From CNN Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci
Wednesday, March 23, 2005 Posted: 0811 GMT (1611 HKT)
ROME, Italy -- It is rare for Vatican officials to publicly discuss ongoing legal matters.
But in the case of Terri Schiavo -- a brain-damaged American woman who has been kept alive for 15 years -- they have taken the unusual step of harshly criticizing the removal of her feeding tube.
They say the procedure amounts to nothing less than a ruthless way to kill a person.
"It is euthanasia," says Javier Lozano, of the Pontiff's Council for Health.
Schiavo is at the center of a legal battle over her life -- a battle between her husband and parents, and between politician and judges.
On Tuesday, a U.S. federal judge denied an emergency request to reinsert Schiavo's feeding tube. (Full story)
While church officials say they are opposed to keeping a person alive at all costs -- especially if medical intervention prolongs the patient's agony -- the Vatican insists that artificially feeding and hydrating a person in a vegetative state does not constitute aggressive therapy.
A year ago, Pope John Paul II wrote that doctors have a moral duty to preserve life.
"The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural way of preserving life... not a medical procedure."
But because the 41-year-old Schiavo has been pronounced brain damaged, not brain dead, Vatican officials say she must be kept alive.
"The end of life is a question only in the hands of God. This is our belief. It is not something that must be in the hands of politicians or in the hands of physicians... but in the hands of God only," says the Council for Health's Lozano.
Nobody at the Vatican is drawing parallels between Schiavo's condition and that of the ailing pope.
Still, the debate over Schiavo's fate has once more raised questions no one inside the Vatican can answer: What would happen should the pope become incapacitated? Should he one day require artificial means to breathe, eat and drink, how long should these machines be used? And, who would make the decision to pull the plug?
"There is no provision in Canon Law for the case in which the pope himself is not able to make decisions," says Father Brian Johnstone. "That would cause considerable difficulties."
The 84-year-old pope suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, including crippling hip and knee ailments and Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder that can make breathing difficult.
He was released from hospital on March 13 after undergoing a tracheotomy the same day to relieve breathing difficulties. He was also in hospital from February 1 to February 10.
In the Vatican, as in the United States, the laws are not always clear about how long to keep someone alive when they cannot make the decision themselves.
One of the towering figures of the 20th Century has passed into eternity.
Pope John Paul II strode across the world stage for 26 years, the third-longest reign of any Pope in history. As an ideological soul mate of President Ronald Reagan, John Paul is credited with helping to bring down the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Like Reagan, he survived an assassination attempt--allegedly backed by the Communists--in 1981.
An athlete and an intellectual in his youth, he studied secretly for the priesthood while the Nazis occupied his native Poland. Ordained in 1946, he rose quickly through the Roman Catholic hierarchy, becoming Pope in 1978 at the relatively young age of 58. His trademark became his charismatic personality and his propensity for seemingly ceaseless worldwide travel. During his tenure as Pope, the Church of Rome increased its worldwide membership by one-third, growing from 750 million members in 1978 to over one billion at his death last week.
Pope John Paul II was a conservative and a traditionalist. He did not embrace the Marxist-based Liberation Theology that had crept into the Catholic clergy, especially in many Third World nations. Nor did he accept the idea that the Church’s ancient standards of morality had been rendered irrelevant by modern cultural trends. Many criticized John Paul for not accepting such innovations as women in the priesthood and married priests, but he was unmoved. He openly opposed homosexuality and gay marriage.
It was on the sanctity of life issue that Pope John Paul II was most steadfast. He condemned contraception, abortion and euthanasia, arguing eloquently that the "culture of life" must not give way to the "culture of death." Some say that this unwavering pro-life stance, which many professing Catholics today openly ignore, has rendered the Church irrelevant and unappealing to a younger generation. But others say that he saved the Church by not allowing it to drift on the tides of change without a moral anchor.
But the Pope earned my respect in 1994, when his Vatican delegation to the United Nations’ International Conference on Population and Development stood almost single-handedly against the well-organized efforts of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and U.S. President Bill Clinton to enshrine abortion as a legitimate means of birth control worldwide. There in Cairo, Egypt, directly contrary to all prior expectations, the final conference document stated, "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning."
Time Magazine named John Paul its 1994 Man of the Year for facing down the UN on global abortion. "For nine days the Vatican delegation, under his direction, lobbied and filibustered; they kept their Latin American bloc in line and struck up alliances with Islamic nations opposed to abortion," Time reported. "In the end, the Pope won."
This was truly an historic victory. We can thank the Pope that women in Third World nations still have the right to choose life for their unborn offspring.
Now that John Paul has passed into eternity, who will replace him as head of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics?
That is a question that worried John Paul himself. According to his biographer, Malachi Martin, the Pope deplored what he called "the smoke of Satan which has entered the Sanctuary." By this he referred to those within the priesthood, and even within the Vatican itself, who had abandoned the fundamental truths of the faith and embraced the modern heresies of our godless age--and particularly what Martin calls the "cultic acts of Satanic pedophilia." To forestall the ascension of such a heretic to the Papacy, John Paul toward the end of his life did his best to pack the College of Cardinals with known traditionalists and theological conservatives.
Will these 117 Cardinals choose an Italian as the next Pope, as has traditionally been the case for 450 years? Or will they look to South America, where the Catholic Church is growing most rapidly? Will they pick a leader whose spiritual focus is on God, or one who promotes Liberation Theology as a means to so-called social justice? Will they opt for another conservative traditionalist like John Paul, or will they decide that the modern Church now needs a man who can change with the times? We will soon find out.
My personal prayer is that the next Pope will be another man of strong moral conviction--one with the courage to stand against the pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia culture of death, and to stand against the perverse, anti-family agenda of the pro-homosexual activists.
Nathan Tabor is a conservative political activist based in Kernersville, North Carolina. He has his BA in Psychology and his Master’s Degree in Public Policy. He is a contributing editor at www.theconservativevoice.com. Contact him at Nathan@nathantabor.com.