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Bioethicists alarmed by ruling to withdraw food and water from Catholic patient

CNA Staff, Jan 12, 2021 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- Bioethicists expressed alarm Tuesday at a U.K. court ruling allowing the withdrawal of food and water from a practicing Catholic patient.

In a statement Jan. 12, the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, England, stated its “grave concern” at the court’s judgment, given the “well-attested views” of the patient, “that ‘every life is precious and that you must hold onto life, and also that if anything happened to him, he would want all steps to be taken to save him but that if he was beyond saving, he did not want to be kept alive.’”

In an accompanying briefing paper, also issued Jan. 12, David Albert Jones, the center’s director, said the court case “sets a very worrying precedent.”

“The grave danger of this judgement is that committed Catholics and those who hold a similar view about the human significance of food and drink may be starved and dehydrated to death against their will,” he stated.

When, as in this case, “a Catholic is known to uphold the Church’s teaching on pro-life issues and is not known to dissent from the Church’s teaching on these issues, then this should guide the interpretation of the person’s previous statements,” Jones said in his ethical analysis of the court’s judgment.

He added that “in this context, rejection of being ‘kept alive’ when ‘beyond saving’ most naturally refers to rejection of intensive medical treatment and ventilation where there is no hope of recovery, not to rejection of nutrition and hydration where they are effective in sustaining life.”

Jones called it “regrettable” that “expert opinion on the view of the Catholic Church was not thought appropriate in this case.” He said, “had such evidence been presented it might have helped the interpretation of the remarks made.”

The bioethics center’s statement noted that as of Jan. 12, the patient’s food and water had been restored until an appeal of his case could be made to the European Court of Human Rights.

The director said his analysis, given from a Catholic perspective, “does not interrogate the facts of the case as presented and should not be understood as a comment on the actual moral circumstances of any of the persons involved. The moral reality of the situation may depend on details not presented in the evidence or on details that are presented but are mistaken or misinterpreted.”

The case concerns a Catholic man, known by the initials “RS,” who had a heart attack on Nov. 6, 2020, and who, at the time of the court’s initial judgment in December, was in a coma.

“The Court declared that it was ‘in RS’s best interests not to receive life-sustaining treatment, including artificial ventilation, nutrition and fluids. The result is that RS will die within a few weeks,’” Jones explained.

He noted that “no one can live for ‘a few weeks’ without breathing, so this statement already anticipated that RS might recover the ability to breathe spontaneously after the withdrawal of artificial ventilation.’”

In the January decision by the Court of Protection, there was no reference to ventilation, only to nutrition and hydration, the director said. “In contrast, if clinically assisted nutrition and hydration were provided then RS might live ‘for five years or longer’ though, at best, in a ‘minimally conscious’ state.”

“From a Catholic perspective, to provide food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty is a corporal work of mercy,” Jones commented, adding that “patients should not be abandoned to die from lack of nutrition or hydration, however that is best provided.”

Jones explained that the reason he is publically commenting on the case is because the patient RS is described “as a committed practising Catholic who had ‘expressed his disagreement with a widely reported case in England where the decision was to terminate medical treatment for a very small child born with serious abnormalities.’”

The patient, he said, was also known to be “religiously conservative, opposed to abortion, even for an unborn child likely to be medically compromised, and was opposed to euthanasia.”

Despite the well-attested views of the patient, “the Court declared food and fluids not to be in the best interests of RS because he had previously stated that ‘he never wanted to be a burden if he was seriously ill.’”

According to Jones, to think or say that one does not want to be a burden to others is very common. “Who wishes to be kept alive by extraordinary treatment if they are ‘beyond saving?’” he said. “But it does not follow that, if one unfortunately did end up in a situation of great dependence, one would as a result prefer to discontinue all treatment and even basic care.”

“These statements therefore should not be taken to license the deprivation of food and water from someone in a coma or a minimally conscious state,” he continued. “In particular, someone who is strongly committed to the teaching of the Catholic Church may make these or similar statements and yet regard food and water, however provided, as part of basic care rather than a medical treatment.”

Jones pointed to the thought of St. Pope John Paul II on the topic, as expressed in his 2004 address on “Life-sustaining treatments and the vegetative state.”

Speaking in the context of a patient who is unconscious, John Paul II said: “I should like particularly, to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act.”

“Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.”

“The obligation to provide ‘the normal care due to the sick’ in such cases includes, in fact, the use of nutrition and hydration.”

Jones commented: “It seems that all the judges in the case took for granted that statements about sustaining life referred equally and without distinction to medical treatment and to food and fluids.”

“Rejection of life sustaining treatment by a Catholic patient should not be presumed to include clinically assisted nutrition and hydration unless explicitly stated,” he explained.

Report: Rome court orders return of cash found at suspended Vatican official’s home

Rome Newsroom, Jan 12, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A Rome court has ruled that the search and seizure of money and other valuables from the home of a suspended Vatican official last November was “illegitimate” and ordered the cash to be returned, according to Italian media reports.

