Moral Issues


Terri Schiavo Refused Communion

by Pete Vere


I hope to be posting some pictures later on, but there's been some serious happenings go on today at the prayer vigil for Terri.

1) The most serious is that Monsignor attempted to give Terri Holy Communion today, but was stopped by the police and the nursing staff. Although Monsignor was willing to be arrested, he was stopped by all present. This is a serious violation of Terri's First Ammendment rights. The civil attorney for Terri's parents was on the phone with Chris Ferrara almost as soon as it happened, and I can now confirm that Chris is working away on this as hard as he can. Chris and I shared a few candid words about the situation, and we're pretty much in agreement about a lot of things here, although he obviously is better versed in the civil legalities of what's going on. It goes without saying that he's very concerned for Terri. He refuses to give up the fight, however, but he needs everyone's prayers right now.

2) I spent about half an hour with Terri's parents. They are good people who are being held together by our prayers and the strength of their son Bobby. Sonya and I presented Terri's father with a St. Benedict Rosary that a St. Blog parishoner and Alhambran had asked us to give the family on behalf of everyone at St. Blog's and the Alhambra. It just happened that Terri's father had misplaced his rosary and so he was very happy to receive it, as well as our prayers, because he has been borrowing rosaries for the past month. The rosary he misplaced had been blessed by the Holy Father. I told him that there is someone at St. Blog who has a rosary blessed by the Holy Father that they would be willing to share with Terri's parents. If that individual is you, please email me at petevere@msn.com . I will be more than happy to reimburse the overnight shipping costs. It would mean a lot to Terri's family right now.

3) Both Monsignor and Terri's parents would be extremely grateful if Fr. Johansen could join us. Monsignor is visibly tired, as he maintains a full Mass schedule in addition to being present at the vigil whenever he's not saying Mass. Not only would Fr. Rob not be a burden, but they were very specific they could really could use his assistance in the coming days.

4) There was a special on double-cheeseburgers at the McDonalds nearby. So once again the evangelicals insured that we were well-fed. They also had some bananas and muffins. Apparently, the evangelicals have really settled into their ministry of providing food to those who come and pray. It is appreciated by everyone there. Tomorrow, a number of local evangelical churches will be holding their service just outside of the hospice where Terri is being starved.

5) Terri's father and mother are extremely grateful for all the prayers they are receiving from St. Blog and the Alhambra. He is getting over a thousand messages a day from people praying and supporting Terri. Since he cannot physically answer them all, he and Terri's mom asked me to express their gratitude to St. Blog parishoners and the Alhambra.

Pete Vere
The Catholic Legate
October 18, 2003


Pictures from Terri's Vigil

by Pete Vere

As promised, here are some pictures from the Vigil for Terri.......

Terri's friends and family gather in front of the hospice to protest

Monsignor at the press conference after he unsuccessfully tries to give Terri viaticum. The lady sitting next to him in the blue dress is Pat Anderson. She is the attorney for Terri's family. Chris Ferrara credits her with being the heart, soul and backbone of the Terri's legal team. Please keep her in prayer as well.

Terri's father comforts Terri's sister with hug after a tough day.

Pete Vere
The Catholic Legate
October 19, 2003


Why Was Terri Denied Holy Communion?

by Pete Vere

By now, most of you are familiar with the Terri Schindler-Schiavo situation down in Florida. Now that her life has been spared through the intervention of the Florida State Legislature and Governor Jeb Bush, many of us can sit back and reflect upon the events as they unfolded.

From my own perspective as a canon lawyer and a baptized Catholic, the incident I found most troubling throughout this drama was the denial of Terri's right to the sacraments. Terri is a baptized Catholic. As such, she enjoys certain basic canonical rights. Thus we should find it troubling that Michael Schiavo and his attorney George Felos - neither of whom are Catholic - were capable of denying Msgr. Malanowski permission to administer the sacraments to a dying woman. And even more troubling was the Diocese of St. Petersburg's apparent refusal to back Monsignor up. Where was Bishop Lynch when the police threatened this eighty-year old priest with arrest?

