The Atlantic bishops' pastoral reflection has drawn heavy criticism by a number of Catholic commentators in Canada and the United States since it's release Nov. 27. Photo/Pixabay

Atlantic bishops’ reflection on assisted suicide draws fire

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  • December 20, 2016

OTTAWA – The Atlantic Episcopal Assembly’s (AEA) pastoral reflection on “medical assistance in dying”has drawn harsh criticism, but a Canadian bioethicist says the polarization is not helpful.

Signed by the 10 bishops of the Atlantic Provinces, the three-page document released Nov. 27 has been slammed by several Catholic commentators in both Canada and the United States, including New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, and high profile Canon Law blogger Edward Peters. The Catholic Register’s Fr. Raymond de Souza has also weighed in.

The AEA document has been contrasted unfavourably with the 34-page document released in September by the Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories (NWT) that seems less lenient regarding whether those seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide can receive sacraments such as Penance, Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick.

Moira McQueen, executive director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, urged people to read both documents and highlight the many points they have in common, since they both stress pastoral accompaniment.

“We all have to realize this is new ground for our bishops and our priests, for everybody, on how to handle this,” McQueen said of response to the new regime of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide in Canada.

Fr. Yvan Mathieu, the Dean of the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University, said he had heard via media reports the Alberta and NWT document was “very right wing and dictatorial,” but in reading it, he “found it quite compassionate.”

Though it establishes the rules very clearly, it also stresses mercy, while “reminding priests of their duties and the fundamentals of moral theology,” on “what is sin and the conditions to receive absolution,” he said. “I was positively impressed by this document.”

Mathieu said the Atlantic bishops’ document is not as clear as the one issued by Alberta and NWT bishops.

“I think the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly is honest and is putting the accent on compassion, but unfortunately, this can be misinterpreted as ‘anything goes’,” said Mathieu, who stressed that he does not think the bishops are taking that position.

The president of the Atlantic Episcopal Assembly, Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax, was unavailable for comment.

The different regions of the country have “been working hard to come up with something solid to offer priests,” McQueen said. It’s not so much about euthanasia, but “about the nature of a sacrament and who receives it.”

Both documents emphasize dialoguing with people and emphasize compassion and accompaniment. McQueen said that dialogue would be in hopes the person “can change their mind,” and go forward “in the best possible spiritual state of mind and that would not include euthanasia.”

If the person is “bound and determined,” the priest is left wondering what to do, she said. “If they do receive the grace of the sacraments, it could help them not proceed with the procedure. I would say you never know what is going to happen.”

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The Atlantic Bishops "reflection"on assisted suicide is heretical and Moira McQueen is unhelpful with her weasely apologetic defending those men. They should hang their heads in shame, withdraw their so-called reflection, try to convince their...

The Atlantic Bishops "reflection"on assisted suicide is heretical and Moira McQueen is unhelpful with her weasely apologetic defending those men. They should hang their heads in shame, withdraw their so-called reflection, try to convince their brother Bishops to do the same with the Winnipeg stateme

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William McGrath
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Some of your commentators (lewis,deSouza, mclean) think they are better theologians than the atlantic bishops. The same ones think Pope Francis is virtually a heretic, Latin mass is the only "good" mass, middle ages church music the only "good"...

Some of your commentators (lewis,deSouza, mclean) think they are better theologians than the atlantic bishops. The same ones think Pope Francis is virtually a heretic, Latin mass is the only "good" mass, middle ages church music the only "good" music, and Catholicism should a state religion.

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Jim Ford
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