Fabrizio Tirabassi was a lay official at the Secretariat of State until his suspension, together with four other employees, in 2019. According to sources close to the Secretariat for the Economy, Tirabassi oversaw several financial transactions at the secretariat which are now under investigation.

In November 2020, Vatican gendarmes and Italian financial police searched two of Tirabassi’s properties, in Rome and in Celano, a town in central Italy where Tirabassi was born.

The search, which was focused on computers and documents, reportedly uncovered bundles of banknotes amounting to 600,000 euros ($713,000), around 200,000 euros of which was reportedly found in an old shoebox.

Police reportedly also found valuables worth an estimated two million euros.

According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Rome’s Court of Review found several technical “anomalies” with the order and execution of the search warrant, declaring it null and ordering the restoration of the funds to Tirabassi.

One of these irregularities, the report said, was that the search order came directly from the prosecutor’s office without going through a judge. The search was reportedly ordered to execute a letter rogatory, a formal request from a court of one country to a court of another, sent by the Vatican.   

CNA has not independently confirmed the reports.

Tirabassi has not returned to work since his suspension in October 2019 and it is unclear whether he remains employed by the Vatican.

He is one of several people being investigated by the Vatican in connection with investments and financial transactions made at the Secretariat of State.

At the center of the inquiry is the purchase of a building at 60 Sloane Avenue in London, which was bought in stages, between 2014 and 2018, from Italian businessman Raffaele Mincione, who at the time was managing hundreds of millions of euros of secretariat funds.

Businessman Gianluigi Torzi was brought in to broker the final negotiations of the Vatican’s purchase of the London property in 2018. CNA has previously reported that Tirabassi was appointed a director of one of Torzi’s companies while the businessman was acting as a commission-earning middleman for the purchase of the remaining shares.

According to corporate filings, Tirabassi was appointed a director of Gutt SA, a Luxembourg company owned by Torzi, used to transfer ownership of the building between Mincione and the Vatican.  

Filings for Gutt SA with the Luxembourg Registre de Commerce et des Sociétés show that Tirabassi was appointed a director on Nov. 23, 2018, and removed by a filing sent on Dec. 27. At the time of Tirabassi’s appointment as director, his business address was listed as the Secretariat of State in Vatican City.

In early November 2020, Italian media reported that Rome’s financial police had executed a search warrant against Tirabassi and Mincione, as well as the banker and longtime Vatican investment manager Enrico Crasso.

The reports said that the warrant was issued as part of an investigation into suspicions that the three were working together to defraud the Secretariat of State. 

Rosario Livatino’s postulator: Christians urgently need ‘credible witnesses’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 12, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- For Catholic judge Rosario Livatino, to “render justice” was an act of prayerful self-dedication to God.

“To render justice is a fulfillment of oneself, it is a prayer, it is a dedication of oneself to God,” Livatino said in a lecture on faith and law on the southern Italian island of Sicily in 1986.

Livatino, whose first name means “rosary” in Italian, worked as a prosecutor in Agrigento dealing with the criminal activity of the mafia in the 1980s. He was murdered on his commute to work on Sept. 21, 1990, when he was 37 years old and serving as a magistrate. He was recently declared a martyr by Pope Francis and is expected to be beatified in Sicily this year. 

In an interview published Jan. 12, Fr. Giuseppe Livatino, postulator of the cause for Livatino’s beatification, said that the young Catholic judge provided a “credible witness” of coherence in his life of faith and his daily work.

“More than just ‘holy cards,’ Christians today urgently need credible witnesses. And that [is what] Rosario is,” his postulator said in an interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language news partner.

“Rosario knew well, thanks to his formative experience in Catholic Action, that the Christian is called to be ‘light of the world and salt of the earth,’ who must sanctify the world through one’s family and daily work,” Fr. Livatino said.

As postulator and cousin of the martyred judge, Fr. Livatino has spent years collecting testimonies, examining witnesses, and reading the judge’s personal writings to promote his cause for beatification and potentially canonization.

He said: “Among the testimonies collected, I was positively struck by the episode [recalled] by his former teacher, a priest, who asked him for a ‘small recommendation.’ Rosario felt deep respect and replied firmly: ‘When you offer confession, do you accept recommendations?’”

“Livatino drew directly from the experience of the saints, and in every dimension of his life he rejected any mediocrity … What he has to do, Rosario likes to do it right. He pursues that ‘perfection’ indicated by Jesus in the Gospel, to build the Kingdom of God.” 

“Rosario had drawn his profound wisdom from the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Church. He knows and lives the Gospel, knows and applies the reflections of the [Second Vatican] Council Fathers on the role of the lay faithful in today’s world,” he said.

While promoting Livatino’s cause, his cousin has received thousands of emails from all over Italy, other European countries, Latin America, and the Philippines.

“Many asked for the text of the prayer to ask for the glorification on earth of the Servant of God. Many others asked for information on his life,” he said. “But all showed great interest in this splendid figure of ‘credible witness.’ Many said that they had received spiritual graces through Rosario's intercession.”

“This man, unknown to most when he was alive, has spoken and continues to speak effectively since Sept. 21, 1990.”

