Nun involved in abortion decision “no longer excommunicated” — UPDATED

From a news brief buried in a CNS report over the weekend:

A Mercy sister who was automatically excommunicated because of her role on the ethics committee that allowed an abortion to be performed at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix in 2009 is back in good standing in the Catholic Church.

In May 2010, officials at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center publicly acknowledged that an abortion had occurred at the hospital in late 2009. Officials said the woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffered from pulmonary hypertension, a condition that the hospital said carried a near-certain risk of death for the mother if the pregnancy continued. It also was revealed at the time that Mercy Sister Margaret McBride had incurred automatic excommunication because of her role on the ethics committee that sanctioned the abortion.

On Dec. 21, 2010, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted announced that the hospital could no longer identify itself as a Catholic hospital. In a Dec. 8 statement, the hospital said Sister Margaret has since “met the requirements for reinstatement with the church and she is no longer excommunicated. She continues to be a member in good standing with the Sisters of Mercy and is a valued member of the St. Joseph’s executive team.” The statement, emailed to Catholic News Service in response to a query about her status, provided no more details and the hospital had no further comment.

Sister Margaret is currently the medical center’s vice president for organizational outreach. Last year when Bishop Olmsted issued his decree revoking the 116-year-old hospital’s affiliation with the Catholic Church, he wrote that he could not verify that the hospital provided health care consistent with “authentic Catholic moral teaching.”

“It became clear that, in their decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” he said. The baby “was directly killed,” which is a violation of the church’s ethical and religious directives.

UPDATE: A commenter alerted me to this item in the National Catholic Reporter last month, when Sister Margaret McBride accepted an award and spoke about the experience of excommunication and what led her to reconcile with the Church:

[McBride] related her feelings in the aftermath of the controversy and being excommunicated.

“And in that strange sort of way, it connected me even more to the church, and even more to the suffering church,” she said.

“You know, the word excommunication has a very powerful meaning when you’re sitting in the midst of being excommunicated,” she said. “It’s when you want the Eucharist, it’s when you want to be in the presence of the Catholic community, and when it’s suddenly denied to you.”

She told the audience that she complied with the bishops’ two requests for the excommunication to be lifted. One request was that she had to go to confession to a priest, and the other was she had to resign her position.

“So I want you to know that in my journey I did reconcile with the church,” she said. “The church means something very different to me today. Something has to be taken away sometimes for you to appreciate it even more. So it is now that I believe I am called to do something and I don’t know what that something is, but I pray that through the grace of God to give me that opportunity to know what the next step is for me.”

Comments

  1. From information on the internet, this was a dispute about USCCB Ethical and Religious Directives 45 and 47, and not as clear cut as the bishop’s statement.

  2. naturgesetz says:

    I hope we can all be glad that Sister Margaret is no longer excommunicated.

  3. So why is she no longer excommunicated?

  4. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Rudy…

    It’s unclear. Presumably, judging from the language of the release by the hospital, she’s gone to confession. But we just don’t know. And nobody wants to say.

    Dcn. G.

  5. Deacon Greg,

    It seems to be a thorny situation. The only remedy for the excommunication is confession, yet the Church cannot report that she went to confession for this, as it would violate the seal. I guess the wording of the announcement is as close as the Church can come.

  6. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    Good point, Gerard.

    On the other hand, if she wanted to, SHE could say something.

    But I imagine that all involved — understandably — just want this matter to go away. They’d like to move on.

    Dcn. G.

  7. This is good news. The goal of an excommunication is help a person make a change that the Church sees as essential. Sister has my respect and admiration for making that change. It was a public case–my pride would make it very hard for me to repent. I hope I never face the kind of spiritual/ethical/family/medical delimma that she and the other medical professionals faced.

  8. Change? That’s the goal of excommunication? I admit to ignorance on that issue but thought it was in tended to administer punishment, damnation, and banishment.

