ABC: Catholic Bishop Excommunicated 'Saintly' Nun Who Supported Abortion

ABC's Dan Harris gave a slanted report on Wednesday's GMA about the Catholic bishop of Phoenix, Arizona stripping a hospital there of its Catholic status: "This is a story that involves a nun, described as saintly; a Catholic bishop; a world-class hospital; and a controversy now being discussed across the country." Harris unnecessarily introduced the priestly sex scandal into his report, and played a sound bite from a doctor who thought religion should be kept out of medical decisions involving crisis pregnancies.

The correspondent began his report with his "saintly" superlative for Sister Margaret McBride, and continued by giving a brief summary of the controversy she is involved in, throwing in his line about the sex scandal in the process:

HARRIS: This all started last fall at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, when a 27-year-old mother of four came in, 11 weeks pregnant and seriously ill. Doctors said if her pregnancy was not terminated, she would likely die of heart failure, taking her unborn child with her. The decision to terminate was approved by Sister Margaret McBride, a long-time senior administrator at the hospital. But when the local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, heard about this, he excommunicated Sister McBride, even though that move caused an uproar, with some critics pointing out that even many pedophile priests weren't excommunicated.

Harris's line about the nun's excommunication is misleading. In a statement dated May 14, 2010, Bishop Olmsted actually recognized that Sister McBride automatically excommunicated herself by participating in the decision to abort the unborn baby. No action on his part was actually necessary. A document from his diocese, which came out four days later, gave a further explanation of this excommunication.

Dan Harris, ABC Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgThe ABC correspondent continued that "on Tuesday, Bishop Olmsted went a step further, stripping Saint Joseph's Hospital of its affiliation with the Catholic Church, arguing hospital officials did not try to save both the mother and the child." Harris actually omitted that the bishop gave additional details as to why the hospital was losing its Catholic status, even though he played a sound bite from him. The Phoenix Diocese released the text of Bishop Olmsted's Tuesday statement, and he highlighted how the hospital and Catholic Health West, its parent company, had been "formally cooperating with a number of medical procedures that are contrary" to Catholic teaching for a number of years, including "contraceptive counseling [and] medications...voluntary sterilization; and abortion due to the mental or physical health of the mother or when pregnancy is the result of rape of incest."

Later in the report, Harris played a clip from ABC News medical contributor Dr. Jacques Moritz, who advocated for the separation of church and medicine: "The bishop, rabbis and other people have really no place when it comes to deciding if a mother is going to live over an unborn child or whether to die. That decision is usually made by the health care professionals, and it's best if it's left that way." Between this sound bite and one from the hospital's CEO, who defended the abortion, the correspondent further slanted the report.

Almost a month earlier, on November 23, the ABC correspondent inaccurately covered Pope Benedict's comments about condom use. No one should be surprised, then, with his flawed reporting on this Catholic issue as well.

The full transcript of Dan Harris's report from Wednesday's Good Morning America, which began 13 minutes into the 7 am Eastern hour:


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Elizabeth [Vargas], we're going to turn to a controversy in your home state of Arizona now. The Catholic bishop of Phoenix said yesterday that Saint Joseph's Hospital there can no longer call itself a Catholic hospital. At issue: whether a nun on a hospital ethics board should have approved an abortion. She said it was to save the mother's life. The bishop argued that it was wrong to choose between mother and child.

Dan Harris has been following it all, and Dan, we've got a real moral clash here- both sides convinced they're doing the absolute right thing.

DAN HARRIS: That's right- neither side backing down, both sides holding dueling press conferences. This is a story that involves a nun, described as saintly; a Catholic bishop; a world-class hospital; and a controversy now being discussed across the country.

HARRIS (voice-over): This all started last fall at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, when a 27-year-old mother of four came in, 11 weeks pregnant and seriously ill. Doctors said if her pregnancy was not terminated, she would likely die of heart failure, taking her unborn child with her. The decision to terminate was approved by Sister Margaret McBride, a long-time senior administrator at the hospital. But when the local bishop, Thomas Olmsted, heard about this, he excommunicated Sister McBride, even though that move caused an uproar, with some critics pointing out that even many pedophile priests weren't excommunicated. On Tuesday, Bishop Olmsted went a step further, stripping Saint Joseph's Hospital of its affiliation with the Catholic Church, arguing hospital officials did not try to save both the mother and the child.

BISHOP THOMAS OLMSTED, THE ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF PHOENIX: Instead of treating the disease, Saint Joseph's medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.

HARRIS: But the hospital CEO pushed back, hard.

LINDA HUNT, PRESIDENT/CEO, ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL: Our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we always save the life we can save.

HARRIS: Many in the medical community side with the hospital over the bishop.

DR. JACQUES MORITZ, ABC NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: The bishop, rabbis and other people have really no place when it comes to deciding if a mother is going to live over an unborn child or whether to die. That decision is usually made by the health care professionals, and it's best if it's left that way.

HARRIS (live): Hospital officials in Arizona insist that the severing of ties with the Catholic Church will have no practical implications for the daily delivery of health care, although the bishop will no longer allow Mass to be said at that hospital.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the nun, even though she's been excommunicated, she's still on the hospital ethics board?

HARRIS: Initially, she was forced, somewhat, by the Church to actually step down from her position. She moved to another position at the hospital, where she remains. She's still not spoken about this case, nor has the mother of the three children and the child that was terminated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Dan Harris, thanks very much.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center