An Out-of-Touch Ogre?

The media’s mau-mauing of Bishop Thomas Olmsted.

In the past, bishops sparked shocked headlines in newspapers by betraying Church teaching. Now a brave few make headlines by upholding it. Consider the case of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has likened him to a member of the hierarchy during the “cruel and debauched days of the Borgias in the Renaissance.”

That sounds pretty bad. What, exactly, has Olmsted done? Shown corrupt indifference to the protection of children? Profited off the abuse of them? No, it turns out his cruel sin in the eyes of Kristof and company is that he wants to protect children, including the forgotten unborn ones often killed under the worldly logic of false compassion.

In May, it came out that Bishop Olmsted had upheld canon law after learning, to his alarm, that a nun at a Catholic hospital in the diocese of Phoenix, several months earlier, formally cooperated in the killing of an unborn child from a patient’s difficult pregnancy.

Olmsted had quietly, conscientiously, and properly followed Church teaching and discipline in the matter (under canon law, Mercy Sister Margaret McBride incurred “automatic excommunication” through her action; he simply informed her of that, and she lost her executive position at the hospital).

But the media, hungry for stories that pit “progressive” nuns against “reactionary” bishops, publicized it, at which point Olmsted issued a laudably straightforward comment:

I am gravely concerned by the fact that an abortion was performed several months ago in a Catholic hospital in this diocese. I am further concerned by the hospital’s statement that the termination of a human life was necessary to treat the mother’s underlying medical condition.

An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother’s life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.

Every Catholic institution is obliged to defend human life at all its stages; from conception to natural death. This obligation is also placed upon every Catholic individual. If a Catholic formally cooperates in the procurement of an abortion, they are automatically excommunicated by that action. The Catholic Church will continue to defend life and proclaim the evil of abortion without compromise, and must act to correct even her own members if they fail in this duty….

St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, where the abortion took place, also made a statement, though considerably more vague, saying that in “this tragic case, the treatment necessary to save the mother’s life required the termination of an 11-week pregnancy,” and that its “ethics” committee signed off on it.

Just the “termination of an 11-week pregnancy”? No, an unborn child was terminated too. But it is easier to say a “pregnancy” was terminated than an innocent unborn child suctioned to death. Showing no interest in that victim, the media’s ensuing coverage cast Sister McBride as the big-hearted “saintly” nun and Bishop Olmsted as the out-of-touch ogre.

Yet he is the only figure in the controversy in touch with what actually happened: an unborn child was killed at a Catholic hospital with a nun’s formal cooperation and help, and he is not about to let that happen again. At a time when derelict bishops are justly criticized for ignoring canon law to the detriment of children, the media’s treatment of the conscientious Bishop Olmsted looks even more outrageous and perverse.

It always comes as a rude surprise to the media these days when an American bishop turns out to be a believing Catholic and displays a willingness to govern his diocese according to Church norms. The Fifth-Column newspaper National Catholic Reporter finds his conduct very puzzling indeed, breaking the news, through one troubled source, that Olmsted is “very much governed by canon law and obedience and fidelity to church teaching and the magisterium….” How odd. This makes him, in NCR’s telling, a “strict constructionist” and a backwoods simpleton. “It helps to know that he grew up on a Kansas farm near the Nebraska border and attended a one-room rural school,” observed another of the paper’s sources.

But, wait, Olmsted is also like a pampered Borgia-era bishop. One of Nicholas Kristof’s sources hissed, “True Christians, like Sister Margaret, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that they make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teachings. Only a group of detached, pampered men in gilded robes on a balcony high above the rest of us could deny these dilemmas.”

It apparently doesn’t occur to commentators like Kristof that the very modernist scorn of canon law they demand from Olmsted is what got decadent bishops into the abuse scandal and exposure of children to harm, both spiritual and physical, in the first place. Kristof speaks of the “cruel and debauched days of the Borgias in the Renaissance” while oblivious to the cruel and debauched days of modern liberalism. Both came through the infidelity of soft and corrupt bishops to canon law and orthodox teaching.

Olmsted, needless to say, is the antithesis of a Borgia-era bishop. He has risked his comfort for the sake of thankless duty. He deserves praise for resisting the media’s mau-mauing and the Catholic left’s claimed monopoly on “compassion,” which never extends to the unborn child torn limb from limb.

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