By Fr. Michael Heidt

The Episcopal Church (TEC) recently sent a begging letter to law firms around the country asking for donations; here’s an excerpt:

“The recent 76th General Convention allocated $3 million for legal assistance to Dioceses for the 2010-12 Triennium. A substantial amount has already been expended… In order to reduce the pressure on a budget already strained… the St. Ives Fund was established in 2008 to help defray the costs of these litigations…
We are asking for your support of the St. Ives Fund. A contribution card and return envelope is included for your convenience.”

The budgetary shortfall is interesting, as is the spectacle of a wealthy denomination invoking the patronage of a saint who championed the cause of the poor, to appeal to well-off lawyers in a quest to sue comparatively cash starved dioceses and parishes. But don’t sweat the detail, it’s the feel of the thing that counts and that’s summed up in three words, “St. Ives Fund." 

There it is, conjuring up images of respectable endowment hand-in-glove with small t, traditional, spirituality; Cathedral Matins blessed by the patron saint of Tea on the Vicarage lawn and let’s not forget that such luxury comes at a price. The price here is truth, because TEC isn’t about saints like Ives, on the contrary, they venerate a very different brand of person.


Who are these people? Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, supplies the answer. Speaking at the memorial service for Dr. Tiller, the murdered late term abortionist, Ragsdale stated, “This is about the loss of a man who was a saint and a martyr.” For Ragsdale, Tiller is "holy" because he championed the rights of women and in the most radical way, by helping them to kill their babies. He died for that, making him a martyr for choice. According to their press release, the Episcopal Women’s Caucus (EWC) saw the abortionist’s practice as iconic, or sacramental: 

“Dr. Tiller was an internationally known champion of the reproductive rights of women. His senseless, untimely death is a cruel loss to… religious people everywhere who understand that freedom of choice is a cultural and political reflection of the spiritual gift of free will which God bestows upon each and every one of us.”

That’s why Tiller is a "saint;" his actions were outward and visible signs of the freedom given to us by God. Ragsdale is known for preaching on this theme of "abortion as sacrament" and we may be thankful to the EWC for shedding light on the strange doctrine. Regardless, EWC believes Tiller’s place in paradise is guaranteed, “The comfort of the Christian faith is that we are assured of Dr. Tiller’s place in the eternal and loving embrace of Jesus.” 

Theology of Death

This death theology finds echoes in another medical practice, assisted suicide, which is now legal in Oregon and several other States. On the same day, April 29th, 1996, that the InterFaith Alliance and Presiding Bishop Ed Browning petitioned President Clinton to veto the ban on partial birth abortion, Bishop Spong testified before the Congressional Committee on Health and Human Values. Spong spoke in support of people killing themselves. “I can now say with conviction that I favor both active and passive euthanasia, and I also believe it should be legalized.” 

No wonder that the then Bishop of Newark felt that way, he’s on the Advisory Board of the pro-euthanasia society, Compassion and Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society. And, lest we’re tempted to write off the erstwhile Hemlocks as an eccentric irrelevancy, remember that Compassion and Choices was a principle architect in drafting Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Likewise, the organization claims to be “leading the charge to make end of life choices a centerpiece of any legislation that emerges” from President Obama’s health care proposals. 


The “pro-choice” parallels with abortion are clear; just as a woman should be free to kill her child, so too should everyone be free to kill themselves and in this freedom we exercise, supposedly, a vital aspect of our God given nature. Thus abortionists, and presumably suicides, are "holy" because they uphold divinely ordered liberty of choice. But choice, in and of itself, isn’t the end of the story. 

The Faith teaches us that free will is a God-given good and that the decisions it makes are notoriously right or wrong. With this in mind, Christianity has always taught that killing babies, whether in or out of the womb, is a bad choice, as is killing oneself. Pope John Paul put it clearly in Evangelium Vitae:

“Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder. The Church’s tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice. Even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one’s neighbour, towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole. In its deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God’s absolute sovereignty over life and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of the ancient sage of Israel: ‘You have power over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again’ (Wis 16:13; cf. Tob 13:2).”

St. Ives

TEC, with its strident support of “reproductive health” and nascent advocacy of suicide, rejects the above teaching. To return to the St. Ives Fund; The Episcopal Church can claim all the saints it likes but we shouldn’t forget that the Cathedral Matins it evokes with such respectability is held in an abortion clinic accompanied by lethal injection. 

There is for sure spiritual patronage to such an endeavor and for a certainty, it has nothing to do with the holy men and women of God.

Forward in Christ

Proclaiming the Faith and Order of the Church, given to us by Christ.