Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nun "Excommunicated" Over 'Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care'

Well, immigration policy isn't the only thing Arizona is infamous for.

Conservatives there have run amok on yet another issue, the National Catholic Reporter says.

This time it's religious conservatives: Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead has declared that Margaret McBride, the highest ranking Sister of Mercy at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, excommunicated herself when she interpreted a gray area in the U.S. Bishops 2001 'Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services' (ERD) as allowing a therapeutic abortion of an 11-week old non-viable fetus to save the life of a mother of four.

NCR reports that the hospital disagrees that it did not follow the bishops' guidelines:

"In a statement, Suzanne Pfister, a hospital vice president, said that the facility adheres to the Ethical and Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. But, she argued, the directives leave some gray areas.

"'In those instances where the Directives do not explicitly address a clinical situation -- such as when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life -- an Ethics Committee is convened to help our caregivers and their patients make the most life-affirming decision,' she said. 'In this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother's life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy.'

"Pfister issued the statement on behalf of the hospital, its parent company Catholic Healthcare West, and the Sisters of Mercy, McBride's religious order.

"A letter sent May 10 from Catholic Healthcare West, signed by Sr. Judith Carle, board chairwoman, and President and CEO Lloyd Dean, asks Olmsted to provide further clarification about the directives. Agreeing that in a healthy mother, pregnancy is 'not a pathology,' it says this case was different. The pregnancy, the letter says, carried a nearly certain risk of death for the mother.

"'If there had been a way to save the pregnancy and still prevent the death of the mother, we would have done it,' the letter says. 'We are convinced there was not.'"

The article quotes a Catholic News Service report "that in a letter to the editor of The Arizona Republic May 18, Dr. John Garvie, chief of gastroenterology at St. Joseph's, called McBride 'the moral conscience of the hospital' and said 'there is no finer defender of life at our hospital.'"

So far the NCR article has generated five pages of reader comments. Most of the them are strongly critical of the bishop's interpretation of the health care guidelines and his cavalier assertion that Sister McBride procured a direct abortion and therefore incurred automatic excommunication under canon law.

A number of commentators point out that there is in fact a gray area between two different provisions in the ERD.

Directive 45 reads: "Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo. Catholic health care institutions are not to provide abortion services, even based upon the principle of material cooperation. In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers."

However, Directive 47 adds: "Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child."

The ethics committee and the hospital argue that in this case the mother's pulmonary hypertension was a pathological condition requiring treatment and that allowing the pregnancy to continue would have killed both the mother and the fetus. They saw this specific situation as not being clearly addressed in the directives and believed that saving the only life which could be saved was their clear priority.

Obviously there is room for an alternate interpretation by the bishop and his ethics advisers. However, because there is room for more than one interpretation, the hospital and its ethics committee members should not be penalized for conscientiously doing their best with the guidelines they had.

For the bishop to construe the situation as Sister McBride directly procuring an abortion in violation of Directive 45 is arbitrary, unwarrantedly excessive and unjustifiably punitive. And for him to show no commitment toward saving the life of the mother of four existing children seriously undercuts his credibility as a moral theologian. If the church is pro-life, surely it favors life continuing for the living.

The bishop should retract his intemperate, ill-considered remarks and join the rest of us in affirming Sister Margaret McBride as a Catholic in good standing with the church.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Clergy Sex Abuse: U.S. Legal Strategy Fuels Perception That Vatican Is Dishonest

Disingenuous. That was the first word that came to mind this morning when I read MSNBC's posting of an Associated Press report on how a U.S. attorney plans to defend the Vatican in a Kentucky courtroom today--against claims that church officials in Rome are liable for mishandling the clergy sex abuse scandal and intentionally trying to hide it over several decades.

Because it is disingenuous, the strategy will again fuel the perception, among the public and in the pews, that the Vatican is still trying to evade responsibility for its administrative malfeasance in the crisis and still marshaling bogus, untruthful arguments to avoid being held civilly and criminally liable.

The strategy is disingenuous on three counts.

First, according to the article, the attorney plans to claim that bishops and other clergy are not employees of the Vatican, and that therefore the Vatican cannot be held liable if bishops or priests violate civil or criminal laws.

The argument is bogus because it directly contradicts the way the Catholic church has operated for centuries--and is still operating today.

It is true that the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s tried to reassert the role of bishop as the chief shepherd in each diocese. But it is also true that the Vatican worked over the next four decades to prevent that reform from having much effect and that it actually strengthened a military-like chain of command running from the pope as commander in chief, through the bishops as his field commanders, to the priests as the officers on the front line. The Vatican exercised absolute control over every bishop and priest, and it is directly liable for decisions to repeatedly reassign those who known to be abusing children into new settings where they could repeat the behavior.

