Thursday, December 23, 2010

Neroulias' Intolerance Masquerades As Moral Outrage

"It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

—GK Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion

Can. 216 Since they participate in the mission of the Church, all the Christian faithful have the right to promote or sustain apostolic action even by their own undertakings, according to their own state and condition. Nevertheless, no undertaking is to claim the name Catholic without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.

—1983 Code of Canon Law

Sources: Ariz. Bishop to Pregnant Women: Drop Dead (Rather than Abort) - Belief Beat, Bishop Olmstead's Statement, American Life League article on Healthcare West and their disobedience, Canon Law #216

Preliminary Note: For those coming here from my original comment on the website of the article, yes I am aware I made some typos in that comment.  I attribute that to a lack of coffee at the time.


A friend linked me this article, which he quite accurately called a "rather disgusting piece of trash writing," and asked me for my thoughts about it  The article, written by Nicole Neroulias, essentially accuses Bishop Olmstead of being willing to sacrifice a mother to doctrine:

Apparently, the hospital should have allowed her to die, rather than return to her four children at home. Or, perhaps St. Joseph's could have transferred her someplace that wouldn't have to answer to religious authorities. God forbid -- literally -- we leave medical decisions to the doctors and patients.

Unfortunately Ms. Neroulias is either unaware of or is indifferent to the Catholic beliefs and why we might disagree with her views.  As a result she tries to smear us with the charge that we do not care what happens to the life of the mother.  Thus she speaks falsely about us.

Summary of Some Catholic Moral Principles

So here are some principles of Catholic moral theology on the issue.

  1. The Catholic Church believes that the unborn child is human.
  2. The Catholic Church also believes that abortion is the willful termination of this human life.
  3. The Catholic Church believes that the willful terminating of an innocent human life is a grave evil
  4. The Catholic Church believes it is wrong to do evil so that good may come of it
  5. The Catholic Church recognizes the life of the mother is also sacred, and the Church does not prefer one life over the other.
  6. However, if it comes to a choice between doing evil and suffering evil, we are called to endure evil and not do evil
  7. An institution which lives in opposition to what the Catholic Church believes cannot call itself Catholic

When one recognizes that the Catholic Church believes these things, then one must recognize that Bishop Olmstead had every right to do what what he did in declaring that St. Joseph's Hospital can no longer call itself Catholic.

St. Joseph's Hospital remains a hospital.  It just can no longer call itself Catholic when it openly acts in a way contrary to the beliefs of the Church it claims to be a part of. 

The Logical Errors of Ms. Neroulias

Her rather repugnant article demonstrates Ms. Neroulias is either grossly ignorant of the issues or grossly intolerant of views differing from her own.  Her article employs  several fallacies: the Red Herring, the appeal to emotion and the personal attack being most notable while demonstrating no comprehension of what we believe, nor of what the issue is.

Error #1: The Red Herring 

First of all, the Red Herring.  Ms. Neroulias casts this as a case of being the patient vs. the Church with the hospital stuck in the middle.  This is not the case, and it indicates that she is, at best, ignorant of the real issue.

The issue is that the hospital has been documented as constantly acting in contradiction to what the Catholic label describes.  Multiple cases of the distribution of contraceptives, taking part in voluntary sterilizations multiple abortions.  In other words, this is not one case where the bishop is being unreasonable.  Rather the hospital has shown consistent defiance, rather than comply with a deadline to agree to adhere to the following:

  1. agree that the termination of a pregnancy at the hospital in late 2009 violated the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services" and "so will never occur again" there.
  2. to agree to "a review and certification process" concerning its compliance with the ethical directives
  3. for the medical staff of St. Joseph's to receive "ongoing formation" on the directives, overseen by the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the diocese's medical ethics board.

So we can see the issue is not "Bishop Olmstead blackballed a hospital because the hospital performed an abortion."  The issue is the hospital refused to admit they did wrong and refused to acknowledge they would make sure these wrongs will not happen in the future.

