The Evil That We Are

Little Alfie Evans is dead. The poor mite had little hope, humanly speaking, in any case; but the determination of the British medical, bureaucratic, and judicial establishment to kill him — in the face of an Italian government that was willing to take him in and give him whatever treatment was required — was, to put it mildly, shocking. To the dismay of many, the Queen said nothing. The Pope declared after Alfie’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.” His Holiness had every reason to be moved — his own words on Nov. 7, 2017 to a Vatican meeting hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life were cited by Mr. Justice Anthony Hayden in his decision to turn off Alfie’s Ventilator:

Surgery and other medical interventions have become ever more effective, but they are not always beneficial: they can sustain, or even replace, failing vital functions, but that is not the same as promoting health. Greater wisdom is called for today, because of the temptation to insist on treatments that have powerful effects on the body, yet at times do not serve the integral good of the person.

Some sixty years ago, Pope Pius XII, in a memorable address to anaesthesiologists and intensive care specialists, stated that there is no obligation to have recourse in all circumstances to every possible remedy and that, in some specific cases, it is permissible to refrain from their use (cf. AAS XLIX [1957], 1027-1033). Consequently, it is morally licit to decide not to adopt therapeutic measures, or to discontinue them, when their use does not meet that ethical and humanistic standard that would later be called “due proportion in the use of remedies” (cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration on Euthanasia, 5 May 1980, IV: AAS LXXII [1980], 542-552). The specific element of this criterion is that it considers “the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources” (ibid.). It thus makes possible a decision that is morally qualified as withdrawal of “overzealous treatment”.

Such a decision responsibly acknowledges the limitations of our mortality, once it becomes clear that opposition to it is futile.

Similar use was made of these words by those who successfully campaigned in Italy last year for the legalisation of euthanasia. Lest one suppose that Hayden was twisting the meaning of the Holy Father’s words, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life (and specifically placed in his spot after the Pope’s purge of the Academy’s former members) commented on Hayden’s ruling in a March 18 interview: “At the end of a wide and detailed medical analysis, the judge, considering that the parents are Catholics, decided to consider also the position of the Church. And then he refers to three texts, finding among them a complete consistency: the Catechism, the document on euthanasia of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 1980, the speech of the Pope in 2017.” He went on to say “In fact, if the repeated medical consultations really showed the absence of a valid treatment in the situation in which the little patient finds himself, the decision taken did not intend to shorten the life, but to suspend a situation of therapeutic obstinacy. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, this is an option with which we do not intend to ‘procure death: we accept that we cannot prevent it’ (CCC 2278).”

It is against that background that one must place the much criticised statement of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales on the Evans case:

Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son.

We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it.

The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed. We know that recently reported public criticism of their work is unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided.

We note the offer of the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome to care for Alfie Evans. It is for that Hospital to present to the British Courts, where crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken, the medical reasons for an exception to be made in this tragic case.

With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering.

To be fair to Their Lordships, one cannot reasonably expect more from them than from the Vatican. And to be fair to Archbishop Paglia, this particular case seems to have given him a bit of buyer’s remorse. Asked in a more recent interview if he thought such cases should be decided by the government, the Archbishop replied, “The state cannot have this right, nor can it have the technique or a prospect of an economic cost for a person who will not produce income in the future. It is not just a question of biological or clinical order, it is a human dimension violated and trampled, of emotions, of sensitivity that cannot be managed by a court.” Certainly, being brought face-to-face with the results of one’s words is a sobering experience for anyone; no wonder the Pope is so moved, and was so visible in his support of the Evans clan in the past few months. But given the effect that so many of the Supreme Pontiff’s words have had on the Church, many would think him justified to be in a state of perpetual disturbance — at least His Holiness has been spared the indignity, by Her Majesty’s silence, of having the Queen say something more Catholic than he has. That honour has been reserved to the retired Archbishop of Ferrara, Luigi Negri, who has declared Alfie “deserving of the honours of war” — the war against life that modern society is waging.

