If Sister Margaret McBride is No Catholic, Neither Am I

The Catholic Church has punished a hospital nun for recommending a life-saving abortion. This week, Sister Margaret McBride of Phoenix, Ariz., was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church and demoted from her administrative position at St. Joseph’s Hospital for her participation in a panel that recommended an abortion to save a woman’s life. The patient in question was a pregnant woman whose pulmonary hypertension made it a virtual certainty that both she and the fetus would die if the pregnancy was carried to term.

In doing so, the Catholic Church has shown itself to be ethically and morally compromised. It has dedicated its resources to self-interest and self-protection. It has shown no concern for its children, its women, or any of the vulnerable populations it ostensibly serves. It has consistently protected only two things: its power and its priests.

It has, moreover, taken a position that punishes virtue and right action and promotes evil.

Nor is this a one-time stance. Last March, after it was discovered that a 9-year old girl in Brazil was raped by her stepfather and was pregnant with twins as a result, her mother arranged for her to have an abortion, as she was unlikely to survive the pregnancy. The Catholic Church excommunicated the girl’s mother and the doctors who saved her life. The stepfather was allowed to remain in the Church.

Below is the Vatican’s statement [from Vivirlatino]:

“It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated,” said Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re to a local daily. Re—who is the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation for Bishops—acknowledged that “life must always be protected” yet did not say anything over the girl’s life being in danger by her pregnancy.
Aside from excommunicating the girl’s mother, Sobrinho also had the gall to disparage the raped child:
The stepfather was not excommunicated because the church said that his action, although deplorable, was not as bad as ending the life of an unborn child.
“It is clear that he committed a very serious sin, but worse than this is the abortion,” Sobrinho said.

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.

Below is my open letter to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing, as a Catholic, to commend Sister Margaret McBride for nobly advocating for appropriate and life-saving patient care. Her recommendation to end the pregnancy of the patient with pulmonary hypertension whose life was at risk was sound, based not only on medical advice, but also on compassion, forgiveness and charity. That she did so at considerable risk to her own career and worse, her membership in the Church she has dedicated her life to serving, only attests to the strength of her faith and of her character. St. Joseph’s should be proud to have her as an employee.

Sincerely,

Liliana

St. Joseph’s Hospital can be contacted directly here.

ABOVE: Stained-glass portrait of St. Rita, patron saint of impossible causes and abused women, in St. Mary’s Church in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/ / CC BY 2.0

Comments

  1. While shocking, this isn’t surprising. The callous disregard for women is the reason I left the church many years ago. The bishops live in a world in which women are to be seen and not heard. Sister Margaret McBride should be applauded for her compassion and concern for the patients in her care. It’s probably due to her leadership that St. Joseph’s Hospital was ranked No. 1 in last year’s Thompson Reuters annual list of the 100 Top Hospitals in the U.S. I don’t think they’ll be able to hold onto that title.

  2. It’s messed up the Vatican, a holy institution that millions worship, see RAPING a 9-year-old girl and impregnating her with twins as BETTER than an abortion that would save the 9-year-old’s life.

    “All life is cherished” my ass. Some people just use their religion to hate, hate, hate. Terrible.

  3. My letter:

    I am writing, as a registered nurse, to commend Sister Margaret McBride for her courageous and medically appropriate recommendation that a woman whose life was at risk terminate her pregnancy. As a member of the St Joseph’s ethics committee, Sr Margaret needs to put aside her personal beliefs for the safety and well being of the patient. Her decision should have no effect on her position or her reassignment.
    Isn’t the point of an ethics committee just that? To aide patients in extremely difficult times and with extremely difficult decisions. This woman has dedicated her life to the church and to healthcare, she deserves more than this.

