Tosatti: Reflections on the Church’s Role in the Alfie Evans Case

Editor’s note: we received word over the past weekend that little Alfie Evans had lost his fight for life, when he died in the early hours of Saturday, April 28. There is much to consider as we evaluate how this case progressed, and what precedent it sets for the future. Today, we present the thoughts of veteran Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, who has watched the story closely from Italy, and has paid particular attention to the interventions made by various Catholic clerics, including the pope. 

I have tried to follow closely the developments in recent weeks of the dramatic story of Alfie Evans, and particularly from the point of view of the Church. As my readers know, I am often critical of the reigning Pontiff. I hope they will believe me now when I say that I think that the Pope has not done badly with the Alfie Evans case; he did what he could. His reception of Tom Evans, his promise of support, his push through the Secretariat of State and the Bambino Gesù Hospital to get some kind of action both from the Italian government and the hospital, his effort to free the child from the prison hospital where he died, are all actions that should be recognized, even more so when we consider that the local bishops in England and the Pontifical Academy for Life have all seemed very lukewarm and uncertain in this affair.

In an interview with an Italian newspaper on March 9, 2018,the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Msgr. Paglia, spoke of therapeutic obstinacy:

Above all the drama of the parents should be held in high esteem and I wish to express my complete closeness, also in prayer, for them and for Alfie. For this we need to pay close attention to the terms we use. They need to be correct and respectful: talk about “suppression” is neither fair nor respectful. In fact, if the repeated medical consultations truly showed that there is not a valid treatment in a situation where the little patient is located, the decision was not meant to shorten his life, but to suspend a situation of overzealous treatment.

Paglia changed his position after the Pope’s words of 15 April in defense of Alfie in his Angelus reflection:

The case of little Alfie Evans of Liverpool, his young parents Tom and Kate and all the people who, in these long and painful months of illness have worked in different ways for the good of this child, has been shown these days in all its terrible tragedy.

I pray for him and for the people involved, and I invite everyone to unite with this intention before the Lord of life. I strongly hope that dialogue and cooperation can be reopened between the parents, understandably upset by the pain, and the authorities of the hospital where Alfie has been treated until now, so that together they may seek the integral good of Alfie, and that the care of his life is not reduced to a legal dispute. Alfie cannot be abandoned, Alfie must be loved and so also his parents, to the fullest extent.

A subsequent statement on April 22 seemed equally ambiguous:

The dramatic story of Alfie Evans continues to arouse deep emotional resonance. Considering the developments which we are witnessing we cannot escape feeling a strong discomfort, mainly due to the sense that we are at an impasse where we all risk to be defeated. Given the still-problematic solutions that lie ahead in the evolution of the circumstances, we consider it important that we work together as collaboratively as possible. Only in the search for an agreement between all – an alliance of love between parents, family members and health care providers – can we find the best solution to help baby Alfie now in this dramatic moment of his life.

It is noteworthy that at the same time other bishops and Catholic specialists criticized the behavior of the hospital and were decidedly on the family’s side.

The Pope has spoken on several occasions. A first tweet by the Pope, on April 4, seemed to be in line with Msgr. Paglia:

It is my sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard. I am praying for Alfie, for his family and for all who are involved.”

But on April 15, at the Angelus, he said,

I entrust to your prayer people such as Vincent Lambert, in France, little Alfie Evans in England, and others in different countries, who live, sometimes for a long time, in a state of serious infirmity, assisted medically for basic needs. These are delicate, very painful and complex situations. We pray that every patient is always respected in his dignity and treated in a way that is appropriate to his condition, and with the agreement of family members, doctors and other health professionals, with great respect for life.

Then there was the trip by Tom Evans in Rome, and the promise of help, and the Pope’s Blessing, and the Secretary of State and the Bambino Gesù Hospital began to work together. The Pope, on April 23, the day on which Alder Hey Hospital suspended Alfie’s life support at 10:17 P.M., wrote in a new tweet:

Moved by the prayers and the wide solidarity in favor of the little Alfie Evans, I renew my appeal that his parents suffering will be heard and that they will be granted their wish to try new treatment.

It was a clear request to allow Alfie to come to Italy.

