On the same day, December 14, on which the Italian parliament approved a law on living wills, which act as a prelude to euthanasia, “La Civiltà Cattolica” – the magazine of the Rome Jesuits that is inspected by the pope in draft form before it is printed – came out with an important article dedicated precisely to the “innovations” introduced by Francis on how to “live death,” innovations that have been greeted favorably as a pro-euthanasia “turning point” by secular public opinion:
The new law was approved by a large majority of parliamentarians, including a good number of Catholics. One of these, Mario Marazziti, a leading figure of the Community of Sant’Egidio in addition to being the president of the commission for social affairs of the chamber of deputies, commented on its approval in exclusively positive terms for the viewers of TV 2000, the television channel owned by the Italian episcopal conference.
Naturally, there has been no lack of criticism of and resistance to this law on the part of circumscribed sectors of the Church and of the political world, both before and after its approval. There has been a stir over the “conscientious objection” that the celebrated Cottolengo Catholic hospital in Turin will put up against the application of the law to its patients, with the immediate support of the city’s archbishop, Cesare Nosiglia. Other bishops have raised protests as well. And there is talk that in January the Italian episcopal conference will do the same in a more unified form.
It must be noted, however, that from the see of Peter there has come not a single word of criticism. On the afternoon of December 14, a few hours after the approval of the law, “L’Osservatore Romano” covered the news with a few aseptic, purely descriptive lines. And then nothing else.
Not only that. Among the secular supporters of the law are some who have attributed its success precisely to the message that Pope Francis had addressed in mid-November – his most recent statement on the subject – to participants at the Vatican for a conference of the World Medical Association on the theme “End-of-life questions.”
And it is precisely this speech by Francis that “La Civiltà Cattolica” reissued on the day the law was approved, reinforcing as a result the idea that the law had received the go-ahead from this very speech by the pope.
The author of the commentary is a top-ranking Jesuit, Carlo Casalone (in the photo), 61, a professor at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy and a specialist in bioethics, who earned a degree in medicine before studying philosophy and theology and was the provincial of the Society of Jesus in Italy from 2008 to 2014.
In his message to the conference of the World Medical Association, Francis even cited a bygone speech of Pius XII to demonstrate the continuity of the Church’s magisterium on the subject of euthanasia.
Fr. Casalone immediately emphasizes, however, “how Pope Francis makes innovative clarifications and emphases.”
From Pius XII until today, in fact – he points out – much has changed about the ways in which people die. Today “together with life there is also an extension of coexistence with illness. The danger is that of concentrating on the prolongation of vital functions, pursuing partial objectives and losing sight of the overall good of the person.”
It is the danger of what is called “futile medical care,” which Fr. Casalone would prefer to call medical “excess” or “obstinacy” and is made up of the use of “disproportionate treatment,” judged as such both by the physician and above all by the patient.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2278 – the Jesuit recalls – says that the interruption of these disproportionate treatments “can be legitimate.” The same is written in the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” of John Paul II.
But here comes the innovation that Fr. Casalone highlights. For Pope Francis, the suspension of these disproportionate treatments is no longer merely optional, but “requisite,” “obligatory.”
After carefully pondering, in fact, all the “circumstances” and the “context,” meaning both “the inner resources” of the patient and “the competing values of health and family and social relations,” then “one arrives at a concrete final imperative” that – Fr. Casalone writes – is connected “with the common and constant patrimony of the Catholic moral tradition on the obligatory value of the judgment of conscience.”
In the concluding part of the article, the Jesuit also highlights that passage of the papal speech which garnered the greatest enthusiasm among the supporters of the law approved by the Italian parliament.
It is the passage in which “Pope Francis reserves a thought for the necessary mediation that in democratic societies is required to reach shared positions, even on the normative level, to promote the common good. That means on the one hand recognizing the legitimate differences, and on the other not eroding the core values that guarantee coexistence in society, based on mutual recognition as equals of all those who belong to it.”
Interviewed for the leading newspaper of Italian secular opinion, “la Repubblica,” a few hours after the approval of the law, Cardinal Camillo Ruini called it a “stretch” to interpret the words of Francis as “approval” of a law “that opens to doors for euthanasia without calling it by name.”
But the exegesis of it that was made by “La Civiltà Cattolica” and above all the timing and context of its publication give free rein to the secular supporters of euthanasia. Who in fact are falling over themselves to thank, in their own way, Pope Francis.
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)