Archive for January, 2009

Catholics Journalists Rallying the Faithful

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, OCT. 18, 2007 ( Our modern media age has given us much to be skeptical about. Poorly informed scandal-mongering often seems to rule the day, and we tend to view journalists with a jaundiced eye, particularly in what often passes for Catholic journalism in the secular press, where the norm seems to be an ill-concealed and anti-magisterial position.

In the space of one week I met two remarkable Catholic journalists, one based in Ireland and one in Italy. These two men not only provide intelligent reporting and commentary on Church news, but have pursued their vocations to make lasting contributions to Catholic culture.
Andrea Tornielli hails from Venice and has been covering Vatican news for the Italian daily Il Giornale for 11 years. Surprisingly, he has avoided cynicism and maintained a refreshing buoyancy that many journalists quickly lose.

But beyond his well-informed coverage of everything from papal trips to the latest questions in the Italian bishops’ conference, Tornielli has taken an interest in the case of Pope Pius XII, producing four books on the man Eugenio Pacelli, who reigned as Pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

The 1998 Berlin commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Kristallnacht sparked Tornielli’s interest in Pius XII. The Night of Broken Glass took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938, and opened the era of Jewish persecutions in Germany.

On that occasion in 1998, Yisreal Meir Lau, then chief rabbi of Israel, asked during his impassioned speech the damning question: “Pius XII, where were you? Why were you silent during the Kristallnacht?” Two Italian newspapers the next day ran that as their headline, with the subhead “The Shameful Silence of Pius XII.”

The evident problem with this, Tornielli pointed out, was that Pius XII was not elected until March 1939, four months after the Kristallnacht. This event vividly demonstrated to the Italian journalist that when it came to Pius XII, anything goes. “The black legend around him had become so great that anything negative, including lies, would get newspaper space,” wrote Tornielli.

Andrea spent several years investigating documents, records and Vatican archives working with Italian history professor Matteo Napolitano to learn more about this much-maligned Pope.

Tornielli came out swinging in 2001 with the 400-page book “Pio XII. Papa degli ebrei” (Pius XII: The Pope of the Jews), tackling the origins of the blackening of Pius XII’s name. This was followed by “Il Papa che salvò gli Ebrei” (The Pope Who Saved the Jews), written with Napolitano.

Tornielli points out that after World War II the state of Israel officially recognized Pope Pius XII’s efforts to help the Jews, and that unheard-of honors were accorded to the Pope before and after his death.

“The Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel,” Andrea observed, “which refused to play Wagner, considering him Hitler’s inspirational composer, asked permission to perform before Pope Pius XII. How can one imagine that they would go and play for ‘Hitler’s Pope’!”

Tornielli noted that a dark cloud gathered over Pius XII during the turbulent years of the Cold War as well as during the progressive movements of the late 1960s.

Yet this new anti-Pius wave was not caused by the discovery of new information regarding his papacy. In fact, no new documents had come to light since the encomium of the 1950s. And in those years, Andrea points out, “everyone knew what the Pope had said, and more importantly what he had done, during World War II.”

Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” debuted in the Proletarian Theater of Berlin in 1962. Tornielli describes it as “written by a mediocre playwright, seven hours long and intended to purge the German conscience for having democratically elected Hitler.”

Despite its tediousness, the play was staged in Paris and London within the year, and the world learned to condemn Pius XII for “his silence.”

Tornielli points out that “The Deputy” was actively sponsored by the Soviet Union, which was intensely hostile to the Church. At the same time, many Catholic progressives saw the defamation of Pius XII as a way to divide the old Church regime from the “new Church” they expected to emerge from the Second Vatican Council.

Once Tornielli realized this, he studied the life of Pius XII even more closely, producing two more books, the most recent published this year, a 661-page biography of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. This work includes unpublished material from the Pacelli family archives.

Tornielli’s book illustrates the continuity of the Church through the period from the first to the second half of the 20th century, as well as the extraordinary modernity of Pope Pius XII.

The journalist observed that “television has affected a great deal of how we perceive John XXIII and Pius XII.” Little footage of Pius XII exists, but John XXIII was elected in the age of television. “When John XXIII brought Christmas gifts to the sick children at Bambino Gesù hospital, the televised event moved the world,” he wrote.

But he adds, “When Pius XII went in 1943 to the Gregorian to visit 2,000 orphaned children and distributed gifts, no television camera was present.”

Tornielli’s work has uncovered documents recognizing Pius XII’s early understanding of the anti-Catholic nature of the nationalist parties, as well as refreshing details about his pontificate. He reported, “After John Paul II, Pius XII canonized more women than any other Pope, and percentagewise he actually canonized the most — at 54%.”

