The soul — Father Gushee knows it when he sees it

PopeJohnPaulII25th.jpgThis, dear readers, is what the editors of The Palm Beach Post think of the religion beat and any traditional Catholic and Christian readers who remain on their subscription lists.

Veteran religion writer, and Episcopal priest, Steve Gushee is back with another column on why this pope just does not get the postmodern world and its evolving view of life and death, truth and mystery.

The bottom line: The Terri Schiavo case proves that John Paul II is a heretic and an idol worshipper.

You need to read it all. Here is a glimpse.

A human being has that extraordinary, intangible presence we call life. Like love and beauty, life defies precise definition. Some call it spirit. Others label it soul. Whatever we call it, we know it when we see it. The human body is a shell, a temple in the words of St. Paul, that houses the spirit, the soul, the human being. Through modern medicine, a human body often can continue to function long after its spirit has left. . . .

People of faith routinely speak of the body and the soul as distinct entities. Paul wrote of his desire to cast off the body to enable his spirit to be closer to God. Those who define life as any biological function that enables the body simply to exist confuse the spirit and its temple and cause extraordinary moral confusion.

Should the Post continue to print Gushee? Of course it should. That is not the point.

Should the newspaper get itself one or more other columnists who can add balance and, every now and then, some facts and authoritative quotes from experts? Yes.

Why continue to allow one reporter/priest to bash away at traditional believers in this region? What’s the point? And why aren’t local Roman Catholic authorities up in arms about this?

UPDATED: An email from a reader notes that The Wall Street Journal published precisely the opposite″>point of view yesterday in Eastern Orthodox theologian David B. Hart’s piece, “The Soul of a Controversy.” A sample, starting with the writer listening to some very American voices on talk radio:

What caught my attention was the unreflective dualism to which all three clearly subscribed: The soul, they assumed, is a kind of magical essence haunting the body, a ghost in a machine. This is in fact a peculiarly modern view of the matter, not much older than the 17th-century philosophy of Descartes. While it is now the model to which most of us habitually revert when talking about the soul — whether we believe in such things or not — it has scant basis in either Christian or Jewish tradition.

Thus, his final question in the Schiavo case is one that haunted much of the mainstream press coverage.

I do not understand exactly why those who wanted Terri Schiavo to die had become so resolute in their purposes by the end. If she was as “vegetative” as they believed, what harm would it have done, I wonder, to surrender her to the charity (however fruitless) of her parents? Of this I am certain, though: Christians who understand their faith are obliged to believe that she was, to the last, a living soul. It is true that, in some real sense, it was her soul that those who loved her could no longer reach, but it was also her soul that they touched with their hands and spoke to and grieved over and adored. And this also means that it was a living soul that we as a society chose to abandon to starvation and thirst. . . .

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St. Pete Times keeps covering Terri news

As one would expect, the best newspaper in Florida is continuing to cover the Terri Schiavo case, even as the national and global media focus on events at the Vatican. Here is a direct link to The St. Petersburg Times website dedicated to the life and death of Terri. The news for today is that the precise location of her body and its immediate fate remain unknown. There also is a roundup of clergy views on the case, most of which are pro-life, and, from recent coverage, a profile of the other woman in Michael Schiavo’s life. As the pope story grows, this link is the one to keep for the aftermath of the Schiavo drama.

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Another wrinkle in the Sunni story

For those following the post-Christian Science Monitor Iraq story, Robert F. Worth of The New York Times has a new wrinkle. There is another sign that the Sunni leaders are not united, and what a symbolic sign it is — a group of clerics have urged their followers to join the Iraqi police. The key: “The edict, signed by 64 imams and religious scholars, was a striking turnaround for the clerics, who have often lashed out in sermons at the fledgling army and police force and branded them collaborators. Prominently missing from the signers was Harith al-Dari, the leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars and one of the most influential Sunni Arab clerics in Iraq, who is said to have close ties to the insurgency. Still, the directive, which carried the signature of Ahmed Hassan al-Taha, an imam at an important Baghdad mosque who has been a strong critic of the occupation, seemed to represent a significant step.”

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Online journalism world gears up — again

JPII shield.jpgAs we continue to wait and watch, I wanted to note a few sites that are collecting online reporters’ resources linked to the life and work of Pope John Paul II.

Our friends over at have a special edition of Al’s Morning Meeting online, in which online researcher Al Tompkins pulls together a mountain of links and background resources. There is no way I can compete with that, so just click here.