Finally, the last tweet was after the child’s death:

I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie. Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace.

The Diocese of Liverpool and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales behaved in the most disconcerting away about this whole matter. I think it would be interesting to know what links may exist between the Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, and the Alder Hey Hospital. In all the official statements, including that after death, McMahon’s main concern seems to be to defend the hospital. I hope some English colleague could delve into this track.

A first statement of the Bishops of England and Wales, inspired by McMahon, said:

Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and them trying to do everything they can for the care of their son. We affirm our belief that everyone who took harrowing decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans acted with integrity and for the sake of Alfie, as they see it. The professionalism and care for seriously ill children demonstrated at Alder Hey Hospital should be recognized and affirmed. We know that public criticisms recently posted about their work are unfounded. The attention of our staff and Chaplaincy was provided to the family in a consistent manner. Bishop Tom Williams, Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool, who worked as a hospital chaplain for many years, was involved with the chaplaincy team at Alder Hey, offering support to physicians and staff. He did not meet with the parents, who, of course, are not Catholics.

Tom and Alfie were baptized Catholics. The family said they never saw the  chaplains. Not only that: from the news reports of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana one can see there was great difficulty in finding a local priest who would deal with Alfie. So much so that it was necessary to find an Italian priest who lived in London to come to Liverpool. And so in the last days of life of Alfie was rejected by the bishops, leaving the family without spiritual support.

Therefore, this statement of Bishop Williams contains two untrue things: that the Evans are not Catholics, and that chaplains have assisted them. Archbishop McMahon repeated the second thing – which was not true – to the Pope, when he made a lightning visit to Rome, between Tuesday and Wednesday [April 24 and 25], to meet the Pope briefly after the general audience. So writes the Tablet:

The Archbishop of Liverpool has told Pope Francis that Catholics in Liverpool are “heartbroken” by the Alfie Evans affair while telling The Tablet that the medical and chaplaincy team at Alder Hey hospital have been doing everything that is “possible” to help the seriously ill toddler. “I saw the Holy Father after the Wednesday General audience and we talked about Alfie. I was struck by his compassionate attitude to both Alfie and his parents, and he promised me he is continuing to pray for them,” the archbishop said.

And finally on 28 April, following the death of Alfie Evans, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, made the following statement on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales:

I would like to express my deepest sympathy at this moment of loss to Tom and Kate as we hold little Alfie in our prayers. All who have been touched by the story of this little boy’s heroic struggle for life will feel this loss deeply. But as a Christian Alfie has the promises of God, who is love, to welcome him into his heavenly home. [Editor’s note: Alfie was finally recognized as a Christian, and maybe as a Catholic, after all…] Although the past few weeks have been difficult with much activity on social media, we must recognize that all who have played a part in Alfie’s life have wanted to act for his good as they see it. Above all, we must thank Tom and Kate for their unstinting love of their son, and the staff at Alder Hey Hospital for their professional care of Alfie. Now it is time for us to give Tom and Kate space to grieve their son’s death and offer our prayers for him and consolation for all.

And lastly, there was an interview given to Vatican Insider by the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. It was mainly on the Korea situation, but the last two questions were about Alfie. They show clearly a difference of sensibility between Parolin and Paglia, and the English and Welsh Bishops:

Vatican Insider: One last question: what do you think about little Alfie Evans’s case?

Parolin: It caused me an enormous sadness: in the face of a willingness, so openly expressed, so many times, and with such great commitment of means – the doctors of our Bambino Gesù Hospital went three times to Liverpool – there was a refusal to allow Alfie to be taken to Italy. That is incomprehensible. This was what struck me the most, it upset me. I cannot understand why. Or perhaps there is a reason, and it follows a terrible logic. The Pope and the Holy See have tried to do everything possible to help the family and to ensure that the child would be cared for during the course of his illness, despite the unfortunate prognosis.

Vatican Insider: The case sparked a heated debate.

Parolin: In these situations, everyone shouts, trying to pull water towards their mill. Now that the case is closed, and the media will forget about it quickly, we need to reflect quietly. These cases will happen again. All together, from different points of view, but also with the contribution of believers, we should try to give a truly human response to these situations, based on love for the person, respect for their dignity and unrepeatable uniqueness. We hope that it will be possible to do so, and that the discussion will not end without giving it some further thought, ready to be applied again once the next case occurs.

