 yrs ago) where there were only 2  hospitals in the area–the Catholic one was the only one to deliver babies so she had no choice unless she wanted to go on a 2 hr drive while in labor! I am glad she did not have any complications so her kids still had a mom and I still have my friend!

    As another commenter said–why even have hospitals if you are going to always just follow Gods’ will –if you are sick enough to be in a hospital maybe it is Gods will that you die! And maybe you will have to have your babies at home(I do support home birth but no one should be forced to have a home birth because of lack of options!)

  • colleen

    As In understand this ‘Defrocking’ just means that they are no longer priests. Excommunication means they’re going to Hell. They are never excommunicated. Very few have been defrocked. The vast majority have been protected and enabled. Apparently not so bad a sin as, say, trying to save your pregnant 9 year old daughter’s after her stepfather impregnated her with twins.

  • jodi-jacobson

    just posted.

     

    those in this conversation might want to read it.

     

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/05/20/diocese-phoenix-maligns-catholic-errs-canon

  • jsmitchell619

    I am a Catholic but I’m with the nun on this one.  To have allowed that woman to die would have been out and out murder.  The nun did the right thing.  God gives all of us a conscience and the ability to know right from wrong.  The church usually doesn’t expect us to go against our own consciences.  If we are supposed to ignore our God given understanding of right and wrong on this issue alone, there’s something wrong.

    I believe the Bishop is using the abortion controversy for political reasons, not out of any noble reasons.   He’s a Republican who is using the abortion subject to support his political beliefs and control the people.  During the presidential election ministers in Florida were each given a million dollars to tell their members not to vote for Obama because of abortion.  The Republican party is taking over the Catholic Church and intends to use its Bishops and priests to control and influence the people.  (Sam Brownback converted to Catholicism and immediately formed a group of Catholics for McCain) That’s why you see books like “Can you be a Democrat and still be a Catholic?” in Catholic book stores.   A Republican strategist told that Bush deliberately ruined the economy in order to use it as an excuse to do away with all social programs and entitlements including unemployment compensation which they hate.  That is still their strategy.

    If they succeed, except for the rich, the American people will be destitute.  Wages will be crushed.  Americans will be little better off than slaves and so will our children.  Besides that, they will have no health care so many will die and forget an education.  Only the children of the rich will be educated.  The rich won’t pay taxes but they will balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the middle class which will soon disappear.

    The Bishops and priests who depend on the rich will control the people by telling them to be satisfied with what they have and not to rebel to authority which is given by God.   Perhaps abortion will be illegal, punished by death or perhaps it will just skyrocket as people won’t be able to feed and clothe their children or bear to watch their babies die from lack of medicine and health care.  We’ll be told by church leaders to sacrifice and even to accept our lot as a punishment from God.

    I find it interesting that abortion greatly diminished when Clinton was president but skyrocketed when Bush was president.  They quit counting when his second term began.  It appears that voting for a Democrat reduces abortion.  Kathleen Sebelius, a democratic govenor, reduced abortion by 10%.  Instead of giving her an award, the Bishop suggested she shouldn’t receive communion because she believes in a woman’s right to make her own health decisions.  He’s also a Republican who is using the issue for political gain.  I don’t know if they’ve accepted any money or have hopes to but it wouldn’t surprise me if they received some big donations from these political interests or were promised.

    It’s interesting that these same people went against their own Pope when it came to the Iraq war and none of the Bishops or priests spoke out against it.  It appears the only sin they recognize is the only sin a man can’t commit.  And, yet, war is abortion, ethunasia, murder, rape, torture but I’ve heard them condemn abortion from the pupit as the worst, most intrinsic, and cause of all sins.  It seems to me that war is much, much worse as it includes all the other sins as well.  None of the people in my church are in danger of having or assisting at an abortion.  They don’t need to hear sermons about abortion to save their souls but they sure could use some sermons on bearing false witness, lying, judging, selfishness, etc. yet I never hear a word in that direction.  Nor did I ever hear a word in support of health care, only lies from the very beginning which continue to this very day.

    This nun is a courageous person.  She has saved a poor woman’s life and will be blessed on judgement day for it.  All she has to do to be un ex-communicated is to go to confession, explain the circumstances and that she did what her conscience told her was right, and that she is sorry if the Lord is offended in any way and leave it at that.   Then she should receive communion whether the Bishop thinks she should or not.  He is not her judge.  Jesus is.