Similar materials will continue to be updated at the ReligionLink site operated by the Religion Newswriters Association. (Here is a direct link to the RNA’s fast-developing collection of links on Pope John Paul II and the Vatican.

Those seeking materials from a traditionalist Catholic perspective can head to Catholic World News and its Off the Record blog. Christianity Today‘s team is hard at work, so click here.

This list will keep growing in the hours and days ahead. However, may I also be so bold as to point you toward a column that I wrote recently for the Scripps Howard News Service, at the time of the first real crisis in this threat to the life of the pope and the media panic that ensued.

I called it “Pope John Paul II: What’s the lead?” I really think that is the question many are facing right now. It featured input from a host of veteran pope-watchers, from papal biographer George Weigel to Godbeat legend Russell Chandler, from Beliefnet czar Steven Waldman to Baptist scholar Timothy George. Here is a quick bite from that column:

Reporters are trying to cover their bases. The panic also may have been fueled by another reality. This pope’s life is impossible to capture in a few dramatic images, a three-minute sound-bite blitz and a sentence or two about the length of his tenure (second longest ever) and the number of nations he has visited (125 so far). Journalists must ask: What is the lead on this story?

Please let us know of the best, and the worst, articles that you see in the mainstream press. Also, pass along good sites for research on the story. Once again, please know that we are interested in a wide range of materials, from a variety of viewpoints. I would also be interested in hearing from journalists evaluating the, well, doctrinal balance of some of these resource sites.

While we all face our personal reactions to this story, we must remember that people have work to do. It’s called journalism.

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Buckets of tears

WomanGrieving.jpgThe St. Petersburg Timesdetailed report on Terri Schiavo’s final hours is elegant and rigorously balanced. The article, which appears under a five-person byline, is a moving account of the grief felt by Michael Schiavo and his brother, by Terri’s siblings and parents and by the protesters who have demonstrated outside the Pinellas Park hospice.

Even amid the conflicts between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers, we see two families saying goodbye with universally familiar rites of touch, storytelling and prayer:

In an interview late Thursday, Brian Schiavo said he and Michael had stayed up all night, sitting with Terri the entire time except when the Schindlers came in. As the night wore on, Brian said, he and Michael talked to Terri and rubbed her arms and legs, which were cold and mottled. They also traded stories about the old days with the girl they used to know.

Brian told the one about the time when Michael and Terri were dating and Brian went into the dry cleaner where she worked. He took off his pants and handed them to her. Said he’d wait. Brian stood there in his white briefs while Terri ran to the back, screaming and cracking up.

They told the one about Brian and Michael spoofing a synchronized swimming routine in the pool, and Terri laughing her huge, infectious laugh.

. . . Outside the hospice, Bobby Schindler was pleading with the police officer for another visit. The request reached Michael Schiavo. An officer knocked on the door of Terri’s room and said Bobby wanted to see her. Michael and Brian, groggy, got themselves together and said okay, then went to another hospice room down the hall where they’d been living for days.

Just after 7:30 a.m., Bobby Schindler and his sister Suzanne — accompanied by a priest, Father Frank Pavone — were led to Terri’s bedside. They stayed in the room for approximately an hour and a half.

According to Pavone, Terri could not focus her eyes and was breathing with difficulty. The hospice workers, he said, told him and the Schindler siblings that Terri wouldn’t make it through another day.

Pavone said they prayed over Terri, held her hand, stroked her hair. He sang hymns in Latin, including Hail Holy Queen, a chanted version of Ave Maria and Veni Creator Spiritus. They recited the rosary and delivered the chaplet of divine mercy, a series of prayers asking God’s mercy.

“For the sake of his sorrowful passion,” they said, “have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

The Times‘ restrained description of Terri’s dying moments, and the grief that followed, shows us the shared humanity in these battling families:

Michael Schiavo went to his wife and cradled her. Terri lay on her left side, wearing a pale nightgown. The covers were pulled over her. She had stuffed animals under her arms. Four hospice workers in the room were crying.

Michael held his wife and talked to her. Brian stood next to Michael, massaging his back.

“Michael,” he said, “it’s going to be all right.”

Almost immediately, Terri stopped breathing.

“We were there about 60 seconds,” Brian said, “and she was gone.”

The lawyers and nurses left Michael and Brian alone with her after a while. Terri’s hands were still wrapped around pads to protect her palms; Michael removed the pads and tossed them into the trash. Her hands, curled tighter and tighter into fists over the years, had relaxed a little. Michael took a red rose from a vase by her bed and put it in her hands.

