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BY CARLOS BRICEÑORegister Correspondent
PINELLAS PARK, Fla. — This time, the presiding judge in the
case allowed him to give Terri Schindler-Schiavo
Communion — via the feeding tube.
It wasn’t always that way for Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski, who after delivering the Precious Blood, gave
her the sacrament of the sick. He had not been able to give the brain-damaged
woman holy Communion the previous two times her feeding tube was removed.
The 82-year-old priest has been a friend and spiritual
adviser to Schindler-Schiavo’s parents and siblings
for the past five years and was saddened by the latest defeat in a long battle
to save her life.
But he also had a sense of joy. It was March 18, the day
her feeding tube was removed on a Florida court’s order. (NB: This issue of the Register was printed early because of Easter; it
only includes news developments as of Holy Thursday.)
“She’s at peace now — spiritually and sacramentally
— and now she’s in God’s hands,” Msgr. Malanowski
While a lengthy legal battle over her fate was taken up in
Congress, Msgr. Malanowski was at the center of a
spiritual effort at Schindler-Schiavo’s bedside,
outside the Pinellas Park hospice where she lay and in churches all over the
A group of 50-100 people have gathered day after day in the
grassy area just outside the hospice, praying the rosary and the Divine Mercy
chaplet. One Catholic man, Guabe Garcia Jones, from
Washington, D.C., came to Pinellas Park to fast for several days in solidarity
with the woman whose husband is allowing her to be starved to death.
The prayer warriors, who include people from several
Christian denominations, have been resolute in their belief that God is the
only one who should decide when someone dies, so God is the ultimate judge in
“As a priest for almost 58 years, my faith has become much,
much more alive because of witnessing an innocent person suffering,” said Msgr.
Malanowski, speaking at the beginning of Holy Week.
“We mustn’t forget that Jesus himself was a suffering servant. … We must be
grateful to God our lives have come in touch with the life of Terri Schiavo.”
Christopher Josten, who works for a pro-life group in Philadelphia,
flew to Florida from Pennsylvania a day before the feeding tube was removed
because, he said, he wanted “to take a stand for life, in general, and to take
a stand against judicial tyranny, which is a big problem in America today.”
Standing next to him was Christa Carpenter, who lives 30
minutes from the hospice, and Father William Witt, a retired priest who had
traveled from Ohio. Though they were strangers, they had just finished praying
the rosary together.
“It’s my persuasion that the Lord Jesus saves lives and the
devil, Satan, kills,” said Father Witt, who has been involved in the pro-life
movement since the late 1960s. “It seems to me the Lord needs some witnesses to
the culture of life because the culture of death is being promoted here —
“As Catholics, we need to see this is Terri’s Good Friday,”
Carpenter said. “We need to be here and be supportive.”
The prayerful presence outside the hospice has also touched
people who are not involved in the debate over Schindler-Schiavo.
The landlord of the building across the street from the
hospice wanted $20,000 for supporters to hold a rally on her property. But,
after the landlord, who is Catholic and whose first name is Marie, heard that a
statue of Our Lady of Fatima, from the Diocese of
Green Bay, was going to be there as part of the rally, one of the rally’s
organizers reminded her that her first name was the same as the Blessed
“She began to cry,” said Debra Vinnedge,
executive director of Children of God for Life, a friend of the Schindlers who was instrumental in getting the statue to
Pinellas Park. “We thought it would be a wonderful idea to keep [the statue]
there [at Marie’s building] around the clock, right across the street from
hospice. She was deeply moved by that.”
So moved, Marie, who did not want her last name used,
decided not to charge the Catholic organizers of the rally. Meanwhile, as the
saga plays out, the statue remains in Marie’s home on the second floor of the
building she owns.
Terri’s family has been involved in a bitter, seven-year
legal battle that has pitted them against her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo, who has two children with another woman and is
Schindler-Schiavo’s legal guardian. Her family wants
her to be handed over to their care because they believe that with proper care
and therapy she can recover.
Although Schindler-Schiavo is not
dying, has no terminal illness, is not in a coma or on life support, the courts
have found her to be in a “persistent vegetative state” after she suffered
brain damage in 1990. Although she has been merely receiving basic nutrition
and hydration, Schiavo claims that his wife told him
years ago that she would never want to be kept alive using artificial means.
The courts agreed and sanctioned his request to remove her feeding tube.
Setting off a weekend of dramatic events, the March 18 tube
removal went ahead despite Congressional subpoenas to try to delay it. The
presiding judge in the case rejected the subpoenas, leading to intense lobbying
on Capitol Hill.
After the U.S. Congress stepped in again and passed a law
that President Bush signed immediately that allowed the case to be heard in
federal courts, a federal judge in Tampa refused March 22 to order the
reinsertion of the tube, saying the case did not have a “substantial” chance of
succeeding during a trial.
The Schindlers then appealed to
the U.S. Supreme Court on March 24. As the Register went to press, their appeal
had been denied and there seemed to be no options left.
Whether Schindler-Schiavo ever
expressed the sentiments her husband claims she had, food and water are basic
care and not “artificial life support.” In 2004, Pope John Paul II said
patients who are in a “persistent vegetative state” must be given nutrition and
hydration as long as their bodies can absorb the nourishment.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, of
Washington, D.C., said on March 21 that the removal of the tube was “gravely
wrong” and a “form of euthanasia.”
Schindler-Schiavo has been
condemned to die “an atrocious death” in a society that is “incapable of
appreciating and defending the gift of life,” said the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano in its March 23 edition.
The Vatican newspaper said Schiavo’s
“destiny” based on a court decision was not unlike the death sentence facing
the men and women sitting on death row. However, in this case, “Terri has not
committed any crime, other than that of being ‘useless’ in the eyes of a
society that is incapable of appreciating and defending the gift of life,” it
It was the fifth time the Vatican has spoken against the
removal of the tube. Earlier, Cardinal Renato
Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, sounded a
“If the feeding tube is removed and Terri is forced to die
this slow, terrible, painful death, we must ask ourselves, ‘And who will be
next?’” the cardinal said in a March 7 statement. “Will this open the door for
a state to decide whether this or that incapacitated person should die ... not
be allowed to die a dignified death but that they should have death inflicted
The cardinal stated, “It must stop here and now.”
Carlos Briceño writes
from Seminole, Florida.