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From the front lines of the culture war...A diary of Terri's vigil

By Pete Vere
web posted November 17, 2003

By now, most ESR readers are no doubt familiar with the Terri Schindler-Schiavo situation down in Florida. As a Catholic social commentator, ESR contributor Pete Vere just happened to be present at Terri's vigil as the events unfolded. What follows are some excerpts adapted from the diary he kept of this event.

Wednesday, October 15th

Today was gut-wrenching. My family and I attended the prayer vigil and news conference for Terri Schiavo. My friend Carlos from the National Catholic Register greeted us at the vigil. Other members of the conservative Catholic media have gathered as well, and we're all praying the rosary for a miracle. This case could become the next Roe vs. Wade in the culture war. It potentially legalizes involuntary active euthanasia.

Carlos introduced me to Terri's family and Msgr. Malanowski. Monsignor is an eighty-year old priest who is providing Terri's friends and family with pastoral support. Earlier this week, Mike Schiavo attempted to remove Monsignor's visitation rights along with those of Terri's family. While the family's attorney managed to restore visitation for Monsignor and the family, a representative of Mike Schiavo must always be present. Mike's representative is reportedly the mother of his mistress. This is far from ideal, but at least Terri won't die alone - deprived of the comfort of her family and pastoral assistance.

Nevertheless, the Catholics at the vigil seem more upset with Bishop Lynch than with Terri's husband and his civil lawyer. The common feeling is that the Church hierarchy failed Terri and her family. Nobody comprehends why the bishops issue such passionate pleas for clemency when it comes to convicted murderers on death row, yet seem so timid in their support for Terri.

Come two o'clock, the medical staff at the hospice remove Terri's feeding tube. I broke down in tears while speaking to a friend of mine from the Order of Alhambra. My three-year old daughter is standing with me and I just cannot but ask, "What if it was her in that bed while my wife and I are deprived of the right to save her life?" Monsignor says it best when he points out that Terri's parents can now relate to the Virgin Mary on Good Friday.

Yet from the Catholic perspective, the three Theresas continue to give us hope against the unholy trinity of Mike Schiavo, attorney George Felos and Judge Greer. Today is the feast of St. Theresa of Avilla - Terri's namesake. Everyone is praying the novena to St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast day is also this month. And Monsignor carries with him a relic of Mother Teresa, whom Pope John Paul II will beatify on Sunday. Mother Teresa is the great missionary of life in our day.

Thursday, October 16th

I forgot to mention a tense incident that took place between Catholics and evangelicals at the prayer vigil yesterday. A couple of evangelicals confronted the Catholics as we gathered to pray the Rosary "Why pray to St. Theresa?" they asked. Their tone was confrontational. "You should go directly to Jesus." Fortunately, some of the older evangelicals shooed them away before the incident turned ugly.

Terri's father and sister comfort each other
Terri's father and sister comfort each other

About an hour later, we began praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. This is somewhat more ecumenically feasible since its main focus is God's mercy. Yet the evangelicals still returned in full force with their t-shirts and Bibles. This time, they watched respectively as we prayed. After we made the sign of the cross, their leader stepped forward. Terri's family -- all of whom are Catholic -- were standing nearby.

"It's a pretty hot out here," the evangelical minister said. "Are any of you hungry or thirsty?" He then instructed the other evangelicals to share the sandwiches and bottles of ice water they had purchased from the Subway down the street. They also offered to take a shift on the prayer line while we Catholics enjoyed the food and drink in the shade. I ended up comparing notes with a young evangelical journalist. He hopes to draft other young evangelicals into becoming more involved in the culture war. We discussed the irony of Christ using food and drink to unite us -- both through the act of sharing one's food and drink, and through our shared opposition to the culture of death denying Terri food and drink.

Saturday, October 18th

A most serious assault against Terri's religious liberties took place today. Monsignor attempted to bring Viaticum to Terri but was stopped by the police and the nursing staff. Viaticum, for our non-Catholic readers, is communion for the dying. Monsignor volunteered to undergo arrest, but the authorities would not even allow him to get near Terri with the Holy Eucharist. As a canon lawyer, I cannot describe this event as anything less than a sickening denial of a dying woman's fundamental right to be comforted by the Church through the sacraments.

Schiavo and Felos argued that administering Viaticum would cause Terri distress. If this were true, then how can Terri be in a persistent vegetative state? They claim she feels no distress about the starvation and dehydration, but somehow the crumb of a wafer threatens to traumatize her? Never ask a liberal for consistency. Schiavo and Felos obviously have it in for Terri, and thus Terri cannot be given the opportunity to swallow a crumb after being denied a swallow test for so long. The facade of a persistent vegetative state must be maintained.

