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Essays in Theology

Phoenix bishop must back off the moral precipice

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The dispute between Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in his city has been brewing for some time. (For a quick recap of the situation, see Jerry Filteau’s story: Phoenix hospital still belongs to Catholic Health Association.)

The bishop and the hospital differed in their moral evaluation of a November 2009 procedure, by which doctors removed a diseased placenta to save the woman’s life and in the process brought about the death of her 11-week-old unborn child.

The doctors claimed that it was an indirect and unintended abortion -- allowed by the Catholic Church -- while the bishop insisted that the procedure was a direct and intended abortion, and therefore immoral.

In the eyes of the bishop the blame for the procedure fell upon Mercy Sr. Mary Margaret McBride, who had been a member of the hospital’s ethics committee that had approved of the decision. Olmstead said that by her action McBride had excommunicated herself and he also stripped St. Joseph’s Hospital of its Catholic identity Dec. 21 because of its supposed violation of “authentic Catholic moral teaching.”t

Resuming the column

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I have been writing this column, which I had originally entitled “Essays in Theology,” for over 44 years -- since July 8, 1966. I hadn’t missed even a week in all that time, until I had lower-back surgery in October and complications thereafter, but not directly from the surgery.

The Christmas mystery and theology

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[Editor's Note: Fr. Richard McBrien is recuperating from back surgery. Until he fully recovers, which we expect by early next year, we will be running "encore presentations" from Fr. McBrien's column archives. This column dates from December 1975.]

We admire balanced people -- those who have the capacity to see both sides of an issue and to give a fair measure of consideration to each.

An Advent Meditation

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Advent is a month-long liturgical season, ending with Christmas, that focusses the Church's attention on the threefold coming of Christ: in the past, as the Christ-child of Bethlehem; in the present, as spiritual food and drink in the Eucharist; and in the future, as the One who brings history to a gloriously redemptive end.

No shortcuts to good theology

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[Editor's Note: Fr. Richard McBrien is recuperating from back surgery. Until he fully recovers, which we expect by the end of this school semester, we will be running "encore presentations" from Fr. McBrien's column archives. This column dates from September 1966.]

In theology, as in similar disciplines, there is a fine line between honesty and recklessness. It is honesty which compels us to admit that Catholic theology, for the greater part of this century, has been too abstract, too unbiblical, too simplistic and ahistorical in its approach to the official documents of the magisterium (teaching church), and too dependent upon a particular philosophical framework. It is recklessness, however, which proposes that philosophical analysis, fidelity to earlier magisterial documents, and the concern for precision and accuracy should be abandoned altogether, that somehow the history of theology terminated with the death of the last Father of the church (if not much earlier) and then, mysteriously, resumed its normal course sometime during the Second Vatican Council.

Demoralization in the church

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[Editor's Note: Fr. Richard McBrien is recuperating from back surgery. Until he fully recovers, which we expect by the end of this school semester, we will be running "encore presentations" from Fr. McBrien's column archives. This column dates from June 2004.]

The May 27th issue of Origins (a collection of documents and speeches published weekly by Catholic News Service and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) contains two talks on the priesthood by Father Timothy Radcliffe, former Master General of the Dominican order, given in April at the annual convention of the National Federation of Priests Councils.

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