Is Abortion Self-Defense? A Defense of Bishop Olmsted

If the heading above sounds like a silly question, it’s because it is.  But it’s one being raised by TurretinFan in his Christmas day assault on Bishop Olmsted’s good name.  I became involved in the debate somewhat against my will.  TF linked to this post, saying (in part):

I was also struck by the fact that the bishop’s stated identity was not Christ alone, but “Christ and the Church.” What he considers to be faithfulness to Christ is faithfulness to the rules of his church. However, in following the rules of his church, he’s not following God’s law. I’m not simply talking about his failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case, but about the fact that he offers worship (hyper-dulia) to Mary, engages in idolatry (in the latria of what is truly bread), and seeks to be right with God (evidently) through faithfulness rather than by faith.

There’s a lot of spurious accusations rolled into that.  A few responses off-hand:

  1. TF seems to suggest that we should identify with Christ alone, not Christ and His Church.  This is an attempt to tear asunder what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6) since the Church is the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, and is completely One with Him (Ephesians 5:25-32; Genesis 2:24).  Scripture never pits faithfulness to God and faithfulness to the Church as against one another, but instead, depicts all those faithful to God as children of Mother Church (Rev. 12:17). For this reason, St. Cyprian writes, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.” We can argue about what having the Church as Mother looks like, but there can be no question that the Church is indispensable to salvation. Even Calvin taught as much in Book IV, Chapter 1 of Institutes.  So just as we can’t have the Father and not the Son (1 John 2:23), we can’t have Christ and not His Body and His Bride, the Church.
  2. TF recognizes, in using the Greek terms, that what’s offered to Mary is the highest form of honor (hyper-dulia), not worship (latria), yet he still calls it worship in English.  Suffice to say that the honor given to Mary isn’t anything like worshiping the Eucharist, which we do, but is much more like honoring Father Abraham, which Scripture clearly does, or depicting Mary as a mortal Woman made Queen of Heaven by the Grace of God (Rev. 11:19-12:5).
  3. In attacking as idolatry those of us who worship the Eucharist, TF is being consistent.  But he’s also saying – in effect – that no one from the time of Ignatius of Antioch (the first century student of the Apostle John) to about the eleventh century was Christian. The reason’s simple: while there’s debate amongst Christians about what the Bible means in its strongly Eucharistic passages, there’s no serious debate that the early Christians believed the Eucharist was not “truly bread,” but the True Bread from Heaven, Christ (John 6:32).  I don’t see a way to reject the Eucharist as idolatry without saying that the gates of Hell overcame the Church almost immediately after the death of Christ.  And if you concede that point, there’s not a particularly strong reason to believe that a mentally-tortured Catholic monk like Luther was able to single-handedly resurrect Christ’s Church (without explicitly called told to by Christ).  So there’s not really any reason to think Christianity exists today.  If we could all be wrong for a thousand years, why not two thousand?  More fundamentally, it throws into serious question the promises of Christ in John 14, John 16, Matthew 16:17-19, and Matthew 28:20 to safeguard and lead the Church through the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding Her in all truth until the end of time.
  4. TF distinguishes between “faith” and “faithfulness,” but apparently not in the way that Scripture does.  Faithfulness is living by faith, and to believe, but not act on that belief is worthless (James 2; 1 Cor. 13:2).  But that doesn’t mean that actions alone are worth anything. The distinction is easily made. Christ sends the blind man in John 9:7 to wash out his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. The man is saved by faith in “blindly” going where he’s sent by Christ.  Had he simply believed Christ could do it, but refused to get off his duff to get to Siloam, he’d have stayed blind.  James 2:20 calls that sort of faith worthless.  Conversely, had he gone every morning to the Pool of Siloam because he liked the pool, or because he was superstitious and thought the pool was magical, or any other reason apart from Christ, he would have stayed blind as well.  That’s the legalism of the Pharisees: rote actions without faith.  The waters themselves weren’t what healed him, but his active faith. I explored this in greater depth using Luke 17 here, so I won’t belabor the point, except to say that the reason Bishop Olmsted does the things he does is out of love of, and obedience to, God.  He says so himself, and there’s no reason to think he’s lying.

