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Everything you need to know about the case of Sr. Margaret McBride.

You'll recall the controversy surrounding Bishop Olmsted's announcement that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself owing to her participation in a decision to approve an abortion to save the life of a mother. (We discussed it here and here last month.) If you've been struggling with the challenges posed by such a hard case, worry no more. The American Life League has produced a video that makes it all crystal clear. The piece is a touch long, and we're all busy people, so I've trimmed it to the essential bits, which I present here for your edification.



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"He was basing this idea on faulty Aristotelean biology which modern science proved wrong some time ago."Not so simple, Kathy. Yes, the biology was faulty, but he also included philosophical premises and at least one scientific one which hold to this day in chemistry (you can tell what a thing is by what it can do). Granted the biology is irrelevant, but Rome ignores the philosophical part and scientific part of his argumentation, as do many on this blog who then say he's irrelevant without even knowing what he says.

Why was this young woman not afforded safe birth control? All could have been avoided. What avoided? Her own terrifying painful threat of death, the threat of her motherless four children, her spouse without her love, support for their life together, her loss to her parents, siblings, close friends and neighbors, her loss to her parish community, our nation. Her loss of the fetus. The pain of the hideous yet essential decision of the Ethics Team and certainly of Sister Margaret McBride. All could have been avoided, simply avoided. Period.Why was it not? Why in the name of God was the simple, lawful, practical use of a prescribed effective birth control measure not made available to this young woman? Ask yourself why? Ask no man, he is incapable of knowing. Period.

Ann, I 'm well rebuked. I'm more familiar with Thomas on the subject of the Immaculste Conception (also wrong) than on ensoulment simply. Let me look it up and I'll get back to you.Moral theology is not an academic subject solely, which accounts for its near-disappearance of late. It's my conviction that moral theology is by nature "from above." Its principles are given in the revelation and through the truths about the human-divine relationship. It's not a series of case studies, like ethics, that can be argued to satisfy everyone, believers or not, using arguments that may or may not have any depth of religious motivation. Moral theology is what St. Paul does sometimes, sometimes not: once he makes a case for universal Christian celibacy but says that this is from himself, not from the Lord. But he makes the case for ecclesial unity based on what he himself received and handed on as of first importance.

I'm back late to the discusion (glorious tennis morn), but i must defend Lisa who is right on to my mind.I just reread Fr. McCabe in the thread below and the importance of the hierachy listening to the world around and the lived experiences of the faithful.I the reject the notion that most people are making moral decisions by "emotion" instead of the philosphising and intellectualizations some prefer.What is critical to the Christianm life is relationalism of which compassion, empathy, etc. are part of the love the Lord demads.I agree with Fr. John Meier that we really learn about Jesus through the Word by His relations with others then to understand Him now.I like Fr. Jim Martin who tells tells us that the Lord meets us as we are and leads us on in relationship if we get on board. and see Him in others too.The two great commandments ground our morality and must deal with the messy experiences and struggles we go through.So today, i think we'd all be better off listening to Fr. McCabe about how we need to get to balance by better realating.

Sensus Fidei said: " --- many questions arise about the Churchs unhealthy obsession with sex. "A paraphrase of what is stated in "A Streetcar Named Desire": "But it IS, Blanche - it IS!!!"

I don't remember that from Streetcar, but I remember, "But ya are, Blanch! Ya are in that chair!" from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

Ann, I m well rebuked.Kathy,You, of all people, should know the word is 'buked.