Pius XII also continued with the topic of liturgical reform and was open to the hypothesis of evolution, which he cited in his encyclical “Humani Generis.” He met and addressed all sorts of scientists from astrophysicists to plastic surgeons; reading and learning about their work to be able to discuss their work with them from a more informed position.

Last May 8, Pius XII received a proclamation of heroic virtue, the first step up the ladder of sainthood. I asked Tornielli whether he thought he would live to see Pope Pacelli canonized. He shrugged with a wry smile, “All we can do is pray.” And in Tornielli’s case, publish.

Knight of the Round Table

Last week I met with David Quinn, an Irish journalist who for years served as editor of the Irish Catholic, the principal Catholic paper in Ireland. He still contributes columns to both the Irish Catholic and the Independent, but he has turned his journalistic talents in other directions as well, using his quick wits to grapple with the many-headed hydra of anti-Catholicism.

Although he was baptized Catholic in his native Ireland, it took several years in Australia, working and meeting with the lively evangelical community, to reawaken his Catholic faith and convert him “from a nominal Catholic to a committed one.”

Returning to Ireland, Quinn started his career as a journalist in 1994, working for the Sunday Business Post, but as the sexual scandals involving Irish priests swelled into epic proportions, he noticed that not one word was said or written in defense of the Church.

As people used the scandals to promote the question of married priests or simply to bash the Church for any of its positions, no one was prepared to answer. Quinn, probably drawing from his experience among the evangelicals, pugnaciously stepped into the breach.

As the lone Catholic journalist willing to explain and defend the position of the magisterium, Quinn was soon invited to debate on a myriad of subjects from priestly celibacy to same-sex marriage to atheism.

With his clear presentation, good old-fashioned common sense and, well, truth on his side, Quinn has done much to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of the Church.

How does he prepare for the diversity of topics he is called on to debate? “I’m fortunate enough to work in my area of interest — current affairs — so my work reading is also pleasure reading,” he said.

But Quinn soon realized that playing defense to the volleys of attacks wasn’t enough. Catholics in Ireland needed a presence that would study, analyze and defend the institution of marriage and the family.

In 2006 he founded the Iona Institute, dedicated to the defense of marriage, which so far has produced important studies documenting the effects of divorce, single parenting and same-sex marriage. He adamantly insists that those who claim that all forms of “family” are essential equal, must bear the burden of proof.

“Children cannot be used as a social experiment,” Quinn protests. “One can’t just wait and see how the children of these arrangements will be affected; the advocates of alternative families must demonstrate their claims.”

The institute also encourages the practice of religion, which is regarded with disdain by most of the Irish intelligentsia. But Quinn argues that the exaggerated personal authority of the modern age has led to higher crime, drug abuse and suicide rates than ever before: “It is far more difficult to have a strong civil society without a certain level of religious practice.”

Quinn has also jousted his foes firsthand, debating with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling “The God Delusion,” and Christopher Hitchens, who has stooped so far as to denigrate Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. One senses that the chivalric spirit of the days of Knights of the Round Table may be slowly returning to the Isles.

“There has been a modest revival of Catholic apologists since I’ve started with the public debates,” Quinn admits. “Plenty of good people are covering bioethics and others have started to take an interest in defending the Catholic position on marriage.”

As the so-called Dark Age loomed after the fall of the Roman Empire, the papacy in Italy rallied the Christians while the Irish monks saved civilization. Andrea Tornielli and David Quinn remind us that we can still hope for great things from these two nations.


Escaping Poverty: Interview With Archbishop Silvano Tomasi

GENEVA, OCT. 16, 2007 ( Intelligent use of the economy, market and culture is needed to attain objectives coinciding with our values as Christians and members of the human family, says a Holy See representative.

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, spoke of the necessary avenues to help developing nations escape poverty.

Q: What tools does Vatican diplomacy use to evaluate the most underprivileged in the world?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Holy See works within the international sphere, with the United Nations and in the U.N.-related agencies, as an “observer” state; this gives the Holy See the right to intervene and take part in non-voting activities, thus allowing the Holy See to act more freely than other states.

Furthermore, the Holy See endeavors to promote a line of discourse to support and aid the least developed countries, particularly those suffering in conditions of extreme poverty.

Specifically, the Holy See tries to generate a public culture, a world opinion within the international sphere, by declaring that developed countries are not only in a position to choose to support poorer populations, but that they bear the ethical responsibility to do so.