Finally, TF makes the bizarre claim that abortion was, in this instance, self-defense.  First, he characterizes what happened as Bishop Olmsted’s “decision to remove the ‘Catholic’ designation from St. Joseph’s hospital because it took the life of a child in defense of the life of the child’s mother.”  Then there was that reference above to Olmsted’s alleged “failure to allow self-defense to be a justification for killing in this case,” suggesting a grave misunderstanding of what self-defense is.  When a commenter notes the obvious (that a helpless fetus isn’t an assailant, so pleading self-defense doesn’t make any sense), TF responds:

The baby was killing the mother. I don’t suppose the baby intended to kill the mother. I’m not sure how you got “unjust aggressor.” Nor do I think that the baby needs to be “guilty” in order for the baby to [kill] his mother. If the defense of the mother justifies the use of lethal force, then there is no doing of evil involved.

The implications of this are extensive and dangerous, and totally incompatible with Christianity.

Murder is Never Self-Defense

St. Thomas Aquinas answers this really clearly in the Summa, that it’s lawful to kill in self-defense against an assailant (so long as the action is done to stop the person from killing you, and not because you want them dead), but it’s never lawful to intentionally kill an innocent person.  (Article 6 and 7 here). The same is the rule under secular law: the legal defense of “justification” or self-defense is permissible only if it’s against a person using (or about to use) deadly force against you. New York’s laws are pretty typical here.

These rules are totally consistent with Scripture.  Exodus 20:13 is a total bar to murder, the intentional taking of innocent life, yet Exodus 22:2 permitted the killing of a thief in the night without guilt.  It’s not repealing or even modifying the Ten Commandments: it’s just explaining that killing a thief in the night isn’t murder.  Even here, you could not kill a thief who broke in during the day (Ex. 22:3), since you presumably had other options (you could see well enough to strike a non-fatal blow, or call for immediate help, or just get out of the house).  So we see both of Aquinas’ factors: first, it has to be a wrong-doer, and second, the principle of double-effect applies.

There are a lot of reasons why it’s important that self-defense doesn’t permit murder.  Just consider the implications:

  1. A madman threatens to kill you if you don’t kill a group of schoolchildren. Can you kill them as “self-defense,” since not killing them would result in your death?
  2. You’re dying of kidney failure, and only one other person in your area is a perfect match. Can you kill  him to take their kidney?  Again, if you don’t kill them, you’ll die.
  3. You’re on a lifeboat, and there’s not enough food for all of you to live.  Can you some or all of the others to ensure your own survival?
  4. A wolf is chasing you and your much-slower child.  Can you kill your kid and lay his body out as bait to ensure that at least you survive?  Is that “self-defense”?

In all of the above, the obvious answer, whether you’re religious or not (but especially if you’re a Christian) is no.  But if you were to accept TurretinFan’s argument that you can kill anyone who gets in the way of your ability to stay alive at all costs, it’d be hard to avoid acknowledging the above as legitimate “self-defense.”  At this point, of course, we’re no longer talking about what Christians mean by self-defense at all, but something warped and disturbing instead.  You’ll find no reflection of this moral philosophy anywhere in Sacred Writ or any other orthodox Christian writings.

I know that there are some of you trying to distinguish the cases I mentioned above from killing a baby in “self-defense.”  Perhaps you’re thinking, “But won’t the baby die anyways?”  But that question is literally irrelevant for the issue of self-defense. You don’t consider whether the assailant would die otherwise, nor do you count the number of victims. If a gang of twenty people were trying to kill you, the doctrine of self-defense would theoretically permit you to kill all twenty.  But if a dying old woman is in your way as you flee a burning house, you can’t purposely kill her to ensure that you get to freedom.


Given a number of factors, I don’t think TF is very well-informed on the subject of either Olmsted or the moral theology of self-defense.  On the question of self-defense, that’s obvious enough: he’s articulating a half-formed moral  theology with obviously-evil implications.  But on the question of Bishop Olmsted, it’s more subtle.  First, there’s the way he describes Bp. Olmsted as nervous and seemingly defensive.  I’ll let the reader/viewer decide, but I think what TF sees as defensiveness and nervousness are just Olmsted’s normal mannerisms, as you can see from other videos in which he speaks publicly, like this one.