    Moira McC*****

  4. Hey Carol,

    Thanks for this; I didn’t know St. Joseph’s was that highly regarded. Happy to hear it, actually. The medical recommendations were spot-on, which suggests that they’re (in principle) capable of recognizing real public service. Re: the punitive Catholic dimension to all this, it IS unsurprising, which in itself is deeply sad. Sister McBride is a kind of martyr to her faith, and when martyrs get made, the institutions sacrificing their own should take note.

    You know, I spend a lot of my time working on seventeenth-century Puritanism in England—the period right after the Reformation in Europe—and what’s interesting about the hard-core anti-Catholicism that took hold there is how virulent and all-encompassing it eventually became. Mere Protestantism wasn’t enough; every aspect of Catholic practice (from the placement of the altar to the length of priest’s sleeves to the use of religious images) was reviled and, where possible, destroyed, sometimes violently. Churches were plundered, stained-glass (like the portrait of St. Rita illustrating this) was smashed. Harsh, I always thought, and ugly, but easier to understand at times like these.

    The lesson lurking there is (I think) that there’s a breaking point, a time when the symbols people cherish (and on which the Catholic Church so heavily depends) have been so clumsily emptied and made monstrous by the abuses practiced in their name that they start to symbolize something else, something immensely ugly, profane, and orthogonal to the spirituality they once stood for.

  5. Tegan,

    Yep and yep. Rape is so much better than abortion that by the Church’s reckoning, the rapist is the only one to emerge from this spiritually intact.

  6. Moira: thanks.

  7. Lisa Cataldo says:

    Thank you for this important commentary. For me, Sr. Margaret IS a Catholic in the best sense, despite her excommunication. The heart of Catholicism is in the practice of compassion and justice, not in the patriarchal clericalism and power plays of the men whose authority is eroded each time they rationalize and cover up abuses of power against women and children. I teach Professional Ethics to clergy and lay people, and as I tell my students, ethical behavior is not based on lists of rules, but on critical and compassionate discernment in the face of complex dilemmas and sometimes conflicting “goods.” Clearly Sr. Margaret had the courage to undertake such a discernment, despite the fact that the clerical authorities would prefer a rote, unthinking decision whenever abortion is an issue (a rapist may take communion; a mother who wishes to save the life of her child may not). I, for one, refuse to allow those who wield power in a hypocritical and abusive way to determine whether or not I am Catholic. I hope Sr. Margaret does not, either. She is a role model for courageous ethical decision-making and for me, that’s Catholic to the core.

  8. Hi Lisa,

    “Ethical behavior is not based on lists of rules, but on critical and compassionate discernment in the face of complex dilemmas and sometimes conflicting ‘goods.’” Well-put. The clergy you teach are lucky to benefit from some exposure to the rich intellectual history underpinning the Catholic Church–a history that *in practice* is so well-concealed from average churchgoers that despite my best efforts, I was never able to get much beyond the reductive false dichotomies and mystifications that pepper the average homily in the average parish. (It took a graduate program to get any meaningful engagement with Aquinas or Augustine.)

    I don’t know why the Church neglects that history, or how to explain its reluctance to expose the average Catholic to anything more complex than the Missal (which elides the really challenging parts of the Bible) and the sacraments. It seems to me that omission is a means of avoiding the uncomfortable human questions that make ethics (and religion) relevant. The one time I found a priest willing to have a genuine conversation—and I won’t name him for fear of getting him in trouble, like these nuns in Washington whose “feminism” is being “investigated” by the Vatican (http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=20169)—he was so liberal in his thinking (believed in universal salvation, assured my addled adolescent self that sexual instincts were normal and that even sexual behavior was fine, provided there was love)—that I left much relieved in my mind, but unconvinced that he was actually *Catholic*.

    Which brings me to your next point: what we actually mean by the word. “Sr. Margaret IS a Catholic in the best sense, despite her excommunication,” you say, and to some extent I agree with you. But it presents a real problem, doesn’t it, when the term has to transcend, overleap and in fact DEFY its immediate referent in order to have real resonance?