Then, the Holy See tries to offer actual help to these populations, not only in the form of financial support, which sometimes contributes to corruption, but, above all, through technical training, the exchange of information and licenses, all to help facilitate production.

And, with the aid of existing international structures and U.N.-related entities, such as the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development, we try to equip less wealthy countries with the ability to take part in trade, keeping in mind that participation is one of the most important concepts in the Church’s social doctrine.

According to this concept, everyone is entitled to take part in international life, to have access to common goods in a fair, proportionate and justified manner.

Q: What is your position in the debate about debt forgiveness for poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: For years, particularly since the Jubilee of the year 2000, several private organizations, the Church, and the Holy Father himself, have issued exhortations on the subject of debt forgiveness for poor countries because even payment of the interest is so burdensome that it obstructs development.

Therefore, I am in favor of debt forgiveness for the poorest countries as soon as possible, so that some of the resources that thus become available can be channeled toward social development, health care, children’s education, drinking water systems, all for a gradual improvement of living standards.

Q: Do you consider the developed world to be adequately informed and involved in the problems of poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: Public opinion is often distracted by many things that are not so essential. Occasionally, great tragedies or humanitarian campaigns draw attention for a while.

Some time back, we had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, which brought about people’s very constructive, positive and generous response. But we have other “tsunamis.” We have thousands of people dying of hunger, malaria or AIDS every day while nothing is said about these silent tragedies.

The media sometimes reports on these, issuing information, but it is then lost because the news items are not dramatized, and public attention wanders.

The fact that there are wars going on, people dead as the result of conflicts in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, is viewed with a certain degree of indifference. It is almost as if we have grown accustomed to the normalcy of these tragedies.

In my opinion, for people to see on the news that 100 people have been assassinated in Baghdad, another 20 in Mogadishu, and 50 refugees have died in a tragedy in Africa, is sometimes not very different from watching an entertainment movie after the news bulletin.

Therefore, it is important for Christians to sensitize people through the network of parishes, groups and movements, about the need for solidarity toward the most disenfranchised, to work together toward peace, for a bit of progress and for a better standard of living for these distant people.

Q: What are your thoughts on multilateral diplomacy versus bilateral dialogue in the international community?

Archbishop Tomasi: I would say, above all, that there is still a strong desire to struggle and negotiate in order to continue on a multilateral level, to seek solutions to current problems, particularly in the field of trade.

For example, the director general of the World Trade Organization insists on the fact that we must definitely continue to grow together in the same direction in order to be truly effective in the long term, even in the case of developed countries.

However, at the moment, there is the temptation in Europe and in other states to try to bypass common action through bilateral negotiations. This tendency can have very dangerous consequences because the stronger party tends to impose its terms on the weaker one, so that the negotiation is not really equitable.

In the long term, this can just lead to the maintenance of the status quo, in other words, the coexistence of rich and poor countries, which, in fact, does not succeed in combating poverty.

Q: As permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, do you consider international organizations in the field of economics, especially the World Trade Organization, as directing their course of action toward the sustained development of Third World nations?

Archbishop Tomasi: I attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of 2005, when the WTO tried to evaluate the “Doha Development Round” [from November 2001].

On that occasion, it became clear that, despite the extremely tough bargaining, it is possible to reach agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. Therefore, these international structures, which are necessary to achieve the globalization of the economy, the market, and culture, must be used intelligently.

We have to make an intelligent use of these structures in order to attain objectives that are truly in line with our fundamental values as Christians and as members of the human family.

Prostitution: Legal Work or Slavery?

A Failed Attempt at Defending Women’s Dignity

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, OCT. 15, 2007 ( Legalizing prostitution is under debate in a number of countries.

Hungary recently decided to legalize it, apparently in part due to the government’s desires to exact revenue from an activity they calculate could generate around $1 billion a year, reported the Associated Press, Sept. 24.

Bulgaria, however, took a step in the opposite direction, reversing a plan to legalize prostitution, according to the New York Times, Oct. 6.

“We should be very definite in saying that selling flesh is a crime,” Rumen Petkov, the interior minister, said during a recent forum on human trafficking, the article reported. The New York Times also commented that last year, Finland made it illegal to buy sex from women brought in by traffickers, while Norway is reportedly planning on imposing a complete ban on purchasing sex.

Italy, meanwhile, is considering how to deal with the widespread practice of street prostitution. Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said the government was thinking about measures such as fining clients, reported the Italian daily Avvenire, Sept. 26.

Prostitution is also under debate in Britain, where a new television series, “Belle de Jour,” presents a glamorized view of the sex industry — a portrayal strongly criticized by Emine Saner in an article published Sept. 20 in the Guardian newspaper.

