Some of the reporters did a double-take when Bob said,
"You guys have been killing Terri." But during the course of the news
conference, I saw comprehension dawning on some of their faces. Many of
them were very attentive during the doctors' talks, and asked questions
that indicated they had been paying attention.
I would have liked to see Terri myself, but the list of
authorized visitors is limited to family, some long-time friends, and
Msgr. Malanowski. Michael has complete control over who gets to visit.
Given how Michael has treated Msgr. Malanowski, and his misgivings about
the priest's "character," I think it's safe to assume that Michael isn't
likely to let another priest visit. All visitors, even family, are only
allowed to see Terri with one of the husband's designated "minders" present.
I spent most of my time with the family or supporters. Sometimes I led prayer; sometimes I answered questions or clarified points of Catholic teaching. I often took part in discussions with the family and their supporters on matters of strategy.
Once Terri's situation seized national attention, many
prominent people and organizations (and some not so prominent) came forward
to offer assistance and support. The Schindlers were, and still are, continually
faced with questions and decisions to make about what the best course
of action is, and whether a particular offer of help is something that
will truly be helpful. It might seem to some observers that the Schindlers
should simply accept any assistance that is offered.
There were many Catholics who also came out to lend prayer
and support for Terri and the Schindlers. But I was surprised by what
appeared to be a lack of support from the priests of the Diocese of St.
Petersburg. Msgr. Malanowski has told me that one of the greatest disappointments
he has had is the lack of support from local clergy or the diocese. I
was the only priest, besides Msgr. Malanowski, who was with the family,
or at the hospice keeping vigil with Terri's supporters, during the two
weeks in which the feeding tube was removed and after it was restored.
Some priests go beyond indifference: Msgr. Malanowski related to me that last year, before Judge Greer ruled that Terri's feeding tube should be removed, he asked a priest at a neighboring parish if he would come with him to visit Terri. "He told me he visited Terri once and that was enough," Msgr. Malanowski said. "He said, ‘they should just let her die.'" This lack of support and even opposition from priests leaves Mary feeling "disappointed and sad," she said. Bob was more angry: "It makes me feel like we've been sold out," he said. Another priest of the St. Petersburg diocese-who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity-had also encountered priests who advocated the removal of Terri's feeding tube. "I've had hospital chaplains tell me that Terri should be allowed to die, and that the Schindlers ‘need to move on,'" he said. He explained that, in his experience, many priests are unaware of the Church's teaching that there is a "presumption in favor" of providing nutrition and hydration, and that food and water must be considered "ordinary care." He added: "Even some good pro-life priests are confused about these issues. For a lot of them the argument goes back to ‘I wouldn't want to live that way.'"
THE ROLE OF BISHOP LYNCH
In the earlier stages of Terri's case, Bishop Lynch made some helpful public pronouncements. In a column in the August 21, 2003 issue of The Florida Catholic, Bishop Lynch reiterated the Church's teaching that food and water may only be withheld when it is "doing harm" to the patient, or "is useless because the patient's death is imminent." He also urged that "Terri's family be allowed to attempt a medical protocol which they feel would improve her condition." In addition to the public witness, Bishop Lynch offered personal support to the Schindlers as well. In 2001, he visited Terri with Msgr. Malanowski, and he met with the Schindlers on one occasion as well. But it seemed to the Schindlers that, as Terri's case took on a higher public profile, Bishop Lynch became more remote and uninvolved. Before Judge Greer ruled that Terri's feeding tube should be withdrawn, Bob asked Bishop Lynch for help. "We asked him to come out [to the hospice] and show support for Terri," Bob explained. According to Bob, Bishop Lynch responded by saying that he would consult with bioethicists about Terri's case. Bishop Lynch did not contact the Schindlers again, and in fact the Schindlers have had no direct communication with Bishop Lynch since then. Nor has Bishop Lynch visited Terri since 2001.
On October 15, the day that Terri's feeding tube was removed, Bishop Lynch issued a statement. In addition to expressing his prayers for Terri, he said:
"I continue to believe that such decisions should not be made in the court system but must be made on a case-by-case basis by families and/or other responsible parties at the clear direction of each one of us well in advance of a crisis."