    I held much the same position as you do until I realized that every time I went to Church I came away exhausted by the logical pretzels this stuff provoked. Communion, for example. Despite feeling I’d made ethical choices of the kind you describe as a “Catholic” in this larger sense and stood in a decent(ish) relation to God, according to the Church (which retains the right to legislate that relation via absolution by a priest), I should not receive Communion.

    What to do? Respect the human institution and abide by its rules? Decide there’s a larger principle and receive the Host anyway, from a priest who, if he had all the information, would consider giving it a wrong action on his part? To go to Church and STEAL Communion is, well, an ethically fraught prospect. To go to Church and NOT take Communion (which meant a great deal to me) seemed petty, like cutting off your tongue to spite your face. Not to go to Church at all is a sin.

    Quite a pickle. If you look for spiritual guidance (on the Catholic Forums, for example), what you get is a two-line dictate. As for in-person encounters, the lines in the sand are frequently harder and meaner. This may be a function of Catholicism as it’s practiced in South America, but a priest in Santiago ordered my aunt out of the confessional for asking a question.

    Now, guilt is never in short supply if you’ve been raised Catholic, but to be shamed or punished for using the very faculties that built the Church—the ones you teach—is as puzzling as it is corrosive. Hard to try to build a spiritual practice on this terrain. Towards the end I saw that the only way for me to practice Catholicism (in the institutional sense) was to *unthink*, to ignore and dismiss every spiritual and intellectual question. Whatever the Church wants from me, or from Sr. Margaret McBride, or from the “feminist” nuns in Washington—from us all—it isn’t meaningful spiritual engagement.

    That’s why, to the extent that names matter, and maybe they don’t (although we do hallow one in the Lord’s Prayer), it’s hard to let “Catholic” be the word that defines my angle of approach.

    Well. Sorry for writing a small novel. Thanks for the discussion!

  9. God bless you Sister McBride. God is your only judge. You saved a life instead of losing two, and gave four children their mother. We should all be grateful that people like you dedicate your life to the care of the ill.

  10. Kim Strassburger says:

    “I was never able to get much beyond the reductive false dichotomies and mystifications that pepper the average homily in the average parish. (It took a graduate program to get any meaningful engagement with Aquinas or Augustine.)

    I don’t know why the Church neglects that history, or how to explain its reluctance to expose the average Catholic to anything more complex than the Missal (which elides the really challenging parts of the Bible) and the sacraments. It seems to me that omission is a means of avoiding the uncomfortable human questions that make ethics (and religion) relevant. The one time I found a priest willing to have a genuine conversation—and I won’t name him for fear of getting him in trouble, like these nuns in Washington whose “feminism” is being “investigated” by the Vatican (http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=20169)—he was so liberal in his thinking (believed in universal salvation, assured my addled adolescent self that sexual instincts were normal and that even sexual behavior was fine, provided there was love)—that I left much relieved in my mind, but unconvinced that he was actually *Catholic*.”

    Dear Liliana,

    Thank you so much for putting into words the dilemna that has plagued me for most of my adult life. I was a “cradle Catholic”: attended Catholic grade school, received all the childhood sacraments, attended The Catholic University of America, and studied history under a Jesuit in Rome.

    What became immediately apparent to me though, after I left college, was that the intellectual/progressive study of Catholicism exists ONLY in universities (and often only under “wraps”). I have never found a local parish that allows for anything than other than the “reductive false dichotomies” you so accurately describe.

    I believe this to be the case because the Catholic Church remains feudal in organization. The Pope is the monarch, the cardinals, bishops, and priests are the lesser nobility, and the people(especially women) remain the rabble supporting the system. As in feudal societies, it remains in the interest of the nobility to keep the common people uneducated and blindly bound to supposed “absolute” truths. It is only in feudal socieites that a king or queen retains absolute power by “Divine Right.” It is in feudal societies that the people are encouraged to NOT question their monarchs. It is in a feudal society that the aristocracy can deem the rape of a child a “lesser” crime than a life-saving abortion.