Error #2: The Appeal to Emotion

The appeal to emotion in this case is to create repugnance for a situation where the woman in question is cast in opposition to the Catholic Church

Ultimately her issue is with what we as Catholics believe about abortion.  She does disagree with us, as does a significant portion of the United States.  However, in her attack upon our beliefs, she assumes what needs to be proven: That abortion is not a moral issue or is an issue less than the issue of the life of the mother. 

Based on this assumption, she labels Bishop Olmstead as being indifferent to the life of the mother.  Now we've already pointed out this is not the issue.  That abortion happened a year before this.  But the emotional appeal to "woman vs. gigantic Church" is designed to have the reader feel pity for the woman (and the hospital) and anger towards the Church for not agreeing with the hospital.

The problem is, the emotional appeal does not change the issue: An institution cannot call itself Catholic if it behaves contrary to the Catholic faith.

While Ms. Neroulias has cast this as an issue of a woman being forced to die if she did not have an abortion, this is a dishonest appeal used to attack the Church and make it appear to be in the wrong, because frankly nobody wants the woman in question to suffer.

However, Catholics believe one should try to save both lives if possible, but one may not terminate one life in favor of another.  Because St. Joseph Hospital (ironically named after the saint who was the protector of the life of our Savior) insisted on doing what the Catholic Church has called an evil, it cannot be called Catholic — especially when it refuses to guarantee such behavior will never happen again.

Error #3: The Personal Attack

The personal attack ignores the reasoning for a thing and instead attacks the person making the claim

By attacking the Catholic Church instead of looking at why they did as they did, Ms. Neroulias is making a personal attack.  Whatever she may think of the Church (and a perusal of her past articles indicates a hostility to the Church), her feelings are irrelevant.  It is the issue of the right of a hospital to call itself Catholic while doing things in defiance of the Catholic faith.

We should look at the text of the Bishop's decree and not rely on the second hand analysis of the media.  The text of his decree reads:

After much time and effort in cooperation with the leadership of Catholic HealthCare West and having studied the matter carefully with the assistance of experts in medical ethics, moral theology, and canon law, it has been determined that the aforementioned organization no longer qualifies as a "Catholic" entity in the territory of the Diocese of Phoenix. For the benefit of the public good, particularly amongst the Christian Faithful, I decree that the organization listed above may not use the name Catholic or be identified as Catholic in the Diocese of Phoenix.

The reason for this decision is based upon the fact that, as Bishop of Phoenix, I cannot verify that this health care organization will provide health care consistent with authentic Catholic moral teaching as interpreted by me in exercising my legitimate Episcopal authority to interpret the moral law.

This Decree of Removal of my consent goes into effect as of this day, and will remain in effect indefinitely, until such time as I am convinced that this institution is authentically Catholic by its adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in addition to the standards of Catholic identity set forth in official church documents, Catholic theology, and canon law.

In other words, the behavior of this hospital cannot be guaranteed to behave in accordance with Catholic moral teaching.  Therefore the bishop cannot permit the hospital to call itself Catholic until it demonstrates convincingly that it will comply with Catholic teaching.

This is quite reasonable, but Ms. Neroulias in saying, "God forbid -- literally -- we leave medical decisions to the doctors and patients," is not addressing the issue.  She is instead attacking the Church because the Church cannot do otherwise without being unfaithful to what we believe Christ requires of us.


This is unfortunately a common form of hostility to the Catholic Church.  It is one I have seen from secular and religious sources.  The Catholic Church is attacked by those who disagree with it, but instead of looking into why the Church must do as she does, the idea of the "heartless institution which focuses on rules" is attacked instead.

That one disagrees with the Catholic Church is unfortunate.  The Church must "proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching (2 Tim 4:2)" all the same.

However one's disagreement with the Catholic Church becomes intolerance when one refuses to consider the impossibility of having misunderstood the issue, and believes one's opponent must be wrong simply because he or she disagrees with the view being expressed.

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