“Of the estimated 80,000 women who are sex workers in the U.K., the vast majority do it because they have drug problems or families to support and have no other viable way of making money,” Saner commented.

Moreover, she argued that two-thirds of sex workers have experienced violence, including rape. Government data also reveal that at least 60 sex workers have been murdered in the past 10 years.

Guardian commentator Madelaine Bunting returned to the debate with an article published Oct. 8. Around 90% of prostitutes want to leave their activity, she said. At a time when sex trafficking is booming as one of the most lucrative forms of organized crime, we don’t need a fairytale story about prostitution, argued Bunting.

Victorian failure

Countries debating whether or not to legalize prostitution could learn from what occurred in the Australian state of Victoria. The state government legalized prostitution in 1984 and since then, the sex industry has flourished. With over 20 years of experience, many of the promised benefits of legalizing prostitution have not, however, materialized, according to a book published earlier this year.

A detailed examination of the situation in Victoria was authored by self-declared “feminist activist” Mary Lucille Sullivan, in her book “Making Sex Work: A Failed Experiment With Legalised Prostitution,” (Spinifex Press).

“Victoria’s legalized prostitution system assists in maintaining male dominance, the sexual objectification of women, and the cultural approval of violence against women,” is her thesis.

Normalizing prostitution, as if it were merely some kind of employment, has also undermined women’s workplace equality and contradicts other government policies aimed at protecting women’s rights, accused Sullivan.

Too often, she added, the pressures today to treat prostitution as just another job stem from a neo-liberal vision of the free market, which sees women and girls as a commodity. Some feminists who supported the legalization of prostitution, Sullivan continues, were also influenced by a libertarian outlook and a misplaced desire to establish the “rights” of prostitutes. For its part, the state saw economic advantages in legalization, since it could tax a heretofore underground and illegal activity.

Legalization in Victoria, Sullivan explained, was also defended under the guise of minimizing the harm to the women involved, by bringing about formal regulation and legal protections in the sex industry.

Intrinsic violence

This has not occurred, she affirmed, because attempting to portray prostitution as an occupation to be put under the control of health and safety norms ignores the intrinsic violence of prostitution and the fact that sexual harassment and rape are indistinguishable from the product clients buy.

Moreover, legalization itself has introduced a new series of damaging consequences for women, Sullivan argues. Among these is, ironically, a further expansion of the illegal side of prostitution. In fact, the phenomenon of curbside prostitution, far from disappearing with legalization, has continued to grow in Victoria.

Likewise, legalization, far from removing the influence of organized crime, has instead fueled the role of illegality by introducing greater economic incentives for trafficking in women and girls for both legal and illegal brothels. Sullivan also quoted experts in organized crime who allege that the legalized prostitution industry in Victoria still has strong links to underground criminality.

With regard to this human trafficking, Sullivan draws attention to international studies that put at billions the profits made from this modern form slavery. Estimates of the numbers of women and girls who are trafficked range from 700,000 to 2 million each year.

The legalization of prostitution in Victoria has not done anything to reduce illegal sex trafficking, Sullivan argues. In addition, since legalization, child prostitution continues to be a problem.

Billion-dollar industry

We are now in a situation, Sullivan pointed out, where the media, airlines, hotels, the tourist industry and banks all seek to promote and expand the industry of prostitution. In addition, legalization has brought an encroachment of prostitution in public life.

According to data cited in the book, by 1999, annual turnover in Victoria’s prostitution industry reached $360 million (Australian), which at the current exchange rate would be US $323.3 million . Overall in Australia, 3 states and one territory have legalized prostitution. A business information service cited by Sullivan put at $1.780 million (Australian) the turnover in the financial year 2004-05.

Instead of legalization, Sullivan recommended following the example of Sweden, where the law criminalizes the buying of sexual services and does not penalize the women and children. Sweden also helps women who have suffered violence as a result of prostitution.

Legalization of prostitution, Sullivian concluded, makes a fundamental mistake as it enshrines as a man’s “right” the ability to buy women and girls for sexual gratification. Once this is done, it becomes much more difficult to control the industry or prevent the exploitation of women.


“Prostitution is a form of modern slavery,” commented a recent document of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, issued June 16. The publication, “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” attracted media attention due to its ten commandments for drivers, but its content also includes a section on street prostitution. (Nos. 85-115)

“The sexual exploitation of women is clearly a consequence of various unjust systems,” commented the Pontifical Council. Causes such as a need for money, the use of violence, and human trafficking contribute to trap women into prostitution.