It is tempting, in this hour (and bearing in mind also the late Charlie Gard), to condemn the British, or the Queen, or the Monarchy, or the Holy See, or the Pope — and surely there is more than enough blame to go around. But before we do so, we need to look closer to home. The culture of Euthanasia is as all-pervasive in American medicine as is that of Abortion. This was brought home to me, in 2014-2015 by the eight-month-long travail of my mother — the time between her breaking her hip in a fall, and her eventual death. Mother had made it clear before she went into hospital that she did not want a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) signed. Never a hearty eater to begin with, her first month in the hospital, she stopped eating entirely. Obviously she was not only starving, she was not healing. We had to force the doctor to tube her; he claimed that this was only “nature’s way.” It became clear that they wanted her gone, and brought all sorts of pressure to bear on my brother and me to sign the DNR; at one point a hospital administrator went so far as to say that, “when the money runs out, you’ll be bankrupted,” to which my brother replied,“and you’ll be sued!” That was the end of that particular line of threat! On another occasion, a nurse hinted darkly that “if you continue to refuse to sign a DNR, we’ll stop treatment”; on being asked to sign a note to that effect, she replied that we had better speak to a doctor. One of those gentlemen being summoned, he agreed vociferously that that was indeed hospital policy. But on being asked to sign such a note himself, he said, “oh, we don’t want to give you the impression that we would cease treatment if you won’t sign a DNR!” Personal responsibility is something these folk fear, apparently. In the end, having been resuscitated successfully three times over the course of those months, the last attempt did not work. But two days before she died, Mother received the Last Rites for the third time; the first two times she was unconscious — but on this occasion, she mouthed the Latin responses perfectly. Whatever else may betide, my brother and I shall always know that we succeeded in keeping our Mother alive until God took her in His good time.

Shortly after that, the mother of two friends of ours was in a similar state: elderly, unlikely to recover, but quite conscious. The hospital decided against administering dialysis, which was essential to her immediate survival. At our suggestion, the brothers took legal action, and eventually secured a court order to resume dialysis. Although she regained consciousness and they were able to enjoy a last day with her, too many days had passed, and she died as hospital staff were prepping her for the procedure. A few weeks later, an old friend of my brother and mine (with whom we had been in school and the Boy Scouts) was dying of cancer. The hospital prevailed upon his son to cut off hydration and nutrition, and he died — not of the disease, but of simple dehydration. One could multiply these examples by many, many more.

How could such things be, in a country that puts “In God We Trust” on its coin, and calls itself “One Nation, Under God” in its pledge of allegiance? Well, our government is made up the same elected, bureaucratic, and judicial elements as all other Western governments, which are, as the late Terri Schiavo discovered (to say nothing of millions of the unborn), just as murderous as the British. In the British/Commonwealth system, the Queen acts as a focus of loyalty above politics and party — which is why all oaths are made to her, all governance is done in her name, and there is so much annoyance at her silence. With us, the Constitution and the Flag take Her Majesty’s place as the focus of national unity; instead of a living woman who could speak, but chooses not to, we have two inanimate objects that symbolise a quasi-religious ideology — Americanism. While somewhat cognate to the Catholic heresy of the same name, it is far from identical to it (a believer in one need not hold the other — though of course a great many do indeed believe both). An Orangeman may hold a version of it surprisingly close to a Hibernian, as may a Freemason to a Knight of Columbus. The Elks, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Boy Scouts, Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution, National Civic League, National Association of Manufacturers, AFL-CIO, NAACP, the FFA, Grange, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the two government parties — Republican and Democratic — and innumerable other organisations of every type throughout the country subscribe to the same religio-political creed, no matter how much they may oppose each other on various issues. So too do the major religious groups: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches, and just about every other denomination subscribe to this creed as well.

In return, the president of the United States functions as a sort of high priest of the American Civil Religion: he appears at the National Prayer Breakfast, presides over quasi-religious ceremonies at the National Cathedral (particularly presidential funerals), St. John’s Church, and Arlington National Cemetery, has a chapel at Camp David — and occasionally attends the Red Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral alongside most of the Supreme Court Justices (lesser judges do the same at similar liturgies in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and throughout the nation). Bush, Jr. began and Obama maintained an Advisory Council on Faith-Based Initiatives (although Trump appears to be letting it lapse). Since 1952, every president —in accordance with a Congressional resolution — has proclaimed the first Thursday in May the “National Day of Prayer”; the Supreme Court opens every day with the Marshal of the Court chanting “God Save the United States and this Honorable Court”; the north frieze in the courtroom features sculptures of famous lawgivers, including Moses with the ten commandments (depictions of or monuments to which the Court has banished from every other courthouse in the land), and a clutch of law-giving Christian Monarchs: Justinian, King John, St. Louis, and Napoleon. Over at the Capitol Building, both houses of Congress open their day with prayers, the more devout legislators may find refuge in the Capitol’s Congressional Prayer Room, and both Senators and Representatives have their own chaplains — as do most State Legislatures. Annually, a number of State Governors and a host of City Councils and Mayors proclaim “Christian Heritage Week” in November. Indeed, with three exceptions, all of the preambles to the constitutions of the 50 States invoke Almighty God, one way or another. To make better fighting men and women out of their young people, the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, and Veterans Administration provide chaplains for them; our very own Military Archdiocese provides priests to attend them, as do the other denominations of their own.