  9. The excommunication was publically announced by the Diocese of Phoenix. Logically, the Diocese of Phoenix should now release a public statement that the excommunication has been lifted. There is no need to say what specific actions she took to have it lifted but a public announcement of censure calls for a public announcement of the lifting of that censure. It would be very odd for the Diocese to utilize the hospital’s communication structure for such a public statement.

  10. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    No, Jake.

    The fundamental purpose of excommunication is to let the person involved know that they have separated themselves from communion with the Church, and need to take the appropriate steps to come back.

    Dcn. G.

  11. Jake,

    Deacon Greg is correct.

  12. In a Theology class I remember being told that in the early Church, when a person was excommunicated and did penance by fasting and wearing sackcloth and ashes for a prescribed amount of time, sometimes there were members of the Christian community, who would do the penance along with the penitent.

    It was explained to me that the the Christian community were saying: “The Body of Christ is incomplete without you. Don’t lose heart, so you can be reconciled and return.”

  13. The first time I wrote my response, I put repentance and conversion–but I decided to use change instead. Someone would want to argue that what she did was not a sin and that no repentance was necessary. I think it’s better to say that she’s changed–which was the Church’s goal in all of this. Sister didn’t lose and the Church didn’t win–the family was kept together.

  14. Frank Gibbons says:

    From the National Catholic Reporter on 11/8/11:

    She [Sister Margaret McBride] told the audience that she complied with the bishops’ two requests for the excommunication to be lifted. One request was that she had to go to confession to a priest, and the other was she had to resign her position.

    “So I want you to know that in my journey I did reconcile with the church,” she said. “The church means something very different to me today. Something has to be taken away sometimes for you to appreciate it even more. So it is now that I believe I am called to do something and I don’t know what that something is, but I pray that through the grace of God to give me that opportunity to know what the next step is for me.”
    http://ncronline.org/news/people/excommunicated-sister-finds-healing

  15. I think E is basically right. See my link above.

  16. Really, really interesting. Thx. edp.

  17. The video at that link is interesting. Her statement is confused (or confusing, at any rate), but, in the end, it moves in the right direction, it seems to me. Again, thx for pointing it out.

  18. pagansister says:

    I’m extremely pleased that she is once again a member in good standing with the Church. I saw no reason for the Church doing what it did to begin with—as it was, IMO, done with the welfare of the woman involved.

  19. johnplacette says:

    I understand the excommunication and the reconciliation thereof. But, I would like to know more on how the Bishop was able to properly form a canonical basis for the excommunication. The HIPPA regulations had to be a major barrier.

    I do understand the Bishop’s goal.

    Science has come so far and will continue to progress. It was not that many years ago when the condition would have been undiagnosed, or not understoood.

    There will be many more challenges ahead.

  20. “it was done with … the welfare of the woman involved.”

    Was the sex of dead baby determined? I must have missed that.

  21. “The HIPPA regulations had to be a major barrier [to excommunication].” How, pray tell?

  22. Fiergenholt says:

    Ed
    I’m not a civil lawyer but I deal with health care folks on a regular basis. HIPPA establishes privacy standards that many folks believe are simply “draconian.” Bottom line — if I understand that statue correctly — NO information about any procedure to any patient should have ever been released to the public by any health care provider PERIOD. In fact, health care professionals can be immediately terminated if they violate that protocol.

    The question that seems to be raised by “johnpl. . .” is probably just that simple. How did that very private information about that specific procedure to that specific individual get into the public forum in the first place?

    Now the woman patient herself could have released it. If I understand correctly that is acceptable. But no one else.

  23. Ah. As I thought, F. A rabbit trail. This canonical case did not turn on the identity of the mother or on data about her medical condition, it turned on the admission/confirmation by the relevant parties that a direct abortion was performed against a baby on hospital grounds with the approval of a Catholic religious. So, the elements of the canonical crime of abortion were essentially stipulated, as was accomplice status, osistm. As there is no affirmative defense to a charge of abortion (a la, abortion is a crime, unless the mother is really really sick), HIPPA never was threatened or invoked.

  24. pagansister says:

    Don’t know, Ed Peters. The woman may not have been far enough to determine the gender of the fetus.

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