Enjoy the April edition of the West River Catholic
(Left) Fr. Timothy Castor, Sturgis; Deacon Greg Sass, Piedmont; and Pastoral Ministry Days guest speaker Tom Corcoran, Parkville, Maryland; visit during a break. (Right) Fr. Michael White, pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, held a special session for clergy. Corcoran and Father White co-authored books on increasing attendance and participation at church.
(WRC photos by Becky Berreth)
By Laurie Hallstrom
Genuine spiritual renewal was the core premise during Pastoral Ministry Days. Speakers Fr. Michael White, pastor, and Tom Corcoran, assistant to the pastor, from Church of the Nativity, Timonium Md., addressed more than 250 people at the annual gathering. It was held April 3-4 at Terra Sancta Retreat Center, Rapid City.
During Father White’s tenure at his church, Mass attendance has risen from 1,400 people to more than 4,000 on weekends. He and Corcoran have written several books illustrating what did and did not meet the needs of the parish. “Rebuilt,” “Tools for Rebuilding,” and “Rebuilding Your Message,” are among their titles.
Prior to making changes in the Maryland parish, the men visited thriving evangelical churches to learn about their practices. They knew they had to change the weekend experience, including hospitality, the message, and the music. They came up with five steps to revitalize their church. To grow disciples, people need to serve, they need to give, to engage in small groups, to participate in prayer and the sacraments, and to share their faith or evangelize others.
“Why” is the most important component of ministry, according to Corcoran. “When you lose your why, you lose your way,” he said.
He cited The Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19), as the answer to the question, “why?”
“Look at the church from the point of view of the people who are not attending,” he said. “What keeps people away from church is they don’t think they will be welcome.”
At his parish, welcoming begins in the parking lot with greeters directing drivers to spots. They are welcomed at the door by more greeters and hosts who help them find a place to sit.
He underscored the importance of children’s formation that allows the parents to focus on the Liturgy of the Word. At his church they have three programs — Kids Zone, All Stars and Time Travelers. All of which encourage the children to share their faith. He said empty-nesters and teens work well in that ministry. For children with disabilities the church has a buddy ministry — volunteers who sit with them during the children’s formation. Before the Liturgy of the Eucharist, hosts shepherd children back to their seats.
Another important component of ministry is music. “Music can reach people’s hearts,” he said, advising parishes to invest resources in skilled musicians — he acknowledged finding both talent and a heart for ministry is hard, but “the history of God’s people includes singing.”
Fr. Michael White said, “We are trying to advance the kingdom of God in our generation. This is the fundamental, indispensable work of the whole church.”
According to Father White the parish is more than a church building; it is a geographical term, your zip code including people you have never met. The majority of people not attending church are un-churched Catholics. He asked, “Who are the people not currently in the pews? What are they like? What language do they speak? How do they spend their time, their money? What is their culture? What do they think about God, faith and religion?”
While discussing ministry he said to ask the church leaders:
- Are we making a measurable difference in the community or simply serving our members?
- Are we mobilized for mission or
insisting on business as usual?
- Are we here to preserve our broken systems or are we willing to go where God is blessing?”
- Are we simply meeting or are we moving?
He told the story of Nehemiah, rebuilding the fire damaged walls around the city of Jerusalem, to make several points. Nehemiah was an educated, sophisticated Jewish man who first prayed to God for the king’s permission to rebuild the walls. Nehemiah surveyed the situation, then he tackled projects one at a time. He drafted teams to help him. Then, when his critics accused him of treason he redoubled his efforts.
“When we are making progress critics come forward, don’t be surprised,” said Father White.
By Laurie Hallstrom
“The people we serve on average make less than $1.25 a day. They are the poorest of the poor and they live in fragile situations,” said Dr. Carolyn Woo.
More than 800 people gathered in Rapid City for the Catholic Social Services Palm Sunday Brunch, the charity’s largest fundraising effort of the year. The guest speaker, Woo, served as president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services From 2012 to 2016. The international relief agency was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington D.C., after World War II to help refugees. The agency will have its 75th anniversary in 2018.
Woo’s family emigrated from Hong Kong. She attended Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., where she earned her bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees and she was a member of the faculty. She served as dean of the Mendoza School of Business at Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Ind., before joining CRS.
