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'The family has fundamental value' - an interview with Polish President Andrzej Duda

Vatican City, Sep 27, 2020 / 06:53 am (CNA).-  

On Sept. 25, EWTN News spoke with Poland's President Andrzej Duda, who met with Pope Francis during a visit to Rome.

Duda spoke about his own Catholic faith, Pope St. John Paul II, secularization, and his efforts to promote the family.

Below is the full text of that interview:


President Duda, you grew up in the south of Poland in a Catholic family. How was your life of faith in the family, how did you live the Catholic faith and how have you brought that to your presidency? Has it been a challenge?

Indeed I was raised in a family that has always been Catholic, for generations. That’s the type of family I grew up in. This connection to the Church, to the Catholic Christian community, was always a fact, from the beginning of my life. And it always was very important in my home for my parents and grandparents. As a child I was an altar boy. I served Mass at church in Krakow and in Stary Sacz, where my father was born, where my grandparents used to live at that time. I simply grew up in this atmosphere. This was always important. And you could easily say that I was absorbing these values.

Christian values form the deep, deep, deep history of Poland because in Stary Sacz there is a monastery established by St. Kinga, many centuries ago. And this tradition still remains. This tradition of this very uncommonly strong Catholicism - I would say a conservative Catholicism -  because there is a Poor Clare monastery  - and they are cloistered nuns. So, this Catholicism there is very, very strong.

Tell me about your specific devotion to St. Bobola and to other saints in Poland.

I can tell you openly that I was born on May 16, 1972 which is the feast day of St. Andrew Bobola. And, among other reasons, it was because it was the feast of St. Andrew Bobola that my parents gave me the name Andrew in order for St. Andrew Bobola to be my patron saint.

So, there is this special attachment and later I grew up in this particularly patriotic atmosphere. I was active in boy scouts, who were very patriotic. St. Andrew Bobola was a man who died not just for the faith. Not only was he violently murdered by Cossacks because he was a Catholic clergyman but he also died for Poland and Polish ideals, so you could say that he was a believer, a priest and a patriot.


You’re also from Krakow. John Paul II was there for many years. What was your relationship with John Paul II?

We call this generation of ours, the generation of kids who were born in the 70s and the beginning of the 80s and also those born in the 60s, “the JPII generation”... John Paul the Second. We grew up with the pilgrimages of the Holy Father. And Krakow was the place that the Holy Father, during the history of his pontificate visited most often. It was, after all, his city. He was the metropolitan of Krakow and the cardinal of Krakow before he became pope. He especially loved to meet the youth in Krakow.

He always had time for the youth and we as children were brought by our parents to meetings with him and then as young people we went by ourselves underneath the famous papal window on Franciszkanska Street and to the fields of Krakow where he said the Holy Masses, attended by millions of people. And this was always incredible. And the Holy Father did the greatest thing you could do for the Poles at that time, namely, he showed to my parents’ generation how many people in Poland think alike.

During the dark time of communism, in 1979, he came on a pilgrimage to Poland and people gathered and saw that there were millions of them. And that millions of these people are of the faith and they think alike. They were listening to him at that time. And it was the beginning of the changes in Poland.

After that, in 1980, Solidarnosc was created. This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Solidarnosc. And that was the beginning of the end of communism. Despite the imposition of martial law, all of this could not be stopped. The Holy Father was here [in Rome] and was vigilant all the time. And that’s how we have freedom, because of him. There’s no doubt about it.


You’ve made defending and promoting the traditional family a big part of your platform in Poland. You spoke about it with the pope today. You took part in a march for the family back in Poland earlier this week. If we look at your policies, you’re constantly defending the family and this is in the face of the European Union which often speaks poorly of Poland for defending this values, speaking in other terms, asking for you to take on abortion rights or defend same sex marriage, or other things like this. What do you think the European Union is asking of you, personally and as a president, and what is Poland’s response?

You are touching on a very important issue.