“The victims of prostitution are human beings, who in many cases cry out for help, to be freed from slavery, because selling one’s own body on the street is usually not what they would voluntarily choose to do,” the document added.

The council called for greater efforts to help free women from the abuses against human dignity that result from prostitution. Catholic institutions, the declaration added, have often helped women to escape from this situation. Women need to be aided so that they can regain their esteem and self-respect, and to be reintegrated into family and community life.

“Customers,” on the other hand, “need enlightenment regarding the respect and dignity of women, interpersonal values and the whole sphere of relationships and sexuality,” the document said. The exploiters also need to be enlightened regarding the hierarchy of the values of life and human rights, it recommended.

“Committing oneself at various levels — local, national and international — for the liberation of prostitutes is therefore a true act of a disciple of Jesus Christ, an expression of authentic Christian love,” the council concluded. Surely a far better answer than legalizing what is nothing more than sexual slavery.

Debunking the Papal “Euthanasia”

Doctor Assails Claims Surrounding John Paul II’s Death

ROME, OCT. 11, 2007 ( Here is a translation of a response written by Doctor Renzo Puccetti, specialist in internal medicine and secretary of the Association Science and Life of Pisa and Livorno, Italy, to claims that Pope John Paul II was euthanized.

He responds to the article of Doctor Lina Pavanelli, medical anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Ferrara, titled “La Dolce Morte di Karol Wojtyla” (The Sweet Death of Karol Wojtyla), which appeared in the May edition of the bimonthly Italian magazine Micromega.

Time Magazine reported on Pavanelli’s statements in the Sept. 21 story titled “Was John Paul II Euthanized?”

* * *

An article that recently appeared in the Italian political magazine Micromega has attracted some attention in the medical community, mostly because of the relevance of the person whom it discusses.

According to this article, Pope John Paul II is supposed to have died as the result of an omission in medical care that the Pontiff himself had desired as a patient.[1] The author of the article, Lina Pavanelli, an anesthesiologist and political activist, says that her findings are not the result of firsthand knowledge of the clinical situation of the events and the patient — she had never paid a direct visit to Karol Wojtyla — but stem from an Internet news search and the reading of a recent book by the Pope’s personal physician, Renato Buzzonetti.[2]

We can divide the article into two parts. In the first part the author furnishes a personal evaluation of the last weeks of John Paul II’s life based on the above-mentioned sources. This is a reconstruction that, at least in intention, should be technical and scientific. In the second part of the article this reconstruction becomes a point of departure for a kind of bioethical evaluation dealing with the issues surrounding end-of-life care and euthanasia.

We will attempt to show how, using the same research methods, it is possible to arrive at conclusions that are diametrically opposed to those of article under discussion. The thesis advanced by the libel can be summarized in the following way: Because the Pope’s Parkinson’s had caused him to have difficulty swallowing it would have been necessary to insert a nasal-gastric feeding tube and start artificial nutrition much earlier than had actually been done.

According to the author, who holds that any omissions on the part of the medical personnel who cared for the Pontiff were “improbable,” the delay in starting the artificial nutrition is to be imputed — as the only “plausible” hypothesis — to Pope Wojtyla himself, who, despite being “informed” and having “understood” “the gravity of the situation and the consequences of his decision,” is supposed to have “refused”;[3] such a procedure was allegedly understood by the patient himself as “aggressive medical care.”[4]

And yet this decision of the Pontiff to not be fed supposedly brought on the fatal crisis prematurely by weakening the defenses of the Pope’s immune system. The author has no doubts: “Karol Wojtyla would have been able to live for a long time, but he rejected this option.”[5]

It is claimed that the naturalness of the Pope’s death was only an appearance, “sweetly false.”[5] John Paul II was supposedly “sweetly accompanied along an easier route, toward a less dramatic end than he would have met.”[6]

From this assertion and from various Church documents that indicate that hydration and artificial nutrition are normal and obligatory, the author goes on to accuse Catholics and the same Pope of inconsistency — it is probably not by chance that Matthew 7:3 is cited at the beginning.

