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Pushing the Moral Envelope

by James Hitchcock
May 2, 2007

The Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis is one of the very few children’s hospitals in the United States operated under Catholic auspices. But recent events seem to show that there are people who do not want to preserve that distinction. It attracted national, even international, attention.

A foundation that claims to have no official connection with the hospital organizes an annual concert for the hospital’s benefit, and this year the featured performer was a singer named Sheryl Crow, who as it turned out is fanatically pro-abortion. She has lent her name to numerous pro-abortion causes and last Fall campaigned hard for legalized embryonic stem-cell research in her native Missouri.

Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis was the chairman of the board of the foundation, but when he found out who Crow is and asked that the invitation be rescinded, the board refused. The archbishop then resigned, whereupon, not surprisingly, he became the villain. Some board members, instead of attempting damage control and minimizing the tension, jumped into the fray with both feet.

The chairman of the concert said he was “disappointed and saddened that there are people in the community who are attempting to use this event to further a political agenda.,” and a sports celebrity who lends his name to the concert announced with pride that he had never applied a “litmus test” to the event, “nor do I intend to, now or ever.”

Dismissing the abortion issue as merely “political” summed it all up. The concert chairman asked incredulously “do we start asking doctors their positions on abortion?” The obvious answer is “in a Catholic hospital, of course we do.” It would be hard to think of any contemporary moral issue - capital punishment, war, poverty - that is not also political. (Sheryl Crow herself was not denounced as political, although I recently saw a report that she publicly confronted the White House advisor Karl Rove by shoving him and poking him in the chest.)

Inevitably, Archbishop Burke was accused of taking medicine away from sick children. But ever since the hospital was founded over fifty years ago the Archdiocese of St. Louis has provided major support, including an annual collection in all the churches. As many people have pointed out, the whole conflict could have been avoided if those who bought tickets to the concert simply gave the money directly to the hospital instead. Most curious of all were those people who abused the archbishop and then announced defiantly that, while they had never donated to the hospital in the past, they will now do so. What could not be done out of charity will be done out of spite.

Defenders of Sheryl Crow apparently see no contradiction between an institution dedicated to the welfare of children and someone who advocates terminating the lives of unborn children. But, then again, perhaps they can see it, which is precisely what made it important for them to support the concert - to deny that abortion is a moral issue at all.

For a variety of reasons it is increasingly difficult to maintain authentically Catholic health-care institutions, and the Cardinal Glennon Hospital controversy has the earmarks of an attempt by some people to push that particular envelope as far as it will go.

James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. Dr. Hitchcock's The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life, Vol. 1 The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses and Vol. II From 'Higher Law' to 'Sectarian Scruples', were released by Princeton University Press September 2, 2004.

E-Mail: Dr. James Hitchcock

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