"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Phoenix abortion/excommunication flap: a clarification

My post of last Friday, which was about the controversy over the Phoenix case, has itself sparked controversy both at First Things, where I first published it, and at What's Wrong with the World. But I think the majority of commenters have missed my point. I want to clarify things here.

The point is not whether Bishop Olmstead's or Sister McBride's judgment about the morality of her act is right or wrong. From a distance, it seems to me that the bishop is probably right. But I don't know that, and neither does anybody else who is not acquainted firsthand with the case.

For my information about Bishop Olmsted's decision, I'm going by this release from his office. It does not rebut Sr. McBride's contention that the abortion was indirect and thus justifiable under PDE. It simply assumes she was wrong, that the abortion was direct and thus unjustifiable by PDE or anything else. That's why I raised the questions I did. I find it curious that the grounds for such an assessment are not stated, and that the statement was issued without any discussion with Sr. McBride. If the moral status of her act were that obvious, why not state openly the medical facts that make it so? Perhaps the mother's confidentiality is being protected. But if that's the case, the Bishop's announcement is inappropriate. He has announced an excommunication whose grounds cannot be made public. As a Catholic, I'm embarrassed by the political ineptitude of such a move.

I have to say that I agree with canonist Ed Peters, who's just been appointed to the Apostolic Signatura, about latae sententiae excommunication. In the First Things combox, he wrote: "This case is becoming a textbook example of why we must abandon latae sententiae penalties in the West, as they already have done in Eastern canon law."

UPDATE as of 15:17: Luke Coppen of Editor's Briefing has added my original post to his list of "Morning Catholic Must-Reads" today. That is reassuring. Most of my friends think reading the post is optional, and I've even lost one over it.

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