25 February 2010

Straight talk and straight action in the defence of life

Bishop Robert Vasa ('VASHa') of Baker, Oregon, is a man who talks charitably but straight. He writes a weekly column in the Catholic Sentinel, His column for the 4 February printed edition was We're responsible for our failure to protect unborn life.

In the context of the trial of a Kansas man for the murder of an abortionist he writes of the duty of the State to defend every human life. He writes (my emphases):

There is no doubt that the Kansas man is singularly responsible for his actions and a jury determined, as prudently as possible, the extent of his guilt and culpability. But where does responsibility or true moral culpability rest? The Kansas man acted within the context of a specific American set of conditions and circumstances. He acted in the context of a culture that fails and even adamantly refuses to recognize something I read recently in a clinically oriented embryology textbook published in 2008. There I read; “Zygote: This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote or embryo is the beginning of a new human being.” In truth, this is something we all know. This is something legislators and judges know. This is something doctors know. This is something the abortionists know extremely well. It is thus perfectly legitimate to avow that abortion destroys an innocent human being. What it may not be legally correct to assert, in our culture, is that abortion is murder. It is correct to assert this as a moral conviction and that is a conviction I definitively hold — abortion is murder.

Bishop Vasa ends his column with these words: A Kansas man will undoubtedly be held accountable for what he has done. Every man and woman in America will be held accountable for what we have failed to do — for the little ones whom we have failed to recognize and protect.

He had to face a difficult decision in his own diocese, as he writes in Hospital decided it could not meet the Catholic standard, printed in the 18 February issue of Catholic Sentinel. St Charles Medical Center had been a Catholic hospital for many years, formerly run by religious Sisters but in 1992 the 'Association of the Christian Faithful was established with the specific goal of “preserving the unique Catholic character of St. Charles.”'

It seems they have failed to do so. They failed to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic Health Care Services of the bishops of the USA. Bishop Vasa writes: In 2007 the diocese was presented with a report on the level of compliance with the ERDs and that report indicated that there were a couple of areas of grave concern. While the commitment to adhering to Catholic principles was clearly present the same could not be said about adherence to or avoidance of certain immoral medical practices.

He further writes: As bishop, I am responsible for attesting to the full Catholicity of the hospitals in my diocese, a responsibility I take very seriously, and I have reached the conclusion that I can no longer attest to the Catholicity of St. Charles. The board is responsible for the operation of the medical center and for its compliance with the ethical guidelines it deems suitable for St. Charles. The question the board faced was whether it could alter its present practices to the degree required for continued identification as “Catholic.” It was the board’s determination that it could not meet that standard.

I see before me two distressing options. I must either condone all that is being done at St. Charles and its affiliates by continuing a sponsorship relationship or I must recognize that those practices are absolutely contrary to the ERDs and distance myself from them. It would be misleading to the faithful for me to allow St. Charles to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while, at the same time, being morally certain that some significant tenets of the ERDs are no longer being observed there.

This is not a condemnation of St. Charles. It is a sadly acknowledged reality.

Bishop Vasa was not afraid to make a clear decision: St. Charles has gradually moved away from adherence to the requirements of the Church without recognizing a major possible consequence of doing so. That consequence is a loss of Catholic sponsorship. Since I see no possibility of St. Charles returning to full compliance with the ERDs and since such full compliance with the ERDs is essential to “Catholic Status,” St. Charles will now be considered solely as a community nonprofit organization, not a Catholic one.

In practical terms there should be very little change in how St. Charles presently functions. One major shift will be the absence of the Blessed Sacrament at the hospital. The chapel will no longer be a Catholic chapel and Mass will no longer be celebrated there. In our secular culture most do not recognize the extreme grace of our Lord’s Real Presence but I suspect his absence from the chapel will be deeply felt.

The bishop's decision to close the chapel and remove the Blessed Sacrament is a clear sign that there is a direct connection between the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the way we live our lives.

A question I find myself asking is why do lay Catholics so often put aside their faith when given public responsibilities? There have been similar problems in at least one Catholic hospital in England. And in the USA, Canada and Britain 'Catholic' politicians seem to lead the way in opposing what Vatican II teaches, eg:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator (Gaudium et Spes No 27).

One of the great graces the Holy Spirit gave the whole Church through Vatican II was the call to holiness for all and the call for lay persons to live out that call in their family life, in their professional life and in public life. It seems that to a large extent we have rejected that grace, while so many line up to be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, in many cases not needed, lectors and what not.

May the Holy Spirit raise up more bishops like Robert Vasa.

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