The family in my presidency and in my life has an immense value and in my view of the state, every state, but first of all obviously the Polish State. What is there to say but that there is no nation, no State without a family that has children, which in turn causes the renewal of generations, which means that the nation remains and it can create a State. So, if someone thinks of himself as a Polish patriot, if someone thinks that Poland should remain, that our nation should exist, then there should be no doubt that the family in all of this has a fundamental meaning. That’s how I approach this.

I try to proclaim these views not just in Poland, and build this legal and systemic framework so that the family can grow best, have the most children, be supported by the Polish state, just as the Polish Constitution stipulates.

The Polish Constitution orders the State to particularly defend the family.

Marriage, according to the Polish Constitution, is a union between a man and a woman. And the parents have the right to raise the children according to their convictions. These are the fundamental rights written into the Polish constitution. So, I only act according to the Polish constitution. And I do not hesitate to talk about it at the European Union. But I work, I serve Poland, that is my duty. And how politicians in other countries, other presidents approach this, that’s their prerogative. And it’s their societies who hold them accountable. That’s my approach. And this is also a Christian approach.

And this is, in my opinion, the most deeply correct approach.

You made news for picking up a host that fell on the ground during Mass, the Eucharist when it fell on the ground. We saw that across the world. You’ve also made it a point to defend the Eucharist. There’s an artistic performance in Spain that’s desecrating the hosts, the Eucharist and Poland has sent a representative to the Human Rights Court of Europe to defend [the Eucharist]. How is this part of your policies?

Our religion tells us to be docile. Our Catholic religion tells us even to love our enemies. This is what Jesus taught us. This is very difficult, but everyone should try and every one of us should live as best as possible.

And I think this is abused by various sorts of performers who are inimical to Christianity and Catholicism. And you gave an example of that. He knows that he can afford to do that because Catholics, Christians will not hurt him in any way because of that. And so he has this cheap courage.

The birthrate in Poland is rising after some efforts that you’ve made, but only slightly and it’s still not at the point where it will replace itself, the population of Poland. You also are promoting family, education, you spoke about that with the Pope today as well. What’s the long game in Poland for defending Poland against the secularization that’s happening across Europe and how are you going to carry that out?

I told the Holy Father today that I believe that at this time when from all sides we are being pushed by this anti-Catholic, anti-Christian propaganda - some would say liberal leftist [propaganda], where there is this very strong pressure to imbue other values, especially into the young people, completely opposite to the values that we read about in the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible - it is simply our duty as people of faith to pronounce our values steadfastly, constantly and unceasingly and try with all our strength to stem these other currents which in my conviction destroy the traditional family, destroy the human being as it is best understood. They disrupt traditional upbringing. I think we should [pronounce our values] despite everything, do our duty, and that’s what I do.

How are you working with other neighboring countries to defend Christianity, also in places where it is persecuted?

Many times, also in the European parliament, I participated in passing various acts of declarative character but also legislative ones pertaining to the defense of Christians, especially in the Middle East where they are in danger or in Asia, southeast Asia, there are many such places where people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, but Poland right now, as it is governed by the United Right [coalition], while I am president we really pay close attention to that.

We are now a member of the Human Rights Council. We pay attention to these issues. We were the non-permanent member of the security council of the UN. And, a year ago, we passed a resolution pertaining to those who are being persecuted for their religious beliefs. We stress this problem because we believe we have to talk about it.  


President Duda also offered a message to the viewers of EWTN Polska:

Heartfelt greetings to all the viewers of EWTN Poland. Thank you for watching Catholic television. I think that this TV station carries the values that are important for us. Here in this place, our Holy Father John Paul II served God, the Church and Poland. This year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. I would like you to sometimes take in your hand the sermons the Holy Father gave us, his words he spoke to us. I would like you to sometimes look on the Internet and on YouTube or some other channels find the words spoken by the Holy Father, because it is important to remind ourselves of them in order to know what path we Poles, we people of faith, we Catholics, should follow through life. I very cordially invite you to do that. Thank you for your attention, thank you for listening. All the best, everybody.