Much more importantly, he gets wrong why St. Joseph’s is losing its accreditation as a Catholic hospital.  The reason that St. Joseph’s is being stripped of its title as a Catholic hospital is not only because it does something that the Catholic Church abhors as a mortal sin which incurs automatic excommunication (intentionally killing an unborn baby), but because it also refused Olmsted’s subsequent attempts at gaining transparency, to ensure that they weren’t violating Church teaching in other areas (it’s not a crazy idea that a “Catholic” hospital acting as an abortion clinic might also be doing things like performing sterilizations and giving out contraception, particularly since the “Catholic” healthcare group owning it also has significant interests in secular hospitals which do those things).  When St. Joseph’s Hospital refused to either follow Catholic teachings or submit to the Catholic hierarchy, it was stripped of its title Catholic. This wasn’t a case where the hospital found itself in a morally gray area, made the wrong decision, and was immediately and mercilessly thrown out.  This is the culmination of years of open rebellion, where a hospital refusing to be Catholic was finally told, in effect, “You win. You’re not Catholic.”  It’s no more offensive than my telling Turretin Fan: you’re not a Catholic.  He knows.  And by their conduct, it’s clear St. Joseph’s knows, too.


  1. Joe,
    Thanks for this. TF’s reliance on human reason apart from ecclesial authority for ultimate guidance and interpretation (a hermeneutic I had argued against with him, however poorly) leads him to this very confusion. It is moral issues like this one that has contributed to my inquiry into the Catholic Church.

  2. So this is how “Turretin Fan” chose to spend his Christmas? He takes aim at a Catholic bishop who is doing nothing but upholding Catholic moral teaching?

    It is truly nauseating. He should go back to trying to prove that all the church fathers were sola scripturists.

  3. Canadian,

    (1) Thanks. I’m thrilled you’re inquiring into the Church, and anything I can do to answer questions or ease doubts would be an honor for me.

    (2) As for TF, he’s clearly very smart, but puts too much trust in his own intelligence and Scriptural discernment as a result. It’s that self-assurance and perhaps pride which often leads people into becoming their own Magisterium of One. Catholics, including myself, struggle with this as well. Prayer and humility are the cures.

    What I mean by Magisterium of One: in his response to me, he says of the early Christians (who are, by his analysis, idolaters, since they worship the Eucharist), “We (Reformed) don’t require moral or theological perfection of Christians. In fact, we try to judge by a very lenient standard,” as if he and those who happen to agree with him had been handed the Keys to the Kingdom by Christ, and now sat in judgment of souls past, present, and future.






    I share your frustration. He doesn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s Christ-Mass, after all, and if you hate Catholicism, you sort of have to hate Christmas). Two particular frustrations were (1) how baseless the attacks were (must of them could have been summarized, “Bp. Olmsted must be legalistic because he is Catholic”), and (2) that TF’s self-Magisterium was suddenly defending abortion. That wasn’t an error I thought I’d see from him, but it’s possible that just as Protestantism suddenly forgot why it opposed contraception, the lack of ecclesial guidance will undermine Evangelical and Reformed Protestantism’s pro-lifeness. I’ve already seen it happen with conservative Protestants I know on the issues of abortifacient chemical contraceptions, embryonic stem-cell research, and the like. It disturbs me a lot.

    All that said, although we’re rightly disgusted by the conduct, TF seems to be trying to serve the Lord, and I always have a lot of respect for folks doing that day in and day out (even if they’re sometimes singing His praises really off-key).


  4. Joe.

    I agree that he is trying to serve God and I pray for his and other’s to find the truth.

    I am kind of tongue and cheek about his ‘formal sufficiency’ series but truth is that he (and DT King) are basically putting it together on account of little old me. DT King had claimed something like, “All church fathers taught that scripture is formally sufficient” on Green Baggins and I asked him to name one specifically. The result is the ongoing ‘series.’

    I wrote this response in part due to their current ‘series.’

    My only frustration is that he clearly reads the church fathers ‘outside of the church’ when in fact the fathers were ‘inside of the church.’ They did not conceive scripture apart from the church which is what ‘formal sufficiency’ requires but TFan treats them as if they do.

    Previously he claimed that Athanasius and even Thomas Aquinas taught that scripture is formally sufficient. After previously tackling those citations head-on in which those fathers’ teaching about the church were never addressed all I can do now is watch in amazement.

    I am surprised he has not claimed that the Catholic Church teaches that scripture is ‘formally sufficient’ because the church speaks positively about scripture in the catechism.