She said CRS partners with 1,200 organizations across the world and 600 of those are Catholic. Workers are active all over the globe in about 100 countries. In the countries where CRS workers are, they are not allowed to evangelize, or they would be killed. “Our role is to let people know what Catholicism is all about — it is by the way we love, by the way we treat each other. That is the good news. We are people who can love and care and we actually make the choice (to share) it,” she said.
“People ask if I am depressed with my work and I just want to say, ‘on the contrary.’ There is a lot of suffering, sometimes I feel like we are sent to the foot of the cross,” said Woo. “We are face to face with suffering people — children who are hit by shrapnel and have no access to care. We run into people who have been trafficked, women whose daughters were captured and sons were killed. We are often visited by women whose children died of malnutrition. There are a lot of crosses people bear. But I am not at all depressed.”
She explained that at the foot of the cross, after the horrific torture, the suffering and the crucifixion, the good news began.
Woo led a retreat with Sisters of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25. She shared that message about the invitation from God. “He invites not only Mary, but God invites us to be a part of the plan of salvation. He hopes sometimes we say ‘yes,’” said Woo. “God issues invitations each and every day, to make his kingdom known, to bring about salvation.”
In December, as she was finishing her work at CRS, she told her colleagues, “What is the work that we do? What is our role in God’s plan? We are the answers to people’s prayers. It sounds so arrogant — it is not meant to be. The reason I say that is the people we work with don’t have a home, food, or medicine. Sometimes they don’t have money and they pray, whatever religion they are, they say ‘God please send help, please send food and medicine, my child needs milk.’
“Somehow, when we show up that’s what we bring. It is more than formula, food, shelter, and medication; we also bring longer term solutions as you do in Catholic Social Services. We bring a way for people to find a new path, to rebuild their lives.”
Woo explained sometimes social work is tangible, someone needs something and it can be given to them. “Not all needs are tangible — the deep need of loneliness for example, low self concept or a sense of having no hope, those things are not always tangible; but we are sitting next to people (family and coworkers) who could benefit from kindness,” she said. “Prayers are made to God, we have a chance to be working as God’s answers.
“The fact that we are given a chance to be God’s answer to people’s prayers is really an incredible privilege,” said Woo. “I think that the whole idea of witness is making God real. Each of our roles is to make generosity and love real. When we do that we are emulating God. That’s how people come to believe in God.”
By WRC Staff
Courage and EnCourage support groups are getting started in the Diocese of Rapid City. Courage is a Roman Catholic Apostolate to people with same-sex attraction. Cardinal Terrance Cook founded it in 1980, in the Archdiocese of New York. The founding director was Fr. John Harvey. At the root of the ministry it says persons experiencing same-sex attraction must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity as people created and loved by God. EnCourage, a ministry to family and friends of SSA individuals, was started in 1992 to provide peer support and spiritual growth for its members.
Like all single Catholics, members of Courage are urged to live chaste lives and participate fully in the sacraments of the Catholic Church. Courage proclaims that holiness and happiness are possible for its members who strive to know Christ profoundly and seek to follow him in the Gospel way of life.
The program requires compassionate chaplains to guide the ministry. Two priests from the Diocese of Rapid City, Msgr. Michael Woster, Spearfish, and Fr. Jim Hoerter, Faith, will be coordinating the efforts to start a chapter (or chapters) in western South Dakota. The two priests attended the Courage and EnCourage national meeting July 19-24, 2016, in Washington, D.C. “The Courage apostolate is a wonderful opportunity for those experiencing same-sex attraction in our diocese to know personally Christ is walking with them. Through community and the riches of the church, participants come to know Jesus’ very real concern, his friendship, joy and his call particular to their own life,” said Father
Hoerter. “Through Courage members can come to know Jesus Christ concretely. He is the One we desire in the depths of our being. He really is the ‘good news’ for all of us.”
Msgr. Woster said, “I was really impressed with the people I met at the national meeting in Washington. Some tended to be older, people who had gone through some pretty rough times, and maybe had gone through several relationships. Many were people who had some connection to spirituality or to the church earlier in their life. They went down one road after another and nothing worked out and they have found their way back. They found reconciliation, forgiveness, friendship, and support through Courage. Christ is real to them — they rely upon him.”
