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Analysis: Has Archbishop Paglia opened a new fight over ‘accompaniment’?

By Ed Condon

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, chancellor for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, in a 2015 photo. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno)

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- Last week Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said that the Church should “let go of the rules” regarding assisted suicide, adding that all Catholics have a duty to “accompany” those choosing to end their own lives.

“I believe from our perspective, no one can be abandoned, even if we are against assisted suicide because we do not want to do death’s dirty work,” Paglia told journalists Dec. 10 following a two-day symposium on palliative care.

Paglia was responding to questions about a recent document released by the bishops of Switzerland, which said that pastoral caregivers should not be present during a person’s death by assisted suicide. While condemning suicide as “a great defeat”, the archbishop also said that “to accompany, to hold the hand of someone who is dying, is, I think a great duty every believer should promote.”

While Paglia has recently condemned euthanasia and assisted suicide unequivocally, his remarks this month have led some to wonder if, by “pastoral accompaniment,” he is opening up the Church to a kind of tacit acceptance for assisted suicide.

Speaking last week about the Swiss bishops’ guidelines, Paglia said he “would like to remove the ideology from this situation.”

“Let go of the rules. I believe that no one should be abandoned.”

How, some commentators have asked, is it possible to “accompany” someone ending their life, and, while at the same time, remaining a faithful witness to the sanctity of life, the Christian meaning of human suffering, and the hope of the resurrection?

Many Catholics have criticized Paglia, saying his comments represent a departure from the very Church teachings on life that his office is called to advance.

But those Catholics hoping for a swift correction to Paglia’s insistence on the need to “accompany” someone committing assisted suicide may be disappointed. And absent clarity from the Vatican, Paglia’s remarks might signal another battleground over pastoral imperatives, with the ambiguous application of select statements by Pope Francis in the middle.

“Pastoral accompaniment” of people in difficult situations, even ones gravely against Church teaching, has become a flashpoint of the Francis pontificate.

Disagreement often focuses on the direction in which a person is being “accompanied” — whether there is an actual move towards reforming the person’s life in line with Church teaching, or if a sinful situation is, instead, being tacitly legitimized.

Perhaps the most well-known controversy over the limits of pastoral accompaniment has been the call to admit the divorced-and-civilly-remarried to Communion.

Bishops backing such an apparent breach with Church teaching and discipline point to the pope’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia which, in calling for the pastoral accompaniment of such couples, said that doing so could involve “the help of the sacraments.”

Many have insisted that admitting Catholics in what are, strictly speaking, adulterous unions to Communion is a danger to their souls and, rather than helping lead them to regularize their situation, could convince them that things are fine as they are. Those who argue this way would point to a reading of Amoris which would suggest “the help of the sacraments” means first confession and absolution, with the attendant resolve to break with the sin in the first place.

Others, notably the bishops’ conference of Argentina, have suggested that reception of Communion by couples in irregular unions can be an acceptable form of “help,” and insist that Amoris allows for exactly this, even if they intend to continue in their relationship.

Although he has said that the full integration of the divorced-and-remarried into parish life does not mean admission to Communion, Pope Francis has offered no public discouragement to those who call for it anyway.

A debate over “accompaniment” for those committing assisted suicide could follow the same contours of the Amoris polemics.

Pope Francis has publicly and consistently spoken out against both euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In September he said that both practices are “based on a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost if, from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”

However, speaking specifically on the impermissibility of euthanasia in 2017, the pope also insisted on “the supreme commandment of responsible closeness” and encouraged remaining alongside those who are dying.

“The anguish associated with conditions that bring us to the threshold of human mortality, and the difficulty of the decision we have to make, may tempt us to step back from the patient. Yet this is where, more than anything else, we are called to show love and closeness, recognizing the limit that we all share and showing our solidarity,” the pope said.

“It could be said that the categorical imperative is to never abandon the sick.”

Placed in the context of Pope Francis’ “categorical imperative,” and accepting that Paglia himself has insisted that assisted dying is still always and everywhere wrong and a “defeat,” it is not difficult to see how the archbishop might view his own statements as in line with the mind of the pope – however far outside the pastoral discipline and teaching of the Church they might appear to be.

