English  ·  Français   ·   Italiano   ·   中文  

Deacon-structing end of life issues: Life, liberty and security

Parliament

As we explore the issues of end of life and medically assisted dying, we can’t ignore the question of freedom and human rights since one of the basic arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is that of autonomy: “it’s my body; my choice.”

In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you haven’t read it, you should. This is the law in Canada. I am not an expert, nor have a really studied the Charter, but sometimes I think that this is not the best thing to have since it’s vague and open to many interpretations.

As an example, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined in 1993 that the request made by Sue Rodriguez for assisted death violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”), and 15(1) (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two decades later, using the same Charter, this ruling in Rodriguez was overturned in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada, by the Supreme Court of Canada.

How is it that 22 years ago Supreme Court judges can look at the Charter and determine that legalized assisted dying is unconstitutional and today, the Supreme Court of Canada can look at the same Charter and determine that to deny assisted dying in fact, violates the Charter? I think that if it was clear, no matter the individual values of the judges making the ruling, the decisions would always be the same.

Section 7 of the Charter says that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice” but nowhere does it define what those terms, life, liberty and security, mean. Would someone define “life” as a state wherein the person is useful and competent? If your life does not have liberty or security, can it be considered a life? Is a “life” defined by merely as someone who is alive? Who decides? Are these decisions based on the whim of the fleeting societal values of any particular time?

We also get into trouble because sometimes the secular world and Christians use the same words, but we have completely different meanings.

Take the word “Liberty”. What does it mean? Does it mean “freedom”? Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during the Every Life Matters series made a very clear distinction between the words, “freedom” and “license”.

Archbishop Smith said, “License is refusal of all limit and constraint in order to do what I want. Freedom is liberty within limit to do what I must. This “ought” flows from my pledge of fidelity to the love of God. The limit within which we exercise freedom is truth: the truth of our creaturely dependence upon God, the truth of our relationship of interdependence with others, and the truth that I am not my own.”

And so, what most people refer to when they speak of freedom or liberty is not freedom at all; it’s license. “I should be able to do whatever I want” is not freedom; it’s chaos. (For more on freedom read Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s Jubilee for young people.)

But more importantly, if all Canadians are endowed with the inherent rights of life, liberty and security – and those rights are equal – what happens when one of those rights comes up against the other? What happens when your right to liberty or security goes up against your right to life? What happens when my right to life goes up against your right to liberty?

This is where a bit of logic can be of assistance. These three inherent rights are equal, but they are hierarchical in fundament. That means that one is more fundamental than the other two.

Take a house, for example. In order to be a house, a house needs a foundation, it needs walls and it needs a roof. All are equally important. Without a foundation, without a roof, or without walls, the building ceases to be a house. They are equal. But, can you have walls without a foundation? Can you have a roof without walls? Therefore even though all three are equally important, the foundation is more fundamental than the walls and the roof. The walls are also more fundamental than the roof. The roof is the least fundamental of the three because it needs the other two in order to exist.

It’s the same with life, liberty and security: You can’t have security without life and liberty and you can’t have liberty without life. Therefore life is the more fundamental of these three inherent rights. Liberty is more fundamental than security. This means that when security or liberties go up against life, life should always win. If my right to security goes up against my right to liberty, my right to liberty should always win, because it is more fundamental.

Our laws may say this thing or that thing, but that doesn’t make it necessarily right. We have to be clear as to what we believe and have to be able to explain it to others.

Now there may be lawyers among you reading this and there may be some among you who have indeed studied the Charter. I welcome your comments on my little musing for today.

Again, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca. The TV broadcasts began last night, April 23 on Salt + Light TV. Here’s the broadcast schedule if you prefer to watch them on TV.
And again, I invite you to watch my award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.


resized

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing end of life issues: Palliative Care

20140910cnsbr6257
Last week I wrote about the law as it stands in Canada and what the changes to allow for physician assisted dying may be. Since then, the Government has tabled a bill which is now going through the proper channels on its way to approval before June 7th, 2016.

You can read the proposed bill: Bill C-14 – First Reading, April 14, 2016

Also – read the statement from Toronto’s Cardinal Collins.

You can also watch all the Every Life Matters webcasts that we just finished doing in Edmonton with Archbishop Richard Smith. The series featured several wonderful speakers, including a lawyer, doctors, parents and people living with disabilities.

When we were working on Turning the Tide, almost 10 years ago now, one of the learning points for me was about palliative care. I kept hearing that what we needed was not assisted dying, but better palliative care. In fact, Turning the Tide features one of Canada’s palliative care pioneers, Jean Echlin.

