feminist nuns and the church that hates them

Resistance to unjust laws takes many forms, and no one is more courageous than the people who stand up against their own institutions.

Sister Margaret McBride was a Catholic nun and a hospital administrator in Phoenix, Arizona. McBride has been excommunicated by Bishop Thomas Olmsted, after she agreed with a hospital ethics committee that an 11-week-old pregnancy needed to be terminated in order save a woman's life.

The Bishop said McBride was "automatically excommunicated"; she has also been demoted professionally.

The patient (often referred to in news stories as "the mother") was a 27-year-old woman with a rare, often fatal condition in which pregnancy can lead to death. Although she was being treated at a Catholic hospital, doctors and administrators there applied compassion and common sense, and approved the termination.

Catholics for Choice calls the decision to excommunicate McBride "very troubling".
While not all the facts are available, it is clear that the Vatican’s hard line on abortion led to this terrible situation. Sadly, we see situations like this time after time, both here in the US and abroad. The Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions is insensitive and reflects an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of women’s lives, including the difficult decisions that often have to be made during a pregnancy.

It is also unclear whether Sister McBride in fact met the criteria for an “automatic” excommunication. A Catholics for Choice publication, Notes on Canon Law No. 1, outlines the conditions that need to be met, according to the Catholic church’s law.

It is not immediately clear why Sister McBride’s counsel was sought in this matter, but it is heartening to know that despite the Vatican’s opposition to all abortion, local staff at a Catholic hospital made a conscientious and compassionate decision to save this woman’s life.

Reasonable Catholics the world over acknowledge that access to abortion is sometimes necessary, and our polling and that of other organizations shows that a large majority of Catholics reject the Vatican’s outright ban on all abortions.

Catholics for Choice also believes that the Phoenix Bishop misrepresented Catholic doctrine when it said the nun had to be "automatically excommunicated" - that through her actions, she excommunicated herself.

That, however, is for Catholics to discuss and decide. I can only thank Sister McBride and the others at Phoenix's St. Joseph's Hospital for understanding that a 27-year-old's woman life is a human life and cannot be exchanged for an 11-week old fetus that is only the potential of human life, but not a human yet.

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I have known only two nuns in my life. Both dedicated themselves to lives of service, usually in opposition to the male-dominated powers around them. One was a colleague of mine when I taught young people who had dropped out of school. She was a model teacher of people most teachers fear and avoid, and I learned a lot from her. The other sat beside me on panels where we spoke about our experiences of rape and recovery. As a victim of violent crime, she also campaigned doggedly against the death penalty.

My experiences with these two women taught me that nuns can be feminists, too. And the Vatican will punish them for it. (Thanks to James for this link.)

Catholics for Choice


Some Person said...

Women like that really need to form their own Catholic Church and excommunicate bishops like him from it. Then they can grow in size and influence and get their own hospitals and their own Vatican City. The right-wingers did the same thing with splitting the Presbyterian Church in America from the mainline, and the anti-Gene Robinson faction of the Anglican Communion are trying to have their own church, so why can't feminist Catholics do the same thing? That would be the best way to give the current church hierarchy the finger.

Cornelia said...

Thanks so much for your support of the poor lady. Can she still keep her job? There is no sufficient social security stateside so if not, I hope she has enough professional experience in social work that she will very soon find another job again. If supporters could help her with that, great! The reaction of that bishop was extremely abusive, fundamentalist, medieval, patriarchal, sexist, women-hating and outrageous, of course. If she still wants to do something religious, I think the Unitarian-Universalist Church and Lutheran Communities are less nasty and unpleasant, for example? For most people, I guess the most important thing would be not to get welfare-sanctioned (not getting the check taken away) and a lot of people wouldn't bother that much about some authoritarian-conservative, reactionary church guys and their political accomplices, thank Goodness but if she worked as a nun, she must have liked religion and maybe even the church, so it's really sad for her. I condemn what that bishop and his likes are up to and I say that they are up to no good and I am glad I needn't bother with them at all!!! Report in what quarters you will, I don't look for any sorts of favors at their hands, no worries. Poor lady, I'm glad she's getting support from us feminists and we are protesting against that fundamentalist cult abuse, sort of.