As an aside, many also raise serious questions about Terri's religious rights. Was Terri's constitutional freedom to practice her religion, which the First Amendment ought to protect, violated? Indeed, this question should trouble every Catholic living in America. Because my legal training does not extend to civil law, however, I will limit my following commentary to the denial of Terri's canonical rights. Nevertheless, as a concerned Catholic I would welcome the response of a qualified civil lawyer.

Of the canonical issues involved, the first concerns Terri's right to the sacraments. The Church considers this a fundamental right of all those who are baptized or received into her membership. As canon 213 clearly states: "Christ's faithful have the right to be assisted by their Pastors from the spiritual riches of the Church, especially by the word of God and the sacraments" (emphasis mine). There are very few exceptions where this right may be limited, and even then only in view of the common good (cf. canon 223) and according to an application of the law that is restricted to as few cases as possible (cf. canon 18). Neither applies in the Terri Schindler-Schiavo situation.

Beginning with the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, Terri may receive this sacrament more than once. Yet certain individuals in Michael Schiavo's corner have reportedly attempted to deny Msgr. Malanowski permission to repeat the administration of Extreme Unction, claiming that this sacrament may only be administered once. Obviously these individuals are not familiar with the Church's teaching concerning this matter, since the only sacraments that cannot be repeated are Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. In other words, the sacraments that leave an indelible mark upon one's soul.

One may even repeat the sacrament of marriage. For the death of one's spouse dissolves the matrimonial bond and allows the surviving spouse to enter a valid sacramental marriage with another. Of course, if one killed one's spouse in order to marry another particular individual, the marriage would still be invalid. For as canon 1090 states: "1 One who, with a view to entering marriage with a particular person, has killed that person's spouse, or his or her own spouse, invalidly attempts marriage. 2 They also invalidly attempt mariage with each other who, by mutual physical or moral action, brought about the death of either's spouse." While such incidents are fortunately rare, they nevertheless still happen in our day.

Yet returning to my initial point, Anointing of the Sick does not leave an indelible mark upon one's soul. It may therefore be repeated. In fact, when necessary it should be repeated. With merely the most elementary of research, this would become apparent to even a non-Catholic attorney with no background in canon law. For canon 1004 2 is clear concerning this issue: "This sacrament [Anointing of the Sick] can be repeated if the sick person, having recovered, again becomes seriously ill or if, in the same illness, the danger becomes more serious." Starvation and dehydration obviously increase one's danger of death.

Let us now turn our attention to the more serious abuse of Terri's canonical rights, namely, that of denying her the possibility of receiving Holy Communion. Reception of the Holy Eucharist is not merely just another spiritual practice of the Catholic faith. Rather, following the Church's sacred Tradition, the 1983 Code of Canon Law establishes the centrality of the Holy Eucharist to the spiritual life of Christ's faithful. This is found in canon 897 which states:

"The most august sacrament is the Blessed Eucharist, in which Christ the Lord Himself is contained, offered and received, and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the cross is for ever perpetuated, is the summit and the source of all worship and Christian life. By means of it the unity of God's people is signified and brought about, and the building up of the body of Chris is perfected. The other sacraments and all the ecclesiastical works of the apostolate are bound up with, and directed to, the Blessed Eucharist."

In short, the Eucharist is both the source and the summit of our spiritual life as Catholics. All our actions should flow from the Holy Eucharist, and all our actions should ultimately be directed toward the Holy Eucharist.

When the Holy Eucharist is administered to a dying person, this is known as Viaticum or food for the journey. Canon 921 1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law establishes the basis for seeking Viaticum as follows: "Christ's faithful who are in danger of death, from whatever cause, are to be strengthened by Holy Communion as Viaticum." Under canon 864 1 of the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, the Catholic faithful were bound by ecclesiastical precept to seek Viaticum when the danger of death presented itself.

