So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Atlantic Bishops of Canada. Enabling despair?

December 12, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic bishops of Atlantic Canada are citing Pope Francis and his controversial exhortation Amoris Laetitia to support a decision allowing priests latitude to decide whether to give euthanasia seekers the sacraments before they are killed.[S]
Amoris Laetitia has been cited, again, to defend "accompaniment". In this instant, accompaniment means the possibility—which in this day and age might as well mean the probability—of offering the sacraments to those who "would be persisting in manifest grave sin by the willful and conscious decision to end their life by suicide (cf Fastiggi, OSV 3.4.2016)."

By publishing their "accompaniment" guidelines, are the Atlantic bishops enabling despair? Have they not heard about the empowering value of a hopeful, caring and firm witness to the Gospel, which necessarily includes informing people who want to kill themselves that they are putting their souls at risk? Are the Atlantic bishops forgetting that grace is available to help people through debilitating suffering (cf. Chaput: "We need to call people to grace, not confirm them in their errors" Aleteia/Montagna 2015)? Have they no hope in their hearts which they can share with those who are in most need of God's mercy? Have they forgotten that Christians are called to heroic virtue in the face of trial?
Congratulations, dear Atlantic (and Quebec) bishops—you now appear more Episcopalian/Anglican and pagan than Catholic.

It is said that a Christian must have a hard head and a soft heart. The Atlantic bishops appear to have very soft heads. Their embrace of the culture of death is a subtle one, but an embrace nonetheless, and a cozy one at that. Their "pastoral" approach attempts to trump the truth of the Gospel by dressing up dissent in a culture of nice, a typically contemporary Canadian thing to do. How is it that seemingly intelligent men miss the obvious: love and mercy do not contradict truth; love and mercy cannot contradict truth. The Alberta bishops understand that love does not enable suicide. As difficult as it may seem, we must help people confront the consequences of their actions, which at times may mean speaking words that by today's standards or lack thereof may seem harsh. Is a parent's correction of her children harsh when it helps a child avoid harm?

The Gospels make clear what it means to live and die with authentic dignity. If, for some reason, someone doubts the authority of the biblical witness, he has the Magisterium of the Church to guide his thinking (cf citations from the Catechism, below).

Consider, too, the following excerpt from an article by Dr. Robert Fastiggi at Our Sunday Visitor:
(C)anon 1007 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that “the anointing of the sick is not to be conferred upon those who persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.” Ideally, the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick should be preceded by the Sacrament of Penance and followed by the reception of the Eucharist as viaticum or “food for the journey” (CCC, No. 1525). The Sacrament of Penance, however, requires the penitent to be properly disposed, which means “rejecting sins committed and having a purpose of amendment” (Canon 987).
The same article continues:
In a similar way, a person requesting the anointing of the sick must not “persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.” If a priest cannot persuade a person against physician-assisted suicide, then the Sacrament of Anointing should not be administered. This would be a most painful decision on the part of the priest, but such an individual would seem to be persisting in the manifest grave sin of suicide.
Archbishop Prendergast, who published a pastoral exhortation on the subject that he asked all priests in the archdiocese to read at Mass the weekend of March 5-6, noted to CCN that those who seek to kill themselves lack “the proper disposition for the anointing of the sick.” He goes on to say: “Asking to be killed is gravely disordered and is a rejection of the hope that the rite calls for and tries to bring into the situation. … Asking your priest to be present to something that is in direct contradiction to our Catholic values is not fair to the pastor. … Of course a pastor will try to persuade a patient from requesting suicide and will pray with them and their family, but asking him to be present is in effect asking him to condone a serious sin. … The rite is for people who are gravely ill or labor under the burden of years, and it contains the forgiveness of sins as part of the rite, in either form. … But we cannot be forgiven pre-emptively for something we are going to do, like ask for assisted suicide when suicide is a grave sin.”
At the crucifixion, Jesus said to the repentant thief that he would be with Him, Jesus, in paradise [Luke 23:32-43]. Did Jesus "accompany" the impenitent thief who tempted and taunted Him? The good thief rebuked the impenitent thief because of his lack of fear (respect) of God. Jesus showed no sign of approving the impenitent man's disposition. It was to the penitent thief to whom Jesus showed mercy. Mercy would have been wasted on the impenitent thief whose heart was closed to hope.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.—1 Corinthians 2:14-16
People should meditate on the good thief's rebuke of the impenitent thief, while also reflecting on Jesus' (silent) response to the impenitent thief.