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Day of prayer planned for 357 religious dead from COVID-19 in Spain

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 04:23 pm (CNA).- The Spanish Conference of Religious (CONFER) has announced that September 29 will be observed as a day of prayer for the 357 religious who have died from the novel coronavirus during the pandemic in Spain.

The conference invited religious communities to participate in the day of prayer, which falls on the Feast of Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

These religious men and women, the conference stated, “have been faithful to the end of their days…And so, amid the pain of their loss, we are grateful for their witness until the end!”

According to statistics from CONFER 357 religious from 73 religious congregations have died from COVID-19, as of September 25. The conference noted that they continue to receive data daily.

“The best way to honor our deceased is to dedicate one day this September to their memory,” CONFER said.

All religious communities are invited on September 29 “during their morning prayer, their Eucharist together, and in their afternoon prayer, to commemorate them all, naming them during a moment of prayer.”

The conference proposed putting “a sheet of paper on the altar with the names of each person” and suggested that communities give “thanks to God for their witness, their fidelity, their perseverance in adversity and their decision to follow God's call until the end of their days.”

CONFER also suggested the congregations share that moment of prayer on social media so it can become “a small tribute to our brothers and sisters who departed but who are still very present among us in remembering them and their experience of the faith and the charism that they enriched.”

Russia seeks to bar foreign-educated religious leaders from teaching, preaching

CNA Staff, Sep 26, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Catholic leaders in Russia are expressing concern about a bill that would restrict the ability of Russian religious ministers who receive religious education abroad to teach or preach in Russia.

The bill calls for “recertification” in Russian educational institutions of pastors and “personnel of religious organisations” who have received religious education abroad, ostensibly with the goal of preventing the spread of “extremist ideology” from abroad, the Barnabas Fund reports.

The bill was proposed in the Federal Assembly and approved for first reading Sept. 22, but the reading has been postponed.

Father Kirill Gorbunov, vicar general for the Archdiocese of the Mother of God at Moscow, told RIA Novosti, according to Asia News, that priests ministering from Russia who were educated elsewhere should be informed about the history, culture and religious traditions of Russia, and should not disseminate extremist ideas in their preaching.

However, he said it is the Church’s responsibility to regulate this, not the state’s— and the Catholic Church has no tolerance for extremist ideas, he said.

The attempt by the Kremlin to regulate what is being taught to religious leaders "does not provide for effective solutions, rather it would lead to inextricable contradictions.”

In addition to Catholics, Russsian Buddhists typically study abroad as part of their formation, Asia News reported.

The bill comes amid several years of deteriorating religious freedom in Russia.

In 2016, Russian president Vladimir Putin approved a new set of laws that would restrict evangelization and missionary activity to officially registered Church buildings and worship areas.

Anti-terrorism measures, catalyzed by the 2002 Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity, have given Russian police powers to disrupt private worship services, to arrest and detain individuals handing out unapproved religious materials, and to outlay any publish preaching without prior approval from Russian authorities.

In 2017, the country’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses as an extremist group. Judges ordered the closure of the ecclesial community’s Russian headquarters and almost 400 local chapters, and the seizure of its property.

As of August 2020, over a thousand homes have been searched, nearly 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged, a few dozen convicted, and ten are currently serving time, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports.

Before Communism came to Russia, a majority of the country’s citizens were Eastern Orthodox Christians. During the reign of communism, the government attempted to destroy the Church by blowing up buildings and killing priests, religious sisters, and anyone who resisted them.

Once the government gained control of the Russian Orthodox Church, they appointed their own agents as hierarchy, who would then turn people in who came to the Church seeking baptism.

The seeds of distrust planted at that time still run deep, and the Russian Orthodox Church maintains its ties to the government today. 

