“The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it’s not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It’s Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us.” So says the New York Times article by Nicolas Kristof last week.
This, of course, is referring to the painful and difficult situation in St. Joseph’s Hospital, in Phoenix, where the hospital’s ethics committee, faced with the agonizing situation where both mother and child were dying, gave permission for an abortion in order to save the life of the 27 year old mother. When this became known, the Bishop excommunicated Sr. Margaret, the nun on the ethics committee who agreed with the decision. Subsequently, the Catholic hospital association backed Sr. Margaret, and so Bishop Olmsted removed the hospital’s Catholic status. The discussion continues with well-known moral theologians supporting Sr. Margaret and Cardinal George of Chicago, retiring president of the bishop’s confernce, asserting that Bishop Olmsted was within his rights to so act.
Obviously this is a tragic situation for everyone involved, most especially the mother and child. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that some benefit will come from this situation. It is extremely important that bishops, as they exercise their authority, move carefully and cautiously, not making a difficult situation worse. The bishops have the responsibility to teach and to govern. Regretfully, many are prone to teach by governance, and they are not always the same thing.