But most people probably don’t know what palliative care is and many, who have heard about palliative care, are afraid of it because they think it’s for people who are dying.

One of the speakers for the Every Life Matters series was was Dr. Anna Voeuk. She is a palliative care physician. At the second session she said that we shouldn’t be asking “what’s wrong with euthanasia and assisted suicide?” as much as we should be asking, “what’s right about palliative care?” That’s what I’d like to do today.

First, some terminology and a reminder of the definitions:

Euthanasia is the intentional termination of a life of a person, by another person, in order to relieve suffering (with or without that person’s consent).

Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed in accordance with the wishes of a competent individual, whether those wishes have been made known personally or through a valid, written advance directive.

Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of a medical practitioner or a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician Assisted Dying/Death (PAD) encompasses physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia that is performed by a medical practitioner or a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner.

Physician Assisted Dying is also referred to as “Medical Aid in Dying” (MAD) or Medical Assistance in Dying (“MAID”).

Dr. Voeuk prefers to call it Physician Hastened Death (PHD) because the intention of these acts is to bring about death sooner than it would occur through natural causes. This is done by the administration of a lethal dose of a drug.

None of these practices, PAD, MAD, MAID or PHD are part of Palliative Care as palliative care allows for people to be comfortable as they approach death naturally.

Last week I mentioned the Carter v. Canada case. In Section I (1) of the ruling it says that a person facing the prospect of a life of unbearable, irremediable suffering “has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.”

Dr. Voeuk says that there are other options. She would say and the Church would agree (and so would a Parliamentary Committee on Palliative Care) that what we need is not medically assisted dying. What we need is better care. We need better mental health resources. We need better spiritual care. We need better social supports and we need better palliative care.

According to Wikipedia, palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis.

Better yet, according to the World Health Organization, Palliative Care is:

An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Palliative Care affirms life and regards dying as a normal process. It intends neither to hasten nor postpone death.

Palliative care is not:
• Hastening or prolonging death
• Focused solely on end-of-life care
• Failure/abandonment (“nothing more we can do”)

Some of you may have heard of Dame Cicely Saunders. She is known as the mother of the Modern Hospice Movement. Her approach was revolutionary because she had a total pain approach; it was holistic and team-centered.

The Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has the following key messages:
1. Patients with life limiting conditions, and their families, have a right to high quality palliative care that includes impeccable pain and symptom management.
2. Palliative care does not include physician hastened death
3. Palliative care does not hasten or prolong death
4. Palliative care strives to reduce suffering, not end life

(NOTE: The word “palliative” in medicine refers to relieving pain or alleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying cause. Good end-of-life care is palliative because it doesn’t seek to cure the person.)

At the end of life people may have to deal with many symptoms, conditions or concerns. These may be physical, such as pain, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea/constipation, fatigue, drowsiness, lack of appetite, breathlessness or insomnia.

They could be psychosocial such as pain, anxiety, depression, finances, family issues, fear becoming a “burden” or loss of dignity, to name a few.

They could also be existential. Some of these could be pain (distress/suffering), fear of loss of control, questions about meaning of life/death, spiritual/religious questions.

Good palliative care seeks to address all of these. That’s why you don’t just need one palliative care doctor, but rather all your doctors should have a palliative approach. This includes all of your professional healthcare team: Physicians, Nurses, Social Worker, Chaplain/Pastoral Care, Physiotherapist, Occupational Therapist, Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Clinical Pharmacist, Respiratory Therapist, Dietician/Nutritionist, Music and, Art Therapist, Recreational Therapist, chaplains and volunteers. I would say that this also includes your family members, friends and loved ones.

At the end of the last Every Life Matters sessions, Disability Rights Advocate, Mark Pickup said that if he ever gets to the point where he is so low that he is asking for death he needs his support group, his family, his community, to tell him that he is loved and valued; that his life still has purpose and meaning. He needs them to hold him and care for him and to validate him as a person. He does not need them to kill him. What he means is that he needs good palliative care.

I would add that this approach to dealing with pain is not to be reserved only to end-of-life care. We need to support all people who suffer pain whether it is physical, emotional, psychological or social.

Another of our Every Life Matters speakers was pain management specialist, Dr. Robert Hauptman. Dr. Hauptman said that in this day and age, most pain can be managed. In fact he added that in 30 years of practice, he has never seen anyone die in intolerable pain. If your pain cannot be managed what you need is another doctor, not assisted death.