This is a clear violation of Terri's First Amendment rights. Pat Anderson, the family's civil attorney, immediately phoned Chris Ferrara. Despite our notoriously public ideological differences within the Catholic media, Chris and I both of us recognize the grave injustice suffered by the Schindler family. Chris has poured his heart and soul into Terri's legal defense. While he would rather see the credit go to Pat Anderson, everyone else on the family's legal team are grateful for his meticulously researched and pointedly argued legal briefs.

I was then blessed with the opportunity to spend about a half hour with Terri's parents. They are good people who are being held together by our prayers and the strength of their son Bobby. Despite how the persistently vegetative mainstream media portrays them, the Schindlers harbor no illusion that their daughter will ever fully recover. They simply want the opportunity to give it their best shot.

During the course of our conversation, Mr. Schiavo mentioned that he had accidentally misplaced his rosary with the papal blessing. I mentioned this on my blog when I got home. I checked my email before going to bed. About a half-dozen readers emailed to let me know a papally blessed Rosary had been sent via overnight. One of these readers is Fr. Todd – a young priest who had received his as an ordination gift from the Holy Father. Father wanted Mr. Schindler to know that the Catholic clergy had not abandoned him or his daughter.

Monday, October 20th

Hopeful best describes the mood at the vigil tonight. I spoke with several nurses, some of whom had worked with Terri early. They told me the way Terri was being treated in the hospice had left a bad taste in their mouths. They also tell me that , barring a miracle (and there have been many in this case) Terri's vital organs are now in the process of shutting. Basically, they are being poisoned from the toxins in her body. In the normal course of events, Terri's kidneys will now have suffered irreversible damage.

Additionally, Mike reportedly threatened to have Terri cremated without an autopsy. Reports are now circulating that Terri was victim of domestic violence within her marriage to Mike Schiavo. So a few people wonder whether there's a coverup going on. As far as good news, my friend Fr. Rob Johansen has received permission from his bishop to come down and relieve Monsignor. This will be a great help to Monsignor, who has not slept more than three hours a night for past few weeks.

On the action front, I ended up talking with some Republican policy wonks in Washington and Tallahassee. I happened to be one of a number of signatories from the Catholic media who signed an open letter calling upon Governor Jeb Bush to intervene and save Terri. Basically, if the Republicans wish to continue breaking the Democrat's traditional hold over the Catholic vote, either President Bush or Governor Bush must step up and save Terri from this run-away judiciary.

Additionally, the controversy generates so much support for Terri that the Florida State Legislature's phone lines and email servers became overloaded and shut down. The Governor's office was receiving over ten email a second. This happened because everyone took the time to phone and email . Jeb Bush got the message. He is now prepared to push through special legislation and intervene in the case.

Tuesday, October 22th

Terri's bill goes through the Florida State legislature and senate. Governor Bush then immediately signs it into law and uses his authority to save Terri. It has been a full week since her feeding tube was pulled and she received any liquids. It became an emotional roller-coaster ride at the vigil after that. Fortunately, God heard our prayers and the evening ended with much rejoicing. Terri's family cried tears of joy at the miracle that took place. Terri will live to see another day. Everyone was emotionally drained,.but the important thing tonight is that God worked a miracle, Terri is alive, and the doctors are now re-hydrating her.

An ambulance came by with a police escort and took Terri to the hospital where, despite threats of a lawsuit, she was re-hydrated. Mike attempted a few legal injunctions. He also intends to the sue the governor for interfering with a court decision. Of course the liberals are crying "separation of powers" and "checks and balances". One can hardly take them seriously as for too long these same folks have used the judiciary to get around the legislative and executive branches of government. The Governor and the Florida State Legislature have merely begun to restore the balance. After all, the judiciary is suppose to be the weakest branch of government.

It appears that the judiciary is not prepared for a showdown, and thus the injunctions are turned down. The legislature and Governor had anticipated the possibility of an injunction, and thus Terri's law is both injunction proof and provides legal immunity to any doctor who assists a patient under this law. The one major concern, however, is that the ambulance brought Terri to the hospital where Mike works as a nurse. Yet the doctors proceed with re-hydration.

Through the grace of God we won this battle within the culture war. We have also begun to turn back an activist judiciary. Nevertheless, the culture war is far from over.

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

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