According to Catholic moral teaching, in fact “when a patient consciously refuses life-saving treatment, his action, along with the compliance or omission of the physicians, must be considered as constituting euthanasia, or, more precisely, assisted suicide.”[7] This is why, according to the author, there is no difference between the case of Piergiorgio Welby and the death of Karol Wojtyla: “The only difference is that [Welby] had breathing support removed at his request, whereas [Wojtyla] chose not to have support in the first place. Both patients died on account of their not having the necessary apparatus to keep them alive.”[6]

We have multiplied the citations so as not to incur misunderstandings. From here we would offer an alternative analysis of the facts. In regard to the presumed delay in starting artificial nutrition through nasal-gastric feeding tubes, the author speaks of the necessity of this measure in “the last two months of [the Pope’s] life”[6] — therefore, from the beginning of February, postulating a two-month delay in medical treatment, pointing to March 30 as the day in which the feeding apparatus was installed.[8] The Holy Father was allegedly malnourished for almost two months, from the beginning of February to the end of March. And yet there are a number of elements that contradict such an assumption, some are related by the author herself.

On the evening of Feb. 1 the Pope was at dinner,[9] thus, he was able to eat, but having difficulty breathing, he was hospitalized at Gemelli, where he remained until Feb. 10. On Feb. 3 the Vatican spokesman, Joaquín Navarro Valls, referring to the general condition of the Holy Father, adds that “he eats normally and alternative forms of nourishment have been excluded.”[10]

This claim does not convince Pavanelli, who suspects that already at this time, contrary to the official statements, malnourishment had manifested itself, making the nasal-gastric feeding tube necessary. Pavanelli’s hypothesis is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the difficulty in swallowing in question often regards not only solid food but liquids and is accompanied by the danger of aspiration pneumonia.[11] This would be a situation in which the positioning of a nasal-gastric feeding tube, even for preventative purposes, would have been necessarily urgent; the supposed refusal by the patient is incongruous with his later agreement to the more invasive tracheotomy procedure.

That the Pope’s nutritional problems need not have been grave can also be adduced from the fact that on Feb. 23, the eve of his last hospitalization, the Holy Father was at dinner,[12] and from the Feb. 24 statement by the director of the Parkinson’s Center at the Milan Istituti Clinici di Perfezionamento, Gianni Pezzoli: The Pope “recovered very well after his first stay in the hospital.”[5] Immediately following the tracheotomy, sources report him eating again — a caffe latte, 10 small cookies, a yogurt[13] — it is hard to imagine a sudden recovery of the capacity to swallow after having lacked it for nearly a month.

So knowing the skill of the medical personnel at Gemelli and the long-established relationship of confidence between them and John Paul II, along with his absolute and total abandonment to the Mother of God, it is hard to imagine a negligence in vigilance in regard to symptoms of solid-food swallowing problems over the whole period of the Pope’s last hospital stay until March 13. Doctor Buzzonetti subsequently clarified that the Pope was outfitted with the nasal-gastric feeding tube from Monday of Holy Week, that is, March 21,[14] and that during the Via Crucis [on Good Friday] the Pontiff was lying on his back precisely for this reason.

The presumed omission, then, would not regard a whole two months but, in the worst case, only eight days, an interval of time in which it is possible and likely that the doctors were waiting and watching in hopes of a possible improvement in the ability to swallow, an improvement which, when it did not present itself, it is possible that the medical personnel decided on the feeding tube. It is, moreover, difficult to understand how Pavanelli can infer the reduced efficaciousness of the tube from brief interruptions of a few minutes that occurred when the Pope appeared at the window of his Vatican apartments.[15] I cannot but admire Pavanelli’s ability in two different articles to define the same removal and re-application of the tube first as “not at all risky,”[3] “simple and not traumatic,”[16], and then as a torment.[15]

But Pavanelli’s consideration of the concept of natural death in this context is even more stupefying, if this is possible. It is stupefying that she interprets Pope Benedict’s XVI’s expression “natural passing away” as a death without any modification to the natural course of the illness[5] and not rather as a death that takes account of man, of his ontologically rational nature, respecting him, a death that takes place in the presence of reasonable care, or, more exactly, care that is proportionate to the situation.

On many points Pavanelli seems to want to advance the idea that trying from time to time to patch up the malfunctioning organs of a gravely sick organism, one can put off death almost indefinitely[5; 17], almost as if, with the nutritional problem being resolved, Pope Wojtyla would have certainly lived for a long time.

Unfortunately, the scientific literature teaches that after 10 years of sickness, despite all the modern medical helps available, patients suffering from Parkinson’s continue to have a mortality rate 350% greater than that of others the same age who do not have the disease.[18]

In the end, the author’s position seems to be strongly influenced by a retrospective reading of the events, forgetting — at least this appears to be the case — that often in medicine the nature of the actions and omissions is revealed only by the time decreed by the consequences. It is a consideration that renders the difference between the Welby case and Pope Wojtyla’s evident. In the Welby case the consequences of disconnecting the patient from the ventilator were well-known — it was a consequence that was desired, wanted by the patient, and accepted by the physician.

