Sunday, March 27, 2005

Rome's determination to save Terri

John Allen's excellent column from National Catholic Reporter:

So much has been written and said about the Terry Schiavo case in the United States that I hesitate to add anything here. It's already well-known that the Holy See has been outspoken; three senior Vatican officials have appealed directly on Schiavo's behalf, including Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Cardinal Javier Lozano Barrigan, president of the Pontifical Council for the Health Care Pastoral; and Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

The American press, already accustomed to the engagement of religious conservatives on Schiavo's behalf, has not given a great deal of attention to these Vatican interventions, treating them as largely pro forma.

In fact, however, if one sees these statements through the lens of normal Vatican operating procedure rather than the particular contours of American debate, they're really rather extraordinary. As a general rule, Vatican officials restrict themselves to enunciating general principles, treating particular cases, pieces of legislation or elections as something for local bishops to address. Readers will remember, for example, during the American debate over communion for pro-choice Catholic politicians, that Vatican officials outlined the general rules in church law but never even cited the name "John Kerry" in doing so.

The willingness to enter into the particulars on Schiavo, therefore, suggests that officials in the Holy See regard this case as of singular importance, analogous in the camp of "Culture of Life" issues to the Rocco Buttiglione case in Europe in the area of "secular fundamentalism." In both instances, several Vatican officials (including, both times, Martino) believed that something so unjust, so potentially important in terms of precedent value, was taking place that it had to be denounced by name.

From the point of view of the Schiavo drama, the Vatican is no doubt a bit player. Its role is, nevertheless, unusual, and may signal a growing willingness on the part of at least some Vatican officials to get down to brass tacks when key moral and cultural questions are at stake.

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