  11. Kim,

    Thanks for this. Re: the feudal structure of the Catholic Church, here’s the statement from Rob DeFrancesco, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Phoenix, concerning Sr. Margaret McBride and St. Joseph’s Hospital. It’s an illuminating document, clarifying, among other things, who gets “automatically excommunicated” and why:

    http://www.catholicsun.org/2010/phxdio-stjoes/Q-AND-A-ST-JOSEPH-HOSPITAL-FINAL.pdf

    Among other things, DeFrancesco says that much of the staff of St. Joseph’s is no longer welcome in the Catholic Church as a direct result of this incident.

    • …and they should consider themselves well-rid of a moribund institution. Just think — an institution that protects pedophile priests punishes a rape victim & her protector, while rewarding the criminal in this case, Daddy Dearest.

  12. FWIW, I started a fan page on Facebook in support of Sr. Margaret:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sr-Margaret-McBride/118984854808133

  13. WOW. Do all crappy, incredibly stupid things arise from Arizona of late? What an outrage.

    Born and raised in Tucson, AGHHHH.

  14. Gary Wills’ piece, “Forgive Not,” on why he chooses to remain in the Catholic Church despite its ethical bankruptcy (which he details at some length) is well worth a read:

    http://www.tnr.com/article/forgive-not?page=0,0&passthru=MDFjNWQwNjRiMThkYmQ5MWQ4YzdjMGYwZDBiNzUxNDQ

  15. From a letter I am going to send a lot of bishops this weekend, including the archbishop of my diocese and the bishop who excommunicated the good sister.

    —-

    Seems to me that there once upon a time was a young man who bucked rulesmakers who made rules for rules sake. He healed the sick on days when work was forbidden, he associated with the dregs of society, he listened to people no one else would listen to. He was the champion of social justice and compassion. His name was Jesus.

    Why is it that now, 2000 years later, we consider decisions made in loving compassion and mindful of the effect on the living –the woman has four children she didn’t want to leave motherless—to be horrible acts of evil.

    If compassion is evil, if caring about those who care about you is evil, if raping small children is OK and aborting a non-viable fetus to save the life of a dying woman is evil, then the Catholic church has a serious ethics problem of its own…

    I expect to be excommunicated for this. But there is no way I can let injustice slide.

  16. Liliana – I’m right there with you!

    Apparently the welfare of the children that have actually been born is irrelevant and unimportant (not just in this case, but also in the cases of the worldwide molestation by ‘celibate’ church leaders).

  17. It is not just the Catholics that are perverting morality. Religion does not truly desire the stated objective of it’s moral crusades (Eg. abstinence, humility, etc.), but in fact thrives on the guilt generated by our inevitable transgressions. Guilt is the life blood of any religion as it, ironically, holds itself out as the solution to the guilt. Your money and your devotion are payment for your “sins”…and that is what religion really wants.

  18. I have to wonder if these rules would still be in effect if it were the men giving birth and having to face these life and death issues!

  19. gail pontuto says:

    One but only one reason why I left the Catholic Church years ago is the Catholic Church’s hypocrisy. Ethics? Morals? Compassion? Concern? FOR WHO? Certainly not for the laity (unless they are wealthy and donate lots of money to the Church) Unfortunate for the Sister Margarets of the world, and the many, many, fine human beings who actually care for one another without checking out what powerful people (especially white men) decide is the way to live their lives. Excommunication from the Catholic Church more and more a badge of courage in the face of indecency and immorality.

  20. Jan Duhaney says:

    Just can’t understand why any female would choose to be Roman Catholic or Mormon………as for the dear perpetrator stepfather remaining in the church, guess he’s being treated just like all the bully priests who molested boys and young man for all those years.

