Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver speaking last May.
When the Colorado Independent reported late last month that a Catholic hospital in Colorado was arguing in a malpractice case that fetuses aren’t people, the incident was immediately (and rightly) denounced as hypocrisy. The next day, local bishops promised to investigate the litigation and the policies of Catholic Health Initiatives (the non-profit organization that runs the hospital) in order “to ensure fidelity and faithful witness to the teachings of the Catholic Church.” The bishops then met with CHI executives.
As a result, the group yesterday released a statement (PDF) acknowledging that it was morally wrong for hospital lawyers to argue that fetuses are not persons, stating it will no longer use that argument in court, and affirming its adherence to the Church’s position on when life begins. The bishops, too, released a statement describing the case and reiterating Catholic beliefs.
So the matter seems to be resolved, even if it took public embarrassment for that to happen. There may have been hypocrites among the hospital’s executives, or they may have just neglected to supervise their lawyers as closely as they should have, but Church teaching has, thanks to the bishops’ efforts, seemingly won out.
A small victory, perhaps, but the damage has been done. Some publications—the Colorado Independent, several prominent free-thought and atheist blogs, and a few religion blogs—managed to cover the initial hypocrisy, but not, as of yet, the bishops’ response (despite the significant national attention it received). So the image of the Catholic Church as hypocritical will be further cemented in their readers’ minds. The way stories like this one play out reminds me of John Henry Newman’s description of how even fictional stories of Catholics’ vice can never be disproven:
After a great deal of trouble, after writing about to friends, consulting libraries, and comparing statements, let us suppose [a Catholic can] prove most conclusively the utter absurdity of [some] slanderous story, and to bring out a lucid, powerful, and unanswerable reply; who cares for it by that time? who cares for the story itself? it has done its work; time stops for no man; it has created or deepened the impression in the minds of its hearers that a monk commits murder or adultery as readily as he eats his dinner. Men forget the process by which they receive it, but there it is, clear and indelible.
Or supposing they recollect the particular slander ever so well, still they have no taste or stomach for entering into a long controversy about it; their mind is already made up; they have formed their views; the author they have trusted may, indeed, have been inaccurate in some of his details; it can be nothing more. Who can fairly impose on them the perplexity and whirl of going through a bout of controversy, where “one says,” and “the other says,” and “he says that he says that he does not say or ought not to say what he does say or ought to say?” It demands an effort and strain of attention which they have no sort of purpose of bestowing.
None of this is to say that people should not criticize the Church for hypocrisy, for the ongoing sexual abuse crisis, or for any of its other sins. But please, critics: At least be honest. When Church leaders correct a mistake, give them some credit.