What remains unclear is what form of useful accompaniment is possible in such circumstances. Many priests would argue that the only possible way to “accompany” a person seeking an end to his own life is to try to stop him, physically if necessary, and to beg to hear his confession once it is too late to prevent death.

“Holding the hand” of a dying person may provide some comfort in the loneliest of moments, but it would prove a false comfort without the reform of the one dying, they would argue.

Paglia’s insistence on never abandoning a person at the point of death may, to some, seem emotionally defensible. But whether it is a faithful interpretation of the pope’s remarks about abandoning the sick will be a subject of fierce debate. In never abandoning the sick, did the pope mean remaining present, even while someone causes his own death, or did he mean that priests should continue to exhort such persons to repent until the very end?

As assisted suicide becomes more commonplace in the West, the debate is likely to take on ever more urgent significance.

To respond to Paglia, and the bishops around the world facing end-of-life pastoral issues, the Vatican may choose to issue guidelines for priests confronting the situation of pastoral care for those who have committed, or attempted, assisted suicide. Until it does, a new front in the Amoris debate will be opened, as Paglia’s comments will be seen by some as pastoral kindness, and by others as a dangerous crack in the Church’s defense of life at every stage.


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25 Comments

  1. If someone I cared about was going to do it I’d go John Wick on the doctor. That’s my accompaniment style. Like the Good Book says, “There are a multitude of gifts.”

    • Sol;

      “Administering last rights to a suicide before he kills himself = accompaniment.”

      Correction – administering last rites to a suicide before he kills himself = administering last rites to a suicide before he commits a mortal sin from which there is no turning back.

      • I believe Sol was referring to an actual case of a priest giving last rights to someone who publicly declared his intention to commit suicide. The priest approved it and was present for it and ‘celebrated’ it, etc. Church Militant reported about it, I think. I think Sol was explaining the ‘newspeak’ about what ‘accompaniment’ is supposed to mean to us: not what it really is, but what the language-controllers in the Church want us to start to believe it is.

        • Yes, we are headed to a point in which “accompaniment,” just like “mercy” can be used to justify any novel “pastoral” action that is scandalous to the faithful.

  2. Viewpoint 1: ¨…Many have insisted that admitting Catholics in what are, strictly speaking, adulterous unions to Communion is a danger to their souls and, rather than helping lead them to regularize their situation, could convince them that things are fine as they are. Those who argue this way would point to a reading of Amoris which would suggest “the help of the sacraments” means first confession and absolution, with the attendant resolve to break with the sin in the first place…¨

    Viewpoint 2: ¨…Others, notably the bishops’ conference of Argentina, have suggested that reception of Communion by couples in irregular unions can be an acceptable form of “help,” and insist that Amoris allows for exactly this, even if they intend to continue in their relationship…¨

    Sigh.

    Both viewpoints 1 and 2 *still* don´t *PRECISELY* capture or account for nuances such as the Sarah case at http://bit.ly/2Hc54gc (to be read along with the case for absolution at http://bit.ly/2WGhO5k and a possible reply to the dubia at http://bit.ly/2Vzo4iQ )
    Those three show that both Amoris Laetitia and the guidelines of the Argentinian bishops can and should be read in an orthodox manner.

      • Not just Amoris Laetitia and the guidelines of the Argentinian bishops but almost anything related to the Faith is open to varying degrees of misinterpretation / misunderstanding / misuse / abuse – right from Scripture, to the documents of the Church Councils, to the proper celebration of the Mass, etc.

        If we lived during the time when the bronze serpent was put up, would we accuse God of being rash and reckless, considering His foreknowledge that somewhere down the line King Hezekiah would need to break down that very serpent?

        At the time when the bronze serpent was put up, if we said that it had to be ´seen´ ´in an orthodox manner´ rather than as an idol to be worshiped, would we have been called naive?

        Naivety can also arise when ideological narratives or sweeping suspicions cloud our vision.

        As mentioned in one of those posts, don´t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    • JN, could you please be clear by presenting the details you wish to speak of…right now AL cannot be read, logically (logic, the art or discipline of right reason), as what the Holy Spirit Teaches, Orthodoxy if you will, nor can the Argentinians et al thus.