On Sept. 16, USCIRF held a virtual hearing on the state of religious freedom in Russia and Central Asia, warning that “vague and problematic” definitions of "extremism" in Russian law give the authorities wide latitude to interfere in the religious sphere.

NI health department warns of risks of unregulated at-home medical abortion

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- Northern Ireland's Department of Health told a Belfast daily on Friday that women who self-administer medical abortions at home are at risk.

Home administration of medical abortions is not permitted in Northern Ireland.

“Women are at risk if they access unregulated abortion services,” the health department told The News Letter Sept. 25.

“The Department’s view is that services should be properly delivered through direct medical supervision within the health and social care system.”

The News Letter's Adam Kula had asked the Department of Health about a online course being held Sept. 26 by Alliance for Choice. The course is meant to teach “the process of self-managed abortion with pills, how to look after yourself or help someone else using the medication.”

Northern Ireland law allows elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother's physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal fetal abnormality.

Abortions may be performed at General Practitioners premises, and Health and Social Care clinics and hospitals. Medical abortions are permitted up to 10 weeks, and the first medication, mifepristone, must be taken at a clinic.

The region's Health Minister, Robin Swann, is able to approve further locations for medical abortions. The Press Association reported earlier this year that approval of at-home medical abortions “will require the agreement” of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Home administration of medical abortions has been permitted in Scotland and Wales for some time, and it was approved in England in March.

In April, shortly after the law permitting elective abortion in Northern Ireland came into force, Michelle O'Neill, deputy First Minister and vice president of Sinn Féin, urged that women there be allowed to perform medical abortions at home.

Sinn Féin is an Irish nationalist party that has historically enjoyed significant Catholic support. It supported the liberalization of abortion laws in Northern Ireland imposed by the British parliament, and its party members endorsed the repeal of the Republic of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which protected unborn children.

In contrast, First Minister Arlene Foster, who is also leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, stated that “The health minister will bring papers forward and we will have discussions, but I don't think it's any secret that I don't believe abortion on demand should be available in Northern Ireland.”

“I think it’s a very retrograde step for our society here in Northern Ireland. Instead of supporting people who find themselves in crisis pregnancies, we’re not even having any discussion around that and how we can support people in those circumstances, how we can provide perinatal care,” Foster added.

At-home medical abortions were discussed by the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive April 6, and the BBC reported that “Stormont sources said it had led to a row between the parties.”

Before March 31, abortion was legally permitted in Northern Ireland only if the mother's life was at risk or if there was risk of long term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

In June the House of Lords backed the new abortion regulations for Northern Ireland by an overwhelming majority, and the British Minister of State for Northern Ireland said that while abortion regulation is a devolved issue, any local changes to Northern Ireland's abortion law would have to comply with human rights conventions.

The Northern Ireland Assembly had shortly before passed a non-binding motion rejecting the imposition of the abortion regulations by the Westminster parliament.

Northern Irish women had been able to procure free National Health Service abortions in England, Scotland, and Wales since November 2017.

The new framework was adopted to implement Westminster's Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which was passed while the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended.

Northern Ireland rejected the Abortion Act 1967, which legalized abortion in England, Wales, and Scotland; and bills to legalize abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape, or incest failed in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016.

The amendment to the NI EF Act obliging the government to provide for legal abortion in Northern Ireland was introduced by Stella Creasy, a Labour MP who represents a London constituency.

Germany’s Catholic bishops agree on uniform compensation system for abuse victims

CNA Staff, Sep 25, 2020 / 05:00 am (CNA).- Germany’s Catholic bishops agreed this week to a uniform system for compensation payments to abuse survivors.

Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, announced the agreement Sept. 24 at the end of the bishops’ plenary meeting in Fulda, central Germany. 

Under the new system, survivors of abuse by Church workers will be entitled to a one-off payment of up to 50,000 euros ($58,000) -- a sum based on current court rulings. 

Previously German dioceses had determined payments individually.  