He said the people at the national meeting were strong Catholic Christians — many have been in Courage for several years. “I was touched in listening to many of their stories. They are wonderful examples of God’s love and God’s grace.”
“At the convention we learned Courage members love their priests. Fr. Jim and I felt very affirmed by Courage members. Our celibacy is a sign to them that living a chaste life and having chaste friendships are possible,” said Msgr. Woster.
While at the conference, Msgr. Woster also attended a joint meeting of Courage and EnCourage members. The EnCourage parents told how hard it was when they learned their son (or daughter) was questioning their sexually identity or experiencing SSA. They spoke of their confusion about how best to respond to them and their fears about their child’s future. The Courage members shared with EnCourage family members what they were looking for in their parents and siblings that would help support them and help them find healing and reconciliation.
“It was amazing to see the compassion and growth toward understanding between Courage and EnCourage members,” Msgr. Woster said.
The chaplains can be reached by phone. To protect anonymity, a contact number for the chaplains is given. Callers can leave a message, and a chaplain will contact the caller and give them ministry and meeting information as well as assistance in discerning if the ministry will be helpful to them.
Call Courage at 605-646-3363 or EnCourage at 605-519-8688. To learn more about this ministry go to http://couragerc.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month I was in Davenport, Iowa, my former diocese, to give a four-night Parish Renewal on Stewardship at St.
Anthony Catholic Church, the oldest parish in the Diocese of Davenport. It was a great joy to be back amongst many people whom I have come to know through my years of ministry in that diocese. Having never given a parish renewal before, I was not sure what to expect. Many questions came to my mind: Would people show up? How would they hear my message? Is a prophet welcome in his native place? Any concerns that I had quickly went by the wayside. My message was well received and I deeply enjoyed the experience.
But my experience went beyond just giving one-hour talks on various aspects of stewardship. One afternoon, a woman from the church who faithfully attended each evening talk, as well as the talks that I gave following the daily Mass, invited me to come and bless her office. She was a local chiropractor and her office was not far from the church. When I showed up at her office, I also found her mother and her almost five-year-old nephew. They were not unfamiliar to me because they had all been at Mass on Sunday. But this gave me an opportunity to get to know them a little better.
What I experienced was beautiful and deeply moving. The little boy was very active, but a little shy in my presence, at least for a little while. It didn’t take him long to warm up to me. The next thing I experienced was something unexpected. His aunt asked him to pray with me the 23rd Psalm. As a four-year-old, this little boy could not yet read, but he began to recite Psalm 23 for me by heart. Remarkable! I was blown away. During the visit, he later recited Psalm 91 for me as well. But if that was not enough, there was more.
Prior to me leaving his aunt’s chiropractic office to go next door for a cup of coffee at his mother’s café, this little boy was asked to pray a prayer of blessing over me from his heart. Out of his mouth came this beautiful extemporaneous prayer, asking God to bless the bishop with many blessings and to grant me a safe trip home. Again, I was deeply moved, even to tears. I have never experienced anything like this before.
It revealed to me not only his faith, but the faith of the parents, the aunt and the grandmother. They were intentional about working with this child and sharing with him the importance of prayer and a relationship with Jesus.
As I reflected upon this experience, it reminded me of two core values in the Diocesan Priority Plan — Prayer and Family. The first Core Value is prayer, which is the very foundation of the Catholic life. “As the primary educators of their children in the faith, it is imperative that parents teach their children how to engage in a relationship with Jesus through prayer. It is the one way in which they will build a strong and secure foundation, leading to an intimacy with the Lord based on faith and trust. The active engagement of family prayer is also what builds strong, healthy marriages and families. Daily family prayer is what best models the life of the Holy Family. It should be the practice of every Christian family.” (Through Him, With Him, and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, pg. 32).
This family was living out this Core Value of Prayer, but also the Core Value of Family. It was clear that they had created the “domestic church,” a place where we first learn about who God is and how we encounter him in prayer; a place where Christ is encountered within a community, an individual Christian family where each member plays a role in the mission of evangelization. We evangelize when we share faith, teach faith and live faith. The Christian family is where this begins and should continue, lifelong” (Through Him, With Him, and In Him – A Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan, pg. 51).