One common confusion that people have with palliative care revolves around issues of withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment. Let me be clear: Palliative Care is not considered physician hastened death. And so, refusing treatment and allowing life to take its course is not assisted dying or euthanasia. Good palliative care would not simply leave that patient to be after they’ve refused treatment. That patient would still be cared for in a palliative way; which may not involve life-prolonging treatment.

Regarding someone who is on life-support; a respirator or ventilator without which that person cannot survive (normally referred to as extra-ordinary care): In essence that person is already dead. Removing the life-prolonging treatment does not kill them, because without the machine, they are not alive. [This is different than removing a feeding tube, for example from someone who is breathing on his/her own and whose heart is beating on its own. Removing this “basic care” would be starving that patient to death. That is euthanasia.]

Another question we had was regarding the refusal of resuscitation or CPR. Again, if someone needs resuscitating or CPR, they are already dead. Not “treating” them is not euthanasia.

The Catholic Church supports the palliative approach which does not hasten death through artificial means; rather, it allows for life to take its natural course and for death to occur naturally. Of course, we always seek to make the person comfortable and at peace.

When people ask for death and they say things like, “I want to end it all” what they mean is that they want the suffering and the pain to end. That is why we need to try to get at the root of the suffering and help them manage their pain. Good palliative care does this.

But good palliative care is not available everywhere in Canada. In fact, the Parliamentary Report mentioned above says that only about 30% of Canadians have access to good palliative care. Shouldn’t we be talking about improving palliative care instead of legalizing physician assisted dying?

“You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but to live until you die.”
— Dame Cicely Saunders

As we move towards this new Canada, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca and also, starting on April 23 on Salt + Light TV. You may also be interested in watching a series of interviews I did for Catholic Focus on End–of-Life Issues, which will air in May. More details on all these broadcasts as we approach those dates.

And, I can’t leave without inviting you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.


Photo credit: CNS photo/Rick Musacchio, Tennessee Register.


PedroHeadShot

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Deacon-structing end-of-life issues: The Law

PedroCourt

You may know that I am currently in Edmonton taking part in the Every Life Matters series. This is an initiative by Archbishop Richard Smith to begin conversations on an important topic that is bound to touch all of us at some point in time.

What precipitated the series is the fact that our legal landscape in Canada is changing. As of June 7, 2016, it will no longer be a criminal offence for medical practitioners to assist people in dying if three conditions are met – well, at least if three conditions are met – the law is not yet written and there may be other conditions. There may be other allowances.

As we approach the June 6 deadline, I hope to unpack some topics related to these issues. If you are interested in learning more, please read my blog series titled Deacon-structing End of Life (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5)

When I wrote that series I did not look specifically at the legal questions. I’d like to do that today, but first, a few definitions:

Euthanasia is the intentional termination of a life of a person, by another person, in order to relieve suffering (with or without that person’s consent).

Voluntary euthanasia is euthanasia performed in accordance with the wishes of a competent individual, whether those wishes have been made known personally OR through a valid, written advance directive.

Assisted suicide is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of another person who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician-assisted suicide is intentionally killing oneself with the assistance of a medical practitioner OR a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner who provides the knowledge, means or both.

Physician-assisted death encompasses physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia that is performed by a medical practitioner OR a person acting under the direction of a medical practitioner.

And now, the Law: There are two sections in the Criminal Code that are being changed. They are:

Criminal Code s. 241(b) – everyone who aids or abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.

Criminal Code s. 14 – no person may consent to death being inflicted on them, and such consent does not affect the criminal responsibility of any person by whom death may be inflicted on the person by whom consent is given.

The way I understand it, is that in Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allows us to challenge any law. The Charter says in Section 7 : “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Based on section 7 of the Charter, during the Carter v. Canada case of February 2015, Criminal Code sections 14 and 241 have been challenged as unconstitutional.  In that case, which involved several parties, including the family of Kay Carter, a woman suffering from degenerative spinal stenosis, and Gloria Taylor, a woman suffering from ALS, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that these two sections of the Criminal Code are unconstitutional. I other words they ruled that not allowing people the right to assistance in dying violated their right to life, liberty and security. They gave the government until June 6, 2016 to re-write the law.

The Supreme Court of Canada said:  “We conclude that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying is void insofar as it deprives a competent adult of such assistance where 1) the person affected clearly consents to the termination of life and 2) the person has a grievous and irremediable medical condition (including an illness, disease or disability) that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.”