My personal opinion is that the behavior of the Archbishop of Liverpool in the case of Alfie Evans helped those who wanted to prevent the baby from receiving help elsewhere, and assisted in his murder, that the archbishop’s behavior was lacking and negligent, that his defense at all costs of Alder Hey Hospital is something that needs to be explained, and that perhaps an Apostolic visitation would be appropriate.

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Alfie Evans was given 4 drugs just before he died: report

LIVERPOOL, May 1, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – UK toddler Alfie Evans allegedly died within hours of receiving four different drugs from a nurse at Alder Hey hospital, Italian media is reporting. The information that Alfie was given four injections has also been obtained by LifeSiteNews from two different sources with connections to the Evans family.

Alfie Evans died in Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital on Saturday morning at 2:30 AM. According to Italian newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, a nurse entered the child’s cubicle after his father Tom had been called aside and gave him four drugs. A source close to the family told LifeSiteNews that these were injections that were administered to Alfie after Tom had been summoned for an unusual middle-of-the-night meeting with the hospital. The child died two hours later.

It remains unclear why the alleged injections were given. The Evans family did not respond to LifeSiteNews’ request for comment.

Medical advisors to LifeSiteNews said they could not understand why the child would be given four separate drugs. One or two drugs could be explained as an attempt to sedate the child or administer painkillers, if he were in distress. Four, however, seemed to them mysterious. They recommend that an independent toxicology report be performed.

Alder Hey hospital doctors had previously conveyed to the Evans’ family in a legal document how they intended to use a drug cocktail that included Midazolam and Fentanyl as part of Alfie’s “end of life care plan.” Side effects of the drugs included respiratory depression. Tom Evans called it an “execution plan” for his son.

On the night of Monday, April 23, Alfie was suddenly removed from a ventilator and his life-supporting tubes. He had been on the ventilator for 15 months, and was unused to breathing on his own. He also had a lung infection, which would have required antibiotics to heal. Nevertheless, he managed to breathe independently, and continued to do so for more than 100 hours.

Tom Evans argued that the court order leading to Alfie’s extubation did not extend to depriving the child of oxygen and nutrition, and the child was permitted low levels of oxygen and, after 36 hours without nutrition, was fed.

La Nuova Bussola states that Alfie was given more life support in exchange for his father Tom’s promise not to speak any more to the press.

The day prior to Alfie’s death, Tom Evans read to the press outside the hospital what is now being called by many a “hostage letter.” In what appeared to be a forced statement, Tom read out a letter calling all the supporters of Alfie to go home and resume their lives. He thanked the hospital staff for their care of Alfie, even though just hours earlier he had attempted to have them charged with conspiracy to murderhis son. He also praised the hospital staff for their dignity and professionalism, even though the day before he said they were treating his son worse than an animal and felt like he was in a jail.

“To silence the press, the hospital promised Thomas more oxygen and more life-support,” Frigerio continued. “Two hours before death, [Alfie’s] oxygen saturation was at around 98, and Alfie’s heartbeat was around 160, so Thomas was convinced that he would be allowed to go home (as the hospital administration had told him on Friday afternoon).”

However, it is alleged that the child’s health declined rapidly after a nurse gave him four injections.

“Before he died, while Tom was away for a moment, leaving Kate [Alfie’s mother] half-asleep and another family member in the room, a nurse entered and explained that she would give the child four drugs (no-one knows which) to treat him,” Frigerio wrote.

She continued: “After about 30 minutes the [oxygen] saturation had fallen to 15. After two hours Alfie was dead.”

The  Nuova Bussola reporter, who was material in setting up an appointment between Tom Evans and Pope Francis, observed that she could not be sure that Alfie’s life ended only because he was removed from life-support.



Did Drugs Administered to Alfie Evans in His Final Hours Cause His Death?

The battle to save Alfie Evans carried a heavy emotional toll, and his death last Saturday has done little to lighten the burden. If anything, the sense of urgency has been replaced with one of outrage.