    I believe that I treat people much better than all the organized religions combined. The so-called Christians in Western Society just don’t have any compassion for the less fortunate in society. Their inability to recognize that the basis of all religion should be love leaves them unable to feel empathy for others.

    Yet again……….shame on the Catholic Church!

  21. Why hasn’t this nun excommunicated herself from the Catholic church long before it did it for her? The Catholic church does not have women’s health in mind AT ALL when it comes to reproductive health. Women are mere vessels to house “the unborn.” She’s better off being away from the Church altogether.

  22. DanielleinDC says:

    Rosie, I don’t know about that, but a lot of crappy things are coming out of the Catholic Church.

    Ms. McBride made the right decision: to value the existent life rather than the potential life in the womb, just like a doctors in Brazil, who valued the life of a nine-year-old rape victim over the two fetuses. And I’m glad Liliana mentioned the Brazil case because if the Church could ever consider itself to be promoting the sanctity of life (and I think not, when you consider its history), these incidents have surely shown that not to be the case.

    And it makes me wonder if the Church condones the abuse of children and lies about that, like they lie about so many other things. From not punishing a man who raped a child to protecting predatory priests at the expense of their victims, this is a culture of misogyny and hatred of women and children.

    I’m not Catholic, so forgive my lack of understanding.

  23. Bernadette says:

    I baptised a Catholic when 2 days old and remained one until I was 21. Since then I have become an atheist and a human rights activist and feminist.
    I am convinced that we women of the world will never achieve full equality with men until some of the strongest pillars of the patriarchy are destroyed and they include all major religious institutions. All monotheistic religions are misogynist in their dogmas, also their so-called “holy” books. Religions that make god a man and put man on a level with god perpetuate the idea that women are a mere afterthought, created to be man’s servant. Whether you look at the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic religions, all are misogynist. Even Buddhism claims it is better to be born a man than a woman because Buddha, the “enlightened one”, was a man. This is what I was told when I went to meditate and discuss with the monks in Thailand in my search for a religion that does not differenciate between women and men. But by now I have to realise that I can live a good life and help others without a religious institution, without a god and without dogmas. My only belief is in the basic humanity of all people and I try to help by defending women’s human rights and helping to make others aware of the gender inequality inherent in our social, religious and cultural systems. I am supported by a loving husband who is also an ex-Catholic.
    I can no longer understand why intelligent women (and men) can remain in such hypocritical and misogynist religious organisations. Religions divide people. How many wars, especially in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa were conducted in the name of religion over the centuries? How many innocent women burned to death as witches in the name of religion because some misogynist priest wrote a book which the Catholic church used to justify one of the many examples of “gendercide” in the history of humankind?
    Thank you Sr. McBride for your decision and thank you Ms for publishing this and other important issues.

  24. Frances Goff says:

    If Sister Margaret McBride isn’t allowed to be a Catholic anymore, we Unitarian Universalists welcome her to any UU church in America, the “Church of Open Arms”. We’ve been the Catcher in the Rye for falling Catholics for, oh, about 500 years.

  25. June 2, 2010 8:05 A.M.

    Official Press Release

    Baptist Bishop Walter Dixon of Atlanta, GA Challenge Catholic Bishop of Phoenix, AZ Thomas Olmstead Ruling Excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride.

    When does any man of spiritual authority have the right to ex-communicate a spiritual soul connected to God? Bishop Thomas Olmsted what was you thinking? I call upon you today to do the right thing and reinstate Sister Margaret McBride immediately to her full authority. Even a blind man, woman or child can see your error in authority in this matter. Where is your heart of compassion and love?

    In my humble and personal opinion, if Sister Margaret McBride is wrong, the Catholic Church including the Pope is wrong. Sister Margaret-McBride is a kind, soft-spoken, humble, caring, spiritual woman whose place in Heaven was reserved years ago. The ideal that she could be ex-communicated after decades of service to the Church, her community by faith and humanity literally makes no sense.

