Bishop's Blog

Passion (Palm) Sunday Reflections

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

In the Liturgy of the Hours for Passion (Palm) Sunday, part of a Sermon by St. Andrew of Crete reads: "Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives... In his hunewmility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world...his love for humanity will never rest until he has restored our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven."

These are not easy times. Priests and people feel battered and scattered by the seemingly relentless media campaign about child sexual abuse in the Church. We too have entered into the dark regions of our fallen world. This is a painful, emptying, and humbling experience.

Pope Benedict XVI in his Pastoral Letter to Catholics in Ireland has expressed his dismay at the sexual abuse of young people by Church representatives and the way this was addressed by local bishops and religious superiors. He speaks of his closeness in prayer to the whole Irish Catholic community at this painful time and he proposes a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

Addressing the victims of abuse first of all, he acknowledges the grievous betrayal they have suffered and he tells them how sorry he is over what they have endured. He recognizes that, in many cases, no one would listen when they found the courage to speak of what happened. The Pope urges victims to seek in the Church the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and to find healing and reconciliation by rediscovering the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them.

In his words to priests and religious who have abused young people, the Pope calls upon them to answer before God and before properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed. They have betrayed a sacred trust and brought shame and dishonour upon their confreres. Great harm has been done, not only to the victims, but also to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life in Ireland.

The Pope encourages parents to persevere in the demanding task of bringing up children to know that they are loved and cherished, and to develop a healthy self-esteem. Parents have the primary responsibility for educating new generations in the moral principles that are essential for a civilized society. The Pope invites children and young people to find in the Church an opportunity for a life-giving encounter with Christ, and not to be deterred by the failings of some priests and religious. He looks to the younger generation to contribute to the renewal of the Church.

Addressing himself to the Irish bishops, the Pope notes the grave errors of judgment and failure of leadership on the part of many, because they did not correctly apply canonical procedures when responding to allegations of abuse. While it was often hard to know how to address complex situations, the fact remains that serious mistakes were made, and they have lost credibility as a result. The Pope urges them to continue their determined efforts to remedy past mistakes and to prevent any recurrence by fully implementing canon law and cooperating with civil authorities in their areas of competence.

A side bar to the Irish Pastoral Letter has been the attempts to personally embroil Benedict XVI in the sex abuse scandals. The New York Times on March 25, and parroted by other newspapers, accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a Wisconsin priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors. The story is not even supported by the evidence of the Times.

Cardinal Ratzinger does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be a full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry.

Furthermore, under canon law at the time, the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996. It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger's office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process.

In August 1998 Archbishop Weakland writes that he has halted the canonical trial and penal process against Father Murphy and has immediately begun the process to remove him from ministry. That same month Father Murphy dies.

The New York Times flatly got the story wrong. Readers may want to speculate on why.

The sin and stigma of sexual abuse is not unique to Ireland, nor is it unique to the Catholic Church. It is a sin found in all societies and nations.

Sexual abuse of children, like the abuse of women, has deep historical roots. Hopefully, by serious investigations of the social, psychological and cultural root causes of this behaviour we can eliminate it as we have made encouraging progress in eliminating violence against women.

Let us pray together for the healing and reconciliation of the Irish Church, of the Church in Canada and the United States, and for the Church in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Italy, and all those places where the Body of Christ has been deeply wounded by the sin of sexual abuse.

Together let us bind the wounds and be agents of healing, reconciliation and peace.

"..... let us spread before his feet, not garment or soul-less olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him."

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's
Related Themes Reconciliation Sexual Abuse

Body Worlds and the Brain

TELUS World of Science Calgary is excited to announce the Canadian premiere of the internationally acclaimed traveling exhibition. Body Worlds aims to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and show the effects of poor health, good health, and lifestyle choices. It is also presented in the hopes that it will stimulate curiosity about the science of anatomy.

