Thursday, July 3, 2008

Catholic Aid for an Abortion?

From the New York Times:

Published: July 3, 2008

The Roman Catholic bishop of Richmond, Va., apologized this week after workers from a Catholic organization helped a teenager in its care have an abortion.

“I join my sadness to yours at the loss of the life of an unborn child whose teenage mother was in the foster care of Commonwealth Catholic Charities,” said Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo in a letter published on Monday in The Catholic Virginian. “Obviously, respect for the life of the unborn is a basic tenet of our Catholic faith and morality.”

“I express my profound apology for the loss of the life of one of the most vulnerable among us,” the bishop added.

The situation involved a 16-year-old Guatemalan, who church officials said already had one child and wanted to end her pregnancy, said Stephen S. Neill, a spokesman for the bishop.
The girl was being cared for by a program that helps illegal immigrant children in the country without guardians obtain foster care, Mr. Neill said. She received the abortion in January after a staff member of Commonwealth Catholic Charities signed a consent form and after a volunteer drove her to the facility, he said.

Four staff members were fired in March in connection with the case, Mr. Neill said.
Joanne D. Nattrass, executive director of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, said in a statement on Tuesday that she had been told on the afternoon of Jan. 17 that the girl was scheduled to have an abortion the next morning. Ms. Nattrass said that she had notified Bishop DiLorenzo that day and that he had said, “I forbid this to happen.” Based on incorrect information provided to Ms. Nattrass, the bishop was told that the abortion could not be stopped, the statement said.

“That information included that there was nothing Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond could do to affect the outcome,” Paula Ritter, a spokeswoman for Ms. Nattrass, said in an e-mail message.

Neither agency nor diocesan money was used to pay for the abortion, Mr. Neill said.
A spokesman for the United States Department of Health and Human Services said that in April the department asked its inspector general to investigate whether the charity or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had violated state and federal laws. The conference receives $7.6 million a year in federal money, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities is a subcontractor of the bishops’ conference, the spokesman said.

Federal law forbids the use of federal money to pay for abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest or threats to the life of the pregnant woman. Virginia law requires parental consent for an abortion for a girl under 18.

Mr. Neill said neither the bishop nor Ms. Nattrass had been contacted directly by federal officials.

This is a difficult case. It seems odd that a Bishop would "forbid" something to happen, as if it were any of his business? I would grate if an institution, like a church, forbade me to do something rather than just offering advice for something in which the ultimate decision is mine. But this is more complicated. Firstly, the church, in general, seems to be doing a beneficial thing by having this foster service to begin with, giving these minors a place to go. And if the "church" as an institution is technically the foster parent of this 16-year-old, and the law states that a parental guardian must give permission for an abortion for children under 18, then this creates an odd situation. The institution seems more worried about whether or not any federal laws were broken rather than the well-being of their ward. I do wonder if they could circumvent this by giving permission, but using private money from those who work for the foster service, to pay for the procedure. It that case, it is merely (yes, just "merely") the Catholic Church's general position on abortion that would stand in the way. Yet, in the end, was there in this case "Catholic Aid for an Abortion" as the NYTimes headline runs, or just a few people who belong to a Catholic organization individually (and not in their Catholicness, but in the interests of their ward) provide aid for this child? But, in keeping with my previous post, the real question is, WWFSMD?

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