  5. Blogahon,

    I totally agree with what you’ve written here, although I have another frustration in addition to the ones you expressly mention. TF, like most people, has confirmation bias — the desire to read all evidence as supporting one’s own point. But the degree to which it warps his ability to understand patristics and Scriptural exegesis is sort of stunning.

    It’s one thing to say that the early Church was wrong on the Eucharist, but to say that they didn’t believe what they repeated say that they believe is just bizarre. I liked the list of Patristic sources in support of the Eucharistic change you provided on his post, and I’m eager to see how he avoids the obvious meaning of the mass of evidence. It’d be one thing if he were refuting a single quote, arguing, in essence, “it sounds like he’s supporting transubstantiation, but he really means x,” but he’s not. He’s arguing countless Patristic authorities who are as clear as humanly possible on their Eucharistic views, and he sort of waves them off as non-Catholic. When it comes to the point that we’re almost expected to believe that nobody in the early Church said what they really meant on the Eucharist, it defies credulity.

    BTW, I didn’t realize you were Sean Patrick with Called to Communion — I actually suggested your blog (one of Troutman’s posts) in response to TF’s latest post. You guys do some fantastic work, and I like how charitably you do it.


  6. Greetings in the LORD, my brothers!

    I tried to post this final comment on TurretinFan’s blog entry, but it wouldn’t go through for some reason. So just in case anyone was following our exchange, I thought I would try to post it here so that the information is available to those interested.

    TurretinFan wrote, “Augustine, of course, would not have made himself the measure of heresy/orthodoxy. He repeatedly and unequivocally pointed his readers to Scripture as the standard.”

    I respond: I think it is more accurate to say that Augustine would point others to the Roman Catholic Church’s interpretation of the Scriptures as the measure of heresy/orthodoxy. For Augustine, the Scriptures alone could be appealed to as a sufficient witness, but the faith and practice of the whole Church could also be appealed to as a sufficient witness. Most often, the two would coincide, but not always. For “even if it were no where at all read in the Old Scriptures, not small is the authority… of the whole Church” (On the Care of the Dead, 3).

    And “although I find something written by Catholics on the subject [of the origin of the soul], yet the defence of the truth had not yet been undertaken against those men, neither was there any anxiety to answer them. But this I say, that according to the Holy Scriptures original sin is so manifest, and that this is put away in infants by the laver of regeneration is confirmed by such antiquity and authority of the catholic faith, notorious by such a clear concurrent testimony of the Church, that what is argued by the inquiry or affirmation of anybody concerning the origin of the soul, if it is contrary to this, cannot be true. Wherefore, whoever builds up, either concerning the soul or any other obscure matter, any edifice whence he may destroy this, which is true, best founded, and best known, whether he is a son or an enemy of the Church, must either be corrected or avoided” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk. 3, Ch. 26).

    The fact of original sin is founded on the Holy Scriptures themselves; but the fact that original sin “is put away in infants by the laver of regeneration” is not rested by Augustine upon the authority of the Scriptures, but upon the “antiquity and authority of the catholic faith, notorious by such a clear concurrent testimony of the Church.” The teaching is “true, best founded, and best known,” and whatever “is contrary to this, cannot be true.” Augustine says that whoever opposes this teaching “must either be corrected or avoided,” indicating thereby that this is a question of heresy, and one for which Augustine did not appeal to the Scriptures in order to answer, the authority of the Church alone sufficing.

    Your brother in the LORD,
    Pete Holter – Rebecca is my wife 🙂

  7. Peter (or Joe?)

    You are right about Augustine but I fear that it won’t make an impact on Turretin Fan. He never addresses the 800lbs gorilla (for him) and that is that is what the fathers believed about the Catholic Church. He reads their statements about scripture with his Protestant lens and forgets that they did not wear Protestant glasses. So – he’ll try to show that the fathers all pointed to scripture, which they did, but won’t tread water when the same fathers often in the same works point to the authority of the church and sacred Tradition.

    I’ve also noticed that his latest move is to demand the fullest exposition of Catholic doctrines in a church father before he’ll concede anything. Augustine can say that the eucharisted bread ‘becomes Christ’s body’ but since he did not also say in the same sentence that it became the fullness of ‘Christ’s divinity’ as well than obviously Augustine would not advocate a view like Transubstantiation!

    It makes me wonder how he trusts the fathers at all since none of them ever outlined TULIP verbatim either.

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