Catholic bishops urge UK to give up nuclear arsenal

CNA Staff, Jan 12, 2021 / 08:05 am (CNA).- Catholic bishops urged the U.K. on Tuesday to give up its nuclear arsenal.

In a Jan. 11 statement, three bishops also called on world leaders to back the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which comes into force on Jan. 22.

“We urge support for the treaty and repeat our call for the U.K. to forsake its nuclear arsenal. The resources spent on manufacturing, maintaining, and upgrading these weapons of mass destruction should be reinvested to alleviate the suffering of the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, for the common good of all peoples,” they said.

The treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2017, is a legally binding agreement to prohibit nuclear weapons with a view to completely eliminating them. 

The bishops described the treaty as a “historic milestone on the path to nuclear disarmament.”

They also appealed to the U.K. government to tighten arms control regulations, “tackling the manufacture and sale of other weaponry, which continues to destroy so many lives throughout the world.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Declan Lang of Clifton, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops’ international affairs department; Bishop William Nolan of Galloway, president of the Scottish bishops’ justice and peace commission; and Bishop William Kenney, an auxiliary bishop of Birmingham, England.

In 2017, Pope Francis condemned not only the potential use of nuclear weapons but also “their very possession.”

“Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security. They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity,” he said.

The Holy See has thrown its weight behind the Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.

Speaking at a UN debate in October, Vatican diplomat Archbishop Gabriele Caccia called for “genuine progress” toward complete nuclear disarmament.

“Seeking security through arms … only makes us progressively more insecure,” he argued.

The U.K. bishops concluded their statement by quoting from Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical, “Fratelli tutti.” 

They said: “Above all, we pray: ‘Lord, Father of our human family, you created all human beings equal in dignity; pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit. Move us to create healthier societies and a more dignified world, a world without hunger, poverty, violence, and war.’”

Cardinal Müller: Media image of ‘two popes’ threatens papacy as a ‘principle of unity’

Rome Newsroom, Jan 12, 2021 / 06:05 am (CNA).- The former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office said on Sunday that today’s media environment is undermining theological truths that are the foundation of Church unity.

“In the era of secular thought and the mass media, political and ideological points of view end up contaminating theological judgment -- that is, the way of seeing the faith of the supernatural mission of the Church,” Cardinal Gerhard Müller wrote in an essay published online Jan. 10.

“At the extreme, the principles of Catholic theology are suspected of ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ ideology, depending on the point of interest,” he said in the text published by the Italian media outlet La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.

Müller, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith from 2012 to 2017, said that in today’s media environment, which is dominated by images, “theological criteria are today more difficult to convey, as they require understanding through concepts and judgments of thought.”

The German cardinal added that “the Holy See seems ... to give greater weight to the phenomenon of media dominance since it has increased the number of collaborators in the Dicastery for Communication compared to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

He expressed concern in particular with “the visual image of ‘two popes’ side by side,” saying that both the secular and Catholic media have “the subtle problem of comparing the pontificates of two living people.”

“The evidence of this harmful antagonism of the pontificates of two living actors of current history are legion and are reflected daily in the comments of newspapers, blogs, related web pages, and propaganda films,” he said. 

“For the people of God, it is of true spiritual and theological interest not what distinguishes the previous pope from the current one in personal style, but what unites Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in their concern for the Church of Christ.”

“At stake are both the dignity of the Petrine ministry that a previous pope held and the recognition of his merits for the Church, which are to be incorporated into reflections of his ecclesiastical position,” Müller said.

When people “speak of two popes,” a particular problem arises from an “ecclesiological point of view,” the 73-year-old cardinal argued.

“The problem, for the truth of faith, arises from the fact that the Bishop of Rome, as the successor of Peter, is the principle of unity that, precisely, must be realized by one person only,” he said.

“For two people cannot embody ‘the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of the unity of both bishops and the multitude of the faithful,’” the cardinal said, quoting “Lumen gentium,” the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. “The number two, in fact, is in contrast with the number one, multiplicity with unity.”

Müller added that the bishop of Rome is not like the bishops of other dioceses, where it is the usual practice to have both a diocesan bishop and a bishop emeritus, because the bishop of Rome is “personally the successor of Peter and thus represents the rock on which Jesus builds his Church.”

“Because the title of ‘pope’ only concerns the customary designation of the bishop of Rome, due to his prerogatives as successor of Peter,” he said. “He is not the successor of his predecessor and for this reason, two bishops of Rome, popes and successors of Peter, can never exist at the same time.”

“There is no doubt that, according to the will of God, the bishop of Rome is the successor of Peter and that he exercises, with the authority that Christ has conferred on him (Matthew 16:18), the ‘power of the keys’ over all the Church,” he reflected.

Müller underlined that, although “ideologues of the media” had imposed “constructed images of the Church” on the faithful, there was only one true image of the Church: “a people that derives its unity from the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

“‘The Church of the living God, pillar and support of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15) is the witness and mediator of the irrevocable self-communication of God, as truth and life of every man,” Müller wrote.

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