There is no doubt that these family members took seriously their role in the evangelization of their little four-year-old. I found myself thinking what society would be like if this was the norm rather than the exception. Imagine what would happen if parents began teaching the psalms to their little ones; if they began teaching them how to pray from their heart at this early age. This little boy was no doubt very smart, but his gifts for prayer came alive and were developed because family members took the time to share their faith and teach him the importance of God in his life.
To learn more about the Core Values which provide the basis for living an authentic Catholic way of life, read and reflect upon the Spiritual Guide to the Diocesan Priority Plan – Through Him, With Him, and In Him.
(More free copies are available. Ask your pastor how you can obtain one.)
Who knows where this little boy’s life will lead him, but certainly he is well on the way in building a strong and secure foundation in the Lord. His prayer over me was truly an experience of resurrected life in Jesus.
As we celebrate this beautiful season of Easter, may Jesus set our hearts afire with his love so that we all become bearers of Christ’s radiant glory, filling the world with this new life!
Enjoy the March edition of the West River Catholic
May the Lord be at your side as you shepherd the faithful in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming
Bishop Robert D. Gruss, the Clergy and People of the Diocese of Rapid City
Click here to see the special section from the West River Catholic.
It’s such a great life of journeying with people in their faith
By Laurie Hallstrom
When a diocese becomes vacant because the bishop has been moved, retired or deceased, the Holy See looks for a man whose gifts and experiences are best suited to serve the particular needs of that local church. In the case of the neighboring state of Wyoming, the priest selected grew up on a farm-ranch, has driven many rural highways, lived in a very similar climate, served on a Native American reservation, and worked in a post energy boom town where the mines were closed.
March 16, news spread quickly — Pope Francis named Fr. Steve Biegler, 58, Rapid City, as the ninth Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The diocese encompasses the entire state.
Fr. Steve Biegler was born on March 22, 1959, in Mobridge. His family owns a farm-ranch operation near Timber Lake. His parents are Alfred (deceased) and Mary Biegler. He has six brothers and six sisters, including Rhonda Nickerson, who passed away July 9, 2010.
Growing up in Timber Lake, he attended Holy Cross Catholic School. He recalls that vocations were discussed at home. “My parents were always supportive if one of us were to have a religious vocation. I had a good family of prayer and faith and I see that as central to my vocation,” he said. “Fr. Jerry Scherer is my mother’s first cousin and he was close to our family. He stopped by a lot. With the school we had the Presentation Sisters out all the time and we would invite the parish priest, too.”
He graduated from Timber Lake High School in 1977. He attended the S.D. School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City for one year, 1977-78. “I took a day to think about life and seminary came to mind. I said, ‘Not right now, I’ll have to think about that.’ I was also considering ranching and having a family and those thoughts were part of considering the priesthood and celibacy,” said Bishop-elect Biegler.
Most of the next eight years, he worked on the family farm. “We had radios in the tractor, but I would often just turn the radio off. That was a really powerful place of meeting God in the beauty and quiet of nature,” he said, adding, “It was wonderful time for prayer and discernment.”
When he felt he needed a change, “I left for a little bit and went to Wyoming and worked with a construction crew filling in old underground coal mines around Glenrock near Casper. They had slurry of gravel and a compound similar to concrete. They were trying to stabilize those mines because they were caving in under the town.
“The priest in the town was the vocation director for the diocese, so I did end up talking to him a little bit,” said Bishop-elect Biegler.
He attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary and St. Mary College in Winona, Minn., from 1986-89 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. From 1989-1993, he attended the North American College in Rome where he received an STB or Bachelor of Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Rapid City at Holy Cross Church in Timber Lake on July 9, 1993.
“I went back to NAC as a faculty member from 2003 to 2006, and stayed another year, 2007, and finished a biblical theology degree,” he said. From the University of St. Thomas in Rome he received an STL (License in Biblical Theology).
In 2010-11, he served as Diocesan Administrator following the departure of then-Bishop Blase Cupich for his appointment as Bishop of Spokane, Wash., until the ordination of the current ordinary, Bishop Robert Gruss. “I had some experience of overseeing the diocese during that year, going out and doing confirmations — which a DA does, and I learned about the workings of the diocesan staff,” he said.
