Steve Jalsevac

Father Guarnizo and the nitty gritty of Canon Law and refusing Holy Communion

Steve Jalsevac
Steve Jalsevac

March 28, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) –  In light of the recent news about the Archdiocese of Washington apologizing to an open lesbian for Communion being denied her at a funeral, a U.S. priest canonist has submitted to LifeSiteNews this unsolicited analysis of Catholic Canon Law on the matter.  The priest is known to LifeSiteNews but must remain publicly unnamed.

We are including this detailed analysis since the fact that they have not been denied Catholic sacraments has been a large factor in helping very influential, obstinately pro-abortion or anti-family Catholic politicians and activists (Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Kathleen Sibelius, Tony Blair, etc.) to legitimize their damaging actions, while still claiming to be in good standing with the Church. The Catholic public figures have in many cases been top leaders of actions against the protection of innocent human life and the family.

There is a growing clamor among pro-life and pro-family leaders, many laity and even from non-Catholics demanding that the Catholic Church end this damaging scandal by using its Canon 915 as an act of charity for the offenders, their victims and the wider community.


A Canonical Defense of Father Marcel Guarnizo

As a priest and canon lawyer, I’d like in canonical terms, to revisit the controversial events surrounding the denial of Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson by Father Marcel Guarnizo. First of all, while I agree with many of the points by the very well-respected canonist Dr. Ed Peters, I believe that even with the rather limited information currently available, Father Guarnizo very possibly and correctly satisfied the conditions of canon 915 in denying Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson. Secondly, I would like to comment on Father Guarnizo’s unjust “administrative leave” in light of the Code of Canon Law.

Canon 915 and Father Guarnizo

The first rule of interpretation in canon law is to read the canon.  Canon 915 reads:

“Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

As Ed Peters clearly points out, canon 915 lays an obligation on the minister distributing Holy Communion to deny Holy Communion to certain parties. Who are these parties? The first two parties are those who have been excommunicated or interdicted by imposition or declaration. The third party to be denied Holy Communion are those who fulfill all of the following three conditions, i.e., those who

1. Obstinately persist
2. in manifest
3. grave sin.

How is this canon to be interpreted? Ed Peters rightly mentions a general norm:

Can. 18 - “Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.”

as well as canon 912:

Can. 912 - “Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion.”

On the other hand, Father William Byrne, Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, in the Archdiocese of Washington’s press release, states,

“We should receive Jesus with the intention of becoming more like Him. No one is entitled to the Eucharist. It is a free gift and should be received with humility and reverence.”

Ed Peters is again correct to say that the burden lies upon Father Guarnizo to prove he satisfied the requirements of canon 915. On the other hand, canon 915 lays a grave obligation on the minister of Holy Communion to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege and to prevent scandal. It goes without saying that the minister who violates canon 915 should be justly punished.

Ed Peters summarily explains why Father Guarnizo does not fufill the conditions of canon 915:

“Guarnizo did not know, and could not have verified, whether Johnson’s sin (speaking objectively), which could be grave (a conclusion I think a Catholic could reach based on the words used here) was also manifest, as well as obstinate and perseverating (sic). “

This statement raises a question. Given the extremely limited information we currently have from a variety of sources, how exactly does Ed Peters judge that Father “Guarnizo did not know, and could not have verified” Barbara Johnson was not a manifest, grave sinner? It is safe to assume that Ed Peters was not present at the chapel for the funeral, nor was he in the sacristy, nor does he have knowledge of who or how many persons witnessed the conversation that took place between Father Guarnizo and Barbara Johnson.

Ed Peters goes on to quote a number of very reputable and traditional Catholic moralists and manualists who express in various terms the meaning of canon 915. Let’s look carefully at canon 915. Here’s the canon again:

Canon 915 - “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.”

