An Open Letter To The Catholic Bishops of The USA
Please Act On Behalf Of Terri Schiavo And "Terri's Law"

Barbara Kralis
November 13, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

(Editor's Note: Following is the complete text of an open letter to the bishops of the United States, urging them to speak out and act on the Terri Schiavo case. Barbara Kralis, the letter's author, writes for various Catholic publications, and is a member of the Catholic Media Coalition, an association of lay Catholic editors and writers.)

Your Excellencies:

Catholics across the country are imploring you, please, to make a positive, definitive statement on behalf of the life of cognitively disabled Terri Schiavo, and for all disabled and elderly persons suffering the same evil discrimination.

Having been subjected to a recent murderous withdrawal of hydration and nutrition, Terri's life was threatened by her "right to die" guardian/husband. Her human and civil rights were gravely violated. Terri Schiavo is not nor was not terminally ill, nor was her death imminent, not until the ANAH (artificial nutrition and hydration) was withheld. By Holy Intervention Terri has survived and fully recovered from a most agonizing six-day starvation/dehydration ordeal.

Thousands of faithful Catholics from all over the nation have, with the grace of God and the help of the Thomas More Law Center, succeeded in their six-year or longer appeal to the Florida governor, to his legislators and judges, to intercede on Terri's behalf and save her from this most horrific, monstrously painful death. Hundreds of thousands of lobbying efforts (phone calls, e-mails, faxes, and letters) were made right up until the "11th hour." Many exhausted Catholic laity are gearing up now for the legislative battle.

Terri's own Bishop [Robert] Lynch, as well as the entire Florida conference of bishops, did little if anything to defend her against her "right to die" guardian/husband and his notorious "right to kill" attorney, George Felos, both whom wanted to get rid of "the problem." None of the U.S. bishops would intercede to stop the murderous attempt, to the immense enjoyment of those who ordinarily persecute and criticize the Catholic Church's worldwide moral authority. Finally, eight days after Terri's slow death commenced and two days after Gov. Jeb Bush intervened and ANAH was resumed, the Florida Conference of Bishops released statements saying Terri's case needed further investigation. Too little, too late. Had we waited for the bishops to act, Terri would be dead today.

With the exception of Fox News Channel, spurious media coverage against Terri's right to life was and still is sponsored by a "right to die" mentality at all national media levels, but this is no surprise to anyone. What is an enormous surprise is the lack of response by the USCCB; you let a "teaching moment" slip by.

While thousands of Catholic laity, in their pro-life apostolates, are working hard to educate the "right to die" mentality of the media to the truths of the Gospel of Life, shameful statements have emerged from Catholic clergy in public support to allow Terri to die a most horrible death. Catholic Georgetown University's Fr. Kevin Wildes, Catholic Loyola University Medical School's Fr. Kevin O'Rourke, medical ethicist, and St. Petersburg diocesan priest Fr. Gerard Murphy (whose gravely flawed testimony helped ensure the verdict that Terri Schiavo be allowed to starve and dehydrate to death), all purported to represent the official teachings of the Church with disturbing and erroneous views. There is ample documented refutation by renowned lay Catholic medical, scientific, and bioethical doctors regarding these flawed Church representations.

Of primary importance is the "right to kill" issue of withdrawal of ANAH from the disabled or elderly, a moral teaching which the Church has clearly defined many times. ANAH is never thought of as "extraordinary means," but instead ordinary means or "palliative care." For Catholics, it is morally permissible to refuse extraordinary means, but not morally permissible to refuse ordinary means, or "palliative care."

The Church condemns withdrawal of ANAH intended to cause any patient's death. (See: Charter for Health Care Workers; Evangelium Vitae; CDF [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]'s Declaration on Euthanasia; NCCB Nutrition and Hydration: Moral & Pastoral Reflections; USCCB Ethical & Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, n. 58; The Catechism of Catholic Church, nn. 2277, 2278; and, St. Thomas Aquinas' principle: "A deliberate omission that causes death is morally an act of intentional killing," De Malo q.2, a.4, ad 5, Summa Theologiae I-II, q.71, a 5.)

Distinguished forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, interviewed on major television news programs, concluded that Terri's severe trauma and injuries warrants criminal investigation. Doctors John Young, William Maxfield, radiologist, and William Hammesfahr, national expert neurologist on PVS and a Nobel Prize nominee, held recent press conferences and filed a six-page affidavit with the court, wherein they declared, "People ought to know Terri can be rehabilitated."

While many well-known Protestant leaders have come out in full public force to loudly protest Terri's attempted murder, the Catholic hierarchy, the divinely ordained men who should be defending Terri with the numerous infallible Church's ethical teachings, are supporting the "right to die" movement with their silence, as the lethal ACLU chortles its way to evil victory.

Bishop Lynch and the Florida hierarchy were given ample documentation during the past years as to Terri's true condition, her human and civil rights, and reminders of their Church's teachings, yet incredulously they proclaimed it was a "private matter for the family, not for the Catholic Church." It's not a private matter! This affects all of us, especially Terri. This ennui among our hierarchy must end now.

In recent years, the Florida Conference of Bishops has made ten appeals to the governor to commute the sentences for convicted murders on death row, pleading that their lives be spared. Why were there no pleas for Terri Schiavo?

While Terri was into her sixth day of dying, an October 21, 2003 press release from Bishop Lynch's Communications Office simply said, "The diocese has been involved in helping provide for Terri's spiritual needs and we assure everyone they are being met." Bishop Lynch, who was entrusted to Terri's pastoral care for her eternal and temporal life, was never seen at Terri's bedside. In fact, when Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski, Terri's loyal and longtime sacramental priest, was refused on October 18, 19, and 20 the right to administer her Holy Communion as Last Rites during her starvation and dehydration, Bishop Lynch refused to comment or intercede. In fact, his secretary said he was (conveniently) out of his office the entire day and could not be reached. Terri was religiously and criminally violated, neglected, and exploited as a disabled person and her Catholic bishop was as quiet as a church mouse.

Many Catholic laity have been "dumbed down" by lack of magisterial teachings from the pulpits on the Gospel of Life and thereby are confused today on what should be done with Terri Schiavo's life.

Just as the U.S. bishops have rarely, publicly warned they would deny Holy Communion to a manifest sinner if he approached the Altar (as other world bishops have courageously done), be he a pro-abortion politician, a manifest gay activist, or a renowned Mafia figure, not one U.S. bishop has intervened on Terri's behalf to stop her very public, very horrific attempted murder.

Your Excellencies, I beg you to speak out boldly on behalf of Terri Schiavo, on behalf of the new legislation called "Terri's Law" which is being heavily challenged by the "right to die" groups, on behalf of all the disabled and elderly who are being murdered every day through the horrifically painful withdrawal of ANAH just because someone deems them "unsuitable" to live.

Your USCCB's Respect Life Committee, your President Bishop Gregory all sit idle, silently watching, and the faithful laity are scandalized as their Protestant friends remind them, "Your Catholic Church lacks courage." What can we say to those mocking our hierarchy?

"Terri's Law," contested by numerous "right to kill" groups, will be a hard battle to win; we can't do it without you. We all will be affected by the legislation's outcome, sooner or later. There's more to being a bishop than broad fringes and wide phylacteries. We implore you to make the necessary, frequent admonitions and statements and courageously defend "Terri's Law," defend Terri Schiavo, and defend the disabled and elderly who are in harm's way.

Your Excellencies, will you join us in the battle?