Although the 1984 Code of Canon Law no longer binds under precept, it is clear that Christ's faithful remain bound in spirit to seek Viaticum when the danger of death arises. This is in keeping with the canonical principle of canon 21, which states that "...later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them." Additionally, when interpreting any canon it is important to follow the canonical principles of canon 17. One of these principles is "recourse to parallel places, if there be any..." In the case of administering Viaticum, canon 708 from the Code of Canons of the Eastern [Catholic] Churches speaks of "..the obligation of receiving the Divine Eucharist in danger of death..." Thus the reception of Viaticum is both an essential right and an essential obligation of all Catholics in danger of death.
But what if the individual either lacks consciousness or has fallen into a persistent vegetative state, as is alleged in Terri Schindler-Schiavo's situation? Although much evidence suggests that Terri is merely severely brain-damaged and not in a persistent vegetative state, let us assume the latter for the sake of the argument. Does not canon 922 state the following: "Holy Viaticum for the sick is not to be unduly delayed. Those who have the care of souls are to take assiduous care that the sick are strengthened by it while they are in full possession of their faculties"?

This canon speaks of the ideal, namely, that the individual in danger of death receive Viaticum before losing consciousness. Its intention is obviously to stress the urgency with which Viaticum should be administered when the danger of death arises. This canon speaks nothing of how a pastoral agent should proceed if the individual merely possesses partial-consciousness or if the individual loses consciousness completely. Similarly, both the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches express the ideal, but are silent concerning the other possibilities mentioned.

Fortunately, the Church does not leave us without a means of resolving this pastoral and canonical dilemma. For drawing upon the Church's great canonical tradition, the Roman principle of "favorabilia amplianda, odiosa restringenda" applies in such situations. English-speaking canonists commonly - although not literally - translate this revered principle as "favors are to be multiplied, and burdens restricted." Without question, the favorable interpretation is to administer Viaticum to Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Moreover, keep in mind that Viaticum is usually, although not always, intimately linked to the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Therefore, canon 1005 offers another parallel place to which a pastoral agent may have recourse. This canon states: "If there is any doubt as to whether the sick person has reached the use of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead, this sacrament is to be administered."

Finally, let us look at the reason why Michael Schiavo and his legal team continue to deny Terri her fundamental right to receive the Holy Eucharist. According to most press reports, they allege that allowing Monsignor Malanowski to administer Viaticum to Terri would "cause her distress." As an aside, I am by no means a medical expert but it is inconceivable to me how someone who is truly in permanent vegetative state could experience distress at receiving the Most Holy Eucharist. What adds to my incomprehension is that these same individuals reportedly allege that Terri feels no distress from her starvation and dehydration. But setting aside this medical marvel, it is not inconceivable that someone in a persistent vegetative state could find the Holy Eucharist comforting since Viaticum is primarily food for the soul and not for the body.

Nevertheless, this is a significant admission on the part of Michael Schiavo and the legal and medical team assisting him. For if Terri possesses sufficient consciousness to potentially find reception of the Holy Eucharist distressing, then for pastoral and canonical purposes she also possesses sufficient consciousness to find Viaticum comforting. At the very minimum, Mr. Schiavo and his team have raised a doubt of fact concerning Terri's condition. Thus following both the Church's canonical and pastoral custom, a pastoral minister must err on the side of administering the Sacrament.

For as I have already stated, Viaticum is not food for the body but food for the soul. And as such, it is the fundamental right and obligation of every Catholic in danger of death to receive Our Lord as food for the journey. Thankfully, just as Michael Schiavo and the Florida judiciary prevented Msgr. Malanowski from providing Terri with food for the journey, so too did God, through the intervention of Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature, prevent Terri from making this journey.

Pete Vere
The Catholic Legate
October 26, 2003