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The argument from (anti-Catholic) authority

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 28, 2011

There’s nothing particularly original about the arguments presented by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his condemnation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. In fact, there’s very little argumentation of any sort in the Kristof column. The Times columnist makes not the slightest effort to understand the bishop’s decision to announce that St. Joseph Hospital no longer should be considered a Catholic institution. Kristof writes:

Now the bishop, in effect, is excommunicating the entire hospital-- all because it saved a woman’s life.

That claim is absurd on its face. Obviously the bishop is not punishing the hospital for saving a life. No one really thinks that. And yet Kristof writes it. Why? Because he is determined to offer a completely one-sided presentation of the case. There is a conflict between the bishop and the hospital; that’s clear enough. But what is the nature of that conflict? Again Kristof makes his case in the most simplistic possible terms:

One approach focuses upon dogma, sanctity, rules and the punishment of sinners. The other exalts compassion for the needy and mercy for sinners— and, perhaps, above all, inclusiveness.

Kristof is determined to be superficial. But let's probe just a bit below the surface. In the last phrase of the sentence quoted above, he suggests that St. Joseph Hospital held to an “inclusive” view in providing health care, and Bishop Olmsted rejected it in favor of his more limited vision. Actually the opposite is true. The hospital decided to provide care only for an adult woman, and in the process deliberately to sacrifice the life of her unborn child. Bishop Olmsted insisted that the unborn child—surely the neediest person involved in this sad story—deserved compassionate care as well.

Kristof never even acknowledges the ethical tensions that arose from this medical dilemma. His arguments are all arguments from authority: not the bishop’s authority, but his own.

It was predictable that conservative Catholic analysts would resent Kristof’s attack on Church authority. But it is surprising, given the columnist’s failure to mount any persuasive argument against the Catholic position, that many liberal Catholics would applaud his presentation.

 

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: tonydecker513018861 - Jan. 30, 2011 1:21 AM ET USA

    Dear mjarman, if by exclusive you mean heaven is only for those faithful to the Church, or even faithful to Christ, in the strictest sense, then you are missunderstanding the Churches teaching on salvation. While we say it is necessary to be Catholic to attain salvation, we must consider what "catholic" actually means. I sincerely hope you do not go around feeling sorry for people because they are going to hell, because the truth is much more beautiful than that my friend. God bless.

  • Posted by: mjarman7759049 - Jan. 28, 2011 4:07 PM ET USA

    Uh....is Heaven "inclusive"? I don't remember Jesus saying THAT! (Sounded pretty EXCLUSIVE to me.) But then Kristof says he can channel Jesus, so maybe Jesus has told him differently?

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