What is the purpose of canon 915? Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the highest tribunal in the Church) answers this question in a paper regarding the liciety of admitting pro-abortion politicians to Holy Communion in light of canon 915. (For those who haven’t read the paper, the quick answer is “no”.) Cardinal Burke states that Canon 915 exists primarily to prevent sacrilege while at the same time preventing our Greatest Good from being violated. His Eminence also remarked in the Jesuit periodical America Magazine that,

“Canon 915 deals with the state of someone who persists in an open, serious moral violation and so has gravely sinned. This means you can’t receive Communion, but it is not saying you are excommunicated. It’s just saying you have broken, in a very serious way, your communion with God and with the Church and therefore are not able to receive Holy Communion.”

The same point is implied in St. Paul’s scolding of the Corinthian Christians during Mass:

“For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.”

The minister who applies canon 915 actually does the sinner a great service in charity by preventing him from committing another grave sin.

The secondary purpose of canon 915 is the prevention of scandal. What is scandal? Cardinal Burke says:

“The first and properly theological meaning of scandal is to do or omit something which leads others into error or sin. The second meaning is to do or omit something which causes wonderment (admiratio) in others. Denying Holy Communion publicly to the occult sinner involves scandal in the second sense. Giving Holy Communion to the obstinately serious and public sinner involves scandal in the first sense.”

In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas says that although there is a need for the minister distributing Holy Communion to protect the good name of the hidden sinner, there is also an obligation to protect the Eucharist from sacrilege by a public sinner.

Since Barbara Johnson doesn’t fall into the first two categories of canon 915, let’s see she if she fulfills the following three conditions for the last category of persons, i.e., those who

1. Obstinately persist
2. in manifest
3. grave sin.

1. Obstinately persist

What does it mean to “obstinately persist”?

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts (PCLT), the department of the Vatican whose job it is to interpret authentically both universal and particular laws in the Church, states that this phrase “obstinate persistence” is

“the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of “the situation in the Church.”

“Obstinate persistence” denotes an objective (not subjective) state. Although commonly misunderstood, it is not necessary that warnings be issued in order to judge “obstinate persistence”.

Before the funeral Mass, Barbara Johnson declared her homosexual status by introducing her lesbian lover to Father Guarnizo. What was the purpose of this action? We now know, from media reports, that Barbara has been with her partner for 20 years.

We also know that Barbara Johnson walked out of the sacristy while her lover blocked the doorway.

2. “Manifest”

What does “manifest” mean?

Among the leading canon lawyers currently living in North America is Professor John Huels at St. Paul’s University. In his 1985 commentary on canon 915, Professor Huels writes that, “a manifest sin is one which is publicly known, even if only by a few.”

Although tempting, it is not possible completely to equate the term “manifest” with the term “public”, since, in the 1917 Code these two adjectives are used to describe those who are not allowed a Catholic funeral. (1917 Code of Canon Law, c. 1240. Alii peccatores publici et manifesti [Other public and manifest sinners])If “manifest” were exactly the same as“public”, why would the legislator have used both terms?“  Manifest” can also refer to the fact that certain moral actions by their very essence are always immoral and are objectively wrong.For example, we say that it is“manifest” or clear, i.e., there is no doubt, that a certain moral action is definitely wrong.The term “manifest”would certainly in its definition, a politician who is actively attempting to pass legislation to facilitate direct abortions. Understandably there is overlapping in meaning but the the term “public” can mean “that which is provable in the external forum.”

The Jesuit theologian Father Davis, in his classic Moral and Pastoral Theology published in 1938, declared that,

“He is, relatively speaking, a public sinner, if he is known to be such by those who observe that he asks for the Sacraments. He is said to ask for them publicly, if he does so, in the presence of any others, many or few, who would recognize him as a public sinner.”

The ancient Rituale Romanum stated:

“All the faithful are to be admitted to Holy Communion, except those who are prohibited for a just reason. The publicly unworthy, which are the excommunicated, those under interdict, and the manifestly infamous, such as prostitutes, those cohabiting, usurers, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, blasphemers and other sinners of the public kind, are, however, to be prevented, unless their penitence and amendment has been established and they will have repaired the public scandal.”