      There are no nuances to that which intrinsically deadly evils.

      Advent-ChristMass blessings

      • padremgf, of course there are no nuances to intrinsically evil acts. But the question can arise as to whether there is a deliberate choice in a particular instance to commit intrinsically evil acts. If we chuck discernment out of the window, we may risk labeling everything with the same brush. Both justice and mercy then tend to get the short shrift, with nary a nod to concrete situations.

        First, a loose analogy: As a prisoner in a concentration camp, your rights are being severely violated. You can escape and no longer have to endure this. But you fear that an escape would jeopardize the rights of the camp inmates who may have to endure greater rights violations, or even be shot in batches as vengeance for every ‘rat’ that dares to escape. (cf. http://auschwitz.org/en/history/punishments-and-executions/block-11 ) If you ‘decide’ (if it can be called that!) not to escape out of fear, anxiety and concern for your fellow inmates, does that equate to your deliberately and willfully choosing the evil that continues to come upon you from the camp authorities? Is your ‘choice’ to stay really free such as to make you culpable for mortal sin? Would it be fair to accuse you of wanting to be violated?

        With the above analogy in mind, consider the Sarah case which was mentioned earlier: Divorced, civilly remarried Sarah has a conversion experience. Wants to live only as sister & brother, but her partner Mohammed disagrees, threatens divorce; forces himself on her from time to time. She reluctantly puts up with this among other things, out of fear and anxiety that her children by Mohammed will: (a) be psychologically affected by divorce, (b) grow up without 1 parent at home, (c) lose out on a Catholic upbringing through their mother if a civil court grants custody of the children to Mohammed in a messy divorce. Her ‘decision’ to stay is out of fear, anxiety and concern for the children’s welfare. But that does not equate to her choosing to be violated. Wouldn’t footnote 351 of Amoris Laetitia (& the guidelines of the Argentinian bishops) apply here? (‘In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments.’)

        She is obviously culpable for the adulterous acts prior to her conversion experience, but ever since that happened, she no longer deliberately chooses to engage in adulterous acts. What, if any, is the obex that hinders absolution, followed by admittance to Communion (privately, in order to avoid scandalizing people who wouldn’t be privy to the details of her particular situation, which she reveals only in the confessional)?

        Would it be fair to simply label Sarah an adulteress who is ineligible to receive absolution because her fear and anxiety over her children´s welfare prevent her from extricating herself from the mess she finds herself in?

        To understand the nuances and arguments better, please check the three posts whose links were given in my original reply above.

        Pax et bonum.

          • Phil, is it your position that in the concentration camp analogy, the reluctance to escape due to fear and anxiety over the welfare of other prisoners equates to a desire to be violated?

            Also, is the St. Maria Goretti example apposite? In her case, she was guarding her own virginity when the welfare of others was not a pressing concern. In the case of Sarah, concern over the children´s welfare weighs on her mind and exacerbates her fear and anxiety. At most, a charge that can be brought against Sarah is that of a weak faith. But to imply that she chooses to commit adultery post her conversion experience is ´manufacturing´ and attributing consent and desire on her part to commit mortal sin. Which is a violation and misrepresentation of the truth of the matter, to say the least.

            Of course, you are free to hold such an opinion, but can you cite any Church document which says that in precisely such situations, the fear and anxiety factors are to be ignored, and that a confessor is to attribute consent to mortal sin on the part of the penitent?

            In the concentration camp analogy, that would be akin to saying that the prisoner *HAS* to risk escape and simply sweep under the carpet and sacrifice any concern over the welfare of others.

            Wouldn´t *that* be educating one’s mind into i……..y?!

  3. “His Excellency” the viceroy Paglia is a counterfeit shepherd, a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, and he represents the decadent death cult of post-Christian shamans who promoted and presided over idolatry in October 2019 in Rome.

    And let’s all appreciate them for investing the charitable offerings of Catholics in the Elton John movie.

