By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 26, 2011
A prominent (Roman Catholic) bishop, Thomas Olmsted, stripp(ed) St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix of its affiliation with the Roman Catholic diocese.
The hospital’s offense? It had terminated a pregnancy to save the life of the mother. The hospital says the 27-year-old woman, a mother of four children, would almost certainly have died otherwise.
Bishop Olmsted initially excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had been on the hospital’s ethics committee and had approved of the decision. That seems to have been a failed attempt to bully the hospital into submission, but it refused to cave and continues to employ Sister Margaret. Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.
Make no mistake: This clash of values is a bellwether of a profound disagreement that is playing out at many Catholic hospitals around the country. These hospitals are part of the backbone of American health care, amounting to 15 percent of hospital beds.
Already in Bend, Ore., last year, a bishop ended the church’s official relationship with St. Charles Medical Center for making tubal ligation sterilizations available to women who requested them. And two Catholic hospitals in Texas halted tubal ligations at the insistence of the local bishop in Tyler.
The National Women’s Law Center has just issued a report quoting doctors at Catholic-affiliated hospitals as saying that sometimes they are forced by church doctrine to provide substandard care to women with miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies in ways that can leave the women infertile or even endanger their lives. More clashes are likely as the church hierarchy grows more conservative, and as hospitals and laity grow more impatient with bishops who seem increasingly out of touch. ...
With the Vatican seemingly as deaf and remote as it was in 1517, some Catholics at the grass roots are pushing to recover their faith. Jamie L. Manson, the same columnist for National Catholic Reporter who proclaimed that Jesus had been “evicted,” also argued powerfully that many ordinary Catholics have reached a breaking point and that St. Joseph’s heralds a new vision of Catholicism: “Though they will be denied the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, the Eucharist will rise out of St. Joseph’s every time the sick are healed, the frightened are comforted, the lonely are visited, the weak are fed, and vigil is kept over the dying.”
When grown men and women put the life of the fetus ahead of the life of the mother, when the delivery of the baby threatens the life of the mother, because of some religious rule, or dogma, that reads scripture so literally and so simplistically, there is only one legitimate response....either leave that church or stop following the leadership.
It is time for religious leaders to awaken to their own dead and deadening princples. Religious fundamentalism, while perhaps ideal in a perfect world, is not operable where real people live. And whatever "God" is being worshipped, that cannot be reduced to such simplistic and rigid absolutism, that His struggles can be eliminated from the equation that faces each human being, in every country for at least two centuries.
To accept the church's position, as the Sister in charge in this hospital has been excommunicated for not doing, would have been to deny whatever responsibilities she also bore as a professional nurse. Similarly, a Roman Catholic doctor faces the same moral dilemma, and, if such a case presented itself to a member of my family, while the decision would be extremely difficult, there is no question about where I would come down, on the side of the threatened mother, at the expense of the fetus.
And no Catholic dogma, and no Catholic theologian is going to change my mind.
All we can do is to support both this hospital and this Sister, in her personal and professional pilgrimmage as an honourable disciple of a faith that make her hospital one all people can trust.