If the reporting about this story is accurate, one can safely assume that had St. Joseph's hospital denied the patient abortion services, she would have been quickly transferred to another hospital for the procedure. That's important: once the patient and her physicians had agreed on a course of action, the abortion was going to take place. But in the event, Sister McBride, according to the Arizona Republic, was the Ethics Committee member on call at the time a "last minute, life and death" decision had to be made. She gave the ok to a decision already made by the mother, in consultation with family and physicians. Can anyone possibly blame a woman for wanting to live? A mother of four? Sister Margaret must have understood, must have been thinking about that mother and those children, about life.
When Bishop Thomas Olmsted learned of the case, he immediately excommunicated the nun, "automatically." The automatic nature of this spiritual death is fascinating. (Remember, an excommunicated catholic cannot receive communion and is, thus, to a great degree cut off from God. So, I don't believe calling this a "spiritual death" is overstating the gravity of the punishment.) Most significantly, it suggests that the particular circumstances are irrelevant. That is, even had the doctors been certain that failure to abort would result in the imminent death of mother and fetus, it would still have been cause for excommunication. No discussion, no need for an Ethics Committee. The lack of any openness to nuance, to the particular tragedies of real life are of no interest to the men in black when it comes to core doctrine. And so the church moves boldly backwards, in this case, cutting off a, by all accounts, faithful and "humble servant". Margaret McBride has dedicated her life to serving the sick and poor as a nun of the Sisters of Mercy order. (This is a nineteenth century order founded in Ireland, not to be confused with the Religious Sisters of Mercy, a Vatican II order founded in Alma, Michigan.)
It is astounding. The church hems and haws for years about what to do with the pedophiles among them, knowing that in the meantime these perverts are traumatizing the lives of their victims. Consider the treatment accorded Bernie Law. Awful men getting privilegd treatment by other seemingly awful men. In steps a woman, who, however you feel about abortion, owned up to the circumstances. She acted, according to her own statement to the Bishop, in a good faith effort to follow Catholic doctrine. But no, no discussion: out, out, out. Strange. Where's the solidarity? Why hasn't some priest offered communion to Sister Margaret in defiance of his bishop? Would he too be excommunicated? How many priests would the church be willing to lose over this case? Do they care? Are they willing to put it on the line? That's the question that really interests me: when are the rank and file priests going to put it on the line? They hold the power.