I can tell you the moment I connected with the story. I was sitting in my car outside a shop, waiting to go in. I had my phone in my hand, and checking my emails and notifications, came across a video of Alfie opening his eyes and looking around the room while sucking on a pacifier.

That’s when I realized that this little boy was very much alive, and that they were going to kill him anyway. I was suddenly overcome with grief, my eyes filling with tears. I found myself imagining being in Tom Evans’ place, fighting for one of my own sons. I broke down. Another video of Alfie and his father Tom did me in again today as I was working on this report. The idea that such a beautiful little child, clearly not “brain dead”, would be willfully killed by a medical and legal system against his parents wishes — all under the auspices of having the child’s best interests at heart — is a kind of monstrosity that just takes your breath way.

It is a staggering sort of hubris and cruelty.

Through the whole story, those pulling for Alfie’s survival suffered an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. There was nothing we could say, nothing we could do, to stop what was coming. No matter how loud I shouted, no matter what I wrote, that poor boy and his parents were tied to the tracks in front of a freight train with a full head of steam.

And we were forced to watch it run them over.

On Friday, April 26, Tom Evans read a conciliatory statement towards Alder Hey, thanking them, of all things, and asking everyone who was supporting the family to stop what they were doing and go home:

I wish to make a statement on behalf of myself and Kate.

Our lives have been turned upside down by the intense focus on Alfie and his situation.

Our little family, along with Alder Hey, has become the centre of attention for many people around the world and it has meant we have not been able to live our lives as we would like.

We are very grateful and we appreciate all the support we have received from around the world, including form our Italian and Polish supporters, who have dedicated their time and support to our incredible fight.

We would now ask you to return back to your everyday lives and allow myself, Kate and Alder Hey to form a relationship, build a bridge and walk across it.

We also wish to thank Alder Hey staff at every level for their dignity and professionalism during what must be an incredibly difficult time for them too.

Together we recognise the strains recent events have put upon us all, and we now wish for privacy for everyone concerned.

In Alfie’s interests we will work with his treating team on a plan that provides our boy with the dignity and comfort he needs.

From this point onwards there will be no more statements issued, or interviews given.

We hope you respect this.

The video of Tom reading the statement showed a man reciting something he had absolutely no emotional connection with. It appeared, as many people described it, to be a hostage statement. I found myself imagining it being handed to him by a PR rep for the hospital, accompanied by a threat. Something like:

We have won the court battles and now have total control over your son. He can go the easy way or the hard way. And we have no obligation to allow you to be present. You might want to read this statement we’ve prepared.

Privately, I speculated that part of whatever deal was struck with Tom Evans to get him to read that statement was a non-disclosure agreement, so that even after Alfie died, he’d be in a world of legal trouble if he ever talked about what really happened. (People following the story immediately began making a comparison to Charlie Gard, saying that his parents issued a similar statement at the end of their legal fight, and he was dead soon after.)

Sure enough, later that night as I lay in bed, I got the news that Alfie had finally succumbed. It was 2AM last Saturday morning. I was there in the dark, staring at my phone, unable to sleep, when I scrolled down and saw the news. Moments later, I began receiving messages from people claiming that he had died after being administered a cocktail of drugs. This rumor, as it turned out, would be repeated and contested for days after his death.

It was Benedetta Frigerio of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana (NBQ) who attempted to assign the rumor to the realm of fact. She wrote a report detailing “all the facts” of how Alfie died, which was translated into English yesterday. It is an essential report in its entirety, but it contains a couple of particularly important assertions about how Alfie died among many disturbing facts. After Aflie was removed — without the normal weaning — from the ventilator he had been on for 15 months, he refused to die as expected. He continued breathing on his own. Frigerio relates how doctors kept trying to deprive Alfie of an oxygen mask, and how they would not give him nutrition for 36 hours. Frigerio also relates how Alfie was denied antibiotics to treat a lung infection. At some point, she reports, the doctors finally appeared to relent:

When the nutrition was at last supplied, however, it was kept at minimal levels. Still Alfie continued to live for 4 days defended by his parents from the doctors threats, opening his eyes from time to time and reacting. Then, in exchange for press silence, the hospital promised Thomas more oxygen and more life support. Two hours before dying, the oxygen saturation was about 98 and Alfie’s heartbeats approximately 160, stable to the point that Thomas was convinced he would be allowed to take his son home soon (as the hospital administration had told him on Friday afternoon). Before dying, while Thomas had left the room for a moment, leaving Kate drowsing and another family member in the room, a nurse entered and explained that she was going to give Alfie four drugs (no one knows what drugs) to treat him. No more than 30 minutes later, his oxygen saturation level dropped to 15. Two hours later, Alfie was dead. [emphasis added]

This section of Frigerio’s report is absolutely devastating, and it has unsurprisingly been widely contested. Caroline Farrow, a Catholic media commentator in the UK who had helped the Evans family with some press requests, tweeted out Frigerio’s story on the evening of April 30. She was subsequently contacted by an admin for one of the “Alfie’s Army” social media accounts who told her that “the story was untrue and causing the family great distress.” She made public statements to that effect, and issued an apology, but left her tweets up “for transparency.” (Farrow told me that she has not communicated directly with the family since the day Alfie died.)

Farrow has since been absolutely savaged on social media, being threatened with prosecution, subjected to insults, and harassed for simply tweeting out a story she had every reason to believe was true. (I personally made an attempt to engage with some of those attacking her on Twitter, and found them to have no interest in reasonable discourse.)

Faced with such aggressive backlash, and having been told by an admin of the Alfie’s Army group claiming contact with the family that the story was false, Farrow apologized for tweeting the story, and asked Frigerio to retract it. She then stated as much publicly:

This has not stopped the online lynch mobs. Farrow tweeted earlier today that “there is a group of lawyers engaging with troll accounts urging for me to be prosecuted and investigated and spreading this false information.”  Farrow claims that she can “only say what I have been told. She [Frigerio] published story. AA [Alfie’s Army – Ed.] admin messaged me and said it wasn’t true, causing distress, yet they are sticking with story & have translated page into English.”

Making the matter more confusing, — not to be confused with our friends and colleagues at — contacted Farrow on Twitter and asked her about the drug claim. She responded: then proceeded to issue their own report claiming that Alfie Evans’ family had refuted the report of the boy being given “four unknown drugs just before he died.” They provided no additional sourcing for their story.

Frigerio, meanwhile, has stood her ground on her reporting.

Today, I contacted Riccardo Cascioli, Editor in Chief of NBQ. Cascioli stands by Frigerio’s story, and confirms that they have “sources related to an eyewitness”. Cascioli also told me that the Evans family has not contacted NBQ to request that Frigerio’s story be retracted.

As misinformation and conflicting reports muddy the waters of what really happened in little Alfie’s final hours, it is Alder Hey and the NHS that stand the most to gain from continued confusion. If Tom Evans did, as Frigerio claims, make some agreement with the hospital to obtain “more oxygen and more life support” for his son, then he may never be legally allowed to disclose what he saw that night.

Two questions thus remain, both of them pressing: was Alfie administered some cocktail of medications that accelerated or even caused his death? If so, was the administration of such medications intended to have that effect?

Michael Hichborn, President of The Lepanto Institute, spoke with me about what an affirmative answer to these questions might mean. “Withdrawal of food and air as a means of euthanasia is certainly important, in England, that isn’t a crime,” Hichborn said, “but direct euthanasia with drugs is.” Hichborn said the he believes “At the least, this calls for a criminal investigation.”

We cannot stop asking about how Alfie died.

Alfie Evans was a baptized Catholic. He was below the age of reason, and incapable of voluntary sin. We may rest assured that he, at least, is in heaven. But his family has been put through hell, and they are not alone. Cascioli insisted to me that whatever happened with the drugs Alfie was given, the kind of slow killing that comes from the withdrawal of oxygen, nutrition, and the like, is all-too-common. “They normally kill people. Kill children. Alfie is not an exception, they practice euthanasia on a daily basis.”

That is the deeper tragedy in all of this. May God have mercy on our souls.

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About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Sheepdog says:

    Is Jorge Bergoglio a criminal in complicity of this?

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