At a press conference Thursday, Bätzing said that abuse victims should receive compensation in recognition of their suffering “without great bureaucratic effort,” reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner.

The new arrangement will be binding on all 27 dioceses in Germany from Jan. 1, 2021. 

Bätzing added that the amount paid to abuse survivors would be based on “judgments by state courts on compensation for pain and suffering in comparable cases.” 

As these judgments vary, the bishops’ conference will “use the upper range of payment levels as a reference point.” 

The amount of the one-off payment will be determined by an independent decision-making body. In addition, those affected can be reimbursed for the costs of therapy and couple counseling, as is already the case.

The independent committee will consist of seven people with expertise in medicine, education, psychology, and law. Members cannot be employees of the Church, to ensure greater independence.

A report, commissioned by the German bishops in 2014 but officially released in 2018, concluded that German clergy had abused thousands of children between 1946 and 2014. The report recorded allegations against 1,670 German clerics, involving 3,677 alleged victims. 

Carlo Acutis beatification will be a 17-day celebration in Assisi

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Assisi is celebrating the beatification of computer programming teen Carlo Acutis in October with more than two weeks of liturgies and events that the bishop hopes will be an evangelizing force for young people. 

“Now more than ever we believe that the example of Carlo -- a brilliant internet user who loved to help the least, the poor and the misfits -- can unleash a driving force for a new evangelizing momentum,” Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi said at the announcement of the schedule of events.

Beginning Oct. 1, the tomb of Carlo Acutis (pictured below) will be open for veneration for 17 days from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to allow as many people as possible to make a prayerful visit. Acutis’ tomb is located in Assisi’s Sanctuary of the Spoliation, where a young St. Francis of Assisi is said to have cast off his rich clothes in favor of a poor habit. 

The Oct. 1-17 period of veneration is flanked by Masses in the sanctuary -- a fitting way to honor Acutis, who was known for his deep love for the Eucharist, never missing daily Mass and Eucharistic adoration. Churches throughout Assisi will also offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament each day.

Two of Assisi’s other churches will be hosting exhibitions on Eucharistic miracles and Marian apparitions, subjects that Acutis had attempted to spread devotion to by creating websites. These exhibitions, in the Cathedral of San Rufino and the Cloister of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels respectively, will run from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16.

Acutis was aged 15 when he died of leukemia in 2006, offering his suffering for the pope and the Church. 

The October celebration of his beatification will include several youth events, including a virtual gathering of Italian young people Oct. 2 entitled “Blessed are you: A school of happiness.”

A youth prayer vigil is also planned for the night before the beatification. The vigil, called “My Highway to Heaven,” will be led by Archbishop Renato Boccardo of Spoleto-Norcia and Auxiliary Bishop Paolo Martinelli of Milan, in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which contains the small church were St. Francis heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix: “Francis, go and rebuild my Church.”

The beatification of Carlo Acutis will take place at the Basilica of St. Francis at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 10. Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Vatican Congregation of the Causes of Saints, will offer the Mass. The limited number of seats for this event have already been reserved. But the city of Assisi is setting up large screens in several of its piazzas for public viewing.

With tickets to the beatification itself limited due to Italy’s coronavirus restrictions, the bishop of Assisi said he hoped that the extended period of veneration and numerous events would allow many people to be close to “young Carlo.”

“This boy from Milan, who chose Assisi as his favorite place, understood, also following in the footsteps of St. Francis, that God must be at the center of everything,” Sorrentino said.

St. John Paul II relic stolen amid church robberies in Italy

Rome Newsroom, Sep 24, 2020 / 08:00 am (CNA).- This week a relic of St. Pope John Paul II was stolen from a cathedral in central Italy, while a church in Sicily was also robbed and the Eucharist desecrated.

A gold reliquary with a relic of the blood of St. John Paul II was discovered to be missing from a chapel of the Cathedral Basilica of Spoleto on the evening of Sept. 23, according to the Italian daily L’Avvenire.