Thanks for the good word, Bob. I'll stand by compassion. It surely can be misused, and is open to plural interpretations in some cases, but I think that without a firm ground in basic, heartfelt love, then Christian morals becomes merely a matter of principles and conclusions set apart from the actual lives of the faithful. It becomes heartless, as when we think that allowing a mother to die because she is pregnant is somehow for the good. Kathy, I must say I disagree with your characterization of moral theology. Moral theology, to my mind, anyway, is the living out of discipleship in a messy world of shades of gray, and not at all a pure science of clear deductions from given principles. For example, what to do with a woman caught in the act of adultery--the very act!--when the law is very clear on that point? What do you do when some guy's been beaten up by thugs and left in a ditch, a guy who might, for all we know, already be dead, and therefore touching him would make one "unclean"? From the other side of the street, you just don't know.Catholic moral tradition makes its arguments on the basis of natural law thinking, that is, plain old human reasoning about human nature, amenable to believer and pagan alike. This is based on two startling, perhaps hubristic principles (from Thomas Aquinas,) first that our reason is "like" God's reason--we're not as quick, as infallible, or as all-seeing, but we think like our creator. Therefore any human of good will and open to dialogue and critique and engaged in the ongoing search for what's right can glean some portion of ultimate Truth. The second presumption is that God wants what's good for us. Human flourishing, social and individual, IS God's will. God is reasonable, and wants us to flourish--hence, natural law thinking.Where Christians differ from others, at least ideally, is that, because of the example of Jesus, (who commanded compassion as the sum of the law,) we should not just be interested in the welfare of all, but on fire for it. But saying that women in life-threatening pregnancies with no hope for the embryo should just be quiet and die--nope. Doesn't pass the compassion test.And the notion "I'd tell the kids that the mother couldn't kill the embryo any more than she could kill one of you," I'd wager that any kid older than 7 or so would come right back with "the baby in her womb could not live. Why did she leave us for a baby who could not live?" Or, as Cathleen's 7 year-old companion from another thread said, such reasoning, well, "it's just pretend."

Lisa, my point isn't to argue against "compassion" or to argue for looking at solutions to life-and-death problems from a purely dispassionate and legalistic POV, but to push people to think about how that translates into action in real life. Last month, amid the horror show of my dad's death, I listened to my sleep-deprived mother tearfully plead with the nurses to euthanize him (they did not, though I would have tried to prevent them). She said--direct quote--"We're more compassionate to sick animals!"Even within a relatively Catholic group here, you're going to find people differing on what the "compassionate" thing to do is. Throw it out there to society at large, and you'll get an even bigger debate.

Two conceptions of morality are contending here: the view that morality is a matter of producing the best possible outcomes and the view that morality is a matter of following rules. Both of these conceptions rest on profound moral intuitions, but they are incompatible. This is obvious both in the Phoenix case and in Sophie's choice. There are two possible outcomes: two people will die (if nature takes its course in Phoenix or by the hands of the Nazi commander in Sophie's case) or one will be saved provided the other is deliberately killed by the person(s) faced with the moral choice. The "outcomes" conception of morality says that one death is a better outcome than two and so it is moral to kill one person in order to save the other, while the rule-following conception of morality says a person may not be deliberately killed, whatever the outcome. The "outcomes" conception says we are responsible for the state of the world, and holds that it is just as serious a fault to let bad outcomes happen as it is to deliberately cause them to happen. The rule-following approach says we are responsible only for our actions (and not the state of the world), and therefore considers there is an important moral difference between actively doing something and passively letting things happen. If Sophie refuses to kill one of her children and both of them are then killed by the Nazi commander, then he is the only one who has done anything wrong; Sophie herself is blameless because she did not actively do anything but simply let things happen. (She has clean hands.) There are elements of both approaches in traditional Catholic moral theology. The rule-following conception is quite obvious in the notion of intrinsic evil and the claim that one may never do evil in order to produce good. But Catholic morality has also always been concerned about outcomes. That explains why there are exceptions built into certain rules. If the rule against homicide allows for the justifiable killing of aggressors and criminals convicted of certain crimes, it is because of the belief that these exceptions lead to better outcomes than a blanket rule against all homicides. (Indeed, the increasing condemnation of capital punishment by Church leaders results from the realization that it does not produce better outcomes.) The "outcomes" approach is also evident in the well-known claim that general rules cannot adequately solve all particular cases, and that equity or epikeia is needed to complement the rules. Also, when a decision is justified as being "the lesser of two evils", an "outcomes" approach is being invoked.So, traditional Catholic moral theology is an amalgam of both approaches. One could claim that both approaches are needed in order to do justice to the fullness of moral experience. The problem is that the two approaches lead to incompatible results in certain cases. In the Phoenix case, the "outcomes" conception of morality requires us to take one life to save the other (the lesser of two evils), while the rule-following approach prohibits us from taking a life and requires us to let both die.

