Vatican: Fissures in the Right to Life

January 24, 2022

The journal Civilta Cattolica has just published a column calling for support for a bill giving a restricted framework to euthanasia, with the aim of avoiding a worse evil, in this case the general extension of assisted suicide. A position that creates surprise, when we know that the review is supposed to be directed from the Vatican.

Proponents of the culture of life cannot believe it. The blow came unexpectedly, from behind.

In the latest issue of Civilta Cattolica, Fr. Carlo Casalone – a doctor, former provincial of the Society of Jesus, member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University – pleads for the adoption of a bill regulating euthanasia in a strict manner.

A position that is disturbing, when we know that no issue of the famous Jesuit magazine can be published without having first received the initials of the Secretariat of State, the most powerful dicastery of the Vatican. To grasp what is at stake here, it is appropriate to place the question in its transalpine context.

Italy currently punishes assisted suicide with between five and 12 years in prison, but in 2019 the Constitutional Court introduced an exception for “patients kept alive by treatments. . . and suffering from an irreversible pathology, a source of physical and psychological suffering which they consider intolerable, while being fully capable of making free and conscious decisions.”

A decision that had the effect of an earthquake in a country with a strong Catholic tradition. However, the Court left a legal loophole declaring illegal an article of the penal code punishing people who help with an assisted suicide, while listing conditions for it to be legal.

Taking this vagueness as a pretext, the Luca Coscioni Association launched, in 2021, an online petition in favor of a referendum for the legalization of euthanasia in Italy, collecting more than 750,000 signatures, largely exceeding the threshold of 500,000 signatures required. The referendum could be held in the first months of 2022, if no law is adopted by then.

Because in the meantime, the Italian Parliament began, on December 13, 2020, the examination of a bill on the decriminalization of assisted suicide. Supported by the center-left coalition in power, the text is facing opposition from right-wing parties and pro-life associations.

This is where Civilta Cattolica comes in: “Given the situation in the country, and the judgment of the Constitutional Court [in 2019], it seems important to us that a law be enacted. … Although values ​​that are difficult to reconcile between them come into play here, it does not seem desirable to us to equivocate by burying the bill,” writes Fr. Casalone.

For some, this new positioning of an information organ directed from the Vatican tends to show that the host of St. Martha’s House is in charge: Is not Fr. Spadaro, director of the Jesuit magazine, one of those close to the sovereign pontiff?

On Civilta Cattolica’s side, they defend themselves from any unconditional surrender to the promoters of the culture of death saying that it would be a question of “making the text of the law less problematic by modifying the most harmful articles,” in other words to pass an “imperfect law” in order to avoid a worse evil.

For Fr. Casalone, burying the bill currently being considered by Parliament would carry the risk of seeing a future referendum that would “favor the general expansion of assisted suicide.”

Perhaps the Jesuits of La Civilta Cattolica should be reminded that it is not morally admissible to perform an objectively immoral action – for a deputy to actively support a text legalizing suicide, even under certain restrictions – in order to avoid a worse evil.

On the side of the defenders of the right to life, we were not mistaken: “this article is a provocation,” thunders Paola Binetti, a senator on the right and an Opus Dei numenary.

For his part, Massimo Gandolfini, neurosurgeon and director of the neuroscience department at the Brescia hospital, one of the spokesmen for the pro-life movement, evokes an “unacceptable capitulation,” on a “non-negotiable question such as that of life.”

“I don't understand how, to put an end to one evil, another would have to be committed; this idea is repugnant to me,” says the scientist.