Furthermore, as Cardinal Burke mentions in his commentary on canon 915,

“Regarding the denial of Holy Communion, the [1720 Ruthenian] Synod made its own the perennial discipline of the Church:

“Heretics, schismatics, the excommunicated, the interdicted, public criminals, the openly infamous, as also prostitutes, the publicly cohabiting, major usurers, fortune-tellers, and other evil-doing men of the same kind, however, are not to be admitted to the reception of this Sacrament, according to the precept of Christ: ‘Do not give the Holy to dogs’. “

A notorious act here means an act that cannot be concealed.

The well-respected Father William Woestman adds that,

“the public reception of Communion by a public sinner implies that the Church and her ministers somehow condone the public serious sin.”

An author that Ed Peters is familiar with and recommends is the Dominican Father Halligan. Father Halligan, in Administration of the Sacraments, states that a crime

“is public, if it is already divulged or is so situated that it may and must be concluded that it will easily become commonly known.”

Who else was present in the sacristy on the day of Barbara Johnson’s mother’s funeral? Who else could have heard the conversation that took place between Father Guarnizo and Barbara Johnson? Usually before a liturgical ceremony such as a funeral, a number persons can be present in the sacristy (e.g., altar servers, schola members, members of the recently deceased, the parish secretary, etc.).

In addition, reasonableness is assumed in law. Is it not reasonable that the community, largely made up of Barbara Johnson’s family, knew of her lesbian relationship before the funeral if not at least at the funeral?

At family gatherings like funerals or weddings, people “catch up” and learn how everyone and everything has been going since the last funeral or wedding. People find out family news. Even strangers discover a little bit about who’s related to whom and so on. Is it not very reasonable that more than a few people present in that church building knew about the lesbian relationship between Barbara Johnson and her lover?

Every human being lives in a community. What about the community of which Barbara Johnson is a member and amongst whom she lives? Are they supposed to assume that Barbara Johnson received Holy Communion just like everybody else? Doesn’t this create scandal in Cardinal Burke’s first sense where the faithful are led into error about who is worthy to receive Holy Communion?

An unnamed source present at the funeral mentioned that most of the congregation was mysteriously not made up of those around the age of the recently deceased mother but were more around the age of Barbara Johnson. An unusually small percentage of people came up to receive Holy Communion. If these were friends of Barbara Johnson, what about the possible scandal that could have taken place if Father Gaurnizo had given her Holy Communion? This witness is confident that the vast majority of the persons present for the funeral knew about the lesbian “lifestyle” of Barbara Johnson.

3. Grave sin.


Regarding “Grave Sin”, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts declares that this is, “understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective imputability.”

Now that we’ve walked through a working description of the phrase in canon 915 asserting that those who “obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion,” what is a concrete example of people who fall into this category? The answer is given to us by Blessed Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catholic Catechism and again, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Blessed John Paul II in Familaris Consortio in 1982:

“The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted hereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict the union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is a another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.”

Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1991:

“As far as the internal forum solution is concerned as a means of resolving the question of the validity of a prior marriage, the magisterium has not sanctioned its use for a number of reasons, among which is the inherent contradiction of resolving something in the internal forum which by its nature also pertains to and has such important consequences for the external forum.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, numbers 1650-1651:

“If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists. “

Pontifical Commission for Legislative Texts in 2000:

“In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.”

The noted 1917 Code commentar Fr. Lincoln Bouscaren, SJ, in Canon Law Digest (vol. 1, 408-409) also relates the case of

“a woman that was living in open concubinage with a relative, went to confession to a missionary, and was admitted by him to Holy Communion. The pastor of the church questioned the propriety of this course of action on the part of the missionary, and referred the matter to the Ordinary of the place. The latter forbade the admission of the woman to Holy Communion until she should have separated from the man with whom she was living. From this decree, the missionary had recourse tot he Sacred Congregation of the Council.