The following information blurb is both interesting and provocative: "As a key entry point influencing careers in science, TELUS World of Science promotes values such as curiosity, commitment, courage, and collaboration to help build on the foundation for Canada's future economy."

Notice that there is no mention of ethics or morality. However, it is also pointed out that Calgary's exhibit is about 50% larger than Edmonton's similar exhibit a couple of years ago.

When a Body World exhibit came to Cincinnati, Archbishop Pilarczyk stated: "The public exhibition of plasticized bodies, unclaimed, unidentified, and displayed without reverence is unseemly and inappropriate."

In Kansas City, Bishop Finn and Archbishop Naumann complained: "It represents a kind of 'human taxidermy' that degrades the actual people, who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed and died."

Thomas S. Hibbs, distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University, not only questioned the tastefulness of the shows but asserted that the exhibits purvey a "pornography of the dead."

What are some of the ethical issues involved?

Catholic moral teaching regards the human person as a unity of soul and body, spirit and matter - beings capable of freedom and love in communion with other persons and with God. As such, the body is more than just a vessel for the soul. The Church's concern for human dignity extends to the body even after the soul is no longer present. The bodies of the dead deserve respect and charity, preserving the God-given dignity of the human person. In lieu of immediate burial, the church does allow for, and in some cases commends, the conscientious free choice of person to "donate" their bodies for legitimate scientific research and educational purposes. In these instances, the deceased body and its parts deserve respectful internment.

Some universities that use donated bodies for study and help students learn how to save other people's lives conduct a funeral service at the end of the year, to which the family members of the deceased are invited.

By way of contrast, "plastination is the process of extracting all bodily fluids and soluble fats from specimens, replacing them through vacuum forced impregnation with reactive resins and elastomers, and then curing them with light, heat, or certain gases, which give the specimens rigidity and permanence" (italics added for emphasis). A cadaver is not a person but it once was and the human body retains its dignity even in death.

Another major issue is whether the bodies have even been appropriately obtained. Did the exhibitors receive the free and informed consent of the persons whose bodies are preserved and displayed? Informed consent requires adequate disclosure of information, each person's ability to understand the full disclosure, the person's ability to make a decision, and the freedom to choose or reject participation in the displays.

The possibility of trafficking in human bodies and the absence of appropriate legislation to regulate the transport and display of plasticized bodies raise concerns that are not easily dismissed.

An ABC News report in 2008 raised a serious caution that a Chinese black market might be selling bodies for $200 to $2000 to Dalian Medi-Uni Plastination labs in Dalian, China. The report sparked an investigation by the state of New York directly targeting Premier Exhibitions competitor of Von Hagen's Body Worlds). The case was eventually settled by requiring the exhibitor to warn customers that the bodies may be those of tortured or executed people.

Von Hagen claims to have a sizable donor roster of several thousand. However, for purposes of inquiring into the issue of free consent, the paperwork is of limited value. Since the bodies are deliberately rendered anonymous in processing, there is no way to prove that this particular displayed body goes with this particular set of papers. There are both privacy and transparency issues to be sorted out.

There is morally laudable self-giving in the donation of one's dead body to further knowledge for physicians in training with a view towards offering health and hope to patients who will be treated by those physicians. A good argument can be made that there is also legitimate educational value in the use of plastinated models to teach anatomy.

However, when fully plasticized bodies are displayed at play or posed in athletic mid-movement or ghoulishness, e.g. throwing a baseball, riding a bicycle, playing a violin, or a flayed person standing and looking downward at his innards with his skin all in one piece draped over his arm like a pallid coat, we have crossed the line from education into the realm of entertainment, questionable art, and commercial showcases.

Good insights are sometimes found by simply following the money. This doesn't look like an non-profit educational enterprise. Who stands to gain by such productions? What's the profit margin?

Whether or not children visit this exhibit is a parental decision. Is it appropriate for all? Probably not. Should attendance be related to a particular course of studies? Probably, and hopefully not just anatomy and economics.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Religious Education
Related Themes Religious Education Catholic Teachings

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