These realities were among those cited by the Supreme Court in its 1892 ruling in Trinity Church vs. The United States: “If we pass beyond these [legal] matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find every where a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters, note the following: the form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, ‘In the name of God, amen;’ the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing every where under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe. These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.” Never overturned, this ruling has been sidetracked by various later incarnations of the Court. Nevertheless, as many of the still-existing cited realities serve the purposes of the State without challenging it right to determine Good and Evil, later rulings (such as the 2004 Elk Grove Unified School Dist. vs. Newdow) preserve them in what Madame Justice Sandra Day O’Connor calls, in her concurrence with the ruling, “Ceremonial Deism.”

Nevertheless, just as one might ask why the Queen has not spoken out about Alfie Evans, one might ask why no “pro-life” president, inaugurated in a quasi-religious fashion (often preceded by some sort of worship service and signalled by the ringing of Epiphany Episcopal Church’s bells) has not called the murder of infants and the profanation of marriage evils that cry to Heaven for vengeance? How the Supreme Court could legislate such evils into existence, gazed upon as they are by images of Moses and the four Catholic lawgiver Monarchs, having had their Marshal invoked God’s blessing on them each morning, and having annually asked the Holy Ghost for Divine Inspiration at the Red Mass? Or how Congress, with its daily recitation of prayers by its chaplains, tolerate them? If they cannot even accomplish that, why not be done with both flag and constitution?

Well, the banner is silent; as for the document, according to the Supreme Court, it actually warrants infanticide, perversion, secularism, and the rest. Admittedly, it is hard for anyone not in the spheres of power to believe that Madison, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton and the rest really wanted to guarantee those things. It is a dogma of American “Conservatism” that the Constitution has been subverted. But when? Was it with Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society? Perhaps FDR and the New Deal? Or perhaps with Woodrow Wilson and his Federal Reserve, Income Tax, and alteration of the Senate? The Constitution Party would bring us back to that point. But what if it was really Lincoln’s war to compel States to remain within the Union? My native State of New York only acceded to the Constitution on the proviso that it could leave if the Union did not perform as promised. The League of the South would take us back to that point, and reverse the defeat of the “Lost Cause.” But as early as 1842, Orestes Brownson was arguing that the Constitution was already a dead letter — something insisted upon by the Hartford Convention in 1814, wherein secession was also discussed: this time by the New England States. But perhaps Jefferson killed the Constitution with the Louisiana Purchase — or Washington by appointing a cabinet! Some would restore the Articles of Confederation, under which the nation functioned for its first decade of life. Others of us may look askance at the Revolution itself; but reentry into the Commonwealth — even if it could be achieved — would simply saddle us with the problem of the Queen’s silence with which we began. I shudder to think what kind of Prime Minister we would elect, given our presidential record — and I’ll try not to think of which retired politician he would ask the Queen to appoint as Governor-General.

The truth is that the Constitution is what we have. But to function, its interpreters (be they the Supreme Court as has developed, or the State-government-elected-Senate as envisaged by the Founders) must apply it in accordance with some outside animating principle. Despite its traditional semi-deification, it is only a document, without a will of its own. To-day, of course, that is the weird ideology of our elites, as peculiar as it is difficult to label or describe. But Orestes Brownson argued in the 1842 essay, “Catholicity Necessary For Popular Liberty” much the same point as Timothy Gordon in his excellent recently released book Catholic Republic: Why America Will Perish Without Rome — the only such principle that can save this republic is Catholicism.

There is a problem with this, of course. As it stands, we have as much chance of reentering the Commonwealth as we do of convincing the majority of our fellow Americans that, for their own good, the teachings of a religion they do not belong to and often despise must be applied to their government. Peter Maurin made the comment that

It is about time
to blow the lid off
so the Catholic Church
may again become
the dominant social dynamic force.

This is certainly true. But it cannot be done so long as the majority of Americans are not Catholic. What the country needs first — before any kind of political or social reform can be enacted, let alone succeed — is conversion. Since 1783, we have had the opportunity to evangelise this nation, and we have not. Even so, for four decades in the 20th century, it looked as though we might actually be accomplishing something toward the conversion and salvation of these United States. In our next article, we shall look at the “Catholic Revival,” how and why it failed, and perhaps glean some lessons for eventual success.