PHILADELPHIA (ChurchMilitant.com) - The family of Terri Schiavo is commenting on the recent retirement of St. Petersburg, Florida's bishop Robert Lynch, whom they maintain has "misled the people of his diocese about ... the meaning and consequences of [Schiavo's] state-sanctioned death."
Bobby Schindler, Schiavo's brother and president of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, released a statement Tuesday, reflecting on the bishop's legacy in relation to Schiavo's heavily publicized death in 2005 after 14 days of starvation and dehydration at the hands of her guardian, the hospital and the state of Florida.
"As a Catholic myself, any criticism I offer of Bishop Lynch is rooted in my love for, and obedience to, the role of any bishop in shepherding the faithful," Schindler begins. "That being said, Bishop Lynch has been a poor moral leader."
"The worst thing that can happen when you've got your hand out for help is for someone to spit in it," he continued. "In my family's experience, Bishop Lynch was like the man spitting in the hand of a person in need."
Schindler recalled his families' pleas to the bishop for support or for a public statement regarding the immorality of depriving his sister of food and water — an end-of-life practice condemned by Church teaching — which were met instead with "weak platitudes that served to endorse an estranged husband's death wish for his wife."
According to Schindler, he will never forget "one of [Bp. Lynch's] boldest statements, issued in the weeks leading up to [his] sister’s death." Lynch "didn’t call for mercy for Terri," he recalls, "or for the continuation of basic care, but, unbelievably, for my family and those fighting for my sister to 'step back a little and allow some mediation in these final hours' with those seeking to end my sister's life. They were only her 'final hours' because men like him regarded her right to life as negotiable rather than absolute."
"It remains a spiritual struggle," Schindler admits, "for me to come to terms with what this man did and failed to do as my bishop during the most brutal years in my sister’s life."
"Bishop Lynch visited my daughter just once, for a few moments," asserts Terri's mother, Mary Schindler. "And at a key moment in my daughter's legal defense, Bishop Lynch allowed a local priest named Fr. Gerard Murphy to testify — against my daughter. Father Murphy admitted his testimony was contrary to Catholic teaching, and that he had permission from Bishop Lynch to share it. As a mother, I take comfort in the fact that God knows all the ways that Bishop Lynch failed my daughter."
A press release had been issued by the bishop in October 2002, but only after Terri's father, Robert Schiavo, had sent a letter to the diocese in November 2001, asking for the support of the bishop. The official response from Bp. Lynch incorrectly stated Church teaching:
The public discussion of Terri Schiavo’s right to life touches the lives of many people. ... Roman Catholic moral theology suggests that the removal of food and hydration from a patient ... is justifiable only if the natural projected path of the individual's medical condition will lead inevitably to death. ... Some of the members of Terri's family believe her condition is irreversible and inevitably deteriorating towards death, while others do not. ... The Church, however, will refrain from passing judgment on the actions of anyone in this tragic moment.
Contrary to Bp. Lynch's claims, the Catholic Church only allows removal of extraordinary means to keep a patient alive. Basic food and water are not considered extraordinary means, and therefore to remove such sustenance from an otherwise healthy person — which Terri Schiavo was — is a grave evil that can never be justified.
The statement from the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network concludes with remarks from the organization's executive director, Tom Shakely:
In Scripture, Christ instructs us through fury at the money-changers in the temple of the just role of righteous anger, just as Pilate later reminds us of the scandal that is indifference to truth. Bishop Lynch's actions brought scandal to the Catholic community during Terri's barbaric death. Bishop Lynch's conciliatory attitude toward the Culture of Death continues to carry a certain teaching authority due to his office, and in this sense his approach is a continuing tragedy for those seeking moral instruction on matters with life and death consequences.
Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005, a little over 15 years since she'd gone into cardiac arrest and suffered massive brain damage which placed her in what doctors describe as a persistent vegetative state — a diagnosis her family rejected because she responded to stimuli, including requests that she move her eyes or other body parts, and smiling and laughter in response to her parents' jokes.
Since her death, which came two days before the death of Pope St. John Paul II, the Schindler family have worked tirelessly through the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network to uphold "human dignity through service to the medically vulnerable." In the nearly 11 years since its founding, the organization has "advocated and assisted more than 1,500 medically vulnerable patients and families."