Question: Whether the decree of the Ordinary is to be obeyed.
Reply: In the affirmative.”

Father William Woestman logically concludes that

“the same principles apply to everyone whose habitual lifestyle is manifestly gravely sinful, e.g., the unmarried “living together,” homosexuals or lesbians in a public relationship, those actively participating in the performance of abortions, drug traffickers, gang members.”

We can see that Ed Peters clearly contradicts the point reinterated by Father Woestmann:

“I think that withholding Holy Communion from those divorced and remarried outside the Church is an application of Canon 915 (see, e.g., Kelly, in GB&I COMM [1995] 503), but I need not prove that point to show that withholding the Eucharist from divorced-and-remarrieds, that is, those who status is de iure public, is appropriate under, among other things, the 1994 CDF Letter on Communion for Divorced and Remarried Catholics, n. 6.  Of course, as Johnson is apparently not divorced and remarried outside the Church, and because Guarnizo did not suspect her of being so, his implicit appeal to the CDF letter and/or c. 915, fails in law and in fact.”

Objectively, homosexuality is graver than adultery. I don’t understand why Dr. Peters says that it is licit to use canon 915 to deny Holy Communion to those who are divorced and have remarried but it is not licit to use canon 915 for a lesbian in a homosexual relationship.

Up to this point, we’ve applied our attention to law relevant to the particular situation of Baabara Johnson. Now we ask, what should be done practically in a concrete situation?

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts again provides the answer:

“Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.”

“The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community.”

We know that Father Guarnizo did not make the funeral arrangments for Barbara Johnson’s mother. We also know that after hearing confessions from 9:30-10:20am, Father Guarnizo wanted to speak with Barbara before the 10:30am funeral Mass but was blocked by Barbara Johnson’s lover. We also know that Father Guarnizo’s action to deny Holy Communion to Barbara Johnson was extremely discreet.

Red alert! Only 2 days left.

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Video: Belgian police put a violent end to a legal pro-life rally in Brussels

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By John-Henry Westen
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BRUSSELS, March 31, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Belgian police used force against pro-lifers holding a legal, peaceful picket Tuesday in the center of Brussels, near the European Parliament buildings.  The pro-life rally, led by activists from Poland, was surrounded by an angry mob of abortion supporters, but when the police intervened they forcibly removed the pro-life signs, and even a Polish flag, saying they were provoking aggression.

The pro-life rally, which displayed graphic abortion signs, was legally registered, and organized by Fundacja Pro, a very active pro-life group from Poland, along with Michał Marusik, a Polish Member of European Parliament, and the Instigos Institute.

Kaja Godek, one of Poland’s leading pro-life activists, described the scene at the Luxembourg Square in Brussels for LifeSiteNews:

When we display graphic abortion pictures on the streets of Poland, the reaction we get is mostly sympathetic. In Brussels, we met with aggression and a hysterical reaction. Some furious people surrounded us screaming that we were sick and that the photographs of abortion victims were a lie.

Jacek Januszewski, one of the youth participants, told LifeSiteNews, “They screamed vulgarities and obscene insults, specifically directed at the ladies in our group. They threw firecrackers, physically pushed us, and tried to steal our banners.”

Describing the actions of the police, Januszewski said, “They formed a circle around our group, but were facing us, as if we were the source of aggression, not the mob around us.” He continued, “Even after one of the policemen got hit on the back with something thrown at us by the mob, they still acted as if it was us who caused the danger. We were just standing there in shock."

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“At one point a man dressed in civilian clothes approached us all red in the face, pushed us and tried to take our banners by force,” said Januszewski. “When we resisted, he produced a police ID. We asked him what he was doing and what law allowed him to disrupt a legal demonstration like that. He screamed back at us: ‘I am the law in Brussels.’”

