Josh rightfully calls special attention to dissident nun Sr. Carol Keehan of the “Catholic” Health Association, who earlier this year disagreed with the Bishops so that she could err in favor of faciliting abortion, and now once again disagrees with a Bishop so she can err in favor of facilitating abortion.
These two Keehan incidents are good examples of the dissident attitude, and our understanding of the situation is enhanced even further by comments from Bishop Vasa earlier this year, which help illustrate how such dissidents are really usurpers of Our Lord’s apostolic authority.
In the present instance, ask yourself: where does the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Hospitals” come from? That’s simple: it’s a guidance document from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They wrote it, they publish it.
Now Keehan is dead wrong about what the ERDs say–they don’t justify abortions–they prohibit them. And the ERDs don’t even resolve some extremely precise scenarios, much less do they counsel in favor of abortion and Keehan. By the way, did you ever notice how dissidents like Keehan and Kaveny and Commonweal always, always, always, ALWAYS disagree with Bishops on abortion by being more anti-child, and never by being more pro-child? (Again, so much for their supposed belief in the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.)
But I digress. Observe here, that when the USCCB speaks against abortion in Obamacare, Keehan finds it incompatible with her partisan loyalties and so she dissents from them in order to receive worldly acclaim. Yet when she wants to allege that a decision in favor of abortion is right, she asserts that her position is supported by the Bishops’ ERDs–whose source of authority she herself picks and chooses whether to accept.
The plot gets even thicker. As a USCCB guiding document, what authority do the ERDs have exactly? Bishop Vasa, quoting then-Cardinal Ratzinger, explains: absolutely NONE, except to the extent that the LOCAL BISHOP has adopted them, and the extent to which he interprets them and tweaks their application in his diocese.
Individual local bishops have canonical, and apostolic, authority over what is done by Catholic entities in their diocese, and how Catholic moral guidelines for those entities are to be implemented. National Bishops’ conferences, by contrast, “have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated.” (So sayeth the man who is now Pope.) In short, the ERDs are meaningless without the local Bishop’s application of them.
So here’s Keehan, disagreeing with a Bishop on the basis of her interpretation of a document that is itself irrelevant except to the extent that he adopts and interprets it in his diocese. What does that make Keehan and similar dissenters? A self-appointed magisterium. “A magisterium of nuns,” in this case. Carol (“Cardinal”?) Keehan says that she gets to decide what sources of overarching guidance apply, and she gets the last word in interpreting them.
This attitude is incompatible with Catholicism. I think it was St. Thomas who said that even if you agreed with all the teachings of the Church, but you did so only on basis of your own authority and not the Church’s, you wouldn’t be Catholic. That’s a good definition of how the Catholic left operates on a daily basis today. It’s wonderful to see some pushback by the real apostles.