 The ruling goes  on to say that “Criminal Code s. 214(b) and s. 14 infringe Canadian’s rights to life, liberty and security of the person, and do not do so in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” The request is subject to three conditions:

  1. Has to be made by a competent adult
  2. who is suffering from a grievous and irremediable medical condition that
  3. causes enduring and intolerable suffering.

The Supreme Court also added that nothing in their decision will compel a doctor to provide a physician-assisted death and that physician-assisted death is not available to minors, people with minor medical conditions or to people with psychiatric disorders.

Following this ruling, the federal government struck a joint committee to re-write the law and made 21 recommendations to the House of Commons. These recommendations are not yet law – they are recommendations, but they considerably expand the scope of physician-assisted death beyond what the Supreme Court decided was necessary to fit within the Charter.

For example the Joint Committee recommends that:

  • physician-assisted death be available to patients with psychiatric condition
  • physician-assisted death be made available to “mature minors” within 3 years
  • there be an allowance for the use of advanced directives once a patient is diagnosed, but before the suffering becomes intolerable
  • an objecting doctor be required to provide an effective referral for the requesting patient
  • All publicly funded health care institutions should provide physician-assisted death
  • Two doctors must agree that patient meets eligibility criteria for physician-assisted death

You may have noticed that the words “Euthanasia” and “Assisted suicide” are not to be found anywhere in any of these proposals, recommendations or suggestions. The term that is being used is “medically assisted dying” which is a term that avoids catch phrases like “suicide” and keep the proposed changes in the realm of health care services rather than the criminal courts. The term “medically assisted dying” includes both voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide as per the definitions presented above.

Another complication is that even though the Criminal Code is under Federal jurisdiction, this will affect how medical services are delivered and that is under Provincial jurisdiction and so the new law will affect both levels of government. It will also affect all Medical Associations as they try to make sense of what that will mean for their members.

This is where we are now. There is no doubt that the law will change and that medically assisted dying is now a reality in Canada, but we don’t know exactly what the law will say or what limitations or safeguards will be in place. However, it’s likely that, in order to meet the June 6 deadline, as early as next week, the proposed law will be presented to the House of Commons and voting process will begin.

According to the Canadian Press, the new bill will not be as permissive as these recommendations suggest. Namely, the government will not adopt some of the most controversial recommendations from the special parliamentary committee. These include allowing mature minors the right to request assistance in dying; allowing advance requests for people who would like assistance if they get to the point where they have no competence; and allowing the request to be made by people suffering from psychiatric conditions or mental illness that impairs their competent ability to make the request. In rejecting these recommendations, the government would be creating a law that is very close to the Supreme Court parameters and would be trying to put safeguards in place so that the law cannot be abused.

On Friday, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau said that, “As Liberals, we stand to defend individuals’ rights, but also need to make sure we’re protecting the most vulnerable.” Experts say that a restrictive bill would be open to many future Charter Challenges. Some say that a vague bill would also be subject to Charter Challenges, which is why many believe that safeguards don’t work. This is what would is referred to as ‘the slippery slope’.

As we move towards this new Canada it’s important that we have these conversations and that we inform ourselves as much as possible about these issues. More importantly, have these conversations with your family and loved ones. I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca and also, starting on April 23 on Salt + Light TV. You may also be interested in watching a series of interviews I am doing for our series Catholic Focus on End–of-Life Issues, which will air in May. More details on all these broadcasts as we approach those dates.

I can’t leave without inviting you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada. It is a great documentary that presents all these themes very clearly and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or for a parish event.


PedroHeadShot

Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Watch the Live Stream of Presentation of the Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love)

exhortation-feature-610x343

Watch the Press Conference LIVE on Friday, April 8th 2016 at 5:30am ET.
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the family will be published on April 8th 2016. It is called, “Amoris Laetitia” latin for “The Joy of Love”.

Bishop Bolen on the CCCB response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released their response to the call to action issued by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission . Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon is the head of the Canadian Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission. He answers questions about the Church’s response to the TRC’s call to action, what it means, why it is necessary, and what comes next.