Godek commented on the undercover officer too. “The man in civilian clothes kept pointing to one specific banner we were holding, showing the face of Adolf Hitler with a caption ‘Hitler legalized abortion on demand for Poles.’ [The undercover policeman] was all red in the face and kept saying he didn't like it and that it was upsetting everybody. We told him we were being attacked and needed protection. He said that we were the danger, we were provoking violence.”

Watch videos (exchanges between police and protesters are audible and in English):

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

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2 Days Left - Can you donate just $5 or more?

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By Steve Jalsevac

This is an urgent reminder that we have just 2 days left to reach our annual Spring campaign goal of $175,000.
 
With a large boost from our readers yesterday, we are now within striking distance, with only another $75,000 to raise to make that goal!
 
Please consider supporting our mission to build a Culture of Life by making the most generous donation you can today.

Have you ever wondered who is behind LifeSite, and what our organization does with the money you donate?
 
Sometimes we find that readers of LifeSite, new readers in particular, understandably do not realize the size and scope of our mission: including not just how many millions of people read LifeSite (6 million people last month alone, for the record), but also the number of people and resources required to keep this unique international news service going every day.
 
It is quite an eye-opener when we list everything involved. Given the exponential growth of LifeSite over the past few years, it seems time to present an update. This should help you to understand why we must set our quarterly campaign goals at the very least at the levels that we do each time.

Every single member of the LifeSite team is passionately dedicated to our mission. Many have families with children and all depend on prayer (we have a staff prayer conference call every morning at 9:30 a.m.) to do this challenging work. They are also highly principled persons who see this work as being much more of personal mission than a “job”.

They care deeply about the issues that we write about and their impact on the world. At least several were on the “other side” in the past and experienced profound conversions to pro-life, pro-family beliefs.

In addition to the English language LifeSite, we also publish two other versions of LifeSite. There is the Spanish language Notifam and the Portuguese language Notifam.  These two services have been completely re-designed and their readership has dramatically increased in the past several months.

Almost all of our journalists are paid salaries or an hourly rate (part-timers). Nearly half are full-time, and the rest are part-time with widely varying total hours per month. A small number of the part-timers are able to offer their work to LifeSite as a no-charge gift to the pro-life and pro-family cause.

Almost all of the news reporters work from their homes. Our one office is located in Front Royal, Virginia in the Human Life International building. Much of the LifeSite, Canada administration work (payroll, bookkeeping, mail and donation receiving, etc.) is contracted to Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) in Toronto. We are very grateful for CLC’s assistance.

Since the introduction of our dramatically new website last year, we have also been able to add prominent paid bloggers to the LifeSite team. In addition to our own bloggers, other notable pro-life bloggers such as Jill Stanek and Ryan Bomberger permit us to re-publish and often give much wider exposure to posts from their blog sites.

Back in September 1997, it was just John-Henry Westen and myself, the two founding staff of Lifesite. Things have certainly changed since then.

CURRENT NEWS TEAM

North America

1.  John-Henry Westen – Co-founder, Editor-in-Chief, journalist 
2.  Steve Jalsevac – Co-founder, managing director, editor, journalist
3.  John Jalsevac – Website development, petitions, journalist
4.  Patrick Craine – Managing editor, journalist, Canadian bureau chief
5.  Ben Johnson – US bureau chief, journalist
6.  Dustin Siggins – Washington DC bureau reporter and media outreach
7.  Kirsten Anderson – Washington DC and region reporter
8.  Lisa Bourne – Journalist
9.  Pete Baklinski – Journalist
10. Ted Baklinski – Journalist
11. Lianne Lawrence – Toronto journalist and LSN Canada donor relations
12. Steve Weatherbe – Journalist
13. Drew Belsky – Journalist

