The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Three Cheers for Bishop Olmsted!

Our bishops, especially those in the U.S. and Western Europe, are under a lot of pressure these days to cave in and go soft on moral issues. Whenever a bishop takes a stand and publicly declares the truth as stated in Church teaching, he can expect to be pilloried by the secular media, by most politicians, and, sadly, by far too many Catholics. This is particularly true when the issue addressed is one of those "hot-button" issues -- e.g. abortion, contraception, and the sanctity of marriage -- that have so captivated the promoters of the culture of death. A bishop can save himself a lot of bad press and the grief that comes from it if he either ignores the issue entirely or takes a softer, "pastoral" approach and expresses understanding for the complexities of moral decisions in today's challenging environment. In other words, the bishop can be declared a hero by the world if he simply becomes a moral relativist.

Fortunately, many bishops understand what it means to be a successor to the Apostles and they take this awesome responsibility seriously. One such bishop is Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. Bishop Olmsted, when he discovered that an administrator of a hospital in his diocese had permitted a direct abortion, expressed outrage and stated that all involved in the abortion were automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The administrator, Sr. Margaret McBride, at the time was vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph's Hospital. She, along with the hospital's ethics committee, decided that a direct abortion in the first trimester was morally justified because they felt that the mother's life was at risk. But this decision went against the hospital's own directives relating to abortion.

The hospital's first directive states that abortions are not permitted under any circumstances, including saving the life of the mother. The second directive states that "operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted...even if they will result in the death of the unborn child." Based on the Catholic principle of double effect, this directive would allow, for example, radiation treatment intended to cure cancer but not intended to kill the unborn child. The hospital claimed it acted under this second directive even though direct abortion is not in any way permitted under that directive. 

Bishop Olmsted strongly criticized the hospital's defense in which they compare the unborn child to a disease: "An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means." He went on to say, "The Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty."

As you might imagine, the mainstream secular media has come to the defense of the "compassionate" nun and her ethically challenged colleagues and criticized the bishop for his unenlightened views and authoritative actions. They were joined by Catholic Healthcare West, when the organization that oversees St. Joseph's Hospital jumped to Sr. Margaret's defense stating, "If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it. We are convinced there was not."

The hospital, of course, instead of accepting the reprimand of their bishop (and doing penance) clings to their defense that the abortion was the only way to save the mother's life. A weak defense, both morally and medically, it is disputed by Dr. Paul A. Byrne, one of the leading pioneers in the field of neonatology. Dr. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, stated, "I don't know of any [situation where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother]...I know that a lot of people talk about these things, but I don't know of any. The principle always is preserve and protect the life of the mother and the baby."

Echoing Dr. Byrne, the Catholic Physicians Guild came out publicly in support of Bishop Olmsted. In his letter of support, the guild president, Dr. William H. Brophy, wrote, "An action which is in and of itself wrong, in that it lacks goodness as discerned by the light of human reason, is never justified by circumstances or intended end. Such is the case of abortion. A medical procedure, where the direct intention is the termination of pregnancy, is an abortion." Dr. Brophy went on to confirm that "medical treatments are appropriate for the direct purpose of curing a proportionately pathological condition of a pregnant woman, when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable. When an unborn child attains viability, labor may be induced."

Hats off to the bishop for his strong public condemnation of the abortion and of those who formerly participated in it. Sr. Margaret, by the way, was demoted and reassigned. 

Austin Ruse, the president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, in a commentary on, makes the point that the dissenters, by trying to separate the people from their shepherds -- the bishops and the Holy See -- are actually trying to destroy the Church:

"Look at what happens when you are severed from the Apostles. You begin to get a lot wrong. Look at the Anglican Church these days. In this order, they accepted: contraception, abortion, and homosexual bishops. As a result they are splitting apart faster than an exploding atom. When you sever yourself from the Apostles only confusion comes, and then decay and eventual death."
And just a week ago, obviously in response to the situation in Phoenix, the US Bishops' Committee on Doctrine issued a statement in which they discussed the distinction between the church's definitions of a direct abortion and a legitimate medical procedure that could result in an indirect abortion. It too supports Bishop Olmsted. Click here for a copy (pdf format)

You can also check out this news story: click here.

Pray for our bishops.

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