A CBS Morning News report from Sunday casts a scornful eye on the Church, and proceeds, in ten minutes, to list a series of grievances designed to make us think that most Catholics think the Church is heading “backwards” from the reforms of the 1960s. Now of course the fact that we don’t pass the requirements assigned by CBS news editors neither alarms or surprises me.
But for the sake of balance some reply ought to be made to the picture of the Church presented in the CBS piece. For while it will be granted that there are some of the faithful who are unhappy with the current “direction” of the Church, there are many, including myself, who are delighted that we are regaining a proper doctrinal and pastoral footing again. Some are happy that we are beginning to discover that being popular and well thought of by the world is not our first mission.
No one is perfectly happy with every aspect of Church life, but how could we be when human beings are in the mix? But, again, for the record, there are many who are satisfied with the overall movement of the Church back to her fundamental identity. Many too are pleased that there is a growing acceptance that we (along with Jesus) are destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” We’re just not going to fulfill the world’s expectations and the news media’s checklist of requirements to be “acceptable.”
In the video below you will see a number of issues trotted out that that supposedly divide Catholics and cause them concern. While there is no time to comment on the whole video a few thoughts come to mind.
1. First that there is division among Catholics is granted (though not to the degree that the report indicates). In a Church of a billion members, it is not hard to find a few disaffected souls. But the premise seems to be that if there is division, the Church is therefore doing something wrong. For the record, Jesus caused divisions, and got crucified for it. That points to human sinfulness, not that Jesus did something wrong. That some are unhappy with certain Church policies and dogmatic teachings, does not mean that the Church is wrong either. Whenever human beings gather in numbers more than one, there are going to be some divisions, it is the human condition.
2. There is a lot of simplification in the lead example about St Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. We are told that the tragic abortion that took place there was “a choice either to lose the baby or to lose the mother and the baby.” But that was not really what happened. The directly intended choice was to end the life of the baby.
We are told that the mother’s high blood pressure was caused by the pregnancy and the only way to end what was becoming life threatening was to abort. I am not a doctor and so must stipulate the medical facts, but I am surprised to hear that high blood pressure is caused by pregnancy (a natural condition of a human female). I suppose it could be aggravated by the pregnancy. At any rate, I admit that these rare cases present serious difficulties for both doctors and moral theologians.
But the Church is not crudely approaching such cases. There are the rare cases of something called “double effect” wherein the Church accepts that a certain treatment, say the removal of a highly cancerous womb, my result in the death of a child in that womb. But the key point is that the death of the child is not intended and will be avoided if possible.
In no way may we directly intend or cause the death of another human being to save another. And that is what happened here, the child was killed to save the mother. It was not that a certain treatment meant to stave off the High Blood pressure indirectly and unintentionally caused the death of the child (which would be a double but unintentional effect). Rather the child was directly and intentionally killed.
We do not live in a time that appreciates nuance, especially when ideology is present. However, such distinctions are important and Catholic moral theologians are careful in such manners. We do not blithely disregard the life of the mother, and there are circumstances where, on account of double-effect, treatment given to a mother which indirectly results in the loss of the child can be accepted. The image of the Church as simply backward and uncaring is not a fair characterization. But what was chosen here was to end one life to save another.
3. The news report makes the dialogue between Bishop Olmstead and St Joseph hospital seem very short and perfunctory. But the discussions between the Bishop and the hospital were quite lengthy. Only toward the end of the report are we informed that the hospital refused to admit any wrong doing, and insisted it would reach a similar decision in such cases in the future. Only then Did the Bishop regretfully have to declare it to be no longer Catholic.
4. The report also makes it seem as though the Bishop excommunicated Sr. Margaret in a punitive sort of way. Rather, no, it would seem that she had excommunicated herself automatically. While Canon lawyers dispute at times what it means to procure abortion, and thereby by incur automatic (laetae sententiae) excommunication, it would seem that Sr. admitted that she “procured” abortion. The Bishop then informed her the automatic excommunication applied. We are only told much later in the piece that she has been restored to communion, which can be done in the context of a good confession, either with the bishop or a priest to whom such faculties have been granted. Sister has apparently availed herself of that. The priest they consulted, Fr Thomas Doyle, whom they call a “canonist,” misspeaks by calling the excommunication cruel. As a Canonist, he should know better, that the excommunication is automatic and hence cruelty would not seem a proper word. Further it is an excommunication that can be lifted and has been.
And so on for the CBS report. Like most secular media, they miss most of the nuance, over-simplify and don’t really even make an attempt to show the other side. Even in interviewing Bishop Olmstead, it is clear to me, as a viewer, that most of what he said must have ended up on the cutting room floor. They have him state the facts and his conclusion, but his reasons seem largely edited to this viewer.
In the end we have CBS scolding the Catholic Church for not being what CBS thinks we should be. But the last time I checked, the purpose of the Church is not to be up to date and follow secular opinion. I think we generally answer to a higher authority who has already been pretty clear about the fundamental moral issues of our time.
If one seeks a denomination that is willing to be more in agreement with modern secular views, there are a good number of them out there. Funny though, they are even more challenged to find members than the Catholic Church. Time will prove where wisdom lies.