International

14. Hilary White (Italy) – Rome and Europe reporter
15. Jeanne Smits (Paris, France) – European reporter
16. Andrew Smith – Australian reporter
17. Michelle Kaufman – New Zealand reporter
18. Matthew Hoffman – Latin American reporter
19. Gualberto Guilherme Araujo – Brazilian editor
20. Gualberto Garcia Jones – Latin America bureau chief
21. Sophia Vazquez Mellado – Spanish language reporter
22. Mei-Li Beane – Spanish Language reporter
23. Natalia Duehlom – Polish correspondent
24. Matthew McCusker – London correspondent

Bloggers

25. Anthony Esolen
26. Matt Fradd
27. Abby Johnson
28. Jonathon van Maren
29. Melanie Pritchard

SUPPORT TEAM

30. Jon Fidero – Development Director
31. Andy Parrish – Marketing, media, public relations
32. Clare Magaad – LSN U.S. Office Manager
33. Megan Mulherin – Database management, Donor relations coordinator
34. Linda Wilson – Donor relations
35. Tommy Farrel – Donor relations
36. Theresa Jalsevac – Daily news subscriber services, article publishing
37. Jacob Westen – Article publishing

EXTERNAL SERVICES

LifeSite employs the services of a wide variety of companies and individuals for website design and development, video production, graphic design, donation processing, mass emailing of the Daily News, web hosting, payroll, legal work, marketing of LifeSite and much more.

Some of these external costs are in the six-figure level, given the large volume and variety of material that we publish, the cutting edge complexity of the website and the high level of traffic that LifeSite must now be able to handle.

We also have on-going and major electronic equipment costs since we are a digital service requiring high quality, reliable and the most up-to-date digital resources.

Finally, our team, and especially John-Henry, have been required to do a lot more travelling in recent years to cover major stories on site and to attend and be actively involved in very important meetings in several nations.  
 
The Marches for life in Washington, DC, Ottawa Canada and Rome, Italy have required a team of LSN staff. As well, we are the original organizers of the Rome Life Forum in Vatican City that is now billed as a Voice of the Family (which LifeSite co-founded) event and is co-sponsored by a number of International groups.

I hope this has helped you to much better understand our financial needs and will encourage any who might have been hesitant to donate to re-consider and send a generous gift for the LifeSite mission.

We are amazed that so much has been accomplished over the years, thanks especially to the generosity of those who believe in what we do and have wanted to express their appreciation for this work and what it has meant to them.

Please join our other supporters today with your gift.
 
You can also donate by phone or mail. We would love to hear from you!

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10 years ago today, Terri Schiavo died an agonizing death. I was with her family. Where were you?

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By Bryan Kemper
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March 31, 2015 (StandTrue.com) -- For twenty-four years I have been involved with pro-life work in one way or another. Over those twenty-four years I have talked to thousands of people about their involvement, why they got involved, how they got involved and what motivates them to continue. We have talked about what happened in 1973 and where were all the Christians when Roe vs. Wade was passed. We would wonder why Christians would ignore human rights and own slaves in the time of the Dred Scott decision. We would tell stories about the few brave Christians that hid Jews during the Holocaust and proclaim that if it were we in those times we would have been a voice. If we were around in those days we would have risked all to save an innocent life; that is what we said, at least.

Ten years ago a young woman in Florida who was handicapped began an agonizing and painful journey towards death. Her husband, who had once made a vow to love and honor her through good times and bad, murdered her on national television. Her husband, who had already broken his vows to her by living with another woman and fathering children with her, went to court to have his wife starved and dehydrated to death. Terri Schiavo held onto life and fought for 13 days before finally dying on Thursday, March 31, 2005.

When I arrived in Florida one week before her death I expected to see thousands and thousands of Christians in front of the hospice praying, singing and crying out for Terri. I expected to see all those people who said, “I would have been there to stand up if I were around in the times of Roe vs. Wade or during the Holocaust.” I was sadly disappointed.