Bishop-elect Biegler said he will miss this diocese, family members, friends he has made at parishes where he served, and what he describes as “a great fraternity of priests.”
“For me, I’ve come to know that priesthood is where I belong and obviously it’s demanding but it’s so fulfilling, such a great life of journeying with people in their faith. So I’m excited to continue that journey. I’ll continue it there. I am looking forward to getting to know the people and priests as a bishop,” he said.
He already knows a few people in the diocese; his brother Royce Biegler and his wife, Kim, live in Gillette, and several nieces and nephews are in Wyoming. Fr. Steve Titus, the vocation director for the Diocese of Cheyenne was in Rome as a seminarian when Bishop-elect Biegler was a faculty member. Also, Fr. Andrew Kinstetter was a student at the School of Mines when Bishop-elect Biegler was the Newman Center Chaplain.
His episcopal ordination will be June 5. The West River Catholic will carry more details in the April issue.
(Editor’s note: Fr. Biegler is the second diocesan priest to be named a bishop. In 1978, Fr. Lawrence Welsh was named Bishop of Spokane. He later served as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.)
By Bishop Robert D. Gruss
Diocese of Rapid City
Bishop Robert Gruss was a seminarian at North American College in Rome with Fr. Steve Biegler. As diocesan administrator he was the first from the Diocese of Rapid City to greet Bishop-elect Gruss when he arrived in Rapid City.
Fr. Steve was the only person I knew in the diocese when I came here. He was very helpful in being the history of the diocese for me. Being the administrator, Fr. Steve could fill in the missing links in my very limited understanding of the history of the diocese as well as the current challenges that I would be facing as I began my new ministry.
Fr. Steve is a very competent and gifted pastor. He has the many gifts necessary to shepherd the people entrusted to his care. I have always found him to be very wise and discerning. He has a good mind which allows him to look at a situation, dissect what needs to happen, and provide great insight into the solutions. He may not enjoy administration (many of us don’t, myself included), but I think he is good at it. He has many gifts which will be an asset as he begins this new assignment in his life.
The people of the Diocese of Cheyenne are getting an exceptional priest and pastor. Bishop-elect Biegler is grounded in a relationship with Christ which guides and directs his life and ministry as a shepherd. The folks in the Diocese of Cheyenne are getting one of the best! He will be a great blessing to his new diocese.
While I hate to see him leave the Diocese of Rapid City, I am honored and grateful to have Bishop-elect Biegler as a fellow bishop and a part of the Episcopacy. The church is enriched as a result of this assignment for him. I look forward to sharing this ministry of the wider church with him.
Anytime you lose a priest of his caliber, it is a great loss. He will be deeply missed in the Diocese of Rapid City, both as my vicar general and as a great pastor. And given the shortage of priests that we are currently facing, it makes this loss even greater. But just as the Holy Spirit led him to this new ministry in the Church, the Spirit will continue to provide for the Diocese of Rapid City. Of this I am certain.
I wish Bishop-elect Biegler only the very best in his new assignment and ministry. He will touch the lives of many people in the Diocese of Cheyenne just as he has touched the lives of many people here in the Diocese of Rapid City. He is such a gifted man and his deep love for the Lord and for the poor and less fortunate will envelop his life and ministry there as well. He can be assured of my prayers as he transitions to this new phase of his life and priesthood.
By the time you will read this, the South Dakota Legislative Session has drawn to an end. One of the bills which has drawn most of my attention from an input level has been Senate Bill 149 — the Faith-Based Adoption Agency Protection Bill. This was a very important piece of legislation because it ensures faith-based adoption agencies in South Dakota the freedom to continue placing children and making decisions within their agencies that are consistent with their deeply held religious beliefs and moral convictions, which should be protected by our First Amendment rights.
The bill has passed in both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. There has been great pushback from opponents citing it as a “hate” bill or misrepresenting it as “state funded discrimination.” Our opponents either fail to understand or do not want to understand how important a role religious beliefs and values play in the lives of Americans across this country. It seems to matter little to them that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values and appears that they will go to great lengths to rid the culture of our First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion.
With this particular situation, opponents allege that because there are religious criteria in the policy of Catholic Social Services for making placements of children into homes of loving parents, CSS is discriminating against the LGBTQ community. This is far from the truth. The opposition is agenda driven, partisan and assisted by news media who unfortunately do not seek all the facts.