  4. There is no denying that a Catholic should not abandon the dying. Holding one’s hand, comforting them is in fact charity. However, I wonder if by accepting that one should “accompany” the person who is committing suicide by being there for them is not opening up the door to also holding the hand of the woman who is aborting her baby? If the Archbishop thinks in this way, why would that not be appropriate- next thing we will hear is that abortion is “assisted suicide” – stretching the so-called “truth” will only lead to untruth, that which is immoral and sinful.

  5. Blind Kantian obedience to imperatives rather than Emmanuel Kant’s hated reasoned inquiry [prudence] was inculcated within the Nazi German psyche and military expediency. A free rein to murder at random. Heresy abounds at the Vatican Cardinal Paglia in the vanguard. Fast return to faithful Catholicism. When Nazi Germany’s Catholic Bishops, the Fulda Conference requested permission from the Reich ministry of church affairs for priests to administer the sacraments to patients prepared for euthanasia Pius XII intervened forbidding the compromise. On the grounds that such compromise was implicit accommodation of euthanasia. Historically Cardinal Paglia’s position is morally antithetical to Pius XII. In effect it is complicity with evil similar to ‘kind’ communion for D&R. Kindness described by the Cardinal defies the belief that the Church deems euthanasia a mortal sin. The German bishops took the Pope’s admonition to heart. Led by Count Clemens August von Galen Bishop of Munster issued a pastoral letter read from all Catholic churches 6 July 1941 that “Never under any circumstances except in war and justified self defense is it permissible to kill an innocent human being”.

  6. According to this prelate who is doing a careerist 180 degree turn on previous statements, maybe we should also do “accompaniment” also when an adulterer goes to see his/her partner in adultery, even if we don’t agree with the adultery, because we should “let go of the rules” and “believe that no one should be abandoned”, as he said. Maybe we even should be there present for the adulterous acts and give some loud cheers as well so as not to shame the adulterers. Same for all sins, with Catholics singing some “accompaniment” songs while the sins occur, and maybe we should even do “accompaniment” to serial killers and take some selfies with them while they’re at it, so they “won’t feel “abandoned by God”.

    This “accompaniment” is the lowest of the lowest form of being an accomplice to Evil, as the very Love of God is used as an excuse to give TOTAL LEGITIMACY to Evil. Like angry monkeys that throw their own intestinal waste at others, they are trying to shame us into evil compliance by using their very own moral shame as a guilt-loaded political weapon to shame us. This is the “accompaniment” of the evil music that plays when we totally abandon the Sacred Common Sense of the Heart of Faith for instead the Rationalization of our Intellectual Pride Parade into Heartless Hell.

  7. Paglia and Francis want their shepherds to accompany the lost sheep into the lake of fire with them to spend eternity holding hands with the Lucifer.

  8. The contempt the current Malos Aires Papacy has for pro-family, pro-life witness is best reflected by this witless Bishop being given the Presidency of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Perhaps we can expect our priests
    “accompanying” men on their way to the brothel? Or prostitutes on their rounds?

  9. Encouraging a divorced/re-married couple over time to either embrace chastity or seek a proper annulment is one thing.

    This is not accompaniment this is just insane.

  10. This article is strangely in denial of some things, seeming to avoid implicating Francis, e.g., claiming that Francis has not stated divorced and remarried may receive communion, and portraying the argentine guidelines as some independent document perhaps opposed to Francis. He surely can’t be ignorant of the fact that Francis made the guidelines part of the magisterium and that said document was labelled as the “only” interpretation possible? Are we also to be play games pretending that the whole “accompaniment” scheme is not something deliberate, precisely to advance notions such as those Paglia did. Further, are we to pretend as though Paglia is saying something opposed to what Francis thinks? If so, why haven’t we seen any corrective of what Paglia stated? Lastly, the Church already has teaching and guidelines about how to address these kinds of situations. Even a few bishop’s conferences have issued their own guidelines. The precise problem is that they have now been contradicted/called into question by folks like Paglia.

  11. Once Paglia’s revolting church mural of unequivocal homo-eroticism was made public, it was difficult to take him seriously on anything. Add to that his careerist Pope Francis “sidekick” role, and you have a man who is a caricature of a Catholic prelate. Archbishop indeed.

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  1. Analysis: Has Archbishop Paglia opened a new fight over ‘accompaniment’? | Catholic Canada
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