To reduce the non-consequentialist strain of Catholic moral teaching to "rule following" is a serious misunderstanding. Moral theology is not nominalism or some low rung of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. A life focused on the One Who alone is good leads limited beings to share the limitless life of the triune God--that is moral theology. In its compass you'll find honesty and generosity and everythiing else we value in our neighbors (and possibly in ourselves). The goodness Catholics aspire to, through baptism, doesn't fit on any scale of moral growth. It's super-human goodness. Ethics does not begin to understand moral theology.

The "outcomes" and the "rule following" solutions to moral dilemmas reminds me of old-school Catholics back when Catholics took the Church's prohibition against birth control seriously. Since "artificial birth control" was a mortal sin, on a level with abortion, after the couple had reached their limit on children, the husband used the birth control, (vasectomy or whatever). In other words, the husband did the manly thing and committed the sin. The wife was blameless; she only had intercourse with her husband. In the confessional, wives had nothing to confess. Husbands often quit going to confession, and perhaps communion, and sometimes church. This homespun blend of "outcomes" and "rule-bending," (if not enforcing/observing), worked for generations. Then the pill gave women a chance to take charge of our own decisions, without input from the men, ordained and not. Super-human goodness it was not, but desperate times called for desperate measures and this was the best folks could come up with, with no help from theology. The bizarre outcome of this is that homilies on the Church's ban on artificial birth control have bit the dust, along with those manly men who assumed the burden of our sins. Artificial birth control is still a sin, right? I'm just sayin'.

Carol DeChant, as a musician, I find your name beguiling :-)

Kudos to everybody, this has been a very insightful, unique discussion! I appreciate such interesting perspectives and of course the lack of rancor. Wonderfully refreshing and it instills hope!

Ditto, Sensus Fidel. I've never followed a discussion of a Commonweal piece before. Who knew?Jim Pauwels, I have encountered you somewhere in the Chicago diocese. Doing homilies for burials of children via Rest in His Arms? Not in the music scene, as only my name is musical...which translates to Sing Sing, or Song of Songs, btw, depending upon one's frame of reference, I have found.

"Jim Pauwels, I have encountered you somewhere in the Chicago diocese.Doing homilies for burials of children via Rest in His Arms? "Yes ... amazing what a small world it is. If you would, please write to me off-line and let me know how you've come to know Rest In His Arms.

While I think the circumstances of this case are sufficiently rare that I disagree with Jean that we need to stress to Catholic girls that the need to be prepared to surrender their lives for the sake of their unborn children, I do think she is on to something that we have been less than frank about how great the price of the pearl can be.It seems to me this is a mirror image of the torture debate, though the reality of this case is closer to a constructed hypothetical than the reality of the war on terror is to ticking-time-bomb scenarios.But the reality, which we don't want to believe, is that, yes, we should be prepared to die rather than torture someone. Even a terrorist.And yes, we should be prepared to accept death rather than kill another. Even an unborn child who is doomed anyway.The symbol of our salvation is an implement of torture and death. We don't want it. That doesn't make us bad -- Christ Himself didn't want the Cross, and pled with His Father to take it away!--I have been struggling to figure out what good can come from this horrible case. But maybe this -- a reminder of the heroic virtue we are called to.

I also feel compelled to add that this Catholic still takes the Church's teaching on artificial contraception seriously, and knows may others who do as well.

@AreopagiteIf I people would indulge me in one more post.I acknowledge that "rule-based" and "outcome-based" morality are often in tension, and in the Phoenix case can be in direct contradiction.But I submit they can also be in harmony, and this is where the Church is coming from. A world where people don't deliberately kill each other is a better world than one in which they are allowed to.It also seems to me that many of these situations (though it doesn't appear the Phoenix case is one of them) are a result of sin in the world that has led to a state of the world that is less than ideal. Isn't this the pro-life case for health care reform? That if people are more secure in knowing their needs will be taken care of, abortion is not as severe a temptation?The works of mercy are more about the state of the worlds than in following rules.Cases like the Phoenix case are important, and it is good for us to talk through the implications of the different options.But I think we should also thing about what we can do upstream from where these terrible dilemmas face us.

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