The abortion and the bishop

bishopA few weeks ago, I wrote about a story in The Washington Times which reported that employees of Catholic Charities of Richmond helped a teenage foster child procure an abortion. Now in a follow-up, the Times' Julia Duin reports that both the Richmond bishop and Catholic Charities director knew about the plannned abortion and did nothing to stop it:

The Roman Catholic bishop of Richmond was told that a diocesan charity planned to help a teenage foster child get an abortion in January and did not try to prevent the procedure.

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo "was told erroneously that everything was in place and there was nothing he could do to stop it," said Steve Neill, Bishop DiLorenzo's communications officer. "He is very apologetic about the whole episode.

"It is very awkward, it is very embarrassing. A human life was taken. He certainly has not taken it lightly in any way. He is clearly opposed to abortion."

Mr. Neill said the bishop was informed Jan. 17, the day before an abortion was performed on the 16-year-old Guatemalan girl, who was a foster care client of Commonwealth Catholic Charities of Richmond (CCR), a group incorporated under the diocese.

Like its predecessor, this story gets religion. It treats abortion as a paramount issue under Roman Catholic doctrine. While the story could simply have been a tale of moral hypocrisy and legal trouble, it also struck a note of theological gravity:

The unnamed girl had been implanted with a contraceptive device provided by CCR two months earlier, according to the April 29 letter. Catholic doctrine condemns deliberate abortion and the use of contraception as mortal sins. Those who obtain an abortion or help someone else to do so can be excommunicated.

In addition, Duin got revealing quotes from the bishops' spokesman. His comments below suggest that he sought at least partly to rationalize the employees' decision to let the teenager have her unborn infant killed:

"They were so caught up with the plight of the young girl who already had a child," Mr. Neill said. "She was not a Catholic. She got pregnant by her boyfriend, and she was determined not to have the baby."

What the young girl's religious affiliation has to do with the employees' formal cooperation in the abortion I have no idea.

And yet and yet and yet. This story needed more explanation -- a lot more explanation. While Catholics of all stripes are angry at and resentful of their bishops, this story needed more exculpatory details and depth.

It's not enough to assert that Bishop DiLorenzo or the director of Catholic Charities knew beforehand about the abortion. To portray the bishop's lack of response accurately, Duin needed to probe deeper. She should have asked the dioceses' lawyer more questions, such as:

-- Does the bishop have any operating authority over the local Catholic Charities branch? Each bishops' authority in this matter varies by diocese. (In the Richmond diocese, Bishop DiLorenzo serves on Catholic Charities' board of directors.)

-- What could the bishop have done to prevent the abortion? Granted, the diocesan lawyer declined to elaborate on this question, but the Times should have given readers more information. What do other church authorities or experts have to say about this matter?

-- How far in advance did the bishop know about the planned abortion and did he know that the teenage foster child in question was going to abort her child? Both questions affect the reader's impression of the bishop's lack of response.

-- The bishop's spokesman said that the bishop is "very apologetic about the whole episode." If the bishop could have done nothing to stop the unborn child from being killed, why is he apologetic?

No doubt the Times had limited space and wanted to publish the story as soon as possible. But should those considerations outweigh impugning the bishop's name? In an important story such as this one, I say no.

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