From his piece in the NYTimes about sanctions against Catholic hospitals that are excommunicating nuns and even hospitals for procedures deemed anti-life.
What do you think of Kristof’s reasoning?
Yet the person giving Jesus the heave-ho in this case was not a Bethlehem innkeeper. Nor was it an overzealous mayor angering conservatives by pulling down Christmas decorations. Rather, it was a prominent bishop, Thomas Olmsted, stripping St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix of its affiliation with the Roman Catholic diocese.
The hospital’s offense? It had terminated a pregnancy to save the life of the mother. The hospital says the 27-year-old woman, a mother of four children, would almost certainly have died otherwise.
Bishop Olmsted initially excommunicated a nun, Sister Margaret McBride, who had been on the hospital’s ethics committee and had approved of the decision. That seems to have been a failed attempt to bully the hospital into submission, but it refused to cave and continues to employ Sister Margaret. Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital — all because it saved a woman’s life.
To me, this battle illuminates two rival religious approaches, within the Catholic church and any spiritual tradition. One approach focuses upon dogma, sanctity, rules and the punishment of sinners. The other exalts compassion for the needy and mercy for sinners — and, perhaps, above all, inclusiveness.
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.
Then along comes Bishop Olmsted to excommunicate the Christ-like figure in our story. If Jesus were around today, he might sue the bishop for defamation.
Anne Rice spoke into this situation:
Anne Rice, the author and a commentator on Catholicism, sees a potential turning point. “St. Joseph’s refusal to knuckle under to the bishop is huge,” she told me, adding: “Maybe rank-and-file Catholics are finally talking back to a hierarchy that long ago deserted them.”