Second, the attorney will contend that a document issued by the Vatican in 1962 and reaffirmed by the Vatican in 2001 did not require bishops to report sexually abusive priests only to the Vatican and never to local public officials.

The argument is a lie, as documented by a Houston attorney and covered in a posting here on April 23, 2010. The plaintiff's attorney in Kentucky is entirely correct in maintaining that these documents are the smoking gun in the Vatican's international conspiracy to cover up the crimes.

Third, the article says the attorney plans to ask the court "to dismiss the case on the grounds that the court doesn't have jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which protects sovereign states from being sued in U.S. courts except under certain circumstances." This rehashes the Vatican's claim that the pope and the members of his curia should be shielded from all civil liability as a head of state. The State Department agreed with the claim in the Houston case, and the pope was dismissed as a defendant.

As observed here previously, the argument is bogus because Rome's absolute authority over its clergy is not exercised by the pope as head of a state, but rather as the chief official of a worldwide religion. The chief official is specifically liable for (a) the procedures he dictates for reassigning priests, (b) the secrecy he dictates when they violate civil and criminal laws, and (c) the legal strategies he dictates to evade liability.

Eventually some court, somewhere, is going to see these arguments for the frauds they are. Pope Benedict XVI ought to have the wisdom to see that writing on the wall. And he ought to have the fortitude instruct his attorneys, in the United States and elsewhere, to stop making claims that can only diminish the church further in the eyes of reasonable men and women. Otherwise, whatever the Vatican gains in litigation it will more than lose in allegiance from the public and even from ordinary Catholics.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Louisiana Using Mississippi River Diversions to Push Oil Away from Coastal Wetlands

The Times-Picayune of New Orleans is reporting on a creative effort by the State of Louisiana to pump flowing water from the Mississippi River through flood-diversion channels into the coastal wetlands, in the hope of pushing the oil slick back into the Gulf. Water is flowing out of seven diversions and a navigation lock at a combined rate of 29,550 cubic feet per second. Most of the article follows:

The state has opened gates at the Bayou Lamoque freshwater diversion in Plaquemines Parish to use Mississippi River water to help protect the parish's fragile network of wetlands.

The opening will send around 7,500 cubic feet per second of river water into wetlands adjacent to Black Bay and Breton Sound, the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said.

The hope is that the river water will help push any oil from the Gulf oil spill away from the coastal wetlands.

"The potential effects of this oil spill could last for decades, so we are using every means at our disposal to try to lessen the devastation the oil could inflict on our wetlands," Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department Secretary Robert Barham said.

Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the Lamoque diversion joins several others already pressed into service.

"We have been using diversions, siphons and locks on both the east and west side for more than 10 days to try and push the oil away from our coastal wetlands. Louisiana's coastal wetlands are a maze of marshy islands, grass beds, bayous, ponds and lakes. It will be nearly impossible for us to clean the oil out of these areas for years if it gets in there," Graves said.

The state said seven diversions and siphons and one navigation lock are now in use to send river water into the coastal wetlands. The total measurable flow from these diversions is 29,550 cubic feet per second.

Texans Should Just Ignore State Board of Education, Houston Chronicle Says

The Houston Chronicle recently had a great editorial, summarizing the most recent antics of the infamously dysfunctional Texas State Board of Education--and suggesting it would be best for all Texans to just ignore the board's latest curriculum mandates. Editorial follows:

How bad is the new history curriculum now under consideration by the Texas State Board of Education?

It's so bad that Jon Stewart made fun of it on TV. He played footage of the board voting to remove Oscar Romero from a list of great political and moral figures of the 20th century — because one board member said she'd never heard of the archbishop assassinated by an El Salvador death squad. “That,” cracked Stewart, “is how Oscar Romero got disappeared by right-wingers for the second time!”

The proposed curriculum is so bad that it would strike Thomas Jefferson from a list of Enlightenment thinkers who influenced the world. So bad that it plays down the civil rights and women's rights movements — in a state where minorities and women easily form a majority.

It's so bad that to date, more than 1,200 historians and professors have signed a letter complaining that the revisions “undermined the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.”

But you know what? There's something even worse than that curriculum. And that's the multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall facing Texas.

So we think it makes sense for the Legislature to put off buying $800 million in history books based on that curriculum. “There's no rush necessary,” argues Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. “We have plenty of time to do it right.”

In these lean times, students and teachers can make do with their old textbooks. And certainly, using them for another year or two beats investing in bad books that would stick around for a decade.

In the meantime, the state board can redeem itself by formulating a less-embarrassing curriculum. Or maybe the Legislature can reformulate the board by putting it up for a sunset review.

