I wish it were that simple. It's easy to say that the hospital should've been more flexible in this case. I would've voted with Sister Margaret. But Jesus preached about personal righteousness as well as peace and justice. The gospel and therefore the church are both about authority and love. The right balance was easy for Jesus to strike, less so for his imperfect followers. For instance, the Vatican's against capital punishment as well as abortion. Kristof is discomfited by its enforcement of dogma because it excommunicated Sister Margaret. But how would his column have read if the church had excommunicated a prison guard who participated in an execution?
To me, this battle illuminates two rival religious approaches, within the Catholic church and any spiritual tradition. 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.
The thought that keeps nagging at me is this: If you look at Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret [a member of of the hospital's ethics panel who was excommunicated for authorizing the abortion] as the protagonists in this battle, one of them truly seems to me to have emulated the life of Jesus. And it’s not the bishop, who has spent much of his adult life as a Vatican bureaucrat climbing the career ladder. It’s Sister Margaret, who like so many nuns has toiled for decades on behalf of the neediest and sickest among us.