I walked up and saw maybe 150 people at most — some of them familiar faces from the pro-life movement, some of them just wanting to be on TV. I started to walk around and ask where people were from and most of them were from out of town; it was hard to find anyone from the Tampa area there to stand up for Terri. For years I wondered where the Christians were when Roe vs. Wade was passed, and now I had the answer.

I spent the first day walking around the crowd praying with people, talking about what could be done and simply being there in solidarity with our sister as she was dying. When I arrived the second day I talked to Terri’s sister whom I had met in Washington, DC, in January, when I volunteered my services to the family. I was asked to help guard the family and escort them around as everyone was swarming them.

I spent a lot of time just sitting with them and listening to stories about Terri and her life growing up. Her dad told a story about when Terri ran over a cat and how upset she was over this poor little cat. The friends shared beautiful stories and memories that I will treasure forever.

During this time we also spent a lot of time in prayer, with many different Christian leaders and friends. Everyone would be talking about a possible option and then someone would just stop and say, “Let’s pray.” There was more spontaneous prayer than I had ever seen. I would walk among the people there in support and see small groups up and down the street praying, singing hymns and just reading the Scriptures out loud. There may not have been a large group there, but they were dedicated and focused on prayer.

I spent a lot of time walking the family through the media circus to and from the hospice trying to give them a little privacy. I would walk Terri’s dad through the crowd every night as he thanked all the supporters for being there for Terri.

I talked to many of the behind-the-scenes media people who were obviously shaken by this tragedy. I saw people from all different walks of life and political and religious backgrounds taking a stand. There were many non-Christian people there in support of Terri, and dozens of handicapped people from a group called Not Dead Yet. I even spent time in prayer with the Rev. Jesse Jackson as he came to help the family and speak out for Terri. I never in a million years would have believed that I would sit in a room praying with Randal Terry, Jesse Jackson and Sean Hannity.

Each night at about 11:00 PM I would leave the hospice area and go get something to eat and try to catch up on some computer work and grab a few hours of sleep. I talked to a lot of people at different restaurants that would ask us what was really happening there. One night Terri’s brother, Bobby, came out to eat with us. When he left, the people there asked us questions and wanted to know the truth about the whole situation; they were shocked when they got the true facts about Terri.

On Wednesday night I went to the hotel and was especially saddened as we were reaching 13 days. My friend Will and I sat in the pool at the hotel at 2:00 AM discussing the past week and what else could have been done. I finally got to sleep at about 3:00 AM. Early the next morning, I was awoken by Will telling me that Terri had died.

We quickly packed our bags and went to the car to drive over to the hospice a few blocks away. As I got into the car it really began to hit me what had just happened and I started to cry. I picked up my cell phone and called my wife and children; I just needed to hear their voices and tell them I loved them.

I got to the hospice and stood guard outside the room the family was in to give them some privacy. The room was tucked in behind all the major media trucks and production areas. I watched as many of the media producers and reporters were fighting back tears. I watched reporters hugging the family and giving condolences; they were truly touched by Terri’s family. Many of the media that I had gotten to know expressed their grief to me, some of them on-air personalities who were affected greatly.

After the family was done making their statements for the day, I made my rounds to offer my condolences and say my goodbyes. I told the family about all the Stand True supporters and family that had asked me to send their best wishes and prayers. I thanked them for their strength and resolve in the fight for Terri’s life. I let them know that we at Stand True will never let Terri’s name die and that we will continue the fight for life and others like Terri.

I will never forget and I will never stop telling her story. 

HTTP://WWW.TERRISFIGHT.ORG

Also read Father Frank Pavone’s memory of his time with Terri.

HTTP://WWW.WASHINGTONTIMES.COM/NEWS/2015/MAR/30/FRANK-PAVONE-TERRI-SCHIAVOS-INCONVENIENT-LIFE/

Reprinted with permission from Stand True.

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