Related readings:
  • A Catholic Response to the “Doctrine of Discovery” and Terra Nullius. Download here.
  • A Catholic Response to Call to Action 48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Download here.
  • An interview with Bishop Donal Bolen: Transcript. Download here.
  • The Catholic Church and the TRC: An op-ed by Bishop Bolen. Download here. 
Perspectives Daily

Perspectives Weekly: What Makes A Marriage Catholic?

pedro-pw-610x343

Can a Catholic marry a non-Catholic? This week, on the third of our mini-series on Marriage and Canon Law, Deacon Pedro speaks again with Fr. Alex Laschuk of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Toronto. They speak about all the different possibilities there are to make sure that your Marriage is Catholic and share many examples, from a Catholic marrying a non-baptized person, and Catholics marrying Orthodox Christians or Eastern Catholics to what happens when two Catholics marry outside of the Catholic Church.

Don’t miss it, this Friday, April 1, 2016 at 7 and 11pm ET (8pm PT)
and on Sunday, April 3, 2016, 7 and 11pm ET (8pm PT)

Every Life Matters: An invitation from Archbishop Smith

Every Life Matters: an invitation from Archbishop Smith from Archdiocese of Edmonton on Vimeo.

The issues of suffering and of preparing for death touch every one of us. How do we respond as followers of Jesus Christ? The Archdiocese of Edmonton is undertaking a special initiative to help us explore deeply our Catholic stance against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

In the 2016 Easter season, Archbishop Smith will be hosting a series of presentations on the subject of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Five sessions will be held at five different parishes across the Archdiocese, each dealing with a different aspect of this important topic. They will include prayer, personal witness, teaching from the Archbishop, and time for questions and answers.

Archbishop Smith extends a personal invitation to people of the Archdiocese and in the surrounding area, to attend this series of conversations on this important subject. Come, learn about this tragic situation and its consequences, about what our faith teaches, and about what we can do in response. You are particularly invited to attend the session closest to your own parish.

For those of you who are not able to attend, all sessions will be web-streamed live, and you can participate on the Edmonton archdiocesan website or right here at saltandlighttv.org.

If you have questions about end-of-life issues that you want addressed at these sessions, send them to the Edmonton Archdiocese via Twitter at @CAEDM or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/archedmonton, using the hashtag #ELM.

Live Webcast Schedule:

Sunday April 3
Session 1: What’s it all about?
St Anthony Parish, Lloydminster, AB
2:30 pm MT (4:30 pm ET)

Tuesday April 5
Session 2: What’s wrong with assisted suicide and euthanasia?
Corpus Christi Parish, Edmonton, AB
7 pm MT (9 pm ET)

Sunday April 10
Session 3 It’s my body, my choice
St. Mary Parish, Red Deer, AB
2?30 pm MT (4:30 pm ET)

Tuesday April 12
Session 4: I Don’t want to suffer.
Holy Trinity Parish, Spruce Grove, AB
7 pm MT (9 pm ET)

Wednesday April 13
Session 5 What must be do?
St, Charles Parish, Edmonton, AB
7 pm MT (9 pm ET)

For more information visit the Archdiocese of Edmonton.

 

Perspectives Weekly: What Makes Marriages Invalid?

InvalidMarriage

What is an annulment? Why is it not the same as divorce? Join Deacon Pedro again this Friday as he explores the beautiful teachings of the Catholic Church with regards to Marriage. This week, he speaks with Canon Lawyer, Fr. Alex Laschuk, of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Toronto about annulments and they outline the various impediments to a valid Marriage. Fr. Laschuk also explains what can be done about these impediments and why many should consider exploring whether a previous marriage is invalid.

Perspectives Weekly: What Makes Marriages Invalid?, this Friday, March 18 at 7pm and 11pm ET (5pm and 8pm PT) with repeats on Sunday, March 20.

What Makes Marriages Valid?

PDMarriage

Everyone knows that there’s no divorce in the Catholic Church, only that there are some marriages that are not valid. So what makes a marriage valid? To help us understand all of this better, join us for a special Perspectives on Marriage with Fr. Alex Laschuk, of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Toronto this Friday, March 11 at 7 and 11pm ET (8pm PT) with repeats on Sunday, March 13.

Pope wants more merciful tweets, posts and comments

blog_1453924055

(Photo: CNS)

Pope Francis says a lot of surprising and challenging things.  Often I read something he’s said or written and say to myself, “I can’t believe he said that.”  Still—as with anything else—we can become desensitized to his spontaneity and candour, and we risk glossing over some of his highly consequential statements.

One recent statement that we should not gloss over is his message for World Communications Day 2016 entitled, Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter. In it, he reflects on the urgent need for more charitable and merciful communication between individuals, with a clear focus on the world of social media and communications.  The message prompted atypical news coverage from the digital world: “Apparently Pope Francis Can’t Stand Internet Trolls Either,” read the headline at ThinkProgress. Or, my personal favorite from RawStory, “Pope Francis opens a can of whoop a** on hateful internet trolls—and it’s beautiful.”