The Schindlers, and many of Terri's other supporters,
found this statement disappointing and even bewildering. The statement
expressed the injunction that "such decisions should not be made in the
court system," but the fact was that the decision had been made in the
courts. It seemed as if the bishop's statement didn't really address any
relevant issue. Bob Schindler thought Bishop Lynch was treating Terri's
case like "just a family dispute" that he "didn't want to get in the middle
of." In the course of preparing this article, I contacted Bishop Lynch's
office and requested an interview. If that were not possible, I offered
an alternative: that Bishop Lynch provide answers to a set of prepared
Terri's spiritual well being continues to be of paramount importance to Bishop Lynch and all those serving within the Diocese. The spiritual ministry to any person is a private matter. The diocese has been involved in helping to provide for Terri's spiritual needs. We assure all persons who care for Terri that the spiritual needs of her Catholic faith are being met. We ask that such private ministry be respected.
I first saw this statement the day after it was issued. I walked into the Schindlers' "headquarters" RV after going out for lunch, and Bob handed it to me. He asked, "Have you seen this yet?" I read it, and I confess that I threw up my hands in disbelief. "Where did that come from?" I asked Bob. "What prompted that?" Bob speculated that Bishop Lynch must be "feeling the heat" from people supportive of Terri, asking him what he was going to do to help. (At that time, the story that Terri had been denied the Viaticum was beginning to circulate, and had provoked widespread outrage.)
I read out loud the sentence, "The diocese has been involved in helping to provide for Terri's spiritual needs."
"How?" I asked. "Msgr. Malanowski and I have been the only priests here since they pulled Terri's feeding tube, right?" Bob answered, "That's right."
I asked Bob and Mary, "Have you heard from anyone from the diocese?" "No," Bob said. "Me neither," Mary replied. Bob then added, "You know, Monsignor isn't even a priest of the diocese [he is a priest of the diocese of Norwich, Connecticut], so I don't know who from the diocese they could be talking about."
Msgr. Malanowski came in a few minutes later, and I showed the statement to him. I asked him, somewhat sarcastically, if he knew that Terri's "spiritual needs" were "being met." He just shook his head. I then said: "I suppose that means you've been able to give Terri Communion." Msgr. Malanowski replied: "One of the hospice chaplains told me that I should make a spiritual communion for Terri-that that would be good enough. How dare she try to tell me how to minister to her? Terri is being denied her right to the sacraments." When asked about it later, Bob Schindler characterized Bishop Lynch's statement "Concerning the Spiritual Welfare of Terri Schiavo" as misleading. "It leads you to believe the whole diocese is supporting Terri," he said, "but that's totally unfounded."
The Schindlers have received no communications from Bishop Lynch or diocesan personnel since her feeding tube was restored. I recently spoke to the director of the St. Petersburg Diocese Pro-Life Office, Deacon Joe Grody. I asked him if the Pro-Life Office had plans for any activities or events to express support for the efforts to save Terri's life, or to mobilize action on her behalf. He replied, "We have no plans at this time." The Schindlers, in spite of the disappointments they have encountered, in spite of being misunderstood, remain strong and hopeful. They are grateful for, and humbled by, the outpouring of concern and support they have received from all over the nation, and indeed, the world. They continue because they love their daughter and they know who she is. They go on because of their strong faith, which tells them they have Hope. They keep going because, as Bob often says, "Every day Terri is alive is a victory." One evening a relative of Terri's asked me, as we were sitting outside around the RV:
Why is it that some people want Terri dead because she doesn't meet their standard of minimum humanity? We know who she is, and we love her. And she knows we love her, and she can receive that love. Why do they want to deprive us of the ability to give her our love? Why do they want to deprive her of receiving our love?
I didn't have a ready answer to that. After thinking a
few moments, I said, "They can't, or won't, see who she is. They only
see her limitations, and imagine that is all there is to her." Those who
advocate removing Terri's feeding tube say that she won't recover. They
say she has no "quality of life." But those who know and love her see
past her limitations, and see the person Terri. And they cannot understand
why any of her limitations amounts to a reason for ending her life.
Father Robert J. Johansen is a priest of the Diocese
of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
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