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Pope Advocates Traditional Catholicism in France

September 16, 2008 05:26 PM
by Cara McDonough
The Vatican has issued some uncharacteristically modern statements recently, but the Pope stressed traditional Catholic values this week, including an anti-euthanasia message.

A Message to the Sick

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During an appearance in Lourdes, a shrine in France that draws the sick and dying due to the supposedly healing powers of the water there, Pope Benedict XVI told a crowd that people must accept death at “the hour chosen by God.”

In addition to delivering a speech to the “ailing pilgrims” on Monday, the pope administered the sacrament of the sick to 10 people by anointing their foreheads and palms with oil, reports the Associated Press.

The pope’s words carried a strong anti-euthanasia message, while still providing support and sympathy. He reminded the sick that suffering can “shake the firmest foundations of confidence and sometimes even leads people to despair of the meaning and value of life,” reports Voice of America.

He called on the suffering to turn toward the Virgin Mary for help. 

The Lourdes visit was the end of the pope’s four-day trip to France—his first to the country—during which he laid out a message of strong, traditional Catholic values, including “opposition to rampant materialism in modern life and recognition of divorced Catholics’ new marriages,” according to the Associated Press.

In other remarks at Lourdes, the pope ordered bishops to make space for traditionalists who use the old-style, Latin mass. Last year, prompted by traditionalists who have requested the move for years, the Vatican made a decision to allow wider use of the Latin mass. “Everyone has a place in the church. Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home and never rejected,” the pope said, referring to those in favor of the Latin mass, reports Reuters.

Background: Euthanasia in France and Europe

Some European countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, have legalized euthanasia—or assisted suicide—while France permits patients to refuse treatment that can keep them alive but does not allow outright euthanasia.

The issue has been a controversial one in France, especially with the recent case of 52-year-old Chantal Sebire, whose case prompted the country to reexamine its stance on the practice. Sebire was found dead in March, just two days after a court refused her request for an assisted suicide, reported CNN.

She had suffered from esthesioneuroblastoma, a rare and incurable form of cancer for eight years, which caused tumors in her nasal passages and sinuses and distorted her face. Sebire said doctors should be permitted to release her from the excruciating pain of her condition by hastening her death. Her case caused a huge amount of public debate in France.

Time magazine reported on the issue of euthanasia in Europe in March 2005, when the Terry Schiavo story—the case of a woman who remained in a vegetative state for 15 years before her feeding tubes were removed, causing heated debate in her family and across the country—was at a peak in the United States.

Time reported that “Europeans, too, have struggled to find the proper balance between the right to life and the right to die,” although their handing of the issue is very different from the way Americans address the euthanasia question.

“The debate in Europe centers less on whether euthanasia is right or wrong than on how to regulate it,” according to the story, and there are striking differences in terminology and approach. For instance, in the Netherlands, a medical treatment can be stopped when it is no longer “meaningful.”

Related Topics: Vatican weighs in on aliens, recycling, female priests

While Pope Benedict XVI is known for his traditional views, and certainly spoke on them while in France, the Vatican has issued a number of seemingly modern-age recommendations in recent months.

In March, the Vatican identified seven new modern transgressions as mortal sins. Extreme wealth, not recycling and taking illegal drugs made the list. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti of the Vatican said that priests must consider “new sins which have appeared on the horizon of humanity.”

In May, Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted in a Vatican newspaper as saying that it is possible that there could be intelligent life forms on other planets. “How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?” Funes said.

Despite the nod to modern times, the Vatican’s stance often reflects traditional Catholic beliefs. For instance, in May, the Vatican made the announcement that it would excommunicate anyone who attempts to ordain a female priest, a decree made after the church heard about “so-called ordinations” of women held in various parts of the world.

Key Player: Pope Benedict XVI

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