CSS has been providing adoption services in western South Dakota for over forty years and has always served the best interests of the children in accord with our Catholic faith and traditions. It and other faith-based organizations receive no government funding for their adoption programs — one reason why this bill is important for the sake of our Catholic ministry.
The very mission of CSS is “To share in Christ’s ministry of offering hope, promoting individual human dignity and strengthening families and communities, by providing professional social services to people of all faiths in western South Dakota.” Encouraging families to consider becoming foster or adoptive families is part of their mission. Contrary to the false statement from the ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director, that “this law directly affects the hundreds of children in South Dakota awaiting their forever families,” when a potential adoptive family cannot be served because they fall outside of CSS’s policy, they are referred to other organizations who can provide for their needs. The State of South Dakota has more than enough agencies and attorneys available to provide adoption and foster care services. Every family who wants to adopt a child can find an organization to assist them if CSS is unable to do so.
In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of CSS, if they are forced to make decisions which force them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs, they will close down their adoption services before violating those beliefs. Closures of adoption agencies would affect the number of families and birth parents being served. The bottom line is that the government should not be dictating how religious organizations carry out the mission of Jesus Christ in service of the Gospel. Faith-based organizations do far more than any other agencies in serving the poor and vulnerable. If those opposed to Judeo-Christian religious values and traditions are determined that the government should control the ministry of faith-based organizations, the less fortunate and vulnerable will have many fewer places to turn for services and care.
I would like to personally and publicly thank the sponsors of SB 149, Senator Alan Solano and Representative Steven G.
Haugaard, for their work in getting this bill passed. They and those who voted for it have my admiration and gratitude for speaking out for religious freedom in the State of South Dakota. In today’s culture it takes courage to risk stepping out publicly on faith-based issues. Doing so, as Jesus warned us, has made these brave legislators the subject of persecution (Jn 15:20). Thank you for being courageous in spite of the persecution and derision you received from the opposition. It shows your true character.
I am also deeply grateful that Governor Dennis Daugaard had the same courage and signed this bill into law for the sake of religious freedom and religious beliefs held by the
individuals who serve others through CSS and all faith-based organizations across our state. Thank you so much!
The statement on religious liberty from United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, begins, “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.”
Religious freedom is not only about Catholics being able to attend Mass on Sundays or enter into private prayer, but it involves whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. It is about the ability to continue to do the good works the Gospel of Jesus calls us to do without having to compromise our Catholic faith.
State funded adoption agencies and faith-based adoptive agencies have worked together for many years helping thousands of children find loving homes in South Dakota with an admirable tolerance of each other’s beliefs. Little by little, those opposed to Christianity have become intolerant and are trying to impose their beliefs on society. They believe that, because our ministry is guided by Gospel and traditional family values, there should be no place for it because they don’t like it.
We will continue to fight for our First Amendment rights.
Senate Bill 149 is an important way in which we can carry out the mission of Jesus without others telling us how we must do it. This fact remains, even with the passage of this legislation: no one will be denied the opportunity to share their love for a child through adoption.
Enjoy the February edition of the West River Catholic
In 1994 Oregon passed a law allowing physicians to prescribe deadly drugs for some patients in order for them to take their own lives. Since then, Montana (1995), Washington (2008), Vermont (2013), California (2015), Colorado (2016) and Washington, DC (2016) have all passed laws or court rulings allowing doctor-prescribed suicide.
This movement continues across our land. Much of the momentum began from the story of a 29-year-old cancer patient from California named Brittany Maynard. She announced in the fall of 2014 that she did not want to face the expected suffering associated with her brain cancer and therefore would move to Oregon so she could take her life using its assisted suicide law. Her story became a media sensation and she then became a spokesperson for the group called Compassion & Choices. Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, is the primary organization leading the drive for cultural acceptance and legalization of assisted suicide. This organization is well funded through the efforts of a large fundraising staff, raising money and awareness through wealthy and committed donors like George Soros.
Are we headed there too? Last December an article in the Rapid City Journal revealed that in November 2018 the people of the State of South Dakota could find a ballot measure on doctor-prescribed suicide under the misleading title, “Death with Dignity.” This ballot measure will give voters the opportunity to vote into law doctor-assisted suicide.
