Friday, May 28, 2010

Bishop Olmsted + Excommunication of a Nun + The Facts

Jimmy Akin is all over this story, so I don't have to be.
I thought I would take the opportunity to offer a few thoughts on some of the issues raised in the combox of my previous post regarding the situation in the Diocese of Phoenix.

A sizeable number of commenters strongly deplored Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s actions regarding Sr. Margaret McBride.

So far as I can tell based on the known facts, Bishop Olmsted had done three, possibly four, things regarding Sr. McBride:

1) He has contacted Sr. McBride to get her side of the story regarding the abortion she approved.

2) He has informed her that, based on the facts as he understands them, she has triggered the provision of canon law that provides a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication connected with abortion.

3) After the excommunication was reported in the press, Bishop Olmsted allowed his communications director to confirm the excommunication.

4) Bishop Olmsted *may* (or may not, we don’t know since nobody official is discussing this) have had a role in the reassignment of Sr. McBride to other duties at St. Joseph’s (the Catholic hospital where she works and where the abortion occurred).

I don’t see how anybody can object to Action #1. If a Catholic bishop is informed that an abortion has taken place at a Catholic hospital in his diocese, he is supposed to investigate it and find out what happened. Contacting people for their side of the story is always a good thing, so I don’t see grounds for outrage on this one.

Action #2 is something I think people may misunderstand. I’ve seen reports elsewhere on the Net where people are saying things like “the Bishop automatically excommunicated her when he found out.” This is not what happened. It’s a misunderstanding. He didn’t “automatically excommunicate” her. According to the Bishop, she “automatically excommunicated” herself. He informed her of this fact.

Canon law provides an automatic excommunication for a small number of offenses (e.g., abortion, throwing away the consecrated species of the Eucharist, assaulting the pope). When a person commits one of these actions (all things being equal) the person automatically incurs the censure of excommunication by the commission of the act itself.

If Sr. McBride incurred this penalty, it was by her own action, not the bishop’s.

Based on his reading of the facts, Bishop Olmsted concluded that she had incurred the penalty and made her aware of this.

That is not an act of cruelty.

It is a spiritual work of mercy because it gives her occasion to pause, reflect, and take the steps necessary to be reconciled with the Church (which is the purpose of excommunication to begin with; it is medicinal in nature, intended to facilitate repentance and reconciliation).

One could argue that perhaps Bishop Olmsted was wrong in his assessment of the facts and that Sr. McBride did not excommunicate herself. I’m not a canon lawyer, but depending on the facts of the case I can imagine a number of different potential lines of defense in Sr. McBride’s favor (i.e., that she did not excommunicate herself).

So can others. Continue reading.

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