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A Most Catholic of Dramas

An Arizona woman, pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension (an often fatal complication), consulted with her doctor and a Catholic Sister of Mercy, and obtained an abortion. The reactions have been predictable across religious and political lines.

by
Elizabeth Scalia

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May 26, 2010 - 12:06 am
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If that seems incongruous, consider that Sr. McBride is very likely being championed today by the same people who, in 2008, derided her for repatriating to Mexico a legal immigrant whose condition, due to an accident, had left St. Joseph’s Hospital out of options. Some decrying her as a “radical” today may have applauded her back then. Some might consider her administrative decision in 2008 to be more sinful than her participation in the abortion matter, and vice-versa.

It is precisely because opinions and feelings are tied to ever-changing time that the church does not align herself with the precepts of the age, but seeks instead to live within the framework of the Eternal. And because she does, those imperfect humans working within that framework can seem so maddeningly inconsistent, and sometimes cruel.

Society has a merciless mania for assigning roles to “villains” and “heroes,” and then making them stick, but Sr. McBride, and Bishop Olmsted, and for that matter the church itself, are both and neither; they defy easy casting.

They defy it because of Mercy. The church and its workers function within the strains of Aquinas’ “affected” and “effected” mercy; they carry the empathetic compassion of the first with the practical promptings of the second. In the thin filament between the two they are meant to slice cleanly into the will of God, and unleash it.

Because they are human and imperfect, mistakes will be made. When they are, the appalled world, which cannot agree on what the mistake actually was, cries out for its own mercy, the mercy of the age. Whereupon Catholics like Sr. McBride and Bishop Olmsted — all too familiar with the narrow teeter-totter of worldly mercy, which finds them now heroes, now villains — turns to the only mercy that matters, because it is deep, and it is broad, and its quality is never strained.

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Elizabeth Scalia is a contributing writer to First Things Magazine and the blogger known as The Anchoress.
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