Though this campaign to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide has been rejected by most policymakers in our society, there is still great cause for concern as the throwaway attitude in our culture deepens. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation, know that suicide is a terrible tragedy, one that a compassionate society should work to prevent. They realize that allowing doctors to prescribe the means for their patients to kill themselves is a corruption of the doctor’s call to assist in healing.
Proponents know these facts and thus avoid terms such as “assisting suicide” and instead use code words such as “aid in dying.” These proponents cite that it should be a person’s right to choose to end his or her life so as to alleviate their suffering on his or her own terms, enabling them to die with “dignity.” They see this as a form of compassion and choice.
“The idea that assisting a suicide shows compassion and eliminates suffering is equally misguided. It eliminates the person, and results in suffering for those left behind — grieving families and friends, and other vulnerable people who may be influenced by this event to see death as an escape. The sufferings caused by chronic or terminal illness are often severe. They cry out for our compassion, a word whose root meaning is to “suffer with” another person. True compassion alleviates suffering while maintaining solidarity with those who suffer. It does not put lethal drugs in their hands and abandon them to their suicidal impulses, or to the self-serving motives of others who may want them dead. It helps vulnerable people with their problems instead of treating them as the problem. Taking life in the name of compassion also invites a slippery slope toward ending the lives of people with non-terminal conditions” (USCCB, To Live Each Day with Dignity: A Statement on Physician-Assisted Suicide).
In the case of doctor-assisted suicide, the “dignity” of the terminally ill is ultimately stripped away because the dignity of the sick person is placed purely on a subjective level. This can easily lead down a slippery slope when subjectivity determines the value of a human life.
Doctor-assisted suicide is not free choice because it’s often driven by depression and hopelessness. The assisted suicide agenda can actually increase the suffering of isolation and hopelessness often experienced by seriously ill people. Seeing their death as an acceptable or even desirable solution to their problems only magnifies this kind of suffering. For example, people dying under Oregon’s law more often cite as a reason for their choice the feeling of being a burden rather than any concern about pain. There is also proof that in Oregon general suicides have risen dramatically since assisted suicide is promoted as a “good.”
Documentation suggests where there is legalized assisted suicide there is less commitment to palliative care. Government programs and private insurers have even limited support for care that could extend life, while emphasizing the “cost-effective” solution of a doctor-prescribed death. This was reality for Stephanie Packer, a California wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma. Her insurance company refused to cover the cost of her medical treatment. When asked if her insurance company would cover the doctor-prescribed suicide drugs, the company told her, “Yes, we do provide that to our patients, and you would only have to pay $1.20 for the medication.”
A society that devalues some people’s lives, by hastening and facilitating their deaths, will ultimately lose respect for their other rights and freedoms. The government, by rescinding legal protection for the lives of one group of people, implicitly communicates the message that some may be better off dead. Assisted suicide is also a recipe for abuse of elderly and disabled persons because it can put lethal drugs within reach of abusers. No oversight and no witnesses are required once the lethal drugs leave the pharmacy. There is also no requirement to notify a family member or emergency contact for a person taking their own life. Imagine the trauma the family would face in such a situation.
There are many other reasons why doctor-prescribed suicide is not good for this country, the State of South Dakota and for families — too many to lay out in this article. But it is important that in supporting a culture of life, we begin to speak out against this serious challenge and deadly issue now, in our parishes, in our families and in our communities. We do not want our state to be the next one to support a culture of death in allowing suicide for its citizens. Resources can be found at www.usccb.org/ToLiveEachDay.
In conclusion, from an article which appeared in Crisis Magazine by Maria Cintorino:
“Genuine death with dignity, dying naturally, is courageous for it dares to live despite suffering. It affirms the dignity of the human person as grounded in the image and likeness of God and recognizes that the beauty of life entails both the moments of joy and health as well as the sorrows and sufferings which are part of life. Dying with true dignity means accepting and embracing the suffering of a terminal illness and the death which ensues, no matter how prolonged the process may be. True death with dignity does not “opt” out of life — it fearlessly charges on as it recognizes the immense power of redemptive suffering and affirms the value of each human being who suffers.”
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Victim Assistance Coordinator