Les Femmes

U.S. Bishop Fiddle While Terri Burns

By Mary Ann Kreitzer

Marriage continues til “death do us part.” Death freed Terri from the man whose name literally means “slave.” In life Michael Schiavo treated Terri as disposable property. Now his power over her is ended. Out of respect for Terri and her family we are using her maiden name. Pray for Michael Schiavo and his accomplices, slaves of the one who was a “liar and murderer from the beginning.” Editor

One of the most appalling lessons of the Terri Schindler murder in Florida is the picture it gives us of the American Church. For at least two years all the member groups of the Catholic Media Coalition including Les Femmes, pleaded with the Florida bishops to speak out to save this innocent young woman. Can anyone imagine the Florida legislature refusing to respond to a massive campaign orchestrated by a united body of state bishops calling their flocks to demonstrate and lobby Tallahassee to prevent Terri’s euthanasia? It never happened. Terri’s bishop, Robert Lynch, refused any meaningful defense and in the end ran off to Southeast Asia to posture over the tsunami tragedy while Terri died of thirst at home.

During rallies outside the hospice where Michael kept Terri a virtual prisoner, priests appeared from other states, but local clergy were almost invisible, reputedly ordered by their shepherd to stay away. When a group of pro-lifers from the Washington/Baltimore area, including twenty-one students from Christendom College in Front Royal, VA, distributed flyers at Clearwater Catholic churches March 13, they were threatened and driven off several parish parking lots. “Our people don’t care about this,” one pastor told them. Only in the end did a few Florida bishops speak out strongly against the killing. It was too little too late. The good old boys network deferred to Bishop Lynch, a man more interested in his appearance in a speedo than the life of one of his vulnerable children. Those appealing to the other Florida bishops were told over and over by chancery bureaucrats that they could do nothing because it was Bishop Lynch’s prerogative to act.

A handful of bishops around the country spoke out for Terri. CMC and others circulated their statements and posted them on the web, but they were isolated and received little publicity.

The silence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) magnified the injustice. In 2003 CMC sent letters and faxes to every bishop in the country begging for their help. We received six responses. A few of those referred us to the Florida bishops’ tepid statement, a rehash of Bishop Lynch’s original weak message which basically called the situation a family feud. Only in the 11th hour, after Rome spoke in the person of Renato Cardinal Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, did the USCCB finally respond to the barrage of pleading. The words came, not from President William Skylstad, but from the Pro-Life Committee headed by William Cardinal Keeler. To add insult to injury, on the fourth day of Terri’s agony, as she burned with thirst, the USCCB had the audacity to hold a national press conference launching an intense media campaign against the death penalty. There was no press conference for Terri, no national plea for a moratorium against executing the innocent disabled. The bishops abandoned a woman who received not one review of her court-ordered execution, a right given every convicted serial killer on death row. The bishops were apparently too busy developing their state-by-state strategy for ending capital punishment.

What Catholic voices spoke for Terri? Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, Fr. Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International, EWTN, and many Catholic lay groups. They made the pilgrimage to Terri’s hospice to plead for life. Not one bishop visited her even as she became a national icon against euthanasia of the endangered disabled. Ironically, it was Caesar, in the person of the Bush brothers and Republican members of the national and state legislatures, who fought hardest to save Terri. They spoke with a roar, while God’s voice on earth, the hierarchy of the Church, was a whimper.

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