In a video message Sept. 24, the archbishop of Spoleto said he received the news of the theft with sorrow. 

Archbishop Renato Boccardo asked the perpetrator to “return and restore the relic to the cathedral. What I am asking is a gesture of responsibility and seriousness.”

The relic was a gift from the archbishop of Kraków to the Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia in 2016. The archdiocese planned to move the relic to a new church in honor of the Polish saint on Oct. 22. This year the Church is marking the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s birth.

The relic was, in the meantime, being displayed for veneration in the chapel of the crucifix, which is enclosed by a gate.

“It’s a serious act,” Boccardo said. “Serious, naturally, because it wounds the sentiments and the devotion of many people” who come to the cathedral to ask for the intercession of the saint before his relic.

“Meanwhile, I exhort the many devotees of St. John Paul II to continue to entrust themselves to him, who is a powerful intercessor before the Lord,” Boccardo added.  

In the early morning hours of Sept. 22, the Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio in Caltanissetta, Sicily, was also broken into and robbed. Statues were damaged and the tabernacle was opened and Eucharistic hosts thrown on the ground.

Police arrested two men, and are looking for another man and woman, in connection with the crime.

The police intercepted the 20- and 25-year-old locals as they fled the church around 2 a.m. Sept. 22.

According to local reports, the police believe the two men broke into the 17th-century church through an adjoining library and music school. While searching the men, police found a gold brooch, a case with consecrated Eucharistic hosts, a bottle of holy oil, and coins from the library’s vending machines.

Inside the church, the candlesticks from the altar were found hidden behind a door and the glass encasing a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s dormition was shattered and the figure’s arm broken.

This is the second time the Church of Sant’Agata al Collegio has been broken into since August.

At the time of the Aug. 23 break-in, Fr. Sergio Kalizah, the church’s pastor, said that the thieves had “damaged everything” inside the church, but gratefully had not touched the tabernacle, La Sicilia reported.

“I ask you, dear brothers, to support us with your prayers,” the priest said.

‘Respect for life is eroded ever more’: Dutch Cardinal Eijk on euthanasia’s ‘slippery slope’

CNA Staff, Sep 24, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- A Dutch cardinal has said that the Netherlands shows that once euthanasia is legalized safeguards are slowly but inevitably abandoned.

In an interview with CNA, Cardinal Willem Eijk noted that criteria for the termination of life had become “ever more extended” in his country since the 1970s.

He said he feared that after parliamentary elections in March, a new government might take up a bill permitting assisted suicide for people who simply believed that their lives were “completed.”

“This implies that the respect for the essential value of the life of a human being is eroded ever more in the last half a century, which was inescapable,” he said. 

“For, once accepting the termination of life for a certain measure of suffering, one will always be confronted with the question of whether it should not also be allowed in suffering that is only a little bit less.”

The archbishop of Utrecht’s comments came as the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a letter reaffirming that euthanasia is “an intrinsically evil act, in every situation or circumstance.”

The document, Samaritanus bonus, also set out guidelines for priests offering pastoral care to those determined to end their lives by euthanasia or assisted suicide.

A Supreme Court ruling

Eijk told CNA that the Supreme Court of the Netherlands recently made a significant intervention in the euthanasia debate when it ruled on the first prosecution of a doctor since the country’s 2002 euthanasia act. 

The Supreme Court was asked to review the criminal court’s decision last year to acquit a nursing home doctor who performed euthanasia on a patient with severe dementia in 2016. The patient had made a written euthanasia declaration four years earlier. 

“The woman’s euthanasia declaration was unclear, in the sense that she had laid down to desire euthanasia, once admitted to a nursing home, at the moment that she would think to be ready for it,” he explained. 

“The problem was, however, that she, after having been admitted to a nursing home, was not able to express her will anymore because of advanced dementia. Notwithstanding this, the physician decided to perform the euthanasia in consultation with the family and two physicians, specialized in consulting in euthanasia cases, who agreed with her that the suffering of the woman was without prospect and unbearable.”

