Disrespectfully Yours

It shouldn’t have come as a shock that the hyperventilating over Bishop Thomas Olmsted’s principled actions regarding the abortion of a preborn baby in a Catholic hospital would continue. In fact, one might have expected that such bloviating would even escalate, but some comments go beyond the pale. I really hate to call attention to a bioethicist, Harvard graduate and medical historian who happens to have a sharp axe to grind with the good bishop, but mention him, I must.

Yes, it’s a him, though his rhetoric could well be right out of a feminist handbook. Jacob M. Appel could also be the president of excommunicated Sister Margaret McBride’s fan club, that is, if he weren’t busy assailing the Church and her courageous shepherd.

It seems that Appel is concerned about an interpretation of Catholic teaching that leaves him in a moral fog. He explains to readers: “Even the Catholic Church, whose official doctrine demands that women be sacrificed in order to preserve fetal life, has for many years made no attempt to impose such a draconian policy upon its vast network of hospitals in the United States. Until last week.”

Oh please, Mr. Appel, give us a break!

The Catholic doctrine on life of the mother versus life of the preborn child is quite clear and beautifully addressed by Pope Pius XII, who explained to midwives in 1951:

Every human being, even the infant in the mother’s womb, has the right to life immediately from God, not from the parent or any human society or authority.  Therefore there is no man, no human authority, no science, no medical, eugenic, social, economic or moral “indication” that can show or give valid juridical title for direct deliberate disposition concerning an innocent human life – which is to say, a disposition that aims at its destruction either as an end in itself or as the means of attaining another end that is perhaps in no way illicit itself. Thus, for example, to save the life of the mother is a most noble end, but the direct killing of the child as a means to this end is not licit.

While Appel may claim that Sister McBride approved a “necessary” abortion, the fact is that what she did violated the very teaching articulated above. Recognizing this, it is clear that Bishop Thomas Olmsted acted in a manner completely consistent with Catholic teaching. But sadly, Appel, like the rest of the public, has no clue as to the specifics of the case involving the expectant mother and her now dead baby. He freely admits this and yet he proceeds to rail against the bishop, who he refers to as “Mr. Olmstead.”

Appel attempts throughout his column to assert that what was decided by Bishop Olmsted is somehow inconsistent with a specific Catholic health care policy that states “operations, treatments and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted … even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.” But he fails miserably because Appel will not concede that this policy is a reflection of precisely what Pope Pius XII pointed out. He clearly taught that the problem with a deliberate abortion is that the direct killing of the preborn baby is intended.

The policy he is quoting refers to a sad but possible outcome, not a planned attack on an innocent preborn baby.

Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? But poor Dr. Appel cannot acknowledge it! He’s far too busy caterwauling about things he does not wish to intellectually comprehend.

Appel’s opinion piece brings disgrace to his profession. He tells the reader that if he were treating an expectant mother and the need arose for her to go to a hospital, he would advise against ever going to a Catholic hospital because of his alleged fears concerning what might happen to his patient. He declares, “[T]hese institutions have a long and noble history of providing care to this nation’s needy and most desperate. Alas, thanks to men like Mr. Olmsted, obtaining obstetric care at a Catholic hospital has become a dangerous game of Russian roulette.”

My, oh my. How his verbal innuendo does go on. Between describing the Church and her teachings as somehow “extremist” and comparing the actions of Bishop Olmsted to “fanatical and potentially lethal” acts of terrorism, Appel exposes his bigoted nature.  Comparing Catholic teaching on the subject of saving both mother and child during an emergency with the Taliban is a bit much, but then again, Appel appears to seethe with contempt for Catholicism.

To me, this fellow needs a lesson in humility. Additionally, Appel should learn how to avoid opining about a particular case about which he knows nothing or an explicit Catholic teaching about which he knows even less.

Until then, I highly recommend that he find a suitable avenue for his prejudices that does not include deceiving his readers by replacing well-known facts about Catholic teaching with quasi-illiterate rambling.

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  • Joe DeVet

    We also have a teaching called Responsible Parenthood.

    In this teaching, it is the duty (and in a sense, a right) of parents to decide, prayerfully before God and in a spirit of generosity tempered with prudence, when it is proper to conceive children and when not. (And when not, to use only moral means, ie avoid contraception, to avoid pregnancy. NFP is a valid and reliable option.)

    Many factors enter into this decision. Certainly the physical and mental health of the parents are part of the equation. When the life of the mother is threatened, it is the duty of the parents to avoid pregnancy. One (or two) can ALWAYS choose not to get pregnant in high-risk situations.

    In this case, for whatever reason, the parents chose what they chose. We must not blame the Church for what the parents chose. The Church provided appropriate moral guidance. It was the parents’ choice to take on whatever risk the woman experienced.

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