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“Pro-Life” Californian Catholics?

The South African satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys built a highly successful stage career by making fun of South African politicians, other public figures, and a range of South African character stereotypes.  Especially clever were his takes on then President PW Botha, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Johannesburg kugel (the local counterpart to a New York Jewish Princess). With skilled mimicry, quick change wizardry, and sharply pointed scripts, he kept us laughing at ourselves as well as our “leaders” through the darkest days of apartheid, and beyond. When asked about his success, he always declined credit for his clever scripts. He did not need to write them, he said- just to listen to the news. His characters wrote their lines themselves.

In that spirit, I fondly recall one specific politician from the bad old days who fed me a particularly good line, which I heard live in a radio interview. This man, a deputy minister in the government, was being asked about the death penalty, which of course he fully supported. The interviewer wanted more, and asked about the alternatives – wouldn’t rehabilitation of offenders be more humane? “No, ” came the firm and clear reply. “We must have the death penalty. Rehabilitation can come later.”

The problem with the death penalty of course, is that it is so final Continue reading

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A Question for Bishop Olmsted

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona made news recently by excommunicating and disciplining Sister Margaret McBride, a hospital administrator who allowed an abortion in order to save the life of a critically ill pregnant woman. Olmsted who has been a highly visible opponent of abortion rights said, “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.”

“Without compromise,” says the bishop. But his zeal left me asking myself: ‘would he impose his narrow view upon the very first followers of Christ who most likely had a quite different opinion when a pregnancy endangered a woman’s life?’

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has been described as “a company man” when it comes to orthodoxy. As if to live up to this reputation he has denyied Communion to a ten year-old autistic boy unable to swallow; fired the diocese’s nationally-recognized head of Office of Child and Youth Protection because she was married in a civil ceremony; and when President Obama issued the executive order rescinding the previous administration’s onerous restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, he declared: “What President Obama is doing is forcing all American taxpayers to pay for this homicidal research.”

That’s why it is no surprise that he came down hard and fast on Sr. McBride, whose responsibilities at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix included sitting on the hospital’s ethics board, partly to ensure that the medical center adhered to Catholic standards of bio-ethics.

It was in that capacity that she gave the go-ahead for a woman’s eleven-week pregnancy to be terminated. Doctors had determined that continuation of the pregnancy would end the mother’s life due to complications from a pulmonary hypertension.

The Arizona Republic quoted Olmstead as saying:

“I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese,” Olmsted said. “I am further concerned by the hospital’s statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother’s underlying medical condition.

“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.”

Olmsted added that if a Catholic “formally cooperates” in an abortion, he or she is automatically excommunicated.

Olmsted’s action even perplexed Catholic conservatives. Writing in the neoconservative journal, First Things, theologian Michael Liccione questioned the bishop’s judgment: “The question is whether he [Olmsted] is indeed right, and that is not clear even to some orthodox Catholics.”

“Moreover,” he cautiously added, “the public outrage over the Phoenix case illustrates the dangers of making politically significant announcements on the basis of moral reasoning that not many people can follow and that even theologically well-educated Catholics disagree about.”

This much is clear: Olmsted is one of a new breed of prelate being promoted by the current pontiff. As a group, they are unyielding to the point of militancy. They are men who subscribe to the letter, but not the spirit of the law — a version of which they would readily apply, given the opportunity, to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

But, I wondered what Olmsted would do if a wife of one of Jesus’s Apostles had faced the same life-threatening scenario as this pregnant mother of four suffering from pulmonary hypertension, and she too had sought an abortion to save her life?

The question, although hypothetical, illustrates a contradiction in Olmsted’s version of orthodoxy. The Apostles were all practicing Jews before and after becoming followers of Jesus. And as adherents to Jewish law and customs, if a wife or daughter of one of the Twelve had been in the same life-threatening predicament as that mother of four had been, they would probably have done the same as Sister McBride.

By this standard, it is fair to say that Sister McBride was operating in the tradition of the Apostles. But I wonder — would Bishop Olmsted have excommunicated an Apostle?

Ah, True Remonstrance!

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

In previous posts I have called for mainstream Catholics to offer remonstrance – an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance against the reactionaries now fomenting schism within the Church; and against a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that increasingly sound more like its most theocratic ally inclined members. And there is no better example than the bishops’ opportunistic efforts to hold health insurance reform hostage to their antiabortion agenda.

However, in a courageous move of true remonstrance much of the leadership of Catholic nuns have defied the bishops and urged passage the health insurance reform bill now pending before Congress.

The AP Report says it all:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s much-challenged health care overhaul gained traction Wednesday as a liberal lawmaker became the first to switch his opposition and Roman Catholic nuns declared their support in an unusual public break with their bishops.

As well as:

Meanwhile, in an unusual public disagreement that will reverberate among America’s 70 million Roman Catholics, leaders of religious orders representing 59,000 nuns sent lawmakers a letter urging they pass the Senate’s version of the health care bill. The measure contains abortion funding restrictions that the bishops say do not go far enough.

“Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions,” said the letter signed by 60 leaders of women’s religious orders. “It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments … in support of pregnant women. This is the real
pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee have denounced the bill as a backdoor subsidy for abortion. But the nuns and the Catholic Health Association – representing some 600 hospitals – say restrictions in the Senate bill would still prevent taxpayer funding for abortion, although the legal mechanism for doing so is different from what the bishops prefer.

I previously noted that some American nuns have been a role model of remonstrance. But the National Catholic Reporter has fully exposed the Bishops’ canard regarding abortion funding:

In any event, what is being debated is not the morality of abortion but the politics of abortion, and there is plenty of room for honest and respectful disagreement among Catholics about politics.

That said, the bishops have to be clear that some of their talking points might lead honest observers to question their competence – or worse. In the past week or so, much has been made of the bill’s provision of $7 billion dollars to community health centers. The National Right to Life Committee chimed in that this money could go to pay for abortions at clinics run by Planned Parenthood. Back to Logic 101: All Planned Parenthood clinics may be clinics, but not all health care clinics are Planned Parenthood clinics. The community health centers in question do not, never have, and have no intention of performing abortions, and they are prohibited by statute from doing so. This is a red herring and it was profoundly disappointing to see the USCCB Web site give credence to it.

Bottom line: The current legislation is not “pro-abortion,” and there is no, repeat no, federal funding of abortion in the bill.

But why are the bishops so adamant in their opposition to health care reform, even willing to dissemble the facts?  They are not saying, of course — but there is much circumstantial evidence to suggest they increasingly accept a more laissez-faire economic outlook of the sort espoused by Catholic neoconservatives.

I previously explained how Catholic GOP operatives such as Deal Hudson are twisting Catholic theology to oppose health care reform, often employing hard-core anti-abortion opponents such as Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn in doing so. I then speculated:

When it comes to a layman such as Deal Hudson, I believe it is a case of a movement conservative disguising a very secular economic agenda in religious garb. Sean Winters’ description of Hudson “…busy worshipping at the pagan altar of the market…” pretty much says it all.

But what of the bishops? Obviously I cannot read their minds. Yet at the same time I suspect something of a quid-pro-quo may be going on. Bishops such as Finn and Naumann – and they are not the only ones — are so obsessed with issues such as abortion and euthanasia that they have lost all sense of perspective. I fear that these Catholic Right prelates recognize that their strongest supporters reside within the GOP and to that end they will all-too-gladly sell out forty-six million uninsured Americans to provide political payback. And to do so, they will twist Church doctrine into pretzel knots.

Fortunately, the nuns would have none of this mendacity and have shown that they have the courage to stand up to the bishops to advance reform and the ideal of the common both within Catholicism and the greater American community.