With this message Pope Francis did what he so often does; he struck a nerve with a wide audience by using simple, relatable and deeply Christian language. The message applies to all types of communication certainly, but since many people today live “online”, here are 7 direct quotes that should prompt all of us to reflect on how we communicate using social media:

1) “What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.”

Here the Pope makes an important observation that how we say something is as important as what we say. It’s easy to forget that and it’s often difficult to try to rephrase something we want to say in light of another person, let alone with “compassion, tenderness and forgiveness”.  Perhaps for every tweet, post or comment we should send another one explicitly expressing compassion, tenderness or forgiveness.

2) “Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”

Here Pope Francis flips the script on us and reminds us that how we communicate has a deep impact on us too. The purpose of communicating is, as he says, to create “closeness”, which is a reciprocal phenomenon. We can ask ourselves, how do my communications on social media affect my own attitudes toward others and my relationships with them?

3) “The words of Christians ought to be a constant encouragement to communion and, even in those cases where they must firmly condemn evil, they should never try to rupture relationships and communication.”

Pope Francis, the “sinner whom the Lord has looked upon,” never forgets that being Christian starts with conversion of self. No statement condemning vicious and vengeful comments online would be complete without a direct challenge to his fellow Christians, who are often the most viscous and vengeful trolls. But the deeper challenge here is that condemning evil—something the Church does very often—shouldn’t destroy relationships or communication. The logical conclusion here is analogous to that old saying our mothers used, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say it.” When there are human beings involved, jumping to condemn all kinds of evil through objective, categorical statements may not be the most merciful method of communication and relationship building.

4) “The truth is ultimately Christ himself, whose gentle mercy is the yardstick for measuring the way we proclaim the truth and condemn injustice.”

It’s often said in church circles that the greatest act of mercy is to tell the truth. Therefore, if someone is committing an unjust act, I am being merciful by categorically condemning it. That may or may not be the best approach, depending on the situation. The most important variable, according to Pope Francis, is how Jesus would communicate in a particular situation. This requires a deep familiarity with the Jesus of the Gospels whose “gentle mercy” time and time again overwhelms both sinner and judge alike, to the point that the person committing an unjust act truly encounters God’s forgiveness and the person standing in judgement feels it necessary to get rid of Jesus. The question becomes, not whether or not we’re proclaiming the truth, but whether or not we’re proclaiming the truth as Jesus did.

5) “Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk further alienating those whom we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness.”

This statement builds on #4 by taking us a step further. Speaking the truth in a harsh and moralistic way is no guarantee that a person will be converted or freed. In fact, it will most likely have the opposite effect and kill any chance of further communication. Just because we may be right about something doesn’t give us the right to communicate it if a person will feel rejected because of it. Pope Francis’ whole pontificate is the preeminent example in our world today of communicating truth without using harsh or moralistic words.

6) “I would like to encourage everyone to see society not as a forum where strangers compete and try to come out on top, but above all as a home or a family, where the door is always open and where everyone feels welcome.”

Communications technology has turned the world into a global society. We may be more connected, but the online world doesn’t particularly feel like a family. Often we come across comments or tweets that are so negative or competitive and we wonder why someone would say something online that they would never say to a person in real life. Again Pope Francis takes us a step further. When we communicate online, we shouldn’t ask ourselves, “would you say this to the person’s face?” but, “would you say this to your brother’s or sister’s face?” The analogy of the family for society as a whole is a bold one. The key here is unconditional inclusivity. I’m not sure how we can put that into practice, especially because, sadly, even many families fall short of this lofty goal. Pope Francis certainly does swing for the fences, but then again so did Jesus when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God was at hand.

7) “Listening is much more than simply hearing… Listening means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.”

Well… then I’m not a very good listener. Imagine… listening to someone entails a desire to be closer to them in respect and understanding. We tend to think that communication is all about what we say, but there are two sides to every coin. How often do we really try to listen to another person’s views and try to understand where they are coming from? There are so many news outlets and blogs that adhere to one particular ideology and exclude any kind of constructive critique or dialogue with differing views. It may be worth putting some time in to read one of those blogs that we typically ignore for ideological reasons, and share something from it on our own social media platforms that is respectful and constructive. In other words, listen, and show it.


On Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation.  For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice for dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society.  Sebastian Gomes is a producer and host at Salt+Light TV.