Recently the bishops of Atlantic Canada signed a pastoral letter concerned with Euthanasia (Assisted Suicide or Death with Dignity) which is now legal across Canada with the removal of Euthanasia from the Criminal Code of Canada. This pastoral letter reflects the bishops’ thinking concerning this issue and what should their position be in relation to it. It appears from this letter that it is now possible to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Sacrament of the Sick (Extreme Unction) by a Catholic who has chosen Euthanasia at the end of life. However, this is placed squarely on the shoulders of the priest called to attend the patient. The bishops claim they are simply following the example of Pope Francis are providing merciful pastoral care. However, this vision and version of pastoral care runs counter to Catholic teaching on suicide and the discipline of the sacraments.
Again, following the example of Pope Francis, the bishops of Malta have issued directives that communion of the divorced and remarried (outside the Church) is to be offered for Catholics who are in this situation but feel at peace with God. However, again, the bishops’ pastoral approach runs counter to Catholic doctrine and discipline of the sacraments.
In both these cases, the bishops have approved what the Catholic Church cannot approve and have placed themselves and their pastoral charges in grave danger. They have allowed heresy in the name of mercy to replace pastoral care through correction. It is not merciful to leave people in their sin. The Woman at the Well was told to go and sin no more. The bishops in these cases above are simply not providing this Christ like example of correction which is offered in love for the good of the souls involved and the moral teaching of Christ and His Church.
The options taken by the bishops runs counter to the ten commandments as we are enjoined by God that: “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Church teaching concerning Euthanasia is explicit. And Pope St John Paul II gave a very clear example in his own life of suffering, especially the last years of his life and pontificate. He offered this example along with his teaching on life and death as well as his teaching on life in family and individuals. How quickly his profuse writings on these subjects have been forgotten or laid aside.
What is needed is leadership that will stand up for the truth and seek a way to correct the errors being pandered to the Church in the name of mercy. St John Paul II had no trouble publicly castigating Fr Ernesto Cardenal in 1983 on the airport tarmac on his visit to Nicaragua. Where is the leadership today which should be seeking to have questionable pastoral approaches removed and clear teaching provided? In June 2016, a group of 45 Catholic scholars sent a letter to all the cardinals, asking Pope Francis to repudiate a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals in Amoris laetitia. Four cardinals (Raymond Burke, Carlo Caffarra, Walter Brandmüller, Joachim Meisner) formally and privately asked Pope Francis for clarifications. They submitted five “dubia” (doubts), and requested a yes or no answer. Pope Francis declined to answer.
With these seemingly innocuous paragraphs and footnotes in post synodal documents and pastoral letters, many run with these rather than the larger texts and the confusion ensues from this. And for the priests who work in parishes and have regular calls to hospitals for “last rites” there is the danger that these questions over Euthanasia will become the stumbling block and the cause of angry letters to bishops and hard disciple of priests who refuse to comply with the directives of the bishops. A priest in good conscience cannot administer the sacraments in these cases and families will only see a “rigid priest” as Pope Francis calls them, for refusing this act of mercy.
It should be remembered that the Catholic Church is clear in its teaching from Scripture and has had the benefit of the good pastoral examples and teaching for many years. There is no grey area. No wiggle room. The Catechism of the Catholic Church §1650 as well as Sacramentum Caritas §29 of Benedict XVI, and Familaris Consortio §84 is all very clear. Amoris laetitia §300 and notes 336 and 351 are not in conformity with Catholic teaching and are therefore void as is the pastoral letter from the bishops of Atlantic Canada concerned with the sacraments for Catholics choosing assisted suicide. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that correct Catholic teaching on morals and faith are perpetuated and taught to the faithful. There needs to be a serious discussion within the Church about this and the corrected texts promulgated.