The cardinal said that the patient had withdrawn her arm when the physician attempted to administer euthanasia. 

“Was this a sign of resistance against the euthanasia?” he asked. “Anyhow, the physician administered a sedative means in the woman’s coffee. She fell asleep, by which an infusion could be introduced in her arm. When the physician administered the means for euthanasia, she however awoke, but family members held her tight, such that it was possible to administer them and to complete the euthanasia.”

The Supreme Court ruled April 22 that the criminal court was correct to acquit the physician of murder charges. 

The 67-year-old cardinal said that the court accepted the testimony of an anesthesiologist who argued that patient’s withdrawal of her arm was a reflex action, rather than an indication of resistance to euthanasia. 

“Administering a sedative to the patient before the euthanasia would be acceptable according to the Supreme Court, in case one can foresee unpredictable or irrational behavior, which could complicate the euthanasia,” he observed.

Eijk, who is the lead bishop for medical-ethical questions of the Dutch bishops’ conference, said that the Supreme Court decision did not, however, bring clarity for nursing home doctors.

“Instead of laying down criteria for interpreting the written euthanasia declarations of patients with advanced dementia, the Supreme Court leaves this to the judgment of the physicians involved, by which their uncertainty only grows,” he said.

Eijk added that the doctor’s prosecution probably had a chilling effect on euthanasia in the Netherlands, a country with a population of 17 million. The number of acts of euthanasia and medically assisted suicide fell by 7% in 2018 compared to the year before. 

But in 2019 the number of reported cases rose by almost 4% in comparison to 2018.

“One may fear that the Supreme Court’s judgment, though making physicians perhaps more uncertain in performing euthanasia in patients with advanced dementia, will not lead in general to a decrease of the number of cases of euthanasia and medically assisted suicide,” he commented.

The slippery slope

Eijk cited the prediction of a Dutch expert on euthanasia who said this month that he believed cases would double in the next eight years. 

“If his prediction will prove correct, the annual number of euthanasia cases will arrive at well over 12,500, more than 8% of the yearly number of all deaths, in circa 2028,” he said.

He continued: “It is not unlikely that his prediction comes true. Historically and culturally speaking, a slippery slope can be observed, in this sense that the criteria for the termination of life became ever more extended in the Netherlands from the 1970s.” 

“By the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, euthanasia, without any addition always defined as voluntary, started to be considered as acceptable in the terminal phase of an incurable somatic disease. In the course of the 1980s, one started to deem it as ethically acceptable also before the terminal phase.” 

“In the mid-1990s, euthanasia also started to be performed in cases of psychiatric diseases and dementia. After 2000, the termination of life took also place in severely handicapped newborns.” 

In 2016, the health minister and justice minister announced they would introduce a bill permitting assisted suicide in cases where people were not suffering from a disease but considered their life “completed.” 

The bill did not get off the ground, but Eijk said it could be revived after next year’s elections if the government’s composition changes. 

“Moreover, a member of parliament, belonging to a left-wing party, presented a private members’ bill which allows assisted suicide in people older than 75 years of age. The risk of this bill is that it could create the impression that the value of life decreases after people have reached this age. Anyhow, the termination of life is nowadays broadly accepted,” he said.

The challenge for priests

Addressing the role of priests in providing pastoral care to those seeking euthanasia, Eijk echoed the new Vatican document. Samaritanus bonus said that clergy should avoid any gestures that might signal approval, including remaining until the act is performed.

“Good pastoral care for a person who wants to be euthanized requires that the priest, accompanying him, clearly says to him that the intrinsic value of human life is violated by euthanasia,” he said. 

“The person involved would therefore be responsible for the violation of this essential value of his life by making himself euthanized, which is a grave and irreversible sin, committed just before his eternal meeting with his Creator.”