In the Pope’s case honesty forces us to recognize that the theoretically possible, although improbable and undemonstrated, delay of some days in the start of artificial nutrition was dictated by contingent situations unknown to us, perhaps with a view to the opportune moment for the placement of a PEG tube (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy)[19], or in the hope of the patient’s functional recovery.

This leads us to the, so to speak, bioethical interpretation that the author gives of the events, an interpretation that uses in an inappropriate way official texts of the Church and the magisterium together with the resolutions of authoritative bioethical consensuses and Catholic authors to argue that any omission of life-saving treatment must be considered as euthanasia and as such implicates the patient who voluntarily refuses such treatment along with the medical personnel who consent to his refusal.[7] Such a perspective completely distorts the content itself of the documents of the Church, which always, along with the clear indications of general norms, take care to underscore the necessity of specifying the subject and the circumstances in the moral judgment of the actions to which conscience is called.

Furthermore, Doctor Pavanelli completely fails to consider the content of the agent’s intention. In a 1980 document titled “Iura et Bona,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defines euthanasia as death procured “with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.”[20]

As Pessina observes, there is a difference between a request for death and putting one’s life in the service of others through the category of “sacrifice.”[21] If one is not able to see the difference between euthanasia and the conduct of John Paul II, then one is unable to see the difference between taking and giving. What we have here is a choice that unites those who, while they consider life a primary good, do not consider it the absolute good, who remember that “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), who have not refused Jesus’ example, but have followed it to the very end: “Totus tuus.”[22]

* * *

[1] Lina Pavanelli, “La dolce morte di Karol Wojtyla,” Micromega. May 2007: pp. 128-140.
[2] Ibid., p. 129.
[3] Ibid., p. 137.
[4] Ibid., p. 132.

[5] Ibid., p. 135.
[6] Ibid., p. 136.
[7] Ibid., p. 138.
[8] Ibid., p. 133.

[9] Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, “Una vita con Karol,” Rizzoli. 2007: p. 219.
[10] Lina Pavanelli, op. cit., p. 131.
[11] E. Alfonsi, et al., “La disfagia oro-faringea nelle sindromi parkinsoniane. Aspetti clinico-elettrofisiologici e terapeutici,” Oral presentation at the XXXIII National LIMPE Congress, Stresa. Nov. 15-27, 2006.
[12] Ibid. 9, p. 220.

[13] “Pope Breathing Well After Tracheotomy,” ZENIT. Feb. 23, 2005.
[14] Luigi Accattoli, “Quel sondino che nutriva Wojtyla,” in Corriere della Sera. Sept. 15, 2007.
[15] Lina Pavanelli, op. cit.
[16] Ibid. 1, p. 132.

[17] Ibid. 1, p. 134.
[18] Chen H, et al., “Survival of Parkinson’s Disease Patients in a Large Prospective Cohort of Male Health Professionals,” Mov Disord. July 21, 2006: Vol. 7:1002-7.
[19] “Papa, niente udienza del mercoledì e si parla di un nuovo intervento,” La Repubblica. March 29, 2005.

[20] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Iura et Bona,” (Declaration on Euthanasia). May 5, 1980.
[21] Adriano Pessina, “Eutanasia. Della morte e di altre cose,” Cantagalli. 2007: pp. 49-51.
[22] Ibid. 9, p. 221.

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 11, 2007 ( Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture not only pinpoints the heart of the current international situation, but also reality itself, says Father James Schall.

In the third and final part of this interview with ZENIT, Father Schall, a professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, comments on what he says is one of the most important discourses of modern times. 

He is the author of “The Regensburg Lecture,” published by St. Augustine’s Press. Part 1 , Part 2 .

Q: How do you see the Regensburg lecture in relation to John Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio”? 

Father Schall: What Benedict XVI sees is the fundamental importance of “Fides et Ratio” on a world scale, not just with Islam, which was something new in John Paul II’s time. 

John Paul II was rightly taken up with fascism, Marxism and the moral status of the West. John Paul did collaborate with Muslims in several U.N. conferences — Cairo, Beijing — especially about the family, in spite of the differences between Muslim and Christian views on what the family is.

“Fides et Ratio” is the consequence, as it were, of the other two stages of de-Hellenization in Western thought. The second step was with von Harnack who took the consequences of denying that Jesus was divine. He was just human, a nice man. He was a leader or prophet or voice, but he was not the God-man, not the incarnate “Logos.” Thus we did not need theology to understand him; rather, we need the social and historical sciences.