To slash the state budget, the Texas Legislature will have to make lots of hard choices. But not buying lousy textbooks? That's a no-brainer.

Let's disappear that curriculum. And let's bring back Thomas Jefferson and Oscar Romero.

Arizona Immigration Gestapo Shows American Aversion to Complex Solutions

In a recent insightful column, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. said Arizona's new law requiring local police to be the state's immigration gestapo focuses attention--once again--on "one of the least attractive traits of the American character. Meaning a preference for responding to complicated questions with simplistic answers."

In the process of analyzing this, Pitts even manages to applaud President George W. Bush's 2006 attempt at immigration reform, torpedoed by the same American character flaw. Excerpts from his column follow:

If we really wanted immigration reform, we'd have had it years ago.

In 2006, President George W. Bush supported a proposal that would've required undocumented immigrants to take English classes and pay fines and back taxes in exchange for guest worker status and, eventually, citizenship. "I know this is an emotional debate," said Bush. "But one thing we cannot lose sight of is that we're talking about human beings, decent human beings that need to be treated with respect."

But Bush was shouted down by angry people carrying "Go back to Mexico!" signs. Their counter proposal? To somehow round up and bus an estimated 11 million people to the border, an idea that was to pragmatism and practicality as Lady Gaga is to modesty and restraint.

Similar thinking, if you want to call it that, is evident in the bill recently signed into law by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona...

Predictably, the new law has galvanized protesters around the country. Incredibly, one of the state's own congressmen, Democrat Raul Grijalva, has even called for a boycott. He told, "If state lawmakers don't realize or don't care how detrimental this will be, we need to make them understand somehow."

But if the willingness or ability to understand existed, we wouldn't be having this discussion. Bush's reasonable proposal would have long ago been the law of the land.

Unfortunately for him and for all of us, he was unable to surmount one of the least attractive traits of the American character. Meaning a preference for responding to complicated questions with simplistic answers. Meaning a distaste for any remedy that requires more patience than the average microwave or that cannot be explicated on the average bumper sticker. Meaning a bias toward the angry, emphatic response, a native suspicion of anything that acknowledges complexity, thereby indicating weakness of purpose or softness of heart.

Meaning, metaphorically speaking, a tendency to use the meat cleaver for vascular surgery.

From this impulse we get debacles like the three strikes law that once sent a man to prison for 25 to life after he stole a slice of pizza, or the zero tolerance rules that got a girl kicked out of school for bringing Midol to class.

Now that impulse gives us this: an open invitation to ethnic profiling, an embarrassment to American ideals, an arguable violation of constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, and foolish politics, besides. Or does anyone believe the GOP's pathway to power lies in offending the nation's largest minority?

You know something is haywire when a congressman campaigns against his own state. But Grijalva is right. Until this shameful law is rescinded, Arizona is a great place not to be.

"Competence Is the Antidote to ... Sick Feeling about Public Authority"

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. pointed out recently that "this moment's anti-government feeling reflects two entirely different strains of thinking."

One strain, he wrote, is "exemplified by the tea party movement, opposition to government bailouts and an absolute hatred of Congress. This is the old-fashioned, garden-variety conservatism that somewhere between a fifth and a third of Americans have long subscribed to. These are the citizens you see on television at the anti-Obama rallies, the members of Congress who give speeches denouncing 'overregulation,' and the think tankers who insist that the private sector always performs more efficiently and effectively than 'government bureaucrats.'"

But Dionne observes that, apart from the tea-baggers, there is a "more important and dynamic force" at work. These are Americans who believe that government can work and should work, but who are distressed at how badly government has failed to work over the last decade or so:

"They do not think that the market is automatically rational or that the government has to be dumb. They are not fed up with government because their ideology or philosophy tells them to be but because they don't think government has been doing a proper job of promoting prosperity, equity and fair dealing."

These Americans, Dionne argues, are still just begging for President Obama to bring on change they can believe in. The trouble is that competent governance cannot be wished into being overnight and that so far Obama's team has not done a very good job of demonstrating government's competence.

Dionne sees the cooperative effort between street vendors and police in preventing the recent attempted car-bombing in Times Square as a basic model for how government needs to partner with private citizens. Obama's challenge is to deliver a lot more instances of this model in action:

"Conservative ideas generally gain ground when government is discredited.

"But progressives who insist on government's constructive role can't succeed unless they persuade voters that public agencies are up to the missions they undertake.

"Starting with the newly urgent threat of domestic terrorism and the environmental disaster in the Gulf, the administration does not lack for obvious challenges to which it must respond effectively. Competence is the antidote to the electorate's sick feeling about public authority."