Phoenix nun speaks about censure

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The hospital official who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church last year is speaking out for the first time.

Sister Margaret McBride, who was targeted by Bishop Thomas Olmsted for her role in a lifesaving medical procedure that the bishop deemed an abortion, will be honored this weekend by Call to Action, a national group that supports a married priesthood, women priests, gay marriage and other positions that the church opposes.

“Call To Action recognizes Sister Margaret’s careful work with a complex issue, her courage in a time of censorship and public pressure, and her witness to the need to stand firm in the face of opposition while striving to protect life in all its venues,” the organization said of its decision to honor McBride.

In response to e-mailed questions, McBride said she is “very proud to be receiving this award.”

“My journey over the past year has led me in many directions, but ultimately to a new understanding of forgiveness and mercy. And that will be my message when I accept the award,” she said. “Whether we are talking about my situation, the state of the church or society in general, I believe that forgiveness and mercy are extremely important for each of us.”

McBride was excommunicated last year, by her own action, the diocese said. But sources say she has resolved that situation by going to confession. She declined to answer a question about the excommunication.

Six months after McBride was punished, the bishop withdrew Catholic sponsorship from her hospital, St. Joseph’s in Phoenix.

Olmsted’s decisions generated a vigorous and long-lasting debate among theologians, medical-ethics experts and Catholics in general. Many concluded his actions were not justified, noting that the intent of the procedure was to save the mother’s life.

McBride still has not talked with the media, and her written answers to The Republic‘s questions are her first comments since the controversy began.

Although McBride declined to respond to several questions, she answered one about the impact the controversy has had on St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, where she has worked for 36 years.

“Our important mission to our community has not changed,” she said. “This is an extraordinary place with people from every religious background doing the impossible every day. At the heart of St. Joseph’s is still our commitment to caring for the poor and ill in our community. Each employee is an inspiration to me every day in carrying out the mission of the Sisters of Mercy,” McBride’s religious order, which is active in education, health care and social service worldwide.

Call to Action was formed in Detroit in 1976 and became so controversial in the mid-1990s that the bishop of Lincoln, Neb., Fabian Bruskewitz, excommunicated local members en masse. Olmsted was ordained in Lincoln in 1973, before Bruskewitz’s arrival. Both served the Vatican in Rome in the late 1970s, and they have been fellow bishops since Olmsted’s ordination in 1999.

Call to Action challenged Olmsted’s actions regarding McBride and St. Joseph’s in a full-page advertisement that ran in The Republic, claiming he had “abandoned a moral theology based on the message of the Gospels and returned to a legalistic moral theology.” It called upon him to demonstrate pastoral care.

Rob DeFrancesco, diocese spokesman, said the bishop had no comment about the award.

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