Benedict XVI, as he indicates in his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” is often concerned with the claim of scholarship to unearth the fundamentals of faith by science’s own methods alone. All it can unearth is what is known by the methods, so more and more fundamental things are left out as such scholarship claims priority. 

“Fides et Ratio” is a long, incisive analysis of modern philosophy alongside of the question of what kind of philosophy will enable us to understand what is really revealed. 

The very notion of a “Christian philosophy” arises from the need to understand in terms of reason just what was said in revelation. The use of a Greek word, not a scriptural word, at the Council of Nicaea, as the Pope said, indicated that under the pressure of understanding revelation, the philosophical experience could be fundamental. 

Faith and philosophy are not in contradiction, but are related to grasp the whole of reality. Both are necessary. This is why pure Scripture is not enough even to understand Scripture’s own positions. As Chesterton remarked at the end of “Heretics,” it would be revelation, not reason, which, in the end, said that the grass is green, that reason in faith alone would affirm the ordinary things of reality that the modern philosophers could no longer comprehend. 

Q: In your book, and in the Holy Father’s lecture, there is no effort to “turn back the clock” and deny the achievements of modernism. In what ways do you see an integration of the old and the new? 

Father Schall: First of all the term “modernism” is generally meant to be a declaration of independence of modern thought from what is past, Greek or scholastic. However, thought in modernity more and more loses its moorings in an ordered reality. 

As the Pope points out, the third de-Hellenization is what we call “multiculturalism,” a belief that there is no real truth in any culture so that there are no fundamental issues between civilizations or religions, only a kind of tolerance about truth’s impossibility. 

Despite the claim that multicultural tolerance does not involve violence, its very system contains within itself a tradition within history that does claim that violence is in fact justified by voluntarist premises. In other words, on a purely multicultural theory, there is no reason why voluntarism is not a legitimate position as there is really nothing to oppose it except power. 

The Pope repeats several times that he does not want to “go back,” but he does wish to distinguish what is good and what is not in modern thought and culture. 

Rommen said that the natural law is perennial, that is, it keeps coming back when we reach positions within a culture that normal men of common sense can see clearly wrong. The objective standard keeps calling disorder and injustice to our attention. The Regensburg lecture is an intellectual challenge. This is why it is precisely an academic lecture and not an encyclical; it insists we face the truth and falsity in any culture on the basis of “logos,” of reason. 

You will notice that the Pope brings in the notion of the fascination with mathematics that we found in Plato. He addresses the scientific mind directly and tells it that its discoveries are based on the fact that mathematics and its many sophistications work in reality. There must be a correspondence between principles of reality and principles of mathematics. 

Why is there this correspondence if there is not a realistic philosophy to explain why? And if there is this correspondence, why is there not an ultimate mind that orders all things found with mathematics as well as with its own systems? Much current literature is based on the claims of a new kind of atheism, one that often lacks the intellectual rigor of more classic forms. The confidence of modern atheism does not face the strange correspondences between mind and reality that even science cannot avoid. 

The problem with science is not only what it is, but what are we going to do with it? The classic Greeks were said to have known all sorts of inventions but chose not to pursue them because they understood the dangers they might entail for human living itself. 

The Regensburg lecture gives science and technology their due by pointing out that they are not everything, but what they do is valid for a certain aspect of things. They can only explain what falls to their competence. 

Philosophy, ethics, theology and poetry all reach to realities that are not direct objects of science, to things that are essentially spiritual and nonmaterial. The human intellect transcends its own being to be concerned with all that is. 

We are bewildered if we think that science can explain everything, but this does not mean that what it cannot explain is therefore not explicable. It rather means that other insights and ways of knowing have their own validity. 

The word of the Pope to science is not “don’t be scientific” in the proper sense. It is rather to stop limiting itself to only one concept of reason, a very narrow concept. This concept is good as far as it goes. But it is one that excludes by definition most of the important things men are concerned with. 

The Regensburg lecture takes us to the heart not only of current events, but also to the heart of reality itself. Philosophy and revelation are not enemies of each other, but are directed at one another. The exaltation of man by revelation does not imply that he is not what he is created to be, a rational animal, one who does all he does by “logos,” by reason. 

Man is the glory of God in the sense that God can address his word to him and he can know and comprehend because he is created with the power to know the truth of things. The moral and political life of man is designed to enable us to know what is addressed to us from reason and even, if it happens, from revelation. 

What seems clear about the Regensburg lecture is that the best place to understand our times is in the heart of Rome itself. Here, in the native tongues of recent Popes, in Polish, or German, and, yes, Latin, they speak to us of what it means to be human, to be beings addressed by God in both reason and revelation.