I’m no canon law expert, but this story certainly raises interesting questions about the disparity in the Catholic Church’s handling of clergy disciplinary issues: Sister Margaret McBride, an administrator at a Catholic hospital in Arizona, has been declared “automatically excommunicated” by a bishop for approving an abortion to save a critically ill mother’s life (at 11 weeks, the pregnancy’s first trimester) last year. NPR’s story points out that meanwhile, no pedophile priests have ever been automatically excommunicated; rather, the norm over the years has been for bishops to protect them.
Apparently, McBride can be un-excommunicated if she goes to confession and repents. No word on what her plans are, though she apparently remains with her religious order, the Sisters of Mercy, and employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital.
So, someone please enlighten me, because I’m still confused even after reading Catholic News Agency’s ethical analysis of the situation: how does a life-saving medical procedure for a mother that costs the life of a 11-week-old fetus — as opposed to both lives — merit automatic excommunication, but not the serial raping of children? Is this a gender equity issue — male bishops giving priests more benefit of the doubt than nuns? Does the church really view an early-term abortion to save a mother’s life as a greater sin than raping children? And if so, isn’t this something that ought to be clarified by now?