The Stoning of Sister Mc Bride

The Stoning of Sister Mc Bride

by Vicola England

The Catholic Church, not exactly a stranger to controversy, has once again found itself in the spotlight, but not for the usual reasons of sexual abuse by priests, or one of its clergy letting rip with a one-liner that breaks every equality law known to humankind. No — this is a new one.

Sister Margaret McBride was a hospital administrator at the Catholic run St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, when a 27-year-old, pregnant mother of four was brought in suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Doctors determined that the risk of death from this condition was unacceptably high if she continued with the pregnancy and recommended an abortion. A consultation was held with family members, physicians, and hospital administrators. After this consultation, Sister Margaret gave her permission for the abortion to go ahead and the patient survived. For this act she has been excommunicated by the Bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, effectively giving her ‘leper’ status within the Catholic community. She can’t receive the sacraments or be a part of her religious order, the Sisters of Mercy.

The medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, Rev. John Ehrich, has defended the excommunication, stating that “she consented in the murder of an unborn child”, showing a quite spectacular lack of regard for joined-up thinking, which, had he employed it, would have led him to the inevitable conclusion that if she didn’t agree to the termination and the patient died, Sister Margaret would have consented to the murder of both mother and child. So she was in a no-win situation.
He went on to say, “There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child”, in a fine display of the human compassion that must be so very handy in his job. According to the Reverend, “This is the Catholic perspective – you can’t do evil to bring about good.”

Well they’ve certainly changed their tune, haven’t they? The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the missionaries that went in to Africa and Polynesia to deal with the ‘savages’, the Magdalen Laundries in Ireland, the list could go on all day of things that the Catholic Church did for ‘good’ that we would now consider ‘evil.’

But this isn’t just about one nun doing something the Church doesn’t agree with; this is symptomatic of the Catholic Church’s wider attitude towards women, both in its hierarchy and in its congregations. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly an ‘equal opportunities’ organisation, is it? Women are absolutely forbidden from becoming priests, and the treatment of nuns who have ‘done wrong’ has been harsher than that of priests. Take the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Not one single, solitary priest has been excommunicated for abusing members of his parish. Not one. A few have been de-frocked, but it’s taken years. The Pope did say this year that he is willing to excommunicate any Catholic priests who have been rightfully accused of paedophilia, but he must be doing some decorating or something, because he doesn’t seem to have got round to it yet.

When asked about this discrepancy, Rev Ehrich said, “She said, ‘yes, you can kill that unborn child.’ That’s a heinous act. And I’m not going to make a distinction between what’s worse. They’re both abhorrent”. Which is where the evidence proves him wrong–the Church has decided which is worse and it certainly isn’t multiple counts of paedophilia.

Let’s take a working example, shall we? Sister Margaret and her agreement to allow an abortion vs the Reverend Peter Hullermann in Germany, a case which developed while the current pope was overseeing the Munich Diocese. Rev Hullermann was accused of abusing boys and, after a church investigation, in 1980 the Pope at the time approved his transfer to Munich to receive treatment for paedophilia. In 1986 he was convicted of abusing a youth, but he remained within the Church for a further twenty years.
So which would you say the Catholic Church thinks is worse? The fact is that the hierarchy is terrified of independent-minded nuns, so much so that in 2009 the Vatican began a ‘visitation’ of American female religious orders to assess whether sisters were complying with doctrinal teachings such as the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Good choice, fellas; can you imagine what would happen if those pesky women began to think for themselves, rather than just blindly following what the wiser men folk have deemed they should think? It would quite literally be the end of days multiplied by Armageddon. Notice there is no talk of doing the same for male religious orders. And they wonder why the number of women taking the veil is dropping faster than a concrete pigeon.

So what about the two individuals concerned, Sister Margaret and Bishop Thomas Olmsted? Traditionally nuns have operated at the coal face of humanity, getting their hands dirty with the needy, a position which can bring them into conflict with their Bishops, and Sister Margaret doesn’t appear to have been an exception. The chief of Gastroenterology at the hospital said that “saintly” was the word for Sister Margaret and that she was the “living embodiment of God in our building. She always made sure we understood that we’re here to help the less fortunate”. Bishop Olmsted, who has spent his life climbing the church’s career ladder, has also hit the headlines a few times, mainly for his fiercely pro-life stance. He criticised the president of Notre Dame University for inviting Barack Obama to give their commencement address, accusing him of committing a “public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States” because Obama doesn’t condemn abortion. He banned then-governor Janet Napolitano from speaking on any church property because she wasn’t anti-abortion. He also refused to give communion to a 10-year-old autistic boy because the child couldn’t swallow and so, Olmsted said, “…couldn’t partake of the body and blood of Christ.”

Bet that’s just what Jesus would have said, too…

On one side of the debate, you have a compassionate nun who has served her community hands-on and face-to-face and who, when faced with a decision that pitted her beliefs against her medical knowledge, selflessly took the path that she knew would bring the wrath of the bishop down on her head for the sake of her patient. On the other, you have a hard-line career Bishop who has chosen his stance and refuses to compromise on it under any circumstances, no matter what effect this may have on others.
So think about it ─ who has shown the most Christian values? And if you were a compassionate god, whose side would you come down on?

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