Those who choose to kill themselves by enlisting another person to help them commit suicide should not expect to enter into paradise.

We can be thankful to God that, while the Atlantic bishops are way off the mark,
the approach of Alberta's bishops, who, while also stressing "pastoral accompaniment," insisted that in justice and mercy priests ought to be clear with euthanasia seekers that they would be committing a gravely sinful act. [S]
The Catechism on suicide:
2280 Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.
2281 Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.
2282 If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.
Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.
2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.
It's one thing to pray with someone who is about to or pray for someone who already has taken his or her own life. It is another thing entirely to offer the sacraments to someone obstinately committed to killing him/herself. How much more mockery of His gifts will God tolerate?
2324 Intentional euthanasia, whatever its forms or motives, is murder. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator.
2325 Suicide is seriously contrary to justice, hope, and charity. It is forbidden by the fifth commandment.
2326 Scandal is a grave offense when by deed or omission it deliberately leads others to sin gravely.
What about funerals for those who commit suicide?
Can. 1184 §1. Unless they gave some signs of repentance before death, the following must be deprived of ecclesiastical funerals:
  1. notorious apostates, heretics, and schismatics;
  2. those who chose the cremation of their bodies for reasons contrary to Christian faith;
  3. other manifest sinners who cannot be granted ecclesiastical funerals without public scandal of the faithful.
§2. If any doubt occurs, the local ordinary is to be consulted, and his judgment must be followed.

A person who ends his or her life by suicide could be granted a Catholic funeral and burial because the various factors mentioned in the Catechism might have taken away culpability for the sin committed (Fastiggi/OSV).
Dr. Fastiggi also mentions that
most cases of suicide are the consequence of psychological factors that “impede making a free and deliberative act of the will.” Those who commit suicide because of such factors would not qualify as “manifest grave sinners.”
He adds:
the case of someone about to end his or her life via physician-assisted suicide would be different. This is because they would be persisting in manifest grave sin by the willful and conscious decision to end their life by suicide.
And concludes with:
(E)ven if such individuals are denied the Sacrament of Anointing, we should not despair of their eternal salvation. God, who is omniscient and all-merciful might know of hidden factors that we cannot know. Whether those who willfully undergo physician-assisted suicide should receive a Catholic funeral and burial would need to be evaluated according to prescriptions of Canon 1184. It would seem that the local ordinary should be consulted in such cases.
UPDATE (14-Dec-16): Fr. Raymond De Souza weighs in: CLICK HERE
Above all, the Atlantic document suffers from an approach that would be unimaginable if it were applied to any other serious moral issue. For example, take one of the sins that cries out to Heaven: defrauding a worker of his wages (cf. James 5:4). Consider an employer who had decided upon some maneuver that would deprive his workers of their wages, but asked for absolution beforehand, still determined to so defraud the workers the day after tomorrow. If all this is known, what would the bishops advise? Likely they would say more than what their pastoral reflection states: “The Sacrament of Penance is for the forgiveness of past sins, not the ones that have yet to be committed…” More likely they would suggest that sacramental absolution was not possible until a time of greater conversion and purpose of amendment.
Finally, it is off-putting to read bishops, in a formal document, write of “medical assistance in dying.” It is an Orwellian construction designed by those who wish to disguise the enormity of what is being done — the killing, voluntary or otherwise, of the sick by the very doctors and nurses pledged to care for them.—De Souza/14-Dec-16.
UPDATE (14-DEC-16): Three thoughts on the AEA letter: Dr. Edward Peters, JD, JCD, Ref. Sig. Ap. CLICK HERE
The Atlantic Episcopal Assembly (i.e, the Roman Catholic bishops of Eastern Canada) has written a short document to and about Catholics who are considering and/or preparing for “medically assisted dying” (i.e., suicide in accord with recent Canadian law). The AEA document reads quite differently from the superb letter on legalized suicide that the Western Canadian bishops penned a few weeks ago, but, as Rod Dreher has already written a good critique of the Eastern Canadian bishops’ missive, I won’t repeat those points here; instead, I address three, I fear, serious omissions from the AEA letter about the celebration of sacraments with Catholics planning to kill themselves. 

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