Citing Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor, the cardinal added: “A real pastor does not lead the people entrusted to his pastoral care to what is often called a ‘pastoral’ solution in the form of ‘a compromise between the Church’s teaching and stubborn reality,’ but he should lead them to the truth, also in the field of morals.”

Eijk said that priests should pray with and for the patient, seeking a change of heart. They should also propose palliative care as an alternative, and ensure that the patient is not lonely and is surrounded by caring people.

“The request for euthanasia is not rarely a cry for help,” he observed. “When adequate care is offered, several people who said they wanted to be euthanized do not persist in this request when bystanders give attention to their fears and inner struggles.”

Eijk noted that the media had harshly criticized priests who refused to administer last rites or celebrate funerals of people opting for euthanasia. 

“The priests in question were requested to administer them the last sacraments before physicians would terminate their lives. The persons involved often liked to fix already beforehand a date for their funeral and expressed their wishes about this,” he said, explaining that the Dutch bishops issued clear guidelines to support priests in these situations. 

“Another situation occurs when the priest is required to celebrate the funeral and he comes to know only afterwards that the person for whom the funeral will be celebrated died by euthanasia,” he noted. 

Eijk stressed that in principle priests should not celebrate funerals in these circumstances. 

“However, priests practically always celebrate the funeral the same when they can suppose that the person involved committed suicide because [they were] suffering from a depression or another psychiatric disease,” he said. 

“These are factors which limit his freedom, such that his responsibility is diminished. Terminating or making terminate his life, though a grave evil in itself, is therefore in these cases not a mortal sin. The priest may then celebrate his funeral. One can and should pray for sinners in the first place.”

A challenge for all Catholics

The cardinal suggested that Catholics could do more to clarify that, while they firmly oppose euthanasia, they do not believe life must always be prolonged with burdensome medical treatment.  

He said: “A patient deciding to forego non-proportionate treatment and who consequently dies does not do something that is ethically equivalent to suicide, but merely accepts that life must come to an end.” 

“A medical doctor, by not offering non-proportionate treatment to the patient or dissuading him to undergo such treatment, as a consequence of which the patient dies, does not do something ethically equal to terminating his life.” 

“When the collateral effects, the complications and expenses are not proportionate to the chance of saving life or restoring or preserving health, one is allowed to forego it, albeit that it might lead to a shortening of life. Letting someone die is not always ethically equal to actively making somebody die.”

Doctors are, however, obliged to offer proportionate treatment to save lives or preserve health. 

Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae (65), the cardinal said: “Foregoing proportionate treatment, by which one can save life and preserve health without many risks, is ethically equivalent to suicide. In this case, letting die is ethically equivalent to killing.” 

He noted that some argue that, if you accept that someone’s life may be shortened by painkilling drugs, then you must also accept euthanasia. But in this case, the shortening of life is only a “collateral effect” of the medicine, which is intended to do no more than alleviate the symptoms. 

“Collateral effects which are proportionate to the gravity of the disease or symptoms are generally accepted in medicine,” he said. 

“In extreme cases it is allowed to apply palliative sedation, in which the conscience of the patient is partly or completely suppressed, when no alternative is available to alleviate unbearable pain and other symptoms, after that the patient has fulfilled his social duties, for instance with regard to his last will, and has prepared himself on the eternal meeting with God by receiving the sacraments.”

Shedding light on suffering

The euthanasia debate presents Catholics with another daunting challenge: convincing secular society that suffering can be meaningful when seen in the light of Christ. 

Praising John Paul II’s 1984 apostolic letter on suffering, Salvifici doloris, the cardinal said: “A person who suffers can unite himself in his suffering with the suffering of Jesus. Jesus says: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:29-30).” 

“Jesus will in the end carry the cross of him who decides to participate in Christ’s suffering. He can then dedicate his suffering to relatives, friends, others or all people in order that God give them the grace they need in order to carry their crosses or for their conversion to Christ and their eternal life.”

“Uniting oneself in his suffering with that of Christ does not take suffering away, but makes it bearable.”