By now, Terri’s parents had arrived at the hospice. Knowing they were on their way, Michael and Brian Schiavo went back to the room down the hall. Both of them were crying. Brian told his brother that he was happy for Terri, relieved that she no longer was living in such a state.

Terri’s siblings, waiting across the street in a gift shop, learned of her death from the family’s attorney, David Gibbs III. They waited for Terri’s parents at the hospice entrance. Mary Schindler, Terri’s mother, was the first to enter. Gibbs had the sense she knew her daughter was gone, even before a hospice worker spoke.

“Terri’s passed this morning,” the worker said.

Mary Schindler wept and walked down the hall to Terri’s room. Bob Schindler, about 30 seconds behind his wife, heard the news as he entered.

The Schindler family — Mary, Bob, Suzanne and Bobby — gathered around Terri’s bed. Gibbs stood in the hall, but could hear the family’s sobs.

Here is an important reminder that people are more complicated than they appear when they’re locked in an entirely public clash of worldviews, surrounded by klieg lights and TV cameras. Both Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers have become the iconic faces of the right-to-die and right-to-life movements. For those of us who have followed this story as something more than distant observers, it’s been tempting to assume the worst about one family or the other.

The debate about Terri Schiavo’s life and death remains inescapable, and the questions it raises matter immensely to those on both sides who realize that crucial matters are at stake. But the tears shed by both families as Terri Schiavo died also ought to touch something in our souls, and to prompt us to pray — not only for the comfort and strength of our allies, but also for God to shower mercy and grace into the lives of our opponents.

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As he lay dying

heart2.jpg Bad news from Rome. The pope’s urinary tract infection produced a fever that was serious enough that he was administered the last rites. This was, of course not the first time that he had been administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and I went to bed last night with the happy news that he had stabilized.

But then he took a dramatic turn for the worse. The AP is reporting that the Vatican is denying that the pope is in a coma. Given the curia’s recent record of playing it straight about the pope’s health, it makes sense to believe that there is no wool-pulling going on here. The gist of the report:

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a previous statement that the pope suffered septic shock and heart failure Thursday afternoon.

“This morning, the condition of the Holy Father is very serious,” he said.

However, he said the pope had participated in a 6 a.m. Mass Friday and that he was “conscious, lucid, and serene.”

Per John Paul II’s wishes, he is being attended to in the papal apartment by “his personal doctor, two intensive care doctors, a cardiologist, an ear, nose and throat specialist and two nurses.”

If the initial diagnosis of heart failure (as opposed to a heart attack) holds up, then the pope is living on borrowed time. But then, in a certain sense, so are we all.

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Bedside matters: the Times negotiates details?

terridied33005.jpgEarlier today, I tried to post a link to the very first New York Times article on the death of Terri Schiavo. However, the server locked up and I lost it. I did, however, save the URL for later.

Now, it appears that this story has been rewritten — no surprise — but the element of the story that most interested me is now gone. That first story had a very clear, well, blow-by-blow description of who was where at the time of Terri’s death.

Since I no longer have the text, let me reconstruct by memory. Basically, you had Terri’s siblings in the room up until just before the moment of death, then Michael Schiavo had them removed so that he could be there at the moment of death and then her parents were briefly allowed back in the room to view the body.

There just has to be more to this scene than that. Meanwhile, the re-rewritten piece by reporters William Yardley and Maria Newman now includes a version of the events that does not hide the family conflict, but also does not do as clear a job of what happened when. Here are pieces of the still-evolving text:

“Her husband was present by her bed, cradling her,” said George Felos, Michael Schiavo’s lawyer. “Mrs. Schiavo died a calm death, a peaceful death and a gentle death.” . . .

The bitterness was so intense that the two warring families could not even be in the same room with Ms. Schiavo at the same time. . . .

David Gibbs, a lawyer for Ms. Schiavo’s parents, said her brother and sister were with Ms. Schiavo until just before she died.

“While they are heartsick, this is indeed a sad day for the nation, this is a sad day for the family,” Mr. Gibbs said. “Their faith in God remains consistent and strong. They are absolutely convinced that God loves Terri more than they do.” . . .

Ms. Schiavo’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, came to the hospice shortly after they learned of her death and prayed at her bedside, said Brother Paul O’Donnell, a Franciscan Friar who has served as a spokesman for the parents. They left after a brief visit.