    I agree true Christians, like Sister Margaret and myself, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that we make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teaching of the words as written in the Holy Bible King James Version. Only a group of detached pampered men who are detached from society could deny these dilemmas.

    I have sent a letter to the Pope requesting him to over-ride your wrongful decision. For God sake my brother in Christ, regretfully a life was lost; however, through God’s grace one was saved. Learning the facts in this matter which surely speak with clarity, may be Bishop Olmstead, you should strongly consider submitting your resignation for being out of touch with today’s society.

    God Bless
    Bishop Walter Dixon
    Forgiveness Missionary Church Of Christ
    bishopwldixon@yahoo.com
    404.849.2033
    P.O. Box 832161
    Stone Mountain, GA 30083
    cc. Members of the Media, FaceBook, Google, MySpace and YouTube.

  26. I, too, am Catholic and have personally vowed not to take communion until Sister Margaret McBride, the nun who was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in December, once again takes her communion. Probably the defenders of child rapists in Rome don’t care, but it’s important to me…

  27. Colleen McKee says:

    Thank you for putting my thoughts in words. I have even thougt of writing Sister Margaret, for she is certainly my inspiration or hero. As a Catholic and nurse, I can certainly appreciate her agony in making that decision.
    I took Medical Ethics at Gonzaga Univ. with Fr. John Dunne S.J, many years ago. I can ‘t help but feel Fr. Dunne would be with her, principle of Double Effect or whatever.
    I know the hierarchy has lost all moral authority, at least for me.

  28. Those of you concerned with this, please check the latest news.
    This has gone beyond the censure of Sr.Margaret McBride.
    This bishop seeks to control care in St. Joseph's and
    to deny life saving procedures to women in reproductive crises.
    I say this is illegal and wrong.
    Catholics don't have a pass to let women die because of their
    beliefs. This is a serious, serious issue of womens' rights.

  29. E.P. Werner says:

    Being a Catholic for 57 years, attenting Catholic grammar school and high school, and teaching for 11 years in a Catholic school, I find Bishop Olmsted deplorable. I am so sick and tired of the unmarried Church hierarchy making very questionable and serious decisions regarding Catholic women. I feel that all Catholic women who work for the Catholic church in any capacity be it administrative, teaching, nursing, or working in the church rectory take one day off collectively and see how well the "Good Old Boy Club" can run the church. Sister McBride, I support you wholeheartedly and Bishop Olmsted I would like you, if you have any false sense of righteousness to excommunicate me. I'll be seriously waiting for your reply. E.P. Werner

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mademoiselle, Catherine Ford and Marya, Tom (L.C.) Head. Tom (L.C.) Head said: RT @msmagazine: Quite the moral authority– Catholic church excommunicates nun for recommending a life-saving abortion. http://ht.ly/1MNH2 [...]

  2. [...] If Sister Margaret McBride is No Catholic, Neither Am I Liliana Loofbourow The Catholic Church has shown itself to be ethically and morally compromised. It has dedicated its resources to self-interest and self-protection. It has shown no concern for its children, its women, or any of the vulnerable populations it ostensibly serves. It has consistently protected only two things: its power and its priests. http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/18/if-sister-margaret-mcbride-is-no-catholic-neither-am-i/ [...]

  3. [...] Liliana Loofbourow wrote in an open letter to St. Joseph’s Hospital at the Ms. Blog: Her recommendation to end the pregnancy of the patient [...]

  4. [...] nun excommunicated for abortion If Sister Margaret McBride is No Catholic, Neither Am I : Ms Magazine Blog The Catholic Church has punished a hospital nun for recommending a life-saving abortion. This [...]

  5. [...] Liliana’s Loufbourow’s revelatory article on the Ms. Magazine blog, “If Sister McBride is No Catholic, Neither Am I,” it is noted that womens’ bodies are not fully protected under Catholic religious [...]

Speak Your Mind

*