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Just tuned in to some of the June 2010 episodes of The Vortex for RealCatholicTV.  Notre Dame alum Michael Voris is rightly concerned about the number of Catholics who are disillusioned about the social justice ‘gospel’ which a number of bishops and priests are pushing.  He is also actively evangelising in private, responding to requests from Catholics who are asking him for help in recovering their faith. 

It’s very sad that one layman must seek another out for spiritual help!  When I was growing up, the priests were the first ports of call.  However, modernism and postmodernism have really sunk in to the point where many Catholics — and not just in the US but in other countries — aren’t sure where to turn. 

Having said that, isn’t it great that a layman is stepping up to the plate to help his fellow Catholics? 

Voris broadcasts from Rome, where he says many clergy and hierarchy understand the problem.  Many young people entering religious vocations also understand:

Voris, back in the US from Rome, tells us how the social justice mantra is overriding Catholic teaching and the Great Commission:

He also examines the love-in between American bishops and the Democratic Party:

Catholics working for truth and fidelity to God and His Son Jesus Christ are not ‘divisive’ (as some priests say); they’re doing what they need to do.  It’s a pity that many clergy don’t realise it.


This is a complicated story which goes back to last year. 

Perhaps you have read about Sister Margaret McBride, at the time Vice President of Mission Integration at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, who ‘excommunicated herself’ for authorising that an abortion be performed on a mother-of-four.  Sister Margaret is a Sister of Mercy.  The Most Revd Thomas J Olmsted is the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix.

Much has been written about this case. especially by secularists and non-Catholics.  It has turned the nun into a type of convenient martyr for the anti-Catholic brigade.  To understand the matter fully, let’s examine the facts of which we are aware and ask a few questions.

Background: The mother in question was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in the first trimester of her pregnancy.  St Joseph’s ethics committee met and Sister Margaret took a decision in this case.  Catholic Online reports that the Arizona Republic stated St Joseph’s policy on abortion in its own coverage:

The first says that physicians cannot perform direct abortions under any circumstances, including for such reasons as to save the life of the mother.

A second directive adds, however, 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.” This directive is based on the Catholic philosophical principle of double effect, which says that if the treatment sought addresses the direct causes of the woman’s health condition (such as radiation treatment for cancer), but never intends to kill the unborn child (even though that may happen as a secondary, but unintended, effect of the lifesaving treatment), then it is morally licit.

Hospital officials claimed that they were following the second directive by aborting the baby.


Could Sister Margaret not have said, ‘Before we take a decision, I would like to discuss this with Bishop Olmsted and report back to you, at which time we will decide’? 

With regard to double effect, how could a direct abortion not kill an unborn child?

How qualified would Sister Margaret have been as Vice President of Mission Integration to take that decision? 

Abortion and saving a mother’s life: LifeSiteNews also carried this story.  They spoke with Dr. Paul A. Byrne, Director of Neonatology and Pediatrics at St. Charles Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio (emphases mine): 

Dr. Byrne said, “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.”

Byrne has the distinction of being a pioneer in the field of neonatology, beginning his work in the field in 1963 and becoming a board-certified neonatologist in 1975. He invented one of the first oxygen masks for babies, an incubator monitor, and a blood-pressure tester for premature babies, which he and a colleague adapted from the finger blood pressure checkers used for astronauts.

Byrne emphasized that he was not commentating on what the woman’s particular treatment should have been under the circumstances, given that she is not his patient.

“But given just pulmonary hypertension, the answer is no” to abortion, said Byrne.

Byrne emphasized that the unborn child at 11 weeks gestation would have a negligible impact on the woman’s cardiovascular system. He said that pregnancy in the first and second trimesters would not expose a woman with even severe pulmonary hypertension – which puts stress on the heart and the lungs – to any serious danger.

A pregnant mother’s cardiovascular system does have “major increases,” but they only happen “in the last three months of pregnancy,” Byrne explained.

I must admit that when I read this story initially, I thought the lady was in her final trimester, only because I know a Catholic mother of five who was seriously ill with pulmonary hypertension with each of her pregnancies during that time.  She was always fine up until that point, at which time she had to have plenty of bed rest or risk damaging hers or her baby’s health.  Fortunately, all her children are healthy, active teenagers now.  Of course, I realise that not every case is the same, but this particular mother told me that her doctor warned her that everything would be fine until the final three months. That was how pulmonary hypertension worked. And, yes, she was very ill indeed during those final weeks, but neither she nor her husband ever considered an abortion.


Did Sister Margaret’s patient have a history of pulmonary hypertension?  What drugs or techniques could help to minimise it?

Excommunication: This is a highly complex topic, about which you can read more at Catholic Encyclopedia.  It is unusual for the Church to declare someone anathema, even f you beg them to do so.  I know a man who, in his mid-20s, had meetings with bishops and a cardinal.  He pleaded with each to excommunicate him, but they refused.  They said that even though he was an atheist at the time he met with them, who could predict that he wouldn’t come back to the Church one day?  He had done nothing to warrant excommunication other than to develop some rather eloquent (yet flawed) arguments against Christian belief.

There are differing reasons for excommunicating people and differing degrees of excommunication.  Sometimes the term is used when a priest or bishop refuses to give Communion to someone in their diocese (e.g. outspoken views on abortion). This usage may render a more severe — yet unintended — meaning.  In this case, we do not know if Sister Margaret is excommunicated from the Church altogether. I would bet that she is still allowed to be a Sister of Mercy and live in community, albeit under some constraints. If so, she is still a Catholic, but without receiving the Sacraments or fully participating in the Mass.  Bishop Olmsted may even lift Sister’s excommunication at a future date.  Sister may also have some recourse to a higher authority, perhaps at the Vatican.  Let’s not get too emotive over this.

Church discipline and abortion: In any event, excommunication is an example of Church discipline — in place to protect the faithful

Catholic teaching is highly specific when it comes to abortion.  Recall that Bishop Olmsted said that Sister Margaret ‘excommunicated herself’.  Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says that excommunication applies to:

“Those who efficaciously procure abortion.” The fruitless attempt is not punished with excommunication; authors do not agree as to whether the woman guilty of self-abortion is excommunicated.

Therefore, any Catholic who helped this lady have an abortion has effectively excommunicated himself as a result. 

The Catholic Church is not the only one to have done this historically.  The Didache (‘did-a-kay’) appears to have been the first Church doctrine regarding abortionTertullian and St Cyprian developed it and gave their rationale.   Whilst I cannot speak for our Lutheran cousins today, Martin Luther had no sympathy for any woman who wanted an abortion.  He wrote:

If they become tired or even die – – that does not matter, let the woman die in childbirth.

I realise that Sister Margaret’s story comes at a time when the Catholic hierarchy overlooks what paedophile priests have done.  And, yes, it does look as if a bishop is exerting undue pressure on a nun.  However, all historical evidence points to firm Christian and Western policies on the matter until the 20th century, when the teachings and laws on abortion were thrown to one side. 

Bishop Olmsted has exercised Church discipline.  And that’s how it should be.  Now, let him and the other bishops get on with cleaning up the priesthood.

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