There are going to be, I predict, all kinds of rumors and secondhand accounts of how the brother and sister exited the room and precisely when the husband entered. I heard four different versions of this on the campus where I teach by the end of the workday.

For better or for worse, the blogs are going to wade in there. This is why I am disappointed that the clarity of the early Times piece seems to have vanished. Did anyone else see that early version?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has moved on to the next battle. The burial:

Terri Schiavo’s ashes will be buried in an undisclosed location near Philadelphia so that her immediate family doesn’t show up and turn the burial into a media spectacle, a member of the Schiavo family said Thursday.

“If Mike knew they would come in peace, he would have no problem with it,” Scott Schiavo, Michael Schiavo’s brother, said during an interview at his home.

After an autopsy, Michael Schiavo plans to have his wife’s body cremated and her ashes brought to Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Scott Schiavo said the ashes would be buried in a plot left by an aunt and uncle, but the family does not plan on providing the specficic location for the burial — underscoring the bitterness of the dispute.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, had fought for years to prevent her feeding tube from being removed, and they opposed cremation and wanted her buried in Florida.

On a personal note, the D.C. breau of Scripps Howard also asked me to turn an updated version of my column for this week — focusing on the Schiavo case and the current Roman Catholic teachings on cremation. If you want to see that, click here.

UPDATED: I think this is just getting started. Here is a television website report (strange coding on this thing) with a priest-said, lawyer-said debate about who offended who. Note the connection to the Priests for Life story elsewhere.

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Sneer-quoting culture of life

ChoosingLife.jpgScott Gold of the Los Angeles Times is the first mainstream reporter on the story about a new order of priests to be called Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. The order will devote the majority of its efforts to resisting abortion and euthanasia through political organizing.

The report quotes extensively from the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, founder of the new order, and from Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, Texas, who will provide the order with cost-free housing.

Gold’s writing is mostly balanced, with the usual qualifiers of partial quotes and “what they describe”:

They also will “bring healing and forgiveness” to those who have had abortions and will provide what they describe as counseling services to women who are “tempted to abort their child,” [Pavone] said.

Gold checks in with the local Planned Parenthood chapter, which expresses its concerns about the new order’s founding:

But in a prepared statement, Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle expressed concerns that the society could attract extremists who might resort to violence to further the antiabortion cause.

Planned Parenthood said it feared that people trained by the society would use hardball tactics against healthcare providers, such as organizing clinic blockades.

Healthcare professionals and women’s right advocates often criticize such tactics as acts of intimidation intended to shame women who already are facing difficult decisions

If there is increased activity of that sort, Planned Parenthood said, money likely will be diverted from healthcare to security. And if women are afraid to go to area clinics, the number of unintended pregnancies could rise, the group’s statement said.

It’s worth mentioning here, as Gold does not, that Priests for Life repudiates all violence, and has offered $50,000 to those whose tips help authorities arrest vigilante killers.

While we’re on the subject of the culture of life, pundit Anna Quindlen has determined that no such thing exists:

It is an empty suit of a phrase, absent an individual to give it shape. There is no culture of life. There is the culture of your life, and the culture of mine. There is what each of us considers bearable, and what we will not bear. There are those of us who believe that under certain conditions the cruelest thing you can do to people you love is to force them to live. There are those of us who define living not by whether the heart beats and the lungs lift but whether the spirit is there, whether the music box plays.

Again we see the quasi-Gnostic notion that Terri Schiavo’s spirit departed her body 15 years ago, except this time Quindlen attributes this finding to — brace yourselves — doctors: “A raft of doctors said over the years that Terri’s reactions were purely reflexive, that she would not recover, that she would never be more than the vessel in which her spirit once lived, like a music box that no longer plays.”

It’s always good to hear about the interaction of faith and medicine, but I would worry if my family doctor began referring to any patient as a music box that no longer plays.

Quindlen is unequivocal in explaining where she stands in the debate about end-of-life issues:

Last week my father and I received this short e-mail from my sister, a public-school teacher in San Francisco:

i’m telling you both this now
if i am ever in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ please let me die
do not have a feeding tube put in me
and in no uncertain terms: do not let the united states government get involved.

No public official is going to tell me how to xoxo my sister. No church, no court. The Schiavo case has asked us to look at our own definition of life, not at some formless notion cobbled out of the Bible, medical textbooks and impersonal sentiment.

Quindlen can call that position whatever she likes, but she lacks the moral authority to deprive others (including Pope John Paul II) of the phrase culture of life.

If